U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen was stern in her assessment of a 61-year-old Rochester woman who swindled a next-door elderly couple out of their life savings.

"This level of coldblooded manipulation is beyond what even a normal fraudster exhibits," said Ericksen, looking down on Carolyn Jean Cassar, who stood silently next to her attorney. Ericksen added that "you knew what you were doing to the victims."

Cassar was sentenced to five years in prison, 14 months more than federal court guidelines, although two years less that what prosecutors had sought.

Cassar, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud in July, bilked the couple out of $840,000, using ever more elaborate lies as she asked for increasing amounts of money.

The couple were identified only by their initials in court filings.

"I feel like she got off damn lightly," the husband, 92, said outside the courtroom in the Federal Courthouse in Minneapolis.

"I personally think the minimum should have been 10 years," said his son, 69, who also asked not to be identified.

From 2006 to 2012, Cassar borrowed money from the couple in 375 transactions.

"As she earned the victims' trust and discovered that they believed everything she said, her lies became more frequent and more outlandish," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Svendsen told the judge.

"As a result of her lies, Cassar was able to have all the things the defendants denied themselves their entire lives, including lavish vacations and expensive furnishings for her home, and the victims were left with nothing."

Among her fabrications was the need to travel to Washington, D.C., so she could attend to the affairs of her daughter who died in a car crash and for trips to Italy to bring justice to a former business associate who had defrauded her.

In fact, she spent much of the money for flights to Europe for family vacations and trips to Italy so that American architects could study Italian architecture in preparation for building a mansion for her in Rochester.

Designs of her new house and copies of records of flights she took were included in court documents.

Other funds were spent on extravagant purchases and improvements to her current home.

Reynaldo Aligada, Cassar's attorney, appealed for a shorter prison term, noting that because of her age she would not be prone to reoffend. Cassar had no comment at the sentencing, and Aligada had no comment afterward.

Ericksen ordered Cassar to pay for restitution to the couple, although given that much of the money has already been spent, that would appear unlikely. She was ordered to pay a certain amount of what she earns in prison to the court, money that would be forwarded to the couple.

Ericksen noted that Cassar had been complaining about some of the elderly couple's property leaning against Cassar's retaining wall.

Ericksen said she suspected the retaining wall had been built with the couple's money so the judge said she was not going to worry about it.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224