February 11, 2014 | 10:44 AMELKHORN — A Montana man, who was convicted of stealing more than $30,000 from his elderly mother, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Feb. 6 by Judge David Reddy.
On Dec. 4, Michael Bryzek, 44, was found guilty of theft from a business setting in an amount that is more than $10,000. Reddy also sentenced Bryzek to 18 months of extended supervision and ordered him to repay all of the stolen money.
Bryzek’s attorney, Leslie Johnson, maintains that his client acted within the legal boundaries of being his mother’s power of attorney. Johnson told Reddy that he will appeal Bryzek’s conviction.
In 1996, Bryzek’s mother appointed him to become her power of attorney. In the legal document, Bryzek’s mother included a clause that gave him the right to provide himself with gifts.
“Every attorney who drafts a power of attorney is putting their client at risk,” Johnson said during the sentencing hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo argued that Bryzek abused his rights as a power of attorney.
“This is a vicious Crime in that the victim is elderly and vulnerable,” Donohoo argued. “His mother trusted him and that was abused and exploited.”
According to bank documents that were entered into evidence during the jury trial, between May 2007 and November 2010 Bryzek made more than 200 transactions that weren’t used for his mother’s benefit.
Those transactions included purchases at hardware stores, pharmacies, grocery stores and checks made out to cash.
A number of checks were made out to a pharmacy, and Bryzek’s mother had one prescription filled at that pharmacy during the time of the thefts.
“He didn’t go out and take a vacation in the Caribbean or buy a fancy new car,” Johnson said. “He bought insulin, he bought food and he got his truck fixed.”
Johnson argued that prosecutors and police twisted the law to convict his client.
“I don’t think that’s the way the law is suppose to work,” Johnson said. “I don’t think the law is a game.”
Johnson said the situation reminded him of the Bob Dylan song “Hurricane.”
“(I) Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game,” Johnson said while quoting Dylan.
Donohoo said the case went to a jury trial and that the jury deliberated for 90 minutes before finding Bryzek guilty.
“He was not wrongly convicted,” she said.
Donohoo also argued that with the population aging it is important to send a message that abuse on the elderly won’t be tolerated.
“All of us in this room will be in this victim’s position someday, where we need someone to take care of us,” Donohoo said.
Before sentencing Bryzek, Reddy said he understood Johnson’s position.
However, he said the jury instructions were carefully crafted to ensure that the jurors had to find that Bryzek acted outside of the “good faith scope” of his authority.
When delivering his sentence, Reddy said Bryzek “violated the trust given to him by his mother”
Family and friends
During the hearing, Bryzek’s bother, Steve, said his brother did nothing wrong. Steve said that Michael took care of his mother and waited on her hand and foot. Bryzek’s mother didn’t attend the hearing. Steve Bryzek said he believes that his mother included the clause in the power of attorney document that allowed for gifts because she knew how much work it was to take care of an elderly person.
“He always put her needs first,” Steve Bryzek said. “He always has done what is best for her.”
Steve testified during his brother’s jury trial. Donohoo said it is the state’s position that Steve gave “false testimony” during the trial.
Not all of Michael’s brothers are standing by their sibling. Another brother, Frank, asked Reddy to give his brother the maximum sentence.
Attorney Howard Schoenfeld said he is a fishing buddy of Michael Bryzek. Schoenfeld said that Michael Bryzek took good care of his mother.
“Putting this man in prison or incarcerating him would not be justice,” Schoenfeld said.
When Michael Bryzek made his statement, he said he regretted not better explaining his mother’s finances to other family members.