During opening arguments in the trial for a Woman accused of stealing money from an elderly woman, the defense and prosecution offered vastly different pictures of the relationship between the two women.
Sandra Steinberg, 50, was charged in April 2017 with exploitation of a vulnerable adult, a class B felony. Police and prosecutors claim that Steinberg stole thousands of dollars, including money from oil royalties, from an elderly woman she had been helping to care for.
In his opening statement, Nathan Madden, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, said the woman Steinberg is accused of stealing from was 74 and barely able to leave home. He said the woman trusted Steinberg enough to add her to her checking account, and that eventually, Steinberg took thousands of dollars from that account.
“Once (Steinberg) started realizing the oilfield checks started coming in, you’re going to see a spike in the money coming out of (the elderly woman’s) account,” Madden told the jury.
Madden said the elderly woman wrote some checks to Steinberg but that Steinberg also wrote out checks to herself in the woman’s name, used the woman’s account to pay her utility bills and that she would deposit part of oil royalty checks while keeping money for herself.
According to police, Steinberg stole $9,500 in oil royalties from last August 2016 through March 2017. She also allegedly withdrew about $5,200 from the woman’s bank account, and wrote several unauthorized checks totaling more than $900.
During his opening statement, though, defense attorney Kevin Chapman said the woman wasn’t vulnerable and that while Steinberg had helped the woman, she hadn’t been an official caretaker, wasn’t in a position of trust and didn’t have power of attorney.
“There was nothing like that,” Chapman said. “They had a joint banking account that they both had the authority to operate out of.”
He said the pair were joint owners of the account, and that they became financially intertwined, but that there was no contract limiting what Steinberg was supposed to use money for.
Chapman also disputed that the woman met the legal definition of a vulnerable adult, saying she was able to drive when she and Steinberg became friends.
He said the woman had done well on a mental acuity test and while she had arthritis and limited mobility, that didn’t meet the legal standard.
“The state tries to equate limited mobility with that, but that’s simply not sufficient,” Chapman told the jury.
Steinberg’s trial had previously been set for April, but was delayed. Also in April, a judge rejected a plea deal between Steinberg and prosecutors. That deal would have given Steinberg a maximum sentence of one year in jail.
Monday was mostly taken up with jury selection, with questioning from attorneys lasting until after 2:30 p.m. and the jury being seated around 3:15 p.m. Testimony from prosecution witnesses is supposed to begin at 9 a.m. today.
The trial is scheduled to last until Wednesday.
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Trial for woman accused of taking from elderly woman will continue Tuesday