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Mass. man accused of using elderly woman's ATM card to fund gambling binge

BRENTWOOD – A Dracut, Mass. man who allegedly withdrew $48,000 from an 80-year-old woman’s bank account to go on a gambling spree that prosecutors say included visits to Rockingham Park and Seabrook Greyhound Park may have run out of luck.

A judge has decided that jurors will be able to hear about all ATM withdrawals James Hughes, 53, made from the bank account of the late Irene Sparrow-Meade, including ones at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and Rockingham Park in Salem.

The decision comes roughly seven months after prosecutors in Massachusetts dropped a similar case against Hughes citing the death of Sparrow-Meade, who was viewed as a key witness in the case.

Sparrow-Meade died on Dec. 5 at the age of 84. This was the same week Hughes was indicted in Rockingham County.

Hughes is expected to go on trial Sept. 30 on charges of theft by unauthorized taking and fraudulent use of a credit card for ATM withdrawals he made in Salem.

He allegedly drained funds from the woman's bank account between March 9, 2009 and January 16, 2010, making approximately 100 transactions while she was living at a Lowell, Mass., nursing home, according to prosecutors.
In Rockingham County, Hughes is only charged with a small fraction of the ATM transactions.

But Judge N. William Delker concluded that jurors will need a full picture about his alleged behavior in order to properly decide his guilt or innocence.

"Presenting the jury with evidence of only the small fraction of the withdrawals which occurred in this county would create a grossly inaccurate picture for a jury to consider," Delker said in a decision published last Wednesday.

Hughes was Sparrow-Meade’s neighbor when he began running errands for her in 2009, prosecutors said.

Sparrow-Meade's nephew became power of attorney in 2009, and realized by January 2010 that Hughes had withdrawn thousands of dollars from the account from ATMs in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Dracut, Mass., police initially investigated the case before it was referred to the U.S. Secret Service's New England Electronic Crimes Task Force.

Delker has ruled against prosecutors being able to use Sparrow-Meade's statements to investigators saying she did not authorize Hughes to withdraw money for his own use.

Jurors will be able to hear statements she made to her niece, but they will only be able to consider that testimony to put events into context, not for the truth, according to Delker. The jury will also be allowed to hear about Hughes interview with police and the Secret Service.

Hughes faces up to 7½ to 15 years in state prison and a $4,000 fine on each of the charges.


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