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Brittany Lawonn, Published April 30 2009

Homebuilder Larry Villella set to change plea in exploitation case

FARGO – Local homebuilder Larry Villella, who previously entered not guilty pleas to criminal charges that he exploited his 75-year-old father-in-law, is expected to change his plea Friday.

The plea change comes 10 days before his trial date and roughly two months after Villella’s wife, Catherine Sadler-Villella, agreed to testify in the case against her husband in exchange for reduced criminal charges.

Both have previously pleaded not guilty to three felony charges accusing them of exploiting her father out of more than $100,000 and forging his signature on a guaranty to back more than $1 million in loans to finance Villella’s business.

Prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek would not say whether a plea agreement has been reached in the case or to which charges Villella would be pleading guilty.

Villella’s attorney, Mark Beauchene declined to comment.

A judge has accepted a plea agreement in Sadler-Villella’s case calling for her to serve 10 days on work release and 50 days of electronic home monitoring. Under the agreement, Sadler-Villella also would plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of forgery and misapplication of entrusted property. A felony charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult will then be dropped.

A sentencing date has not yet been set for Sadler-Villella.

Van de Streek, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney, said he does not expect Villella to be sentenced Friday. He declined to comment on the further.

Villella said in August that he has put his homebuilding business, Larry Villella Custom Homes, on hold until the criminal charges are resolved.