The mother and uncle of a young St. Paul man who was set on fire by his mother's boyfriend this past summer reportedly stole money donated to him and spent it on gambling and drugs.
Jeffrey Allen Stewart, 43, of South St. Paul, and Jodi Ann Stewart, 40, are accused of stealing $2,500 from a relief fund just weeks after Antoine Willis, 19, was burned and while he was still in the hospital in intensive care.
They were charged in Dakota County Court on Tuesday with one count each of theft by swindle. Stewart is being held in the Dakota County jail and is to make his first court appearance Wednesday. The boy's mother hasn't been located; police have a warrant for her arrest, said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.
According to the criminal complaints, Willis did not give permission for the funds to be collected by the uncle in the first place, because he did not trust him.
"Taking funds intended to benefit an injured young man is a significant breach of trust," Backstrom said.
In a case that sparked outrage, Curtis Edwin Reed set Willis on fire while he slept on July 20 because the teenager had tried to break up a fight between his mother and Reed, according to Ramsey County District Court documents. The teen ran from the house with his head surrounded by a large fireball and suffered second- and third-degree burns to his head, neck and torso.
Investigators looking into the alleged theft used deposit slips and surveillance tape from banks in South St. Paul and Woodbury to determine that Jeffrey and Jodi Stewart took the money on Aug. 4 and 5.
South St. Paul police confronted the uncle, who reportedly admitted taking the money. He said the mother "talked him into" using it for a casino run after he'd originally planned to use it for an apartment for Willis.
The investigator asked Jeffrey Stewart, "so between gambling for yourself and drugs for her, the money is gone. Is that a pretty good assumption?"
The response from the uncle: "Probably."
Police say that the $2,500 taken from a benefit account created for Willis was about half of the money collected for Willis from members of the public.
Reed was charged in Ramsey County with first-degree assault.
According to court documents, the burning incident began when Reed, 54, attacked Willis' mother about 3 a.m. in the family's home in the 1300 block of Ames Avenue in St. Paul.
Reed allegedly threw a knife at Willis, pushed him and walked toward Willis' mother armed with a frying pan. The teen then grabbed Reed around the neck as two friends punched the man.
"You guys got me, you guys got me," Reed said when they stopped, but warned: "Don't go to sleep."
Willis fell asleep on the couch about 5:30 a.m., then woke up to flames on his body; Reed had doused him with lighter fluid and lit him on fire, court documents say.
"I got you!" Reed said, according to a criminal complaint. "I got you now!"
Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281