A former caretaker was sentenced this week to 20 years in the Montana State Women’s Prison with 15 years suspended for defrauding a quadriplegic client out of more than $300,000.

Bridget Coulter, 36, is required to pay $343,563 in restitution to the victim’s family. Upon her release, Coulter has to notify potential employers of the conviction.

Coulter, who appeared Wednesday in Gallatin County District Court before Judge John Brown, pleaded guilty to exploitation of an older person and identity theft, both felonies, in May.

In September 2017, a person reported to the Bozeman Police Department that Coulter was stealing money from a 69-year-old quadriplegic woman in hospice, according to charging documents. Coulter took care of the woman starting in 2013 and had access to her financial accounts, according to Adult Protective Services.

A detective interviewed the woman’s son, who said Coulter confessed to stealing from the woman, court documents said. Coulter told the son that she had been paying off her personal credit cards using the woman’s checking account and that it had been going on for about a year.

Police said in charging documents that financial statements showed Coulter took out numerous loans in the woman’s name. They also showed that Coulter made fraudulent purchases on the woman’s credit cards and made tens of thousands of dollars of ATM withdrawals from the woman’s checking account.

In court Wednesday, Coulter said she was sorry for the pain her actions caused and that she would carry the shame and regret for the rest of her life. She said she had a lot of anxiety and depression during the time when she was stealing from the woman.

“I was in a very bad marriage, and I let things spiral out of control,” Coulter said.

Through therapy, Coulter said, she’s learned to ask for help and tell the truth when she’s in situations she can’t handle.

Prosecutor Bjorn Boyer said Coulter was a “master manipulator.” He said the victim in this case died shortly after Coulter admitted to the theft.

Boyer said Coulter confessed only when the victim was broke. He said the victim’s family doesn’t expect Coulter to pay back the money she stole.

“I think that’s the reality of the situation,” Boyer said.

Judge Brown said Coulter betrayed the victim, the victim’s family and Coulter’s family. He said the testimony that stuck with him was that the victim died sooner than expected because of the trauma of losing her money and her inability to pay for quality care.

Brown said punishment is important because justice requires a consequence for a person’s actions.

“There has to be a consequence. Without a consequence there won’t be justice, and without justice nobody could go forward,” he said.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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