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Woman accused of conning elderly woman out of thousands

Authorities say a woman tricked a dementia sufferer in Grand Forks into signing over more than $146,000.

Karen Lebeis, 66, of West St. Paul, Minn., made an initial court appearance over the phone Monday in state District Court in Grand Forks. She's charged with exploiting a vulnerable adult, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

The victim is an 81-year-old woman who was diagnosed several years ago with Alzheimer's and, according to a criminal complaint, lacks "the capacity to consent."

Lebeis was the girlfriend of the victim's brother. When he died, he left his sister several certificates of deposit.

According to a detective's report, Lebeis took the victim to a Crookston bank and cashed the CDs, and she had the victim write her checks totaling $73,496. The victim also bought two new CDs for $36,500 each and named Lebeis as the sole beneficiary, the report states.

The report says Lebeis took the victim to an attorney's office to have her will rewritten, designating Lebeis as having power of attorney over the victim. Lebeis also had the victim hire another attorney and draft a new estate plan; the victim had to pay a $2,500 fee for that service, the report states.

The crimes allegedly occurred between November 2009 and January.

A wrinkle in the matter is that Lebeis is legally blind. So, when taking the victim to banks and law offices, a third woman drove. However, no one else is being charged in the case, prosecutor Chris Griffin said.

Detective Mike Flannery, who investigated the case for the Grand Forks Police Department, said an investigator with the Crookston Police Department referred the case to him. Flannery said that, as far as he knows, Lebeis will be charged in Minnesota as well.

During Monday's hearing, Lebeis' attorney, Alex Reichert, told a judge, "I think this might be one of those cases we can get resolved."

Outside of court, Reichert said, "My client doesn't believe that she did anything wrong," but he declined to comment further.

Griffin said one of the prosecution's main objectives will be to get the victim's money back from Lebeis.

Lebeis, who is not in custody, must post a $3,000 bond to ensure she'll appear for future court dates. She's set for a preliminary hearing Aug. 9.