NEWPORT — A Charlestown man awaits sentencing in Sullivan County Superior Court on two felony accounts involving the financial exploitation of an elderly person, as attorneys in the case still dispute the amount in restitution owed to the victim’s family.
Ronald Morissette, 50, of Charlestown, appeared in Sullivan Court on Tuesday for sentencing on counts relating to his breach of fiduciary duty while serving as a power of attorney for a neighbor. However, Sullivan County Superior Court Justice Brian Tucker decided to reschedule the sentencing to another date because the attorneys had used the court time to finish their arguments over the proper amount of restitution.
In January, Morissette pleaded guilty to two felony counts of financial exploitation, one completed and one attempted, of an elderly, disabled or impaired, stemming back to 2017 when he was allegedly providing assistance to a woman identified in court documents as S.S. During that time Morissette, while serving as a power of attorney on S.S.’s behalf, put over $94,000 of S.S.’s money into a bank account under his own name, including $56,000 in transfers from S.S.’s personal bank accounts.
Morissette also sold a boat belonging to S.S. for a net amount of $38,500, which Morissette also placed into the bank account.
After being directed to relinquish the power of attorney role, Morissette closed the account and returned the remaining money, which held a remaining balance of $59,865, according to Sullivan County Assistant Attorney Geoffrey Gallagher. Morissette also repaid the family a check in the amount of $703.
But the attorneys disagreed over how much of what Morissette spent should be repaid to the family.
Morissette’s attorney recommended a restitution burden of $8,450, which constitutes three account charges that Morissette agreed to repay as part of a plea agreement.
But Gallagher, after a cross-examination of Morissette, contended that Morissette’s burden should be considerably greater, given there were thousands of dollars in purchases that Morissette charged to the account that he could not verify as legitimate expenditures.
One in particular was an alleged $1,100 purchase of NHL hockey tickets in July of 2017.
Morissette claimed that he bought them because S.S. was “a huge hockey fan”, though admitted that S.S. was unable to attend when the date arrived.
Morissette said that every expenditure he made as the power of attorney was done either with S.S.’s knowledge or approval or on her behalf. This included the $14,500 purchase of an all-terrain vehicle, which S.S. allowed Morissette to purchase for use as a snow plow during the winter and then gifted to Morissette.
“I pleaded guilty to what I did ... but everything I did was with [S.S.] or for [S.S.],” Morissette said.
Morrissette attributed his actions to his lack of understanding about accounting, as opposed to a deliberate attempt to rob from S.S. Morissette said he accepted the power of attorney role to help S.S., though he did so reluctantly and was overwhelmed by the responsibility. He attributed his lack of knowledge for not keeping receipts of purchases and sometimes using the account for his own personal purchases.
“He’s not an educated man,” Morrissette’s attorney told the court. “He doesn’t have an accounting degree.”
The legitimacy of numerous purchases, totaling thousands of dollars, could not be determined because Morissette either claimed they were made on S.S.’s behalf, such as filling one of her cars with gas or doing repairs at her home. Additionally, Morissette that he and S.S. commonly shared meals or took trips together, so many purchases were made with her inclusion.
“We helped each other out,” Morissette said. “That’s what we do.”
Morissette could not explain, however, why his fiancé was named as the beneficiary to the account he created using S.S.’s money. Additionally, when asked why S.S.’s name was not added to that account, Morissette blamed the bank manager who helped them set up the account for not telling Morissette to add S.S.
Following the attorney’s arguments, Tucker said he did not want to decide Morissette’s sentence separately from restitution discussion and adjourned.
While the terms of Morissette’s sentence remain unknown, each count is considered a Class A Felony and carries a sentence of 7½ to 15 years in prison.