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Judge sets bail for couple convicted of stealing from elderly friend

A judge ordered $20,000 bail Monday for a couple convicted of stealing their friend’s retirement savings in his last years of life.

The Nevada Supreme Court recently ruled that Robert Craig Ballew and his wife, Ivy Rasmussen, should be given a bail hearing while their conviction is on appeal.

Defense lawyer Tony Sgro said the cash posted would be held and put toward a restitution should the high court uphold the couple’s conviction.

Ballew and Rasmussen, both former Clark County School District employees, have spent a little more than a year in prison after a jury convicted them of bilking their longtime friend Elliott Smith out of more than $150,000 in about a year and a half.

Attorneys for 70-year-old Ballew and his 63-year-old wife have said their health has diminished since being imprisoned on more than a dozen conspiracy, theft and elderly exploitation charges. Ballew suffers from skin cancer and dementia, while Rasmussen has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Smith’s stepdaughter, Sue Sweikert, called the bail “a pittance.”

“I’m thinking justice delayed is justice denied,” she said. “We’ve just gotten more delays.”

District Judge Stefany Miley ordered that the couple also pay $1,000 each per month and remain on house arrest while awaiting appeal. The monthly payments also would go toward restitution.

In January 2015, Miley sentenced the couple to eight to 20 years in prison.

At the time, Sweikert had asked the judge for the maximum sentence.

“They had no sympathy for my parents, who were elderly and in ill health,” Sweikert said Monday.

Prosecutor J.P. Raman asked Miley for a bail of $153,000, equal to the amount of restitution Ballew and Rasmussen were ordered to pay. Since being convicted, neither has contributed any money to the restitution.

He called the health issues “some of the least compelling” reasons to release the couple.

“They were well enough to do the crime,” he said. “They should do the time.”

Authorities said Rasmussen and Ballew became greedy as their careers wound down and stole every penny they could from Smith, who considered them close friends.

Ballew, a teacher who retired after 36 years, and Rasmussen, a guidance counselor who resigned from the school district in November, brought Smith into their home after his wife, Sandra, was hospitalized and under constant care for the rest of her dying days.

The couple used money from Smith, who suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, to make purchases small and large, from charges at Starbucks to checks made out for foreign cars, according to court records.

Smith’s relatives believe the couple took even more than what a jury convicted Ballew and Rasmussen of stealing. At least $100,000 in cash that Smith kept in a safe went missing, his family said, but the jury acquitted the couple of taking that money. In the last years of his life, Smith told family members he was worth about $600,000, with $300,000 set aside for his wife’s medical bills. Smith did not learn about the theft until a few months before he died, broke, at age 84 in 2010.

In January 2010, when the Sweikerts went to collect Smith’s remaining possessions at the home of Ballew and Rasmussen, they spotted a picture on a bookshelf. It was a studio portrait of Smith’s grandchildren, daughter and late son — the family dearest to his heart.

At his North Las Vegas home, Smith kept the photograph in an elaborate oak frame. In Ballew’s home, the frame had been replaced with a cheap plastic border emblazoned with the word “Friends.”

Contact reporter David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker

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