A Detroit Lakes man must pay back $55,000 for bilking an elderly Hubbard County woman out of tens of thousands of dollars through overbilling for tree removal, roofing and riprap work.
Dale Ray Tyge, 62, of Detroit Lakes was originally charged in Hubbard County District Court with felony theft by swindle and felony financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
Tyge could not be reached for comment and his attorney, Simon George of Detroit Lakes, had no comment.
According to court records, on Nov. 30 of last year Hubbard County investigators learned Hubbard County Social Services had received a report from the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center that an elderly female was possibly the victim of financial exploitation.
A Northview Bank vice president in Park Rapids began noticing a pattern with the elderly woman's bank account. The bank executive said the 82-year-old victim had always been frugal with her money, but starting in late 2013, thousands of dollars in checks had been written to Tyge.
Bank staff who had worked with the woman for many years said they noticed that in the past few years she seemed to be suffering from some confusion and memory loss.
The investigating officer obtained an administrative subpoena for bank records from 2013 to 2015 which indicated $106,527 in checks had been written to Tyge during that time.
The complaint states Tyge cashed 27 checks, ranging in value from $400 to $8,400.
The investigator met with the victim's family members and friends who stated the victim is a "very trusting and good person, with declining health and mental ability."
A daughter-in-law said the money Tyge received was from a trust, with the older woman's children as the beneficiary. After the family learned from the trust administrator of the large payments to Tyge, the daughter-in-law called to ask Tyge what kind of work would cost that much money, and to ask for documentation of the work. It was never provided.
The older woman told a sheriff's investigator that she didn't remember how she met Tyge, but did recall wanting a few trees cut down that were growing too close to her house, located on a lake in Thorpe Township. She guessed that Tyge had cut down 20-30 trees.
When told that he had charged her for the removal of 78 trees, she said she did not ask for that and would not have authorized the removal of so many healthy trees. Tyge had told her she had diseased trees on her property and they needed to be removed.
Hubbard County Forestry found none of the trees—on the property or removed—were diseased or in danger of being diseased. The forestry officials found a large brush pile down out of the victim's sight line in the residence.
The victim said that after the first time she called Tyge's tree service in Osage, he would just show up to do work without being called. She said she felt pressured to write a check each time he presented a bill as she didn't want to have outstanding bills. She said she is very frugal and considers $100 a lot of money.
At one point, she said, Tyge approached her with a single shingle and said her roof needed to be replaced. She said she didn't get an estimate from Tyge and didn't remember how much it cost.
From bank records, the investigator found Tyge had received $8,400 for the roof work. An expert roofer contacted by the sheriff's investigator found that Tyge had simply added a new layer of shingles on top of the old ones. He valued Tyge's work at $2,400, and put the value of a new roof at $3,900.
At the end of the investigator's interview with the older women, she acknowledged she had been taken advantage of, and said she felt very embarrassed and bad about it.
In an interview, Tyge told the investigator that he had helped the older woman remove trees from her property from 2013 to 2015. He said he had removed 30 to 40 trees. When asked about notes to the woman that he had cut down 120-foot trees, he admitted they might not have been that tall. A reputable tree-removal business owner told the investigator he has never seen a 120-foot spruce tree in the Hubbard County area, and said the prices charged to the woman were extremely high for tree removal. He also confirmed that some of the trees that Tyge had billed to remove had never existed.
When asked why his prices were so high, Tyge said his equipment was expensive and he had to pay his employees $200 a day. That turned out not to be true.
Tyge admitted he had taken advantage of the older woman, and said he would try to return some of her money.
In a contested omnibus hearing earlier in the case, Tyge asked that his statement to the sheriff's investigator be suppressed, since he was never read his Miranda rights, and asked that the charges be dropped.
Hubbard County District Judge Robert Tiiffany denied the motions, ruling that a Miranda warning was not required for the law enforcement center interview because it was not a custodial interrogation—Tyge was free to leave at any time—and the interview was not required to be recorded. And he ruled that probable cause existed for both charges in the complaint.
Tyge pleaded guilty on Oct. 3 to felony financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, and on Nov. 20 Judge Tiffany stayed imposition of sentence and ordered him to serve 180 days in jail, stayed 20 years.
Tyge was ordered to pay back $55,000, with $5,000 due immediately and the rest to be paid back $5,000 a year. If the $5,000 annual payment is not made by Nov. 20 of each year, Tyge will have to serve 180 days in jail.
He was also ordered to pay a $500 fine and $85 in court fees. He was ordered to have no further contact with the victim or her family and to not be within 1,000 feet of her property. He was ordered not to vote or possess guns or ammunition, and to incur no further debt without authorization from his probation officer. He was placed on supervised probation for 20 years.