Former State Legislator Indicted on Fraud

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS (AP) – Former state Senator Sharon Estrada is accused in federal court here of stealing the $19,081 life savings of her ailing, elderly stepfather.

Estrada was indicted on two counts of a wire fraud scheme and two counts of mail fraud alleged to have occurred from February to May.

Estrada did not appear for her arraignment Tuesday. Her attorney, Jack Sands, entered not guilty pleas on her behalf. Estrada was moving from her home in Las Vegas to Washington state, Sands said.

Estrada, reached at her Las Vegas home Wednesday, declined to comment on the indictment.

The indictment also named Estrada’s son, Peter Van Haren, but he died on June 14 at age 43, after a long illness, eight days before the indictment was filed under seal.

According to the indictment, Estrada and her son defrauded Esquiel Estrada, 93, who was bedridden, suffering from heart problems and unable to manage his affairs.

The indictment outlines a scheme in which Estrada made misrepresentations or lied to steal from her stepfather. She fraudulently used a power of attorney allegedly signed by her stepfather in 1980, made false representations to close her stepfather’s savings account and transfer the money to a cashier’s check in her name and stole, forged and used his Visa credit card.

Estrada allegedly used her stepfather’s Visa card to buy $506 worth of pharmaceuticals prescribed to her and deposited a check for $19,081, which was her stepfather’s life’s savings, into a joint account she held with her son. Then she transferred $10,000 from the joint account to a savings account held solely by Van Haren.

U.S. Magistrate Carolyn Ostby allowed Estrada to remain free until trial with orders that she contact a probation officer as soon as she completes her move.

The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull.

In the 1990s, Estrada was active in the Republican Party and state politics. She was elected to the state Senate in 1994 from former Senate District 7. She lost her race for re-election in the 1998 primary to John Bohlinger, who is now lieutenant governor. In 2000, she was the co-chair of the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee.

A breast cancer survivor, Estrada raised awareness about cancer and for at least 15 years assembled and delivered gift baskets at Christmas to families coping with the disease.