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Director pleads no contest to one count of aggravated theft

Former executive director of the foundation that ran Parrett Mountain Farm will be sentenced soon


HAPPIER TIMES -- Elizabeth Rhode shows a reporter her plans to create a pioneer-style farm and historical center on 418 acres on Parrett Mountain in 2007.Elizabeth Rhode, the former executive director of the non-profit foundation that ran Parrett Mountain Farm, recently pled no contest to a single count of aggravated theft in connection with money missing from the Crystal Dawn Smith Rilee Foundation.

The plea effectively ends a case that has dragged on for three years, according to Yamhill County Deputy District Attorney Ladd Wiles.

“She stole from the foundation,” Wiles said. “This case is a fairly complicated case; it had a lot of side stories that allowed it to progress slowly…”

The foundation oversees the day-to-day operations of Parrett Mountain Farm

Rhode, 56, is expected to receive three years probation, must complete community service and will be barred from working with charities in the future as a result of the plea agreement with sentencing schedule before Multnomah County Circuit Judge Eric Bergstrom prior to Dec. 3.

Rhode was initially arrested in September 2009, charged with five counts of theft and two counts of forgery regarding the removal of funds and property from the foundation after an investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice’s charitable activities section and the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Department. At the time of her arrest, she was living at the farmhouse (located south of Sherwood off of Parrett Mountain Road), which as part of an original agreement was hers until her death when it was to be returned to the foundation.

While it may sound like Rhode is getting off easy from the original charges, Wiles said if she violates terms of her probation she will likely face a prison term.

Meanwhile Wiles credited Dan Wendel from the Oregon Department of Justice with helping sort through the case.

“He had every bit as much to do with this as I did if not more,” said Wiles.

As part of the same case, Rhode also has been charged with tax evasion in Marion County, a case that has yet to be resolved. Wiles said a civil suit was filed as well.

The three members of the Crystal Dawn Smith Rilee Foundation had been involved every step of the way regarding the investigation, said Wiles. When Rhode was arrested, a sheriff’s spokesman said Rhode had served as the fourth board member.

Wiles said it’s the hope of the foundation that it can continue with plans to preserve the unique piece of area heritage. The foundation also runs an equestrian facility at the site.

During an October 2007 interview with the Sherwood Gazette, Rhode laid out her plans for the farm that she often visited to see her step-grandmother, Crystal Dawn Smith Rilee. Before Crystal died that same year at 91 years old, she set up a trust to save 418 acres on Parrett Mountain.

Rhode said at the time that plans were to create a historical preserve, which once completed, would include the pioneer-style farm along with several historic buildings, thousands of pioneer artifacts and hundreds of acres of working farms. A trio of Parrett brothers from England first settled on the mountain in the early 1800s.

“One day we were driving home from Sherwood, and my grandmother saw all the houses being built on the side of the mountain,” Rhode said during that interview. “She started crying and said, ‘That’s never going to happen to my land.’”

The story also mentioned the rich collection of historical memorabilia that the house contained including: “artwork carved by the original pioneer families of Parrett Mountain, a portrait of one of the Parrett brothers’ wives, a crock brought over on the original trip from England; and thousands of arrowheads, used by the Native American tribes that crossed Parrett Mountain on their way to the waterfalls in present-day Oregon City to collect eels.”

In 2008, the Parrett House, built in the 1850s, was moved from its former location off of Parrett Mountain Road to a site about a mile down on the same road.

A year latter, the farm was used not only as the site for a noted art show but hosted 381 Civil War re-enactors who used its rolling hills to stage a “battle” during a hot summer day.