Custer woman pleads to theft after stealing $150,000 from elderly woman

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 1, 2013 

A Whatcom County bank teller who stole more than $150,000 from an elderly woman she was supposed to be helping and spent the money gambling pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree theft Thursday, Aug. 1.

Lorraine Sterk will have to pay $150,000 in restitution before her sentencing, which is set for Sept. 12. If paid, that restitution will allow her to serve a sentence in Whatcom County Jail rather than state prison, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Mac Setter said.

Sterk had been the woman's teller at a Horizon Bank branch in Blaine for many years, and the woman had known Sterk since her childhood.

Sterk started visiting the victim, who was in her 80s at the time, at her Blaine home in 2005 and continued after the woman moved to an assisted living facility in 2008. With permission from the woman's family, Sterk paid bills of about $1,500 to $3,000 per month, drafted checks and looked after her finances, according to charging documents. The woman received $1,000 each month in Social Security and had about $182,000 in savings.

An investigation found that Sterk transferred anywhere from $700 to more than $16,000 each month from the woman's accounts into her own, drawing the woman's savings from nearly $182,000 in January 2009 to a negative balance in March 2011.

During that time, nearly $153,000 was deposited into Sterk's account, while Sterk spent more than $177,100 at casinos and gambling establishments, according to charging documents.

When interviewed by a detective from the Lynden Police Department, Sterk initially denied taking any of the woman's money and claimed that the woman gave the money to her son. In a later interview, Sterk admitted that she had a gambling problem and "had taken a lot of the money," according to court documents.

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Dispatcher Blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher or follow us on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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