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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Grand Forks County sued over man's lost assets

  • A former Grand Forks County public administrator won't answer questions in a lawsuit against the county that accuses her of mishandling a vulnerable adult's assets because she's the subject of a federal investigation, her attorney said in the opening day of the civil trial.
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  • A former Grand Forks County public administrator won't answer questions in a lawsuit against the county that accuses her of mishandling a vulnerable adult's assets because she's the subject of a federal investigation, her attorney said in the opening day of the civil trial.
    Jurors in the case against Grand Forks County must decide if Barbara Zavala mishandled Paul Veum's money and property while she was his guardian and public administrator.
    Veum, 77, filed the lawsuit a year ago claiming damages and accusing the county, as Zavala's employer, of being responsible for her alleged mishandling of his assets while she was his appointed guardian and conservator from July 2011 to November 2011.
    The Grand Forks Herald reports that Veum is seeking $30,000 for property and assets that he said disappeared under Zavala's oversight, plus more than $50,000 for pain and suffering.
    Zavala's attorney, Kerry Rosenquist, said Wednesday that his client wouldn't answer questions because the testimony could be used against her in a federal investigation. A federal prosecutor is seeking to indict Zavala, he said.
    Federal authorities cannot comment on open investigations.
    Veum, of Lakota, testified that he could not place a value on many items, including dishware that came from Norway with his mother, which he said disappeared while Zavala was in charge of his things while he was in a nursing home.
    After Judge Richard Geiger ordered Zavala to take the stand, she was asked four questions by Veum's attorney, Tim Lamb, about her work as a public administrator. Each time, Zavala read a statement invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.
    The judge then stopped the questioning and dismissed Zavala, saying it was useless to keep her on the stand.
    Howard Swanson, representing the county, told jurors in his opening statement that a judge appointed Zavala public administrator and that county officials had no control over her, although her salary and benefits were paid by the county. It's also not clear if Veum is missing anything, or who took it if so, Swanson said.
    He also said that a "much younger woman," Rhonda Cheesman, 49, lived with Veum in early 2011 and allegedly took Veum's pickup and other property, plus $9,000 in cash, back to her Ohio home months before Zavala was appointed his public administrator.
    Veum's truck was found at Cheesman's home in Georgetown, Ohio, and returned to Grand Forks in late 2011, Swanson said.
    Cheesman lived with Veum for a short time in early 2011, according to court testimony Wednesday.
    Cheesman was reported missing from her Ohio home in late 2012 and found dead in her vehicle in a farm field in Ohio this past January, but the death is unrelated to the Grand Forks case, Swanson said.

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