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Continued: Rochester woman with dream of lavish villa told wild tales to bilk $840K from elderly couple

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS and PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Last update: July 27, 2013 - 6:55 AM

Cassar spent the money to take a vacation in Europe with her son and others; to take Rochester-area homebuilder Les Radcliffe and famed Florida architect John Henry — and their spouses — to Italy to study architecture in preparation for designing a home; and to pay for interior design services from Danielle Loven of Vivid Interior of Minneapolis.

Loven said Friday that she’s out more than $100,000 because Cassar paid for furnishings with a cashier’s check that bounced.

Loven, who also was invited to Italy but couldn’t go, said Cassar had these “major blueprints” for the villa in Rochester that would be worth $10 million and have other homes around it valued at several million each.

“At first, I thought she was crazy,” said Loven, who helped prosecutors with the case and was ready to testify next week in a trial that never got started. “You check everything out, and it matched. … Sometimes you get eccentric clients.”

Henry said Friday that he had “no idea” that his client was a thief, adding, “It is not unusual for a well-heeled client to take a design team [on trips] to see period-style houses they wish to emulate.”

Before turning the first shovel of dirt on her villa project, Cassar used some of her ill-gotten gains to make home improvements on her home nestled along 10th Street NW. “[She] purchased over $100,000 in furnishings for her bedroom, living room, dining room and den, at times spending upward of $500 on a single pillow,” court documents said. “Money was no object because, of course, it wasn’t hers.”

The siphoning of the couple’s money finally came to a halt once two associates at Home Federal Savings Bank became suspicious of the elderly husband’s large withdrawals and spoke up.

The employees took their worries for their longtime customers to police, who set up a phone tap of a conversation between the wife and Cassar. During the call, Cassar made further promises of repayment.

With her Thursday court date in Minneapolis looming, Cassar told the judge she didn’t have enough money to get herself from Rochester to the courthouse 85 or so miles away. Her contention that she is an “indigent defendant” was accepted, and the U.S. Marshals Service arranged for her travel to the Twin Cities for the 25-minute hearing.

Now Cassar remains free on bond pending sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

‘We’re a compassionate family’

Jamie Cassar, who took the trip to Italy in 2011 with his mother, said Friday that he’s glad his mother pleaded guilty and it “tears me up inside” just thinking about what happened to the elderly neighbors. The couple even drove him, his mother and his girlfriend to the airport for their Italian excursion, where they spent much of their time taking in the charms of Venice.

The older couple has never been. They splurged on one big trip, in 1984 after he retired from the Rochester School District, driving to Alaska in a secondhand motor home.

Otherwise, they rely on their 2004 Dodge minivan to run errands, visit the grandkids and great-grandkids, and see their doctors.

Each year, there are roughly 2.1 million elderly Americans who are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation, according to the Administration on Aging, an agency of the Administration for Community Living.

Since he was chosen to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new Office of Older Americans, Hubert Humphrey III has traveled from California to Maine looking for ways to protect the interests of senior citizens. That has taken in everything from lobbying for large-print pamphlets to urging law enforcement to crack down harder on criminals who prey on seniors.

Older Americans lost nearly $3 billion to financial exploitation in 2010 alone, according to a study by insurance company MetLife Inc. With the nation’s senior population at 50 million and growing, the problem will only get worse.

Jamie Cassar, 37, said he tried to press his mother for where she was getting the money for the lavish home project, but was told it was none of his business.

  • related content

  • The house on the left belonged to Carolyn Cassar, and her elderly victims lived next door in the white house.

  • Carolyn J. Cassar in Venice.

  • The couple, who wish to remain unidentified, looked out a picture window in their home.

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