A couple charged with scamming their elderly next-door neighbor out of her home and some of her $2 million won't have to split up while their case is pending, a court commissioner ruled Monday.
Orlin Root-Thalman, 37, and his husband Craig Root-Thalman, 29, made their initial court appearances Monday. Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley asked for no contact orders between the two men, and their victim, and that they each sign $15,000 personal recognizance bonds.
Benkley said he was concerned because Craig Root-Thalman has indicated a willingness to cooperate with the prosecution in the case and Orlin Root-Thalman has a history of domestic violence.
But Orlin Root-Thalman's attorney, Justin Singleton, told Court Commissioner Barry Phillips that his client's prior cases were 12 years ago, mostly involved texts and that he's known for weeks that Craig Root-Thalman gave a lengthy debriefing to investigators.
Phillips denied the order, noting that Craig Root-Thalman was not seeking any kind of protection from Orlin Root-Thalman, no one is citing specific threats and that the two continue to live together.
"I understand the concern, but it's inappropriate at this time," Phillips said. He did order that the couple to have no contact with their former next-door neighbor, who deeded her home to them when prosecutors say she was incompetent.
Phillips set the $15,000 personal recognizance bonds and gave each man until 3 p.m. Tuesday to appear at the jail to be booked and released.
A preliminary hearing was set for Jan. 22.
The victim, a retired Milwaukee Public Schools teacher, lived alone for years at her house on N. 77th St. in Milwaukee. Around 2012, the Root-Thalmans moved in next door. A cousin of the victim, a senior citizen himself, and his wife had been helping care for the woman, but as her dementia worsened, it became harder for them.
Around April 2016, the Root-Thalmans began helping the cousin care for the woman and her home. By July 2016, the Root-Thalmans had filed a quitclaim deed purporting to transfer the victim's house to them. Four days later, she signed a power of attorney document naming Orlin Root-Thalman as her financial agent.
According to the complaint, the defendants knew their neighbor was mentally incompetent before they had her sign over her house and sign a financial power of attorney because "her dementia was obvious, chronic and longstanding."
The woman, now the subject of a guardianship, lives in an apartment with available 24-hour care.
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Court official denies request to split up couple accused of scamming elderly neighbor pending fraud case
Couple charged with scamming home, cash from 92-year-old neighbor with dementia