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Judge accepts Sadler-Villella's plea agreement

FARGO - The wife of Fargo homebuilder Larry Villella, who is accused of conspiring with her to exploit her 75-year-old father, agreed Friday to testify in the case against her husband in exchange for reduced criminal charges.

Catherine Sadler-Villella and Larry Villella had both previously pleaded not guilty to three felony charges accusing them of exploiting her father out of more than $100,000 and forging his signature on a guaranty to back more than $1 million in loans to finance Villella's business.

District Court Judge Wickham Corwin accepted a plea agreement Friday in which Sadler-Villella will plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of forgery and misapplication of entrusted property.

A felony charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult will be dropped.

The court will be asked to formally accept her guilty pleas after she testifies in Larry Villella's trial, which is slated to start May 11, said Cass County Assistant State's Attorney Tristan Van de Streek.

The plea agreement recommends she serve 10 days on work release and 50 days of electronic home monitoring.

"I think in light of her cooperation, in light of what she has done as far as making the victim whole again, accepting responsibility, pleading guilty and testifying against the remaining defendant, I believe that's a fair and adequate sentence," Van de Streek said.

Villella's attorney, Mark Beauchene, said Van de Streek is "simply wrong" in saying Sadler-Villella will testify "against" her husband. Beauchene said the plea agreement - which is sealed along with the rest of the court file - states she must "cooperate fully and truthfully with the state in other pending criminal prosecutions."

"She will testify truthfully, and it's yet to be seen whether that's a positive or negative," Beauchene said.

Van de Streek said prosecutors believe Sadler-Villella's testimony is valuable, "and it was worth the agreement that we made."

Sadler-Villella did not appear in court. Under the rules of procedure, a defendant need not be present to plead to a misdemeanor.

Her attorney, Robert Hoy, declined to comment after the hearing.

Van de Streek said the spousal privilege that normally protects someone from having their spouse testify against them doesn't apply in this case, because the alleged victim, Lawrence Isom, was a member of the household.

The state won't seek restitution from Sadler-Villella because she has "more than adequately compensated" her father's estate through the civil process, Van de Streek said, not going into detail. Restitution may be sought against Villella, he said.

Villella said in August that he has put his homebuilding business, Larry Villella Custom Homes, on hold until the criminal charges are resolved.