, Salem, MA

December 29, 2012

Victim's death ends case against accused thief


---- — PEABODY — Prosecutors have dropped the case against a Dracut man charged last year with using his elderly neighbor’s debit card to finance a nearly $50,000 gambling spree.

That’s because James Hughes’ victim, 84-year-old Irene Sparrow-Meade, has died. And without her testimony, prosecutors say they can’t make a case against him.

Hughes, 52, had been scheduled to stand trial Jan. 14 in Salem Superior Court on charges that included larceny from a person over 60 and credit card fraud. But yesterday, Assistant District Attorney Jessica Strasnick told a judge that without the victim, it will be impossible to prove the case.

Sparrow-Meade died Dec. 5, according to her obituary.

Hughes was charged last year after relatives of the elderly Dracut woman, who lived in the same senior apartment complex where Hughes was staying with his own mother, discovered a series of unusual transactions, mostly cash withdrawals, on the woman’s bank statements. The expenditures came from across Middlesex and Essex counties, including Peabody and Methuen.

The total amount came to more than $48,000.

Prosecutors alleged that Hughes had used the money to finance repeat trips to the Foxwoods casino and Rockingham Park. Many of the gambling trips took place in 2009, while the victim was temporarily in a nursing home.

The woman told investigators that she had entrusted Hughes with the card to take care of personal errands when she was too sick to go out.

At first, she was reluctant to press charges, investigators said in their report, not realizing how much money Hughes had taken from her bank account. But when she realized he’d taken nearly $50,000, she became angry.

In interviews after Hughes was arraigned, she expressed that anger and told reporters she wanted Hughes to go to jail.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.