PROVO — A Pleasant Grove man accused of stealing funds meant for the family of a terminally ill child pleaded no contest to reduced charges and agreed to pay back the money.
James Fowlke Richards, 46, entered no contest pleas Thursday to two counts of communications fraud, reduced from a second-degree felony to a class A misdemeanor.
In exchange, an additional second-degree felony charge of communications fraud was dismissed, along with a third-degree felony charge of forgery.
Addie Fausett, who was 7 years old when she died in July 2016, had stopped growing at the age of 3. Years passed before the Fountain Green girl was diagnosed with cerebral atrophy.
According to plea documents, Richards admitted to defrauding a charity organization he was affiliated with by requesting reimbursements from them claiming he had been paying for Addie's medical bills. In actuality, he only paid a small portion of her bills and pocketed the rest of the money, according to charging documents.
In all, Richards admitted collecting three checks adding up to nearly $30,000 that was meant for Addie and her family, according to the plea form. As part of the deal, Richards paid nearly $17,500 in restitution in conjunction with his plea on Thursday.
The deal does not specify any recommendations about Richards' sentence, which is scheduled to be handed down April 12. The two class A misdemeanors each carry a potential sentence of up to a year in jail.
At a hearing earlier this month, Addie's mother, Tami Fausett, said she is most troubled by the fact that the money Richards stole was made up of donations from caring strangers, some of whom sent messages saying they were giving the only $10 they could spare that month because they were touched by Addie's story.4 comments on this story
Addie captured the hearts of thousands in 2014 when her family sought to collect a "lifetime of Christmas cards" for her before she died. Supporters from all around the world sent her more than 300,000 Christmas cards, letters and gifts. That December, Fountain Green held its first Christmas parade, dedicated to Addie.
Fausett has said Richards also set up a GoFundMe account to allegedly raise money for funeral expenses and a headstone for Addie. The account had more than $10,000 in it at one point, according to Fausett, but she never received any of the money. After learning about the case, Heritage Memorial Headstone in Payson donated a butterfly shaped headstone to mark Addie's resting place in Vine Bluff Cemetery.