South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg speaking to the state senate's judiciary committee in Pierre in March 2019  about probation laws. he earlier asked lawmakers for money to hire another analyst for his office's elder abuse unit. (Del Bartels/ Capitol Bureau)

A woman who gambled away much of the $116,000 she stole from her grandmother in 16 months was sentenced in Sioux Falls to pay it all back during 10 years of probation.

Jennifer Ahrendt, 46, of Trent, pleaded guilty in May to the charge of theft by exploitation of an elder, a Class 4 felony with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, according to a news release on Wednesday from state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

Trent is 33 miles north-northeast of Sioux Falls.

The theft occurred from Dec. 29, 2016 to May 11, 2018 while Ahrendt had power of attorney to handle the affairs of her grandmother,.

The grandmother turned 92 early this year and passed away on April 17, 2019, according to Ravnsborg’s office.

Ahrendt took $115,899.13 from her grandmother’s accounts, which she was supposed to manage on her grandmother’s behalf, and spent it on herself, “including a large portion which was gambled away,” Ravnsborg said.

The Division of Criminal Investigation, which is part of the attorney general’s office, reviewed legal documents, bank records and interviewed several people to make the case, according to Ravnsborg.

Assistant Attorney General Lindsey Quasney prosecuted Ahrendt, who was represented by public defender John O’Malley.

State Circuit Judge Bradley Zell recently sentenced Ahrendt to 180 days in the Minnehaha County Jail in Sioux Falls, with all of it suspended in lieu of 10 years probation and Ahrendt paying “full restitution,”of the $115,899.13.

Ahrendt also was ordered not to manage anyone else’s money during her probation.

The restitution paid by Ahrendt will go to her late grandmother's estate. No information was immediately available on what her estate involves. The grandmother's survivors include one child and two grandchildren, including Ahrendt, according to the obituary. There also are great grandchildren and two siblings of Ahrendt's late grandmother.

The case was investigated by the DCI’s special unit for crimes of abuse and financial exploitation against elders and adults with disabilities.

The elder abuse unit of the DCI was authorized in 2016 by the legislature when Marty Jackley was attorney general. He reported in 2017 that 28 cases had been started by the DCI elder abuse unit in a three month period.

Some cases have resulted in people going to prison.

In January 2018, Amy Schmidt of Aberdeen was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing $8,400 worth of goods and services by using credit cards belonging to three elderly clients of the home health agency where Schmidt worked. She also was ordered by the judge to pay restitution of $7,049 to the victims and court costs.

Schmidt, who is 39, remains in the state women’s prison in Pierre, according to online records of the Department of Corrections, but could be eligible for parole soon.

In his first pitch to legislators in January, Ravnsborg asked for money to hire another analyst for the elder abuse/adults with disabilities unit.

“It stems from basically more work, more — they’re not quick cases, they take longer, they’re more financial type cases,” Ravnsborg said, according to KELO reporter Bob Mercer. “And as they are slower to progress, the workload continues to grow.”

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