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Thief River Falls woman accused of stealing $11,000 from man with dementia

Peggy Lynn Mehrkens

THIEF RIVER FALLS—A Thief River Falls woman has been accused of stealing more than $11,000 from a man with dementia.

Peggy Lynn Mehrkens, 53, appeared Monday in Pennington County District Court on five charges of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, three of which are felony counts that each carry a maximum punishment of five years in prison.

The investigation began after Valley Home in Thief River Falls contacted the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center, according to court documents. The assisted living facility noted a man whom Mehrkens had power of attorney over was $30,000 in the red for rent, court documents said. The documents also noted the man did not leave the facility often, did not eat out, didn't have a phone and staff members provided clothing to him or helped fix holes in his clothes.

The man was diagnosed with dementia in December 2011, and Mehrkens had power of attorney over Mehrkens since September 2011 but relinquished it in April, court documents said.

The Thief River Falls Police Department investigated the man's accounts and found funds were being transferred to Mehrkens over the past three years, court documents said. The accounts also reflected purchases from the music streaming app Spotify, iTunes, Delta Air, Walmart, numerous restaurants and bars, the City of Thief River Falls and other businesses, court documents said.

In total, the expenditures add up to $11,056.

Mehrkens said she was aware the man's rent was past due but was not aware staff members were providing clothes to the man or fixing holes in his clothing, court documents said. Mehrkens also said she takes the man out for supper occasionally and for doctor appointments, and some of the items purchased at stores like Walmart benefited the man, according to court documents. She explained the Delta Air purchase was made for a ticket to Texas for a benefit being held for the man, court documents said.

When asked about several alcohol purchases, Mehrkens said they were for her, according to court documents.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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