Shortly after a 90-year-old Cody woman was admitted to a nursing home last year, authorities say her granddaughter in Texas began taking thousands of dollars from her bank account. Between June and …
Shortly after a 90-year-old Cody woman was admitted to a nursing home last year, authorities say her granddaughter in Texas began taking thousands of dollars from her bank account. Between June and November 2018, Crystal Gwynn, 35, drained more than $24,600 from her grandmother’s account while letting the woman’s bills go unpaid.
Gwynn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of exploiting a vulnerable adult at a Sept. 4 hearing in Park County Circuit Court. Under questioning from her attorney, she admitted to recklessly transferring the money from her grandmother’s account to one of her own — all without her grandmother’s knowledge.
Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters ordered Gwynn to serve a year of unsupervised probation, with 364 days of jail time suspended, and to pay $205 in court fees and $25,004.48 in restitution. She also received credit for the day she served in jail after charges were initially filed in April.
The sentence imposed by Judge Waters followed a plea agreement reached between Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric and Gwynn’s attorney, Brigita Krisjansons. Under the deal, an initial felony charge of theft was dismissed and the exploitation charge lowered to a misdemeanor in exchange for Gwynn’s guilty plea and her immediately paying the restitution; she paid the slightly more than $25,000 the same day as her sentencing. In a Thursday interview, Skoric said the deal was supported by Gwynn's grandmother, who did not want he granddaughter to serve additional jail time.
Gwynn, who lives in Whitney, Texas, phoned into court from a noisy garbage truck that she drives as part of her job.
Toward the end of the hearing Judge Waters advised Gwynn that, “In the future I would suggest if you have a court date, maybe you ought to get to a spot where things can go a little better.”
“You’re dealing with a felony charge here,” Waters said, “and driving a garbage truck down the road while we’re trying to ... do a change of plea on this is maybe not the best idea in the world.”
Gwynn agreed and apologized.
She had received the power of attorney over her grandmother’s affairs back in 2016, charging documents say, but the trouble didn’t begin until the 90-year-old was admitted to the Cody Regional Health Long-term Care Center in June 2018.
Just two weeks after the woman’s admission to the center, Gwynn obtained an ATM/debit card for her grandmother’s bank account and began taking out thousands of dollars at a time, Cody Police Detective Rick Tillery wrote in an affidavit. For instance, Tillery found that Gwynn withdrew $2,000 on June 21, while her boyfriend withdrew another $2,000 the following day.
Over the next five months, she made purchases and took cash totalling $24,644.79, Tillery found.
“Crystal did not exercise her fiduciary responsibility as her grandmother’s agent with the above money but diverted the funds to her own use,” Tillery wrote.
Over that same time period, the detective concluded that Gwynn made only two payments that benefited her grandmother: spending a total of about $459 on insurance and utilities on her grandmother’s mobile home in Cody.
However, Gwynn failed to make several other payments on the insurance, utilities and rent — leading to electrical service being shut off and the insurance being canceled, Tillery wrote.
The exploitation was first detected by a worker at the Wyoming Department of Health, Judie Petersen. While helping Gwynn’s grandmother apply for Medicaid assistance for her care at the nursing home, Petersen discovered that Gwynn had nearly depleted the woman’s bank account, Tillery wrote. Her findings were sent to Stacie Sullivan at the Wyoming Department of Family Services, who contacted Cody police.
Gwynn’s power of attorney was revoked by her grandmother on Nov. 9, 2018, with assistance from a social worker at the long-term care center.
“Despite [the woman]’s age and some hearing loss, she presented herself as very competent and mentally capable of conducting her personal business,” Tillery wrote of a December 2018 meeting with the grandmother, adding that she “expressed surprise and disappointment that Crystal [Gwynn] would have taken advantage of her.”
The woman also expressed concern that she would lose her mobile home over the trouble Gwynn had created.
The owner of the RV park wound up having to take over the woman’s electrical payments to make sure the park’s water line didn’t freeze; Gwynn’s restitution included repaying the RV park owner for those expenses.
Noise from her sanitation truck initially made it difficult for court officials to communicate with Gwynn at this month’s sentencing, with Judge Waters having to loudly repeat several of his advisements into the court’s speakerphone. For instance, Gwynn twice did not hear the judge ask for her plea, prompting Krisjansons to loudly call out to her client that, “You need to plead guilty to the charge.”
Gwynn eventually shut off the vehicle, which reduced the background noise and feedback.
As the hearing reached its end, Judge Waters told Gwynn that she was “free to start your truck up and head on down the road.”
While on probation, she must obey the law and cannot have any contact with her grandmother unless the woman requests it.
Editor's note: This version has been updated to add information about the victim's support for the plea deal.