ELLSWORTH — A Hancock County jury June 29 found a Mariaville woman not guilty of theft after deliberating for six hours.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office had charged Lisa Harriman, 56, with theft by unauthorized taking or transfer of $225,000 and misuse of entrusted property, with a value exceeding $10,000.
Harriman was found not guilty on both counts, said her attorney, John Steed of Blue Hill and Stonington who served as co-counsel with Ellsworth attorney Mary Kellett.
The alleged victim was a family member, Richard Royal, who had dementia, court records state. He died in 2017. Royal was the brother-in-law of Harriman’s mother.
Harriman had acted as a caregiver for the man after his wife, Betty passed, including handling his finances, according to court records.
Royal had asked Harriman to stay after his wife died. Harriman had been caregiver for Royal for at least 33 months, Steed said.
Maine Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin prosecuted the case.
“We certainly respect the jury’s decision,” said Robbin. “We are disappointed that they didn’t find her guilty of theft and misuse of trusted property.”
“She used his bank account as if it were her own,” Robbin said. The state’s senior fraud prosecutor said Harriman used $20,000 to buy a car and “facilitated some bad financial transactions. She caused him to cash in $157,000 of his retirement savings so she could pay off the mortgage on a camp she owned.”
“She was providing this help to a man who didn’t know what day of the week it was,” Robbin said.
Steed said he questions why the case was brought to trial.
An investigator for the Maine Attorney General’s Office who investigated the case testified that when the alleged victim was asked if he would have given this money to Harriman, the man said yes, Steed said.
“They had a good relationship — the alleged victim and the caregiver,” the attorney said. “There’s every indication this victim had wanted to give these gifts.”
Steed said there is a broader issue, which is, “Why are women’s roles as caregivers valued at nothing by the state?”
Another theft case involving the same purported victim but another defendant was adjudicated in 2017 with a not guilty finding.
The state had alleged that Kathleen Prunier, 60, allegedly committed theft by misleading the man that the property she bought from him was valued at far less than its assessed value.
Prunier was indicted on the theft charge following an investigation by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, but she was found not guilty last year by Justice Michael Roberts.
Robbin heads the financial crimes arm of the attorney general’s office.
“We see it as an epidemic at this point,” Robbin said of elder theft. She noted that the problem was especially prevalent in Hancock County because of the number of coastal properties.
“We’ve got seniors who have saved their whole lives who are sitting on ocean access real estate, purchased a lifetime ago worth now an awful lot of money,” said Robbin.
Those who lose longtime spouses, especially those whose spouses handled the finances, are prone to theft.
“The person is alone and vulnerable,” Robbin said. “They can be very isolated at that time of their lives.”