Woman, who helped change research protocols at U of M, allegedly loses savings to caregiver

Mary Weiss lost her son while he was enrolled in a controversial drug study at the University of Minnesota. The case drew worldwide attention.

Weiss is now facing the loss of her home and retirement savings after being taken advantage of by someone she trusted, according to police.

"Very often I think I'll wake up from all of this, but I don't," she told the Fox 9 Investigators. "If I could see him again, I would just ask why? Why did you do this to me?"

She endured the violent death of her son, four strokes and a heart attack.

The person she leaned on through it all, is suspected of preying on her vulnerability.

Weiss said she is financially ruined; her $150,000 retirement nest egg is wiped out.

She adds that debt is mounting from loans and credit cards taken out in her name without her consent.

"I trusted him because I knew him for about 15, 16 years and I had no reason not to trust him," she said.

Weiss gained international attention for her relentless effort to hold University of Minnesota researchers accountable, after her son, Dan Markingson, took his own life while enrolled in a 2004 psychiatric drug study. Because of her efforts, the University made several improvements to its research programs.

Mike Howard stood by her through that battle, and then spoke on her behalf when her health was failing.

"I think they're hiding things that were done fraudulently, things that were done sloppily and they're trying to cover up," he told the Fox 9 Investigators in 2013.

But now it's Howard who's under suspicion. The Washington County Attorney has charged him with one count of theft by swindle.

The Cottage Grove Police Department conducted the investigation.

Howard was not romantically involved with Weiss, but lived with her for ten years and became her caregiver.

After suffering a series of strokes, she gave him the power of attorney to oversee her financial affairs.

Howard has a record, including a theft by swindle conviction in 2001, which Weiss was aware of.

"I thought nobody is all bad, nobody is unsalvageable, but now I'm not so sure," Weiss said.

It was Christina Weiss, Mary's niece, who discovered something was amiss with her aunt's finances in June.

"I got a year’s worth of bank statements and we found ATM withdrawals and lottery ticket purchases and overdrafts. All sorts of fraudulent loans and credit cards he had taken out in her name," said Christina.

The criminal complaint reads that Howard took $74,369 in the form of ATM withdrawals and used $19,200 to buy lottery tickets from a Prescott, Wisconsin gas station.

Weiss estimates her aunt's financial loss is about $200,000.

"I've had suspicions for 15 years, but she would never listen to them, she trusted him, she thought she could change him," said Dianne Ney, Mary’s sister.

In a phone interview with Fox 9, Howard denied taking any money without Weiss' consent.

"Two hundred thousand [dollars], come on, give me a break,” said Howard. “I'm not going to talk about it over the phone, and again you're assuming I took money from her without her knowledge. I am not going to do this over the phone and it's ludicrous."

Washington County Human Services did a separate investigation of the case and notified Weiss that an allegation of financial exploitation was substantiated.

Cottage Grove investigators also found that Howard told his girlfriend that Weiss was dead and gave his girlfriend gifts that belonged to Weiss.

"I think he just doesn't have a conscience," said Weiss. She is currently living in a nursing home, recovering from a fall that broke her tailbone.

She wants to move back to her townhome, but with her finances wiped out, she may have to sell it to afford long-term care.

"She will end up on Medicaid and have $90 a month to spend," said her niece, Christina.

"I want people to understand, this can happen to anyone. I have control of my faculties; I am not the least bit senile," said Weiss.