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Dave Olson, Published September 26 2013

Cass, Fargo law enforcement put focus on elder abuse, cite recent case

FARGO – The case of a 90-year-old woman who had her birthday money stolen was highlighted Thursday by Cass County prosecutors and Fargo police who have launched a coordinated effort to combat elder abuse.

“Increasingly, they (older people) may not be aware they’ve been a victim of a crime,” Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes said at a news conference announcing the collaboration.

Ternes and Cass County States Attorney Birch Burdick said their agencies will devote extra attention to crimes committed against seniors.

“We want to root it out where we find it,” Burdick said.

Burdick and Ternes cited a recent investigation of thefts at a senior living center in Fargo.

Pricilla Ehrich, 33, of Fargo, is charged in Cass County District Court with one count of felony burglary and one misdemeanor charge of theft.

According to court documents:

A 90-year-old resident of Edgewood Vista told police she received $100 during a birthday party earlier this year. She kept it in a pouch.

The woman said when she later reached into the pouch to retrieve $2 to put in the collection plate at church, the money was gone.

When the woman’s daughter heard about the missing cash, she gave her mother $40 for spending money.

A short while later, most of that money also disappeared.

Ehrich worked at Edgewood Vista when the alleged thefts occurred. When she was questioned by police, she admitted stealing from a number of residents, court documents state.

Ehrich is no longer employed at Edgewood Vista, said Kathy Svare, the center’s executive director.

Burdick said the value of items taken in the case exceeds $250, but he did not have a specific total.

In such cases, Burdick said, the dollar amount of what is taken may pale in comparison to the sentimental value a possession holds for its owner.

“Each of these crimes is important to the victims,” he said.

Ternes said the Police Department is dedicating one of its detectives to focusing on crimes against the elderly, similar to how the department approaches domestic abuse and crimes against children, which also have detectives whose time is focused on investigating such cases.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555