A Windham man pleaded guilty to financial exploitation charges Wednesday morning, just before his trial in Cumberland County Superior Court was due to start.

Theodore Thomes changed his plea to guilty on three counts of theft by deception. He also entered guilty pleas on six tax charges on which he was to be tried in August.

He was accused of bilking an elderly neighbor of about $300,000 in cash and other possessions. Thomes also faces a state tax bill of nearly $50,000 for understating his income, taking an improper deduction and receiving a refund to which he wasn’t entitled.

Thomes agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the state’s recommendation of sentences of six years on each of the theft by deception charges, with all but three years suspended. Those sentences will all run concurrently, along with the sentences of nine months on each of the six tax charges, meaning Thomes will be in jail for three years and on probation for another three if a judge accepts the deal in October.

Prosecutors said they plan to seek restitution of $300,000 for the victim, Don Penta, 71, also of Windham, plus payment of the state tax bill.

Leanne Robbin, an assistant attorney general who heads up that office’s Financial Crimes Division, said Thomes charged Penta up to $2,000 a week to take him to the doctor and to other appointments, and for minor repairs to the man’s home. Thomes also borrowed $50,000 that he said was intended to pay storage fees and for repairs to his boat, but never repaid the borrowed money.

Thomes eventually tried to restrict Penta’s contact with relatives, Robbin said, and then got him to turn over $250,000 after Thomes threatened to sue or have Penta declared incompetent if he didn’t pay the money.

Thomes is still on federal probation for illegal firearms possession in a case involving guns that he and his wife, Renee Thomes, took from Penta’s house while Penta was hospitalized.

Thomes, who declined comment after the hearing on his change of plea, is expected to argue at his Oct. 19 sentencing that he doesn’t have the money to pay restitution.

Penta, who was in court with his wife, Carol Penta, said the resolution satisfied him and that he was relieved he wouldn’t have to testify.

A jury had already been selected Monday and testimony was expected to start at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, but instead Thomes, his lawyers and prosecutors met with Justice Andrew Horton to work out the plea deal.

Thomes had failed to show for earlier trials in November and March, arguing that he was waiting to have hip surgery and couldn’t travel from his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was arrested in late March and held in lieu of $40,000 bail.

Last month, a Superior Court judge refused to lower Thomes’ bail, to allow him to get hip surgery before the trial that was supposed to begin Wednesday. His lawyer said Thomes might have to lie on a cot while the trial proceeded, but there was no cot in the courtroom when Thomes arrived on crutches Wednesday.

He sat on a normal wooden court chair through the nearly two-hour change of plea hearing, and then left the courtroom on his crutches.

Thomes stopped the hearing at a couple of points to confer with his lawyers. He seemed concerned that pleading guilty to the state tax charges might open him up to prosecution for federal tax evasion, but Horton told him that a decision on whether to charge him for that would be made by federal authorities. Thomes also seemed concerned about whether he would be able to serve his probation in the Virgin Islands and Horton said that decision would have to wait until he had completed his jail sentence.

Horton agreed to allow Thomes to return to the Virgin Islands for hip surgery, but warned him of dire consequences if he fails to show up for sentencing.

Robbin said she would seek to have any restitution recovered go first to Penta before being applied to the state tax bill. She said that Thomes owns a house in Windham, although that status is unclear because of an ongoing foreclosure. She also said the house has been damaged by a fire and vandalism, so its value is uncertain.

Thomes’ lawyers declined to comment on the case.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at:

[email protected]