Woman pleads guilty in estate theft

2013-10-10T12:00:00Z Woman pleads guilty in estate theftJEFF REINITZ ​jeff.reinitz@wcfcourier.com Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

WATERLOO | A Waterloo woman has been given probation for siphoning about $140,000 from her father's estate at the expense of other family members.

Essie Jean Cooper, 32, entered an Alford plea, not admitting guilt but agreeing she would likely be convicted if the matter went to trial, to a charge of first-degree theft Monday in Black Hawk County District Court. Her mother, Dorothy Cooper, entered a similar plea in August for receiving a portion of the money.

Essie Cooper was appointed executor of construction company owner Elias G. Grover Jr.'s estate when he died in 2007. Authorities allege she depleted the estate's resources while it was still in probate.

"To my knowledge, the entire estate was emptied out," said Assistant County Attorney Peter Blink, who prosecuted the case.

He said the thefts spanned six years as Essie Cooper spent money at the casino and on her friends, along with paying rent and giving an estimated $20,000 to her mother.

"If you do something for six years, this is not something out of your character. It becomes something intrinsically part of your character," Blink said. He noted it was unlikely Essie Cooper, a shift manager at a fast-food restaurant, will ever be able to repay the money.

Public Defender Matthew Hoffey had asked the court for a deferred judgement, which would have taken the charge off her record following probation, noting that his client has no prior criminal record. Corrections officials who reviewed the case had recommended a deferred judgment.

But Judge David Staudt declined, sentencing Cooper to 10 years in prison suspended to two to five years of probation and restitution because of the amount of money involved in the crime and the length of time it took place.

Dorothy Cooper, 55, was granted a deferred judgment in August.

Grover operated U & I Construction Inc., Grover Cement Contractors Co. and Mr. G's Game Room. He died in 2007, leaving behind four daughters and four sons.

His 2006 will, which left the estate to Essie Cooper with Dorothy Cooper as a backup beneficiary, was contested as some relatives argued he lacked the capacity to make changes from a 1984 version or was under undue influence.

In a June 2012 probate ruling, a judge sided with the challengers, finding Grover had been susceptible to the Coopers' influence because of his mental impairments and his dependence on them. The probate judge removed Essie Cooper as the executor, noting her "looting" of the estate after the will contest had been filed and her refusal to communicate with the estate's attorneys.

During depositions in the probate case, Essie Cooper told attorneys she didn't recall spending the money and didn't have receipts to show where it went. Her mother admitted to receiving some of the money, according to transcripts of the depositions.

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