The Rochester resident told “sob stories” to get money from elderly neighbors.
ROCHESTER – The Rochester couple lived modestly, making do with linoleum kitchen floors, old countertops, a spotless but ’70s love seat.
Little did they know that their next-door neighbor, Carolyn J. Cassar, was adding “hardwood floors, marble countertops, skylights, custom cabinetry and new roofing,” a court filing said.
She paid for it all — plus a European vacation — with the couple’s life savings.
Cassar admitted to a judge that she befriended and then bilked her elderly next-door neighbors out of more than $800,000 with elaborate lies involving a dead daughter in Washington, D.C., and an ex-husband being accused overseas of killing her sister.
She pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Minneapolis to wire fraud in a scheme that spanned more than six years, funded international trips and financed her unrealized dream of a multimillion-dollar Italian-style villa that she envisioned on an expansive piece of land in Rochester.
In all, Cassar, 61, collected $840,000 in 375 transactions with the couple, who are in their early 90s and who “despite modest education and jobs … accumulated a life savings of nearly $1 million through their diligence and frugality,” according to a court filing.
The husband, who asked that his name not be used, worked in maintenance for nearly four decades, reinvesting every cent of interest, “like the old-timers taught me,” he said. “We saved so we wouldn’t be a burden to our children.”
After a lifetime of scrimping, “to lose all you’ve got at the tail end,” he said, sitting Friday afternoon in the living room of the house they’ve owned since 1946. “It’s hard to accept. It’s damn hard to accept.”
The couple got to know Cassar “over the fence,” he said. He’d often be in the back yard, carving willow into walking sticks or harvesting tomatoes in the garden. They’d invite Cassar for coffee on their patio, just as they do other neighbors walking up the alley.
“If we’re going to be neighbors, we’ve gotta know each other,” said his wife of 71 years.
Wearing a crisp blue shirt and suspenders, he lowered his eyes and straightened his thick fingers when asked about Cassar’s stories and why they believed them. That, he said, he doesn’t want to talk about.
“Certain things, you have to mull them over quite a while,” he said. It’s similar to serving in the military, the World War II veteran continued. “When you first get out, you don’t have much you want to say.”
Cassar answered the doorbell at her small, well-landscaped home Friday. “Oh, I’m not interested in talking,” she said, quickly shutting the door. Her attorney, Reynaldo Aligada, also declined to comment.
From May 2006 through September 2012, Cassar coaxed the couple into giving her money for travel to Washington, D.C., so she could attend to the affairs of her daughter’s death in a car crash, including buying a dress for her burial, according to court documents.
The couple also gave Cassar money to travel to Italy to help bring to justice a former business associate who had defrauded her.
The stories were all lies.
Cassar assured the couple that they would be repaid once she collected an inheritance from her father’s estate, money that the former business associate had stolen. But there was no inheritance. Over the entire time of the scheme, Cassar paid back $1,300 to the couple.
To back up some of her yarns, Cassar showed the couple airline itineraries for her flights to Italy.