By Shereen Siewert
Two Wisconsin women are accused of defrauding an elderly Weston woman out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, money allegedly spent on haircuts, designer handbags, Walt Disney stocks, a “Mousemingle” dating membership, timeshares, appliances and other miscellaneous purchases, according to court documents.
Ramona Bartell, 64, of Cedarburg; and Melissa R. Stark, 42, of Grafton, are both being summoned into Marathon County Circuit Court, where they face charges filed May 22 of theft in a business setting over $10,000 and theft of movable property with special facts. The “special facts” reference means that the property was allegedly taken from a vulnerable adult – in this instance, a woman who was declared incompetent by two physicians.
Stark is also named in court documents as Melissa Bublitz, who changed her name from Bublitz to Stark in 2019.
Police say Stark was power of attorney for the alleged victim, an elderly woman who died in February. Bartell is a friend of the alleged victim’s late daughter.
The alleged victim is from Saukville, but was living at a Weston assisted living facility from January 2016 until the time of her death.
Court documents show Stark was removed as power of attorney in June 2017 by Marathon County Circuit Judge Gregory Huber and was directed to provide accounting records related to her duties.
Department of Criminal Investigation agents then searched through about 3,000 pages of documents during the investigation, prompted in part by concerns raised by the alleged victim’s guardian ad litem.
Based on available documents, more than $571,000 of the woman’s money was discovered to have been debited from her checking account between 2014 and 2017, much of which was used for purchases that “did not appear” to benefit the victim, according to court records.
Investigators also discovered a Disney credit card in the alleged victim’s name with Bartell and Stark later added as authorized users. That account was opened in 2014 and was used for more than $93,600 in purchases from 2015 to 2016, court records show. The alleged victim was declared incapacitated in August 2015.
A November search of the suspects’ homes turned up two iPads, a gas grill, vacuum cleaner and other items that matched receipts for items purchased using the alleged victim’s money. Police say the money was also used for trips, gas, groceries, car payments and other expenses.
In 2016, the Cedarburg Police Department received a complaint about suspected financial elder exploitation of the alleged victim by Stark, but police there closed the file after the investigating officer failed to find anything suspicious, court documents state.
Both women are due in court June 8 for an initial appearance, when a judge will set a bond amount. Neither woman is currently in custody in Marathon County.