Janesville64.6°

Woman sentenced in adult abuse case

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Mike DuPre'
November 6, 2007
— Zita VanHouten will spend a year in jail because she abused the trust of vulnerable adults, a Rock County judge decided Monday.

Judge Michael Byron’s sentence was less than what the prosecution argued for and more than the defense wanted. But Byron explained that he ordered a year in jail as part of VanHouten’s 10 years on probation because of the aggravated nature of her offense:


She stole from vulnerable people who trusted her to take good care of them.


VanHouten, 42, of 10806 E. Tighe Road, Clinton, was convicted by a jury in September of three counts of theft in a business setting: one of $5,000 to $10,000, one of between $2,500 and $5,000 and one of more than $2,500.


Byron didn’t accept assistant district attorney Jerry Urbik’s argument for a five-year prison term, 10 years of extended supervision and a consecutive five years on probation.


But the judge also wanted VanHouten to spend most of her year in jail actually behind bars. He ordered that she not seek or accept conditional release on electronic monitoring.


And if the sheriff in either Rock or Walworth County—where she may serve her jail time—ignores that order, Byron said he will revoke VanHouten’s Huber work-release privileges, making her ineligible for electronic monitoring.


VanHouten was taking care of a 92-year-old woman and her 69-year-old, mentally handicapped son for about five years at Meadow Park, an assisted-living facility in Clinton, according to the criminal complaint filed against her.


VanHouten had either the woman or her son sign blank checks written out to herself or cash—ostensibly to either pay her or pay bills—at the same time she was being paid by the county to care for the woman and her son, the complaint charged.


One of the elderly woman’s granddaughters told the court that her grandmother had retreated from an active life to one of isolation over the years VanHouten had cared for her.


“I think it was Ms. VanHouten’s plan to alienate and isolate my grandmother from her friends and family so she could do what she wanted with her finances,” the woman said.


An investigator found checks from two bank accounts either written to VanHouten or cash and endorsed by VanHouten in the amount of $61,129, according to the criminal complaint.


How much VanHouten stole from the woman and her son is disputed and will be the subject of a restitution hearing Dec. 11.


Urbik argued for $100,499 in restitution.


Besides seeking only probation with no jail time, defense attorney Tod Daniel sought to have restitution set at about $12,500, about the total of amounts cited as parameters in amended charges against VanHouten.


At one point, she was charged with two counts of theft of more than $10,000 and one of theft between $5,000 and $10,000, all in a business setting, but the charges were amended to thefts of lesser amounts.


VanHouten had no prior criminal record and committed only a property crime, Daniel said.


Although VanHouten had no previous criminal record, she had written 231 checks over about five years, Urbik said. “I submit there are over 200 individual criminal acts on the part of defendant.”



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