Woman pleads guilty to exploitation of vulnerable person

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, November 10, 2015

NATCHEZ — A Natchez woman will spend time in prison and have to pay nearly $44,000 in restitution for her role in the embezzlement of funds from an elderly woman under her care.

The funds were reportedly used to illicitly purchase pain medication.

Evelyn Ann Whatley, 59, pleaded guilty Monday in Adams County Circuit Court to one count of exploitation of a vulnerable person.

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Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson sentenced Whatley to six years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections with a requirement that one of those years be served and the other five suspended and served as a supervised probation.

As a condition of the supervised probation, Whatley would have to pay $43,985 in restitution to the victim’s family. The amount was determined in a previous civil judgment in Judge Walt Brown’s county court.

Johnson’s sentence likewise required that Whatley receive drug treatment.

“I have always thought this was one of the worst things somebody could do, to steal from an elderly person, especially when it is over and over and over,” Johnson said.

The maximum penalty possible for one count exploitation of a vulnerable person is 10 years prison.

Special Attorney General Larry Baker prosecuted the case, and said the state would have proven Whatley had used Rita Holland’s Regions Bank card 35 times and Holland’s United Mississippi Bank card 79 times to obtain cash between Nov. 6, 2014, and Feb. 28, 2015.

The state had video footage of Whatley making the withdrawals, he said.

Holland, 83, died in February, and Baker said three of the withdrawals happened after the victim’s death.

“It is the state’s position that if there is any person where jail time of some sort is warranted, this would be the case,” Baker said. “She was charged with taking care of Mrs. Holland, and she did the opposite — she stole from her.”

Prior to her sentencing, Whatley’s defense attorney called two witnesses to the stand, Natchez-Adams County Metro Narcotics Commander David Lindsey and Russell Frazier, an investigator with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Vulnerable Adults Unit.

Frazier said during his investigation Whatley told him she had experienced a relapse of an addiction to pain medication and had spent the money buying pain pills.

“I asked would she be willing to put the drug dealer out of business, too, and arranged to put her in contact with the people who could do that,” Frazier said.

Lindsey testified Whatley participated as an undercover buyer of narcotics for the agency, and her help led to the arrest of someone who “wasn’t a high-level dealer.” The drug case is waiting to go before the grand jury, he said.

Frazier and Lindsey both said they made no promises about sentencing to Whatley for her participation as an undercover buyer.

Before she was sentenced, Whatley said she wanted to apologize to Holland’s family for “whatever I have done.”

“I am just so sorry,” she said.

Holland’s daughter, Rita Fuglaar, said the apology was “absolutely not” accepted.

“That was awful what she did,” Fuglaar said.

Holland’s son-in-law, James Fuglaar, said the family’s interest in pursuing the case was to make sure it could be used as an example that would serve as a deterrent against the exploitation of the elderly.

“It has been very frustrating for us, particularly for my wife, to have to deal with this at the same time she was having to mourn and deal with her mother’s death,” he said.

Whatley was immediately remanded to the custody of the Adams County Sheriff’s Office after sentencing.