Charges: Estate executor withheld money from Smile Network International to pay off personal debts

A Plymouth, Minnesota man is accused of taking money from a victim’s estate for which he was the executor and using it to pay off his personal debts, rather than giving it to the nonprofit that was supposed to receive it.

David Abele, 51, was charged Monday with two counts of theft by swindle.

 According to the charges, in January, the Minneapolis Police Department took a report from Smile Network International, a nonprofit that provides reconstructive surgeries and related health care surgeries to children and adults in developing countries, which the victim had named as a beneficiary of their estate.

In the victim’s will, Smile Network International was supposed to receive 50 percent of the estate. The organization initially received around $1 million in cash payments, followed by a check from the estate for $250,000 in February 2014. 

Over a year later, in May 2015, Abele notified Smile Network International’s board that the victim’s estate had been liquidated save for a few remaining assets that were tied up in the victim’s restaurant holdings. In February 2016, the nonprofit received a final payment of $7,500 from Abele.  

Police reviewed the victim’s financial records and found Abele had been withdrawing money from the estate’s checking account after he had already informed Smile Network International that everything had been liquidated. An investigation found that Abele had removed a total of $85,000 from the victim’s estate. 

In June 2016, Abele admitted under oath during a divorce proceeding that he took money from the estate to help him with his personal debts, the charges say. 

Abele is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Nov. 26. 

The Smile Network

Kim Valentini founded Smile Network International in Minneapolis almost 20 years ago. In that time, the organization has operated on more than 4,000 children across the globe, repairing cleft palates and cleft lips in some of the poorest nations. 

Valentini said her mission is to give kids a better chance at life with these procedures, which can be done for about $500 in under an hour in advanced countries. 

"These are children that never go to school," Valentini said. "They never have boyfriend or a girlfriend, never get married and often times, they never have a job." 

She said she was crushed when she put the pieces together and discovered that the tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for her charity had likely been stolen.