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Pastor charged with swindling elderly dependent

An Austin pastor is accused of swindling more than $40,000 from an 82-year-old woman who suffers from dementia.

David DeFor, a pastor at Austin Church of Christ (Christian), was charged Wednesday with four felony counts of financially exploiting a vulnerable adult.

According to court records, DeFor, 69, and his wife allegedly had received about $11,000 from the victim since DeFor became the victim’s power of attorney in July 2010, while Church of Christ (Christian) received about $15,000 during that time. The charges alleged the victim had also withdrawn more than $21,000 from her account for other expenses related to DeFor.

The victim rewrote her will in 2011 to leave 25 percent of her estate to the DeFors and another 15 percent to the Church of Christ (Christian). The DeFors would also receive the victim’s personal effects, including a 2002 Buick LeSabre and three bags of the victim’s jewelry that DeFor kept at his home.

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, DeFor told the Herald he hadn’t yet heard of the charges.

“I don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Mower County Human Services alerted the Austin Police Department in April after the victim’s family grew concerned. The charges filed Wednesday say DeFor told police he befriended the woman several years ago while both were on the Salvation Army Board of Directors and after realizing she had no family in the area. According to DeFor, the victim told him in 2008 that no one was helping with her finances, though she had been diagnosed with dementia the year before. DeFor helped pay the victim’s bills, gave her rides to Church of Christ and took her to hospital appointments.

According to complaint, DeFor told police he occasionally withdrew $300 to $500 from the victim’s account and set it aside for her use, as she liked to have $20 to $25 in cash for expenses, or to buy something nice for her caretakers at a rural group home in Brownsdale. DeFor told police the victim routinely gave gifts, including $3,000 for DeFor’s wife to take a trip to a national bowling tournament. In January, the victim allegedly paid $5,000 to replace the furnace at DeFor’s home.

The alleged victim had lived at a group home since October 2012; although, she also had an apartment at the Village Co-Op. She paid about $6,500 to the Village Co-Op at the same time as she paid about $2,400 to the group home for living expenses, according to court documents.

Police believe the victim also donated $600 a month to a Thursday night ministry within Church of Christ from January 2012 to April 2013, which was run by her group home caretakers. The caretakers told police they were skeptical about receiving so much from the victim but were assured by DeFor and the victim that it was the victim’s wishes. They also told police the victim had never offered to pay for improvements to the group home or give them gifts, and they wouldn’t accept personal gifts from the victim as she is a vulnerable adult. The caretakers also told police the victim would consistently use a check card, instead of cash, to pay for personal items.

The victim told police last month she would not make monthly donations to the Austin Church of Christ because she was a deacon at Christ Episcopal Church and wanted to support her own church before others. She said she donated about $5 to $10 to Church of Christ at times, but “probably never” gave more than $100 according to the court complaint. The victim also told police she wanted a significant amount of money to go to Christ Episcopal Church when she died, and that she wouldn’t normally give away money.

DeFor was stripped of his power of attorney on May 23, and a hearing is set for July 17 to make the victim’s new, temporary guardian permanent, as well as to revoke her current will.

DeFor was born and grew up in Austin. He returned to Austin in 1990 as a minister for Church of Christ. He earned a doctorate in ministry, with minors in Semitic languages, counseling and preaching after attending Minnesota Bible College, Lincoln Christian Seminary, the University of Minnesota, the University of Indiana and North American Baptist Seminary.