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James Hughes, 53, was sentenced to 3 to 7 years in prison after a jury convicted him of theft in Rockingham County Superior Court on Wednesday. (JAMES A. KIMBLE/Union Leader Correspondent)

Man sentenced for stealing elderly woman's money and gambling it away

BRENTWOOD — A Dracut, Mass., man was sentenced to 3 to 7 years in prison on Wednesday for looting an elderly woman’s bank account and gambling thousands of dollars of her money away at Rockingham Park.

James Hughes, 53, was taken into custody following his sentencing hearing on Thursday in Rockingham County Superior Court.

A jury convicted Hughes on Oct. 3 of felony theft and unauthorized use of a credit card for withdrawing about $9,000 in Salem between March 2009 and January 2010.

Prosecutors and the defense had brokered a negotiated sentence for Hughes, who will be required to pay $9,143 to the estate of his late victim, Irene Sparrow-Meade.

If Hughes allowed a judge to decide the sentence, he could have faced up to 7 ½ to 15 years in state prison on the theft charge alone.

Hughes siphoned money from Sparrow-Meade’s bank account using her ATM card while he was supposed to be running errands and buying items for her, according to prosecutors. Sparrow-Meade lived alone and was in declining health when Hughes began stealing from her, according to prosecutors.

Hughes was accused of stealing roughly $48,000 in cash from the bank account of his former neighbor, and initially faced more charges in Massachusetts, according to investigators.

But those were later dropped by prosecutors shortly after Sparrow-Meade died last Dec. 5 at age 84.

On Wednesday, Judge Kenneth McHugh questioned Hughes about giving up his right to appeal as part of the negotiated sentence. Hughes will also have to undergo any drug and alcohol treatment program required by corrections officials, and receive a gambling addiction evaluation.

Sparrow-Meade’s two nieces from Manchester and Auburn testified at trial about caring for their elderly aunt during the last years of her life. One of them confronted Hughes about his use of the ATM card.

Dracut, Mass., police and a Secret Service agent who worked on the cases were among the state’s witnesses during the trial.


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