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Mass. man accused of looting elderly woman’s bank account, gambling in Salem with stolen money

Union Leader Correspondent

October 01. 2013 8:42PM
James Hughes, 53, appears Tuesday in Rockingham County Superior Court where he faces charges of theft and fraudulent use of a credit card. (JAMES A. KIMBLE PHOTO)

BRENTWOOD — A Dracut, Mass., man accused of withdrawing and gambling away $48,000 taken from an elderly woman’s bank account went on trial Tuesday on charges that he took a portion of the stolen funds from an ATM machine at Rockingham Park in Salem.

James Hughes, 53, is facing charges of theft and fraudulent use of a credit card at his trial in Rockingham County Superior Court.

He is facing the prospect of state prison time roughly nine months after Massachusetts authorities dropped a similar case against him because the alleged victim, Irene Sparrow-Meade, died on Dec. 5.

Assistant County Attorney Jerome Blanchard said during opening statements that Sparrow-Meade was an 80 years old, lived alone and had never married when Hughes began running errands for her and using her ATM card in March 2009.

Her declining health left her unable to drive or leave home on her own.“The defendant thought that was perfect because he needed money,” Blanchard said. “He took thousands of dollars.”Sparrow-Meade had nieces in Manchester and Auburn who cared for her. They were the first to notice that withdrawals were being made at ATMs in New Hampshire, while their aunt sat at home, Blanchard said.

“Basically, we had figured out someone was using the ATM card,” one niece, Brenda Howell, of Auburn, told jurors on Tuesday.

Hughes allegedly drained the bank account between March 9, 2009, and January 16, 2010, through approximately 100 transactions, according to prosecutors.

About $9,000 of the money was withdrawn in Salem at an ATM at Rockingham Park, where a variety of gambling is hosted in lieu of the defunct racetrack, Blanchard said. A judge ruled in July that jurors would be allowed to hear about the remaining money allegedly taken out of ATMs at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and other bank machines in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Public defender Anthony Naro argued that prosecutors were only speculating that Hughes’ use of the card amounted to theft or a so-called gambling spree.

Naro said Sparrow-Meade had no family who looked in on her until questions about the money arose.

“James Hughes visited her three, four, five times a week,” Naro said. “It’s a case about their friendship and their companionship.”

Naro said his client repeatedly told the woman’s family that he had permission to use the ATM card, and would not have had the PIN number to the card unless he was allowed to use it. He told jurors to take notice that they will hear no evidence about finding Hughes gambling the money in Salem. “I want you to focus on the evidence that’s not there,” Naro said. “That’s the most important evidence in this case.” Hughes could face up to 7 ½ to 15 years in state prison if he is convicted by a jury.

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