Malgorzata Burns’ case was bigger than her and bigger than the victim, Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen argued Thursday. The woman’s sentence would be indicative of the state’s level of tolerance toward exploitation of the elderly, he noted.
“We have to deliver a message,” the attorney stated during Burns’ sentencing in Natrona County District Court.
Burns reportedly stole thousands of dollars from a 100-year-old man with dementia while he was under her care at Shepherd of the Valley Healthcare Center in Casper. She used the victim’s checkbook to pay credit card and cable bills and eventually secured online payments through his account, Blonigen said.
The nursing home worker resigned in light of the allegations, according to a previous Star-Tribune story.
In March, Burns pleaded no contest to one count of obtaining goods by false pretenses. In turn, prosecutors agreed to dismiss four counts of forgery and a single charge of exploiting a vulnerable adult.
The defense and prosecuting attorneys argued for vastly differing sentences, leaving Natrona County District Judge Catherine Wilking to determine whether Burns would receive a suspended sentence, as many as seven years in prison or something in between.
Blonigen called Burns’ crime “despicable” and noted that he didn’t use that term lightly.
The exploitation wasn’t limited to the defendant and the victim, but undermined the confidence the elderly have in their caregivers, he said.
“To do so for what reason?” Blonigen asked rhetorically. “Greed.”
The district attorney said he hoped Burns’ sentence would deliver a message that the elderly are protected from such predatory practices.
He recommended five to seven years in the Wyoming Women’s Center and more than $13,000 in restitution.
Defense attorney Thomas Smith said his client accepted responsibility and recognized the seriousness of the offense.
Smith asked that Wilking follow the pre-sentence investigation’s recommendation and asked for a suspended, three- to five-year sentence along with a Casper Re-Entry Center program recommendation.
“She would like to pay back [the victim] and prove herself a good member of society,” Smith said.
Burns addressed the court through tears.
“I’m ashamed of what I did,” she said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to pay for my misconduct.”
Before ruling on a sentence, Wilking lectured the defendant on the effect her actions had on the victim.
Care workers are now restricted from mentioning the victim’s finances in his presence, she said.
“He becomes so upset, he wants to leave the nursing home and withdraw all his money,” Wilking said.
The judge settled on a compromise and sentenced Burns to three to five
years in the Wyoming Women’s Center, with credit for 177 days of time served.