SUPERIOR — A Thompson Falls man accused of bilking an elderly Superior man of his money and property and leaving him with nothing but milk and peanut butter has pleaded not guilty to a pair of felony charges in Mineral County District Court.
Daryl Enos Strang is charged with abusing or neglecting 84-year-old Ben Poat of Superior between January and September of 2013 after Strang allegedly used power of attorney to obtain ownership of Poat’s property and assets.
An omnibus hearing was set by District Judge Ed McLean for July 12. Strang, arrested in late April after a months-long investigation, is out of Mineral County jail on $50,000 bond.
Poat, a longtime caretaker for the city of Superior, has been diagnosed with severe dementia, according to charging documents filed by Mineral County Attorney Marcia Boris.
Responding to a report last September, a social worker for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services’ Adult Protective Services Division visited Poat at his 103-acre ranch near Superior.
The social worker noted untreated melanomas on Poat’s back and face that caused him to be at high medical risk. He had only milk and peanut butter to eat, and two horses and a mule at the ranch were found to be extremely neglected, the affidavit said. The mule was eventually euthanized.
Poat’s sister, who lives out of state, contacted the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office in late September and said she believed her brother was being exploited and abused by Strang, who had obtained possession of Poat’s ranch, buildings, three vehicles and personal belongings. Christine Beyer also told officers Strang had closed out Poat’s bank account at Mullan Trail Bank, which “could contain a six-figure amount,” the affidavit read.
“Christine advised that Ben appeared to be very confused when the family visited him and that there was a photograph of Strang, along with a phone number, located near Ben’s phone, but that Ben did not appear to know who Strang was when asked by family members,” the document read.
A quitclaim deed executed in May 2013 conveyed Poat’s property to Strang, the court record said. County treasurer records showed that ownership of Poat’s 1972 AMC Jeep, a 1997 Jeep Cherokee and a 2003 Harley Davidson limited edition motorcycle with a Blue Book price of more than $13,000 were transferred to Strang last July.
Wells Fargo Bank records revealed that Poat’s account contained $108,065 on Jan. 31, 2013, but had dropped to $36,811 by Aug. 31 — a decrease of more than $71,000. The affidavit said Strang wrote at least six checks totaling $13,800 to himself between July 10 and Sept. 19 of last year.
Poat is homebound and requires around-the-clock care.
“His only wish is to be able to stay in his home until he dies,” said Lance Jasper, who asked to be appointed by McLean to be Poat’s guardian during a proceeding in October.
McLean appointed the Western Montana Chapter for the Prevention of Elder Abuse as Poat’s conservator at the same time.
The affidavit said Strang was interviewed by a Sanders County detective last November and said he was the person who brought Poat food and “helped him out.”
Strang told the detective that he was aware Poat “was experiencing cognitive problems to the extent that he needed assistance with meeting his physical needs as well as with managing his financial affairs as early as August or September of 2012.”
Strang also acknowledged he helped Poat with his finances, the court record said.
Jasper characterized Poat as a “cowboy-type guy” who “did a lot for Superior and the community and is well-liked.”
He said Poat remains at home while the case is pursued in the justice system.
“I have caregivers staying with Ben, but it has now come to the point where we are out of money and unfortunately we are faced with putting Ben into the nursing home, which I would hate to see happen,” said Jasper, who has a law practice in Superior and Missoula.
The best solution is to sell the ranch, which fronts the Clark Fork River, Jasper said.
“What we’re looking for is someone who would purchase or loan us money on the property and allow Ben to stay there the remainder of his life or until such time as he’s put in a nursing home.”