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James Hughes, 53, of Dracut, Mass. was found guilty on Thursday of theft and fraudulent use of credit card charges in Rockingham County Superior Court. (JAMES A. KIMBLE)

Bay State man convicted of pillaging elderly woman's account

BRENTWOOD — A Dracut, Mass., man was convicted Thursday of looting an elderly woman's bank account and gambling thousands of dollars of her money away at Rockingham Park in Salem.

A jury found James Hughes, 53, guilty on Thursday morning around 9:30 a.m. on charges of felony theft and unauthorized use of a credit card for withdrawing about $9,000 in Salem between March 2009 and January 2010.

Hughes was accused of stealing roughly $48,000 in cash from the bank account of his neighbor, Irene Sparrow-Meade, while he was supposed to be running errands for her, and buying items with her ATM card, according to investigators.

But only prosecutors in New Hampshire elected to go forward with a case against Hughes after Sparrow-Meade died on Dec. 5 at age 84. Massachusetts prosecutors dropped charges against Hughes shortly after her death.

Dracut, Mass., police and a Secret Service agent who worked on the case were among the state's witnesses during Hughes' trial in Rockingham County Superior Court. Sparrow-Meade had nieces from Manchester and Auburn who cared for her in the last years of her life. One of them confronted Hughes about his use of the ATM card.

The verdict was returned after jurors had two questions for Judge Kenneth McHugh about how to interpret the law.

McHugh denied several motions by Hughes' public defender, Anthony Naro, to dismiss the charges, or declare a mistrial.

"This is a classic circumstantial evidence case," McHugh said.

The jury had enough evidence to find that the number of transactions made at Rockingham Park and other gambling establishments could lead them to conclude that Hughes was stealing the money for his own use, McHugh said.

McHugh allowed Hughes to remain free on bail pending sentencing. Hughes faces up to 7½ to 15 years in state prison on each of the charges.

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