FARGO - Fargo homebuilder Larry Villella pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit misapplication of entrusted property in exchange for two other charges being dropped.
Villella had previously entered not guilty pleas to the Class B felony charge, as well as felony charges of forgery and exploitation of a vulnerable adult after he was accused of exploiting his 75-year-old father-in-law.
Villella entered an Alford plea today, meaning he maintains his innocence but agrees that there is sufficient evidence to convict him if the case went to trial.
"It was primarily a family matter, which is now of course in criminal courts, and we're very happy that the matter is now coming to a conclusion," said his attorney, Mark Beauchene.
The plea change comes 10 days before his trial date and roughly two months after Villella's wife, Catherine Sadler-Villella, agreed to testify in the case against her husband in exchange for reduced criminal charges.
Both had previously pleaded not guilty to three felony charges accusing them of exploiting her father out of more than $100,000 and forging his signature on a guaranty to back more than $1 million in loans to finance Vil-lella's business.
"My client does take responsibility for some errors in judgment, as did his wife," Beauchene said. "There was some commingling of assets which did happen. ... My client takes full responsibility for that, and it was not something that ever amounted to an intentional act on his part."
Beauchene said Villella's decision to plead guilty had nothing to do with his wife agreeing to testify.
A judge has accepted a plea agreement in Sadler-Villella's case calling for her to serve 10 days on work release and 50 days of electronic home monitoring.
Villella and Sadler-Villella did not make a statement after the hearing, and Beauchene said they would not answer questions. The couple stood holding hands next to Beauchene as he spoke to reporters.
Cass County prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek said he was satisfied with the plea.
Beauchene said he hopes sentencing will take place in 30 to 45 days, and he said he plans to recommend that Villella receive a similar sentence to what his wife received.
It is unclear how the work release will affect Sadler-Villella's position as a special education physical therapist at Centennial Elementary in Fargo.
The criminal charges filed last Aug. 20 against Sadler-Villella have not affected her position, said Nancy Jordheim, assistant superintendent of human resources for Fargo Public Schools.
"This has been ongoing now and the charges have nothing to do with children or interaction with children or any of those kinds of things," Jordheim said, adding that the charges involve a vulnerable adult and financial gain and not physical or emotional treatment. "If they did, obviously that would make a difference in employment in a school. She does not handle money ... and they are charges at this point and not a conviction. The charges do not surround things that are part of her employment contract."
Jordheim added that school district officials handle such personnel decisions individually.
Under the plea agreement, Sadler-Villella will plead guilty to misde-meanor charges of forgery and misapplication of entrusted property. A felony charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult will then be dropped.
A date for that hearing and sentencing has not yet been set in her case.
Villella said in August that he has put his home-building business, Larry Villella Custom Homes, on hold until the criminal charges are resolved.