Monday, May 14, 2007

Loved Ones Traumatized as Former Manager of Apartments Faces Charges of Extorting nearly $50,000 from Senior Residents

Missoula , Montana By Tristan Scott of the Missoulian

The former manager of a senior living center in Missoula faces charges of financial elder abuse and theft, allegedly for spinning an elaborate ruse to gain residents' sympathy and trust while extorting nearly $50,000.

Ron Nelson, 51, worked as manager of the River Ridge Apartments for about 18 months, from November 2004 until he was fired in April 2006, when authorities in Missoula began unraveling an intricate scheme to embezzle money from the independent living center and its tenants.

After several months, however, authorities had identified more than 20 alleged victims who now say Nelson duped them into handing over thousands of dollars.

According to deposit records from Nelson's account at First Security Bank of Missoula, residents wrote Nelson personal checks as gifts and doled out money for inflated rent prices. Police say tenants offered to pony up money for Nelson's bogus medical expenses, phantom activity funds, invented security deposits and even a coffee donation fund.

On May 4, Deputy County Attorney Andrew Paul filed a host of charges against Nelson, who is slated to appear before a judge in Missoula County Justice Court on May 25.

The charges include four counts of felony elder abuse, one count of felony theft, five counts of misdemeanor elder abuse and two counts of misdemeanor theft.

Nelson, who lives in Hamilton, could face a punishment of up to 50 years in the Montana State Prison and more than $250,000 in fines.

While Nelson's son was indeed paralyzed in a car accident several years ago, the man frequently spent the residents' money on unrelated matters, court records state.

“The way my mom saw it, this guy walked on water,” said Dave Tenesch, Audrey's son. “This is a clearcut case of elder abuse, which is just as despicable as child abuse.”

But Nelson, who has cooperated extensively with detectives in the course of their investigation, maintains that he cared deeply for the residents, and accepted the money only as gifts, though he has admitted to defrauding Coast Real Estate, stealing more than $17,000 in the time he was employed there, according to records.

In a recent telephone interview, Nelson expressed his deep regard for the residents at River Ridge, saying he never meant any harm.

“We truly feel that she lost her life because of Ron Nelson,” he said.

According to records, Jackie Isome, one of Audrey's close friends at River Ridge Apartments, drove Audrey to the emergency room on two separate occasions for an intravenous fluid rehydration, a problem that arose due to a bacterial infection.

Dave Tenesch isn't sure how Audrey came to believe the family had intentions of placing her in a nursing home, but suspects Nelson planted the idea in her head so she would become increasingly dependent on him.

“It's very upsetting to us because, in her mind, we did this to her,” he said. “She hid how sick she was from us because this guy convinced her we'd put her in a nursing home.”

“It's like taking your child to a day care that's run by a predator,” said Dave Tenesch. “He seduced her into feeling sorry for him.”

Shortly after Audrey's death, Nelson told detectives he befriended the woman when she moved into the apartment complex because she wasn't very social and had trouble making friends.

Nelson told detectives he might have taken advantage of Audrey, but said the money was a gift, and if Audrey were alive she would agree.

Dave Tenesch said he began encouraging his mother to move from the Tri-Cities, Wash., to Missoula in 1997, after her husband died. He became increasingly worried about his mom when he discovered she'd bankrolled her former housekeeper's divorce, among other things. In 1999, Audrey bought a home in Missoula, then moved to River Ridge in 2005.

“It was easy for people to take advantage of her once they realized what a soft-touch she has,” Tenesch said. “I convinced her to move here so I could be closer to her. Sadly, it was just as unsafe here as it was there.”

Meanwhile, other residents were addressing their rent checks to Nelson, rather than to River Ridge Apartments, where the money should have gone.

In less than a year, another tenant, Ruth Ohlson, wrote Nelson a total of $15,929.50 in personal checks for advance rent, security deposits and donations to assist Nelson's paraplegic son.

However, none of Ohlson's checks were deposited into the River Ridge bank account, and all went directly to Nelson, court records state.

Last May, detectives visited Ohlson at her apartment and recorded a phone message that Nelson left on the woman's machine.

She explained to detectives that Nelson called before leaving the message, but when she realized who it was she said she didn't want to talk because he had “deceived” her. She then hung up.

Nelson called back crying and left a message saying he needed to talk to her because he didn't know what he'd done wrong. The checks Ohlson provided to Jacobson showed that she had been paying rent, all checks made out to Nelson, since June of 2005.

Shawn Hoban, the president of Coast Real Estate, which owns River Ridge Apartments, did not return phone calls for this article. The staff at River Ridge directed all inquiries to Hoban.

Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at

Abridged read it all here >>

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