BILLINGS - A Billings woman accused of stealing money from an elderly resident while employed at a Billings nursing home admitted Thursday to fraud and identity theft charges.
Elizabeth Marie Stephenson, 36, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a press release.
Stephenson faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine and five years of supervised release on the bank fraud crime and a mandatory minimum two years in prison, consecutive to any other punishment, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release on the aggravated identity theft crime, the press release states.
Sentencing was set for July 27. Stephenson was released pending further proceedings.
Federal prosecutors said in court documents that in August 2020, the Billings Police Department responded to a report of ongoing theft involving an older resident at Eagle Cliff Manor, a nursing home in Billings. The nephew of and power of attorney for the victim, identified by authorities as a 96-year-old man, noticed more than $11,000 was missing from the man’s checking account, with multiple $700 withdrawals made between July and August at Wells Fargo ATMs.
Additionally, a debit card was used to purchase credit on a Telmate Inmate Service account at a detention facility. The victim did not realize he was missing money from his account until someone told him. An investigation identified Stephenson, an employee, as the suspect. Stephenson had a boyfriend who was in custody and had an active Telemate account in Idaho.
Prosecutors also said that Eagle Cliff Manor terminated Stephenson’s employment after discovering her name on a credit card application on the victim's Wells Fargo account. A statement for the card reflected a $3,500 payment to a criminal defense law firm in California and a $106 charge to Telemate. A receipt from the law firm indicated that Stephenson represented that she was owner of the card and provided a Billings address.
Investigators also noted the first unauthorized transaction on the victim's checking account was at Walmart on July 24, 2020 and that, in total over the next month, more than $17,000 was taken from the account, including withdrawals of $700 nearly every day.
Stephenson admitted to an investigator that she worked with the victim and was dating the individual incarcerated in Idaho but denied the thefts. Stephenson, after being confronted with the evidence, told investigators that the victim gave her his debit card and PIN and asked her to get him a six pack of beer. Stephenson went to Walmart, bought the beer and took out money for herself.
Stephenson then continued to withdraw cash for her own expenses. She also admitted to transferring the victim's funds to the Telemate account. Stephenson claimed the victim provided consent but acknowledged he did not have the capacity to authorize her taking his money.