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Trial over Dickinson woman's alleged donation fraud delayed

BISMARCK -- The trial for a Dickinson woman alleged to have fraudulently collected donations after experiencing medical complications has been pushed back over a month after a prosecutor violated the court's timeline for submitting evidence.

The criminal complaint filed November 30 against Cynthia Ell says Ell persuaded a Billings County resident to write her a check for more than $166,000 to pay her mortgage.

She allegedly used the money to purchase vehicles and other items and promised to repay the Billings County resident with funds coming from a medical claim settlement she was receiving from a doctor, according to the criminal complaint, but there may not be any funds coming from it.

Ell was seeking help after her ninth child was born 12 weeks premature. She was charged with a class B felony.

Monday, Asst. Stark County States Attorney James Hope apologized to South Central District Court Judge Cynthia Feland after evidence and a witness list was not submitted on time.

He said he did not read all of an email that contained the schedule.

One of Ell's attorney's, Brenda Neubauer, said all the evidence should have been disclosed at a May 6 hearing.

"The problem is their caseload at this point," she said about the Stark County State's Attorney's Office. "They are very overwhelmed, and we understand that."

Neubauer also raised concern about new information that has come forward recently as Sgt. Nick Gates with the Dickinson Police Department continues to investigate the case.

"We're not sure what's going on, we kind of think it's an investigator gone wild," Neubauer told the judge.

Hope disagreed with that categorization.

"Gates kept following up with new information that was provided to him," Hope said. "I have no doubt he is being kept track of by his superiors."

Ell's attorney's asked the court to stop Gates from further investigating the case, concerned they were not going to have enough time to review all the information and it was unfair to them.

"It's a surprise when you get a list of 26 witnesses on Friday," she said as the list was filed four days ago. "We just want a fair trial. We want to give her due process like everybody is entitled to when they are charged with serious offenses like this."

The final pre-trial hearing will be at 10 a.m. Sept. 11 in Bismarck.

Feland ordered Hope have all information provided by Sept. 3, including a witness list with detailed contact information and an exhibit list so the defense can review the materials.

The new trial date is set for Oct. 21-25 in Bismarck.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.