Maple Grove Council Member LeAnn Sargent faces three felony charges after money disappeared from her father's trust fund.
As Robert Bobleter slowly died at his daughter's home, his 84-year-old body ravaged by time and kidney disease, prosecutors contend she looted his assets of $153,000, using it to pay credit card bills, business expenses and spa retreats, even the mortgage on the very house he willed to her.
LeAnn Sargent, 62, a longtime Maple Grove City Council member, was charged Monday with three felony counts, accused of using her power of attorney to raid the trust fund for her own benefit from 2009 until days before he died on March 12, 2012.
Although the charges are not linked to her duties as a council member, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said her status makes the crime all the more tragic. "Those of us who have the opportunity to serve elected office, police officers, prosecutors and clergy are given by society a little bit of additional status, and every day we need to earn that," he said Tuesday.
When reached at home Tuesday, Sargent said she was unconcerned about the criminal charges. "It's a probate matter, and that's basically where it'll stay," she said, referring other questions to her attorney, Chris Ritts.
"She's going to vigorously defend this in court, and I'm not going to try it in the media," he said. "She's not guilty."
Sargent is charged with one count of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and two counts of perjury for allegedly failing to disclose income from the trust fund after she and her husband filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2011.
Brother was whistleblower
Police began investigating Sargent after her half-brother, Robert Bobleter Jr., went to authorities when he found only $346 in their father's trust after his death, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in October in Hennepin County District Court.
Charges say Sargent's father granted her power of attorney in 2008, to remain effective until his death. Two years later, he moved in with Sargent and her husband. In 2011, Bobleter began receiving in-home health care from nurses and aides, but an investigation found he also signed a contract agreeing to pay his daughter $1,500 a month for personal care services and another agreement paying Sargent $500 per month rent to live in her home.
Charges say Sargent should have received a maximum of $24,000 in payment from her father, but instead paid herself more than $50,000 in checks, cash withdrawals and cash advances against his credit card. She also allegedly charged $14,794 to his credit card for purchases from "Handbags by Miche."
She also paid $4,600 in Realtor business expenses from his checking account and made $1,400 in payments to her Discover card from his checking account. There were also $1,714 in charges from his credit card to "New Reflections Spa" and "Lifetime Spa."
"Neither the Personal Care Agreement nor the Room and Board Agreement makes any reference to Bobleter agreeing to pay for [Sargent's] realtor expenses, handbags, her credit card bills, or trips to the spa," Eden Prairie police detective Dean Corder wrote in the complaint. The city handled the case to avoid a conflict of interest.
If convicted, probation likely
The complaint also alleges that as Bobleter grew closer to death, Sargent took out a $58,000 mortgage loan on a paid-for Morrison County cabin her father had willed to her and her brother. He had also willed his Maple Grove home to Sargent, which still had an outstanding mortgage.
Sargent used the loan money to pay the mortgage on the Maple Grove home on March 5, 2012. One week later, her father died.
"Through this transfer, [Sargent] effectively gave herself nearly $39,000 because after Bobleter passed away one week later, [Sargent] inherited a completely unencumbered home in Maple Grove," Corder wrote in the complaint.
Sargent, who is not in jail, is scheduled to appear in court in a few weeks. If convicted, she is likely to receive probation. Freeman said her husband was not charged because there is no evidence that he stole from Bobleter's account or knowingly committed perjury.
Maple Grove Mayor Mark Stephenson declined to discuss the charges at length Tuesday. "It is a personal matter, and I guess we'll see what happens next," he said. "As I understand it, unless she's convicted of a felony, there isn't removal."
City Administrator Al Madsen said Sargent is innocent until proven guilty, and that despite the charges, there is no reason to suspect any wrongdoing within her council position.
"Any finance issue with the city is the furthest thing from my mind," he said. "When you have the number of auditors that local government has, you will have no issues."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921