Vernon County Prosecutor Lynn N. Ewing III said Friday that he dismissed a fraud case against Sheldon Mayor Robert Sewell because the evidence was insufficient to prove that Sewell forged more than $150,000 in checks on a 97-year-old Nevada man's bank account.
Ewing said the case became untenable during an interview with the alleged victim, John R. Young of Nevada. "We took the deposition of the alleged victim, who is an older gentleman and not able to remember all the things that happened," Ewing said.
"The folks at First National Bank were all prepared to testify that Mr. Young had authorized those checks. At the time they were written, Mr. Sewell was operating under a power of attorney given to him by the alleged victim, so there just isn't enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Sewell committed a crime."
Referring to Young's nephew, Lamar Mayor Keith Divine, Ewing said, "We informed the fellow who made the complaint that he has the possibility of seeking remedy in civil court, where the burden of proof is less.
"The power of attorney was a major complication."
Vernon County Sheriff's Investigator John Randall had reported that Divine and another of Young's nephews, John Divine, told him Sewell defrauded their uncle.
Ewing explained that statutes pertinent to demonstrating probable cause that a crime has been committed and that a defendant should be arrested are much less stringent than those requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction and sentence. "The issue was whether or not Mr. Sewell was operating under any authority," the prosecutor said.
"Probable cause is a much lesser determination than taking it all the way to a trial, where the state has the burden of proof. We were at the initial criminal stage. We don't know what the money was spent for."
Sewell and his Nevada attorney, Nicholas Swischer, declined comment Thursday. Friday efforts to reach Keith Divine were unsuccessful.
The dispute had been pending since Sheriff Ron Peckman and Randall took Sewell into custody Aug. 17 and released him on a $5,000 bond Aug. 20.
Associate Judge Neal Quitno of the 28th Circuit Court arraigned the 44-year-old defendant Sept. 25 and set a pre-trial conference for Thursday before Ewing dismissed the case on Monday.
Sewell, who has continued in office at Sheldon, had been formally accused of cashing more than $150,000 in checks ranging from $61 to $50,000.
Randall said in his probable cause affidavit that Sewell had held power of attorney for Young from February 2011 until that authority was revoked in January this year.
Randall said Young's nephews had told him that over a three-year period beginning in 2008, Sewell defrauded Young of a total of $307,944.