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Woman charged with stealing from veteran

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Staff Writer

An Oxford woman was charged with felony theft Feb. 15 after she allegedly stole $101,712.86 from a disabled Vietnam veteran she was caring for.

Ellen Elizabeth "Erma" Neve, 62, is facing a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $15,000 fine if she is convicted of the class B felony.

According to the Izard County Clerk's Office, Neve wrote checks for cash totaling $70,817 from Reggie Gifford's bank accounts at FNBC from Dec. 22, 2003, to Dec. 31, 2004.

Neve is also alleged to have taken more than $30,000 from Gifford's Met Life annuity.

Izard County Sheriff Tate Lawrence said Neve was a caregiver for Gifford and she had power of attorney over him.

The checks in question were endorsed with a stamp bearing Gifford's name or Neve's signature, with POA next to it, according to the arrest affidavit.

Lawrence said Gifford, who is bed ridden and missing one leg, suffers severe health problems related to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam during the 1960s.

"The investigation is continuing and may involve other charges," Lawrence said. "It could even lead into other states."

Authorities began investigating after Gifford's daughter, Felicia, and a family friend became suspicious of Neve, Lawrence said.

Besides the checks written for cash, Neve wrote checks for groceries and household goods totaling $4,656, said James Humphrey, sheriff's department criminal investigator. But Gifford is unable to eat normal food, Humphrey said. He said Gifford is fed a special liquid supplement through a feeding tube provided by the Veterans Administration.

Robert Neve, Neve's husband, received $3,952 in checks for labor around Gifford's house, the arrest affidavit states.

Humphrey said Robert Neve is disabled and uses a walker.

A $900 check signed by Neve was used in April to buy a horse from the Salem Horse Auction, he said, though Gifford is physically unable to ride a horse.

Humphrey said $6,740.95 in checks were written to pay other caregivers for Gifford.

One of those caregivers, Beverly Morgan, told investigators she was paid $8 an hour in cash to care for Gifford, Lawrence said.

Lawrence said Morgan told him Neve "handled Gifford roughly" and overheard Neve tell Gifford "you're not going to live very long."

Gifford was admitted to Mt. Carmel Regional Medical Center in Pittsburgh, Kan., for malnutrition, general weakness and loss of appetite after leaving Neve's care, Humphrey said.

"Since being removed from Mrs. Neve's care he is doing extremely well," Lawrence said.

Gifford is staying with his daughter in Kansas.

Neve's bond has been set at $100,000. She posted bond Feb. 16. Neve's arraignment date in Izard County Circuit Court had not been set at press time.

Dennis Simons with the Arkansas State Police is assisting Humphrey in the investigation.

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