Church of Christ pastor pleads guilty to exploiting elderly woman
AUSTIN — An Austin pastor accused of bilking an 82-year-old woman with dementia out of more than $40,000 has pleaded guilty to one of four felonies against him.
The Rev. David Vernon DeFor entered the plea Friday in Mower County District Court. He'd been charged in June 2013 with four felony counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. DeFor, 70, is a pastor at Austin Church of Christ (Christian).
In exchange for the plea, the remaining charges are expected to be dismissed. Sentencing has been set for Aug. 15.
DeFor and the victim initially became friends while serving on the Salvation Army Board together about six years ago, according to the court complaint. DeFor was granted power of attorney for the victim on July 27, 2010.
Authorities reviewed "voluminous documentation" during the investigation and found a number of questionable transactions:
• DeFor's Austin Church of Christ received about $15,090 in donations from the woman, who had been a deacon at Christ Episcopalian Church in Austin prior to her dementia, the complaint says.
• DeFor and his wife received about $11,000 from the woman, including a check for $5,000 that DeFor used to replace the furnace at his home in February 2013. According to the complaint, DeFor told investigators that a $2,000 check written by the woman in December 2011 was something she wanted to give to him and a $3,000 bank transfer in March 2013 into his personal account was to fund a bowling trip to Nevada as a reward for his care.
• According to the complaint, the woman's bank account shows $21,425 in cash withdrawals during the 35 months DeFor held power of attorney, though friends claim she always paid for items with a debit card.
• The woman paid $2,400 to live at a group home associated with DeFor's church, while simultaneously paying $6,580 in rent at the Village Cooperative in Austin from October 2012 through May 2013, the complaint said.
DeFor denied all wrongdoing, while claiming that the woman was financially "better off" than she had ever been in her life, according to the complaint.
Mower County District Court removed DeFor as the woman's power of attorney in May 2013.
Two of the woman's childhood friends, who ran the group home where she was staying, told authorities that the elderly woman had always been "very frugal" with her money. They raised concerns about her money issues and changes that had been made in the victim's will.
In 2011, DeFor drove the woman to an appointment to change her will. According to the complaint, the woman's previous will left 50 percent of her assets to her family, 20 percent to the Mower County Humane Society, 15 percent to Christ Episcopal Church and 15 percent to Nashotah House, a Catholic seminary in Wisconsin. The updated will leaves 30 percent to her family, 25 percent to DeFor and his wife, 15 percent to DeFor's church, 15 percent to the Austin Education Foundation, 10 percent to the Nashotah House and 5 percent to Christ Episcopal Church.
Prior to her dementia, the woman routinely attended Christ Episcopal Church. According to the court complaint, the woman's friends said that DeFor refused to drop her off at her former place of worship. When asked about that by authorities, DeFor reportedly said the woman "learned more about the Bible" at his church.
DeFor remains listed on the church's website as one of two pastors, along with his brother, Dr. Stephen DeFor.
It's unclear if the woman's altered will has been revoked.