STEVENS POINT, Wis. — One of three Wisconsin residents accused of cashing the Social Security checks of a relative who's presumed dead was found not guilty this week by reason of mental defect, after a medical expert testified that the man may have failed to understand he was breaking the law.
Charles Jost, 67, of Amherst, told a Portage County judge on Monday that he only has a first-grade education and limited reading skills, the Stevens Point Journal Media reported.
Jost entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there's enough evidence to convict him. He also pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect.
Judge Thomas Flugaur concluded that Jost was unable to understand to a reasonable degree that his actions violated the law. He ordered Jost to undergo a state evaluation.
Jost, his sister and brother-in-law were accused of cashing his mother's Social Security checks for years, collecting as much as $175,000.
Marie Jost would be more than 100 years old if she were still alive, but authorities now suspect she died about 30 years ago. The last time she used her Medicare benefits was in 1980, when she had a stroke.
The Social Security Administration had sent three letters to Marie Jost's home to verify she was still alive. After the third letter was sent, a man who identified himself as her son called to say she wasn't available.
The agency contacted Portage County authorities in 2012 asking them to follow up. Jost was evasive in answering their questions, according to the criminal complaint, and investigators who served a subsequent search warrant found nothing to indicate whether Marie Jost was alive or dead.
Neighbors told authorities they had never seen an elderly woman at Charles Jost's home.
Medical expert Richard Hurlbut testified Monday that Jost suffers from a delusional disorder. Hurlbut said Jost believes his mother contacted him at the jail, and the last U.S. president Jost could recall was Ronald Reagan.
Jost's defense attorney, Michael D. Hughes, declined to comment Tuesday to The Associated Press.
Similar charges against Jost's sister, 70-year-old Dolores M. Disher, were dismissed because she had mental issues. Disher's husband, 72-year-old Ronald Disher, is scheduled to face trial on four felony charges on Jan. 29.