Losing their father to brain cancer 11 years ago was life-changing for Magnus and Javyn Mortensen.
Having the life insurance proceeds Mike Mortensen left for his sons stolen from them has shaken the Northwood High School students’ faith in humanity.
“To think I was 10 years old and they were just stealing my money,” Magnus, now 19, said. “I was a little kid. My dad just died, and they were stealing money from a child whose father just died.”
Last week — more than a year after Magnus turned 18 and discovered that the bank account earmarked for his college education had been wiped clean — a Huron County woman, the wife of Mike Mortensen’s childhood friend Jerry Bement — was indicted on three counts of grand theft and 12 counts of forgery on accusations she stole the brothers’ inheritance.
Stacie Bement, 45, of Wakeman, Ohio, is accused of repeatedly forging the signature of the accounts’ custodian — her husband. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, contends she transferred money from the boys’ accounts to her personal bank account on multiple occasions between 2008 and 2012 until there was not a cent left.
A longtime special education teacher at Edison High School near Milan, Ohio, Mrs. Bement was arrested after school May 4 and arraigned Monday in Huron County Common Pleas Court. She pleaded not guilty to the felony charges.
Brothers Magnus, 19, left, and Javyn, 16, center, with their mother Billie Mortensen in Northwood.
“It’s devastating because it’s money that has a tie to their father. It was a gift left to them, and this is like losing him all over again,” said Brian Patrick of Maumee, who grew up in Norwalk with Mr. Mortensen and is godfather to Magnus. “This was going to give them an advantage in life, put them through college.”
Prosecutors say Mrs. Bement created fictitious bank statements that made it look as if the money were still in the accounts.
Billie Mortensen, the boys’ mother, retrieved a copy of one such statement when her oldest son came to her last year after he turned 18 and said the bank had told him that no such account existed.
Dumbfounded, she contacted Mr. Bement, who she recalled seemed concerned. He told her he would go to the credit union, look into it, and get back to her. She never heard from him again. An investigation by Norwalk police followed.
Norwalk Police detective Sgt. Seth Fry said the case is as awful as it sounds.
“It’s tragic that they lost their father, and it’s tragic that the person that was put in charge of their money didn’t keep a more watchful eye on it,” he said. “It was basically squandered.”
Sergeant Fry said he found no evidence that the money was used for gambling or drugs. “It’s my opinion it was someone living well beyond their means,” he said.
Mrs. Bement’s husband, who works as a social studies teacher at Norwalk Middle School, has not been charged. Neither he, his wife, nor her attorney, T. Douglas Clifford of Norwalk, returned messages seeking comment.
“I think the hardest part for me as a mother is that I’ve watched [the Bements’] life over Facebook,” Ms. Mortensen said. “I see their family vacation every year, see their daughter in competitive dance. She’s in ballet. [Their children] both had braces. They had stuff that my kids don’t have.”
Mike Mortensen holds his sons Javyn, now 16, left, and Magnus, now 19, in a photograph the mother of the boys keeps at her home in Northwood.
In her mind, that’s not hardship.
“It’s hardship when you can’t feed your children or don’t have a place to live,” Ms. Mortensen said. “[My sons] lived without a dad and now they’re not going to have that help from a parent as an adult that the money was meant for.”
Mrs. Bement, who remains on the payroll at Edison High School, has taught in the district for 22 years and is paid $62,407 a year, according to Superintendent Thomas Roth.
He said the district is investigating, and he stressed the alleged acts do “not involve the Edison Local Schools nor does the alleged criminal behavior involve the health and welfare of the Edison Local Schools students and staff.”
It most definitely involves the health and welfare of the Mortensen boys, though.
Magnus says he’s angry. He feels he was cheated out of the kind of high school experience he’d hoped for, forced to now work long hours at Lowe’s while attending Northwood High School.
He is a senior slated to graduate May 27, but the plans he had for living in a residence hall at an out-of-town or out-of-state college have crumbled. His mother insists he will go to college even if it means living at home and attending Owens Community College or Bowling Green State University.
Mr. Bement was a childhood friend of their father’s and a groomsman in the Mortensens’ wedding.
Billie Mortensen holds a photograph of her sons Magnus, now 19, center, and Javyn, now 16, right, with their father Mike Mortensen, second from left, and his parents Sylvia Leos, left, and George Mortensen, center right, before Mike's death.
After living in Norwalk with their parents as children, Magnus and Javyn went to school in Sandusky and later moved to the Toledo area where they were enrolled in Washington Local Schools. They moved to Northwood last year where Javyn, 16, is finishing his freshman year.
Ms. Mortensen, who was divorced from Mr. Mortensen in 2004, said her husband was in the Navy before developing seizures that led to a medical disability discharge. He lived with the condition for many years before tumors developed and multiplied. He died in 2007 at the age of 36.
She said he hadn’t told her about the life insurance for their sons, but she’d heard speculations. Magnus said his uncle mentioned it to him once, and he never forgot about it.
In the summer of 2015, Magnus and Javyn were at Cedar Point with Mr. Patrick when Magnus asked his godfather if he knew anything about a college fund.
“I said, ‘I remember your dad speaking of it. I know he was setting it up,’” Mr. Patrick recalled. “Magnus said, ‘It’s supposedly set up and Jerry’s in charge.’ I texted Jerry standing there in line, and he said, ‘No problem I have all the information. I can give him anything he needs.’”
Soon after, the Mortensens met Mr. Bement and his wife at a Fremont restaurant.
“They told us about the money and that it’d been sitting there for 10 years and what their dad wanted them to use it for school, weddings,” Ms. Mortensen recalled.
Magnus said Mr. Bement told them their father didn’t want them to go out and buy motorcycles or do crazy things with the money, but that he “wanted us to be smart with the money. And then he gave us these bank statements to show us how much money was in the accounts.”
He recalled that Mr. Bement figured the original $50,000 insurance money for each boy would be worth close to $70,000 by the time they were 18 and could access it.
Although the boys have only vague memories of their Dad — Magnus was 8 and Javyn was 5 when he died — Ms. Mortensen said she was not surprised by her ex-husband’s foresight.
“He wanted to make sure that the kids were taken care of because they were young when he had to leave,” Ms. Mortensen said. “He knew he was dying, and he wanted to make sure everything was taken care of, and all he ever wanted was these boys.”
Asking a trusted friend to be custodian of the accounts was his way of making sure their sons had the money when they needed it, she said.
“He planned all this stuff out for this not to happen, and it happened anyway,” Magnus said. “He gave it to the people he least expected to steal the money.”
Mr. Patrick’s sister, Carrie Patrick, recently launched a GoFundMe account, #JusticeforMikesboys, to help Magnus and Javyn recoup the funds.
While they hold out hope that the person who stole their inheritance will be ordered by the court to pay it back in full, their mother said she’s trying to tell her sons that “just because they don’t have it, it doesn’t mean it’s the end.”
“Your life has to go on. You can’t dwell on it,” she said. “You have to work for what you want. But it’s hard.”
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