A New Hope man, who pleaded guilty to swindling his 78-year-old mother, temporarily avoided sentencing Tuesday because a judge acknowledged that the man remains the sole caregiver of the mother whose bank account he depleted.

Anna Sitte has Alzheimer's disease, which was diagnosed years ago, but until plans for her immediate future are made, sentencing for her son Steven Carl Sitte, 53, can't be determined, said Hennepin County District Judge Warren Sagstuen.

Jimmy Sitte, who turned in his brother to authorities earlier this year, has asked that their mother be moved back to North Dakota. There, three acres remain of a century-old 188-acre family farm that Jimmy Sitte says his brother liquidated without his mother's knowledge.

"In a case as complex as this, one that involves the health and well-being of one of our senior citizens, I would be remiss" to immediately sentence Steven Sitte, said Sagstuen. He moved to delay sentencing until Nov. 16.

"There's so much at stake," the judge said, "not only for Mr. Sitte, but the entire family, especially the mother."

Anna Sitte was not in the court room. The brothers, sitting 10 feet apart in court, did not speak to one another.

"They're using the shield of my mother's Alzheimer's again," said Jimmy Sitte, who recently moved to Medora, in western North Dakota. He said his three children live on the remainder of the family farm.

"The fact that my mother's still living with Steve bothers me," he said. "She needs to be in assisted living."

Anna Sitte, who fell into a dark depression after her husband, Carl, died in 2002, was moved into an assisted-living home in Moorhead, Minn., in 2004, Jimmy Sitte said. He said he moved her back to the farm in 2005 to live with him. When Jimmy Sitte, a musician, signed to play a show in Wisconsin in September of that year, he says, he asked if he could bring his mother to Steven's home in New Hope for a visit. Steven would return Anna to the farm the following week, Jimmy Sitte said.

The weeklong visit has lasted four years.

According to court records, Anna Sitte's dementia had worsened by early 2007. That year, the documents say, Steven, unemployed and $300,000 in debt, forged his mother's signature 17 times on checks totaling $136,000.

On Sept. 12, Steven Sitte pleaded guilty to one count of theft by swindle, a felony, while three other charges were dismissed.

"Steve is the principal caregiver, the only caregiver," his attorney, Marshall Tanick, said Tuesday. "Everyone agrees that Steve's been an excellent caregiver. It's become his mission in life."

5 million victims a year

Each year, an estimated 5 million Americans fall victim to elder abuse, according to the Elder Justice Coalition in Washington. Of those cases, nearly one-fifth involve financial exploitation. The numbers of victims -- usually women between 75 and 80 -- are expected to increase as the population ages.

Several cases have been in the news in Minnesota this year. On Tuesday, a Roseville man was given 10 years' probation and ordered to pay restitution after he pleaded guilty last month to one count of theft by swindle; he had been accused in June of swindling two elderly people in home-repair scams.

In July, a North St. Paul woman was charged with stealing more than $225,000 from her 75-year-old mother during a two-year period. In April, a St. Paul man pleaded guilty to one count after being accused of swindling more than $100,000 from his mother. That case was the first prosecuted by a new elder-abuse unit in the Ramsey County attorney's office. Hennepin County also has such a unit.

Nationwide, elder-abuse crimes remain largely under-reported -- with only 16 percent reported to adult protective services, according to the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study. Those cases can be challenging to prosecute, with victims in failing health often intimidated and unwilling to cooperate with investigators.

"My mother has no recollection of any of this, thank goodness," Jimmy Sitte said Tuesday. "My mother shouldn't be living with Steve. She needs to be in assisted living."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419