The last time Ashley Furth was with her husband, Steven Furth, they were on the side of the road in Cherryfield nearly a year ago, surrounded by police with guns pointed at them. As an officer handcuffed Steven and put him in the back of a cop car, he listened to other police asking Ashley to lift up her shirt, to see if she was carrying a gun, he said. She didn’t want to.
Her protests were the last sounds he heard from her before the door closed.
Over the last 10 months, Ashley has continued to protest being charged with felony theft for allegedly stealing from a joint bank account she held with her father. She believes she has been inhumanely and wrongly targeted, while police and court officials have described her as being noncompliant. She has fired two court-appointed attorneys and been held in contempt of court.
Today, Steven is free.
But despite being arrested on Dec. 5, 2022, Ashley has not even been arraigned, let alone had a trial, and she has continued to accrue additional charges. In her recorded calls from the jail, her conversations sometimes end in screams.
Ashley’s and Steven’s cases provide a rare view into what can happen when two people are charged with the same crime — and one resists the legal process and the other does not. They show how slowly the wheels of justice can turn for someone whose mental well-being is questioned.
Only in August did a judge find Ashley incompetent to stand trial and send her against her wishes to a psychiatric hospital. She has fought every step, saying she does not have a mental health condition. In an interview from Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta where she was involuntarily committed, she asserted that none of her psychiatrists know why she’s even there.
Her medical records from Riverview back her up. Ashley “presents with no symptoms of psychiatric illness,” though she may have an adjustment disorder — which involves excessive reactions to stress — due to her prolonged incarceration, according to the records. She feels legally persecuted, has no paranoia or delusions, and is not at risk of violence, her assessment from September states.
Riverview’s findings mark the latest turn in a unusual case and may contradict the exam of a state psychologist who met with Ashley for 15 minutes after she had been in Washington County Jail nearly five months. He found that she “lacks insight into her mental condition and inappropriate behavior,” and that her ability to reflect on her options as a defendant had been “derailed by the signs, symptoms, and impairments associated with her acute mental disorder,” according to a summary in court records that did not provide a diagnosis.
While Ashley has frustrated officials and neighbors, she has also retained the love and support of her husband and mother-in-law who desperately worry for her future.
“I have honestly felt like less than a human,” she said. “This crime that they claim that I committed even though my name was on the bank account, I just don’t understand.”
Ashley’s family believes her mental wellbeing has worsened while she’s been in custody, making it harder for her to go along with the court process, which in turn digs her hole deeper.
More broadly, Steven and his mother, Maria Furth, said they feel abandoned by a judicial system that has changed the course of their families’ lives with little accountability.
They believe police and the district attorney’s office came down on Steven, 33, and Ashley, 40, hard, made them out to be more dangerous than they actually were, and used the bail process — where evidence rules are more relaxed — to keep them locked up.
Indeed, one lawyer not connected to their cases said he had never seen bail set so high on a theft case in the two decades he’s worked in Washington County.
The prosecutor, Toff Toffolon, has argued, however, that police had valid concerns about the couple being a public safety risk given the firepower in their home and the numerous threats Ashley allegedly made, calling people pedophiles and witches and putting in writing that she wanted them dead. Ashley has refuted those claims.
Robert Granger, the district attorney for Washington and Hancock counties, declined to answer questions, including whether he thought Ashley had served enough time behind bars. He did not make Toffolon available for an interview.
One of Ashley’s former attorneys, Hillary Knight, declined to answer questions. Ashley’s current attorney, C. Peter Bos, also declined an interview.
Steven and Maria decided to talk to the Bangor Daily News as a last resort, they said. To understand the cases, the BDN reviewed hundreds of pages of documents and listened to hours of recorded phone calls and testimony. Steven provided discovery material from his case and agreed to multiple interviews, despite objections from his attorney.
‘It’s a civil matter’
In the Washington County Jail after his arrest, Steven waited in a brightly lit holding cell that had a hole in the floor to be used as a toilet. The jail had taken his boots, he said, so he was barefoot. He didn’t sleep. Ashley waited in a different cell, out of sight and sound.
Police had told him he was under arrest for theft, and for a while he was confused, he said. It wasn’t until he spoke to his attorney, Eugene Sullivan, that he learned the details: He and Ashley were each being charged with felony theft for taking $121,000 out of a joint account that Ashley shared with her father and then depositing it in their own account.
In an interview and in letters to officials, Ashley said that all the money in the account was hers.
Whether this is true has not been proven in court. When Ashley’s mother died unexpectedly in 2020 with no will, Ashley’s father sold their home in Georgia, according to the deed. Together Ashley and her father opened a joint bank account with Camden National Bank where the proceeds from the sale of the house were deposited, Ashley’s father told police.
Steven and Ashley brought Ashley’s father up from Georgia to live with them while a new house could be built for him on their property on the Cherryfield-Milbridge line, next to their home. Their banking records confirm Ashley and her father each withdrew from the joint account, mostly to pay for construction of his new home, though they each also withdrew cash.
The BDN isn’t naming Ashley’s father because he is the alleged victim of a crime. He did not reply to a request for an interview.
On Nov. 25, 2022, Ashley’s father tried to remove Ashley’s access to the joint bank account because Ashley and Steven had been spending money from it on guns and ammunition without his permission, according to affidavits by Washington County Detective Travis Willey. In response Ashley caused a disturbance at the bank in Ellsworth and was allowed access to the joint account, he wrote.
That same day someone logged into the joint account using Ashley’s log-in information and Steven’s phone. It was emptied in several lump sums totalling about $121,000, which was put in a different account only Ashley and Steven could access, according to the affidavits.
While Ashley has written letters saying she transferred the money, Steven said he was the one who did it.
“I wasn’t doing it thinking we were doing anything wrong at the time. I asked myself, ‘Is this Ashley’s money?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes, it is,’” Steven said.
In the week after the bank transfer, the Furths’ account shows they spent about $20,000 of the money, including at retailers selling firearms and shooting equipment.
At Ashley’s bail hearing, her court-appointed attorney, Dawn Corbett, argued that her client had a right to the money in the account since Georgia law directs the surviving spouse to share inheritances with any children when there is no will dictating otherwise.
“It is estate money from the death of her mother. And they both have equal access to that money,” Corbett said. “This is not a criminal matter, this theft case. It’s a civil matter.”
If she is entitled to half, “why did she take it all?” responded Toffolon, the deputy district attorney. Ashley’s father deposited all of the money into the account, he said. Ashley put in none.
While it may generally be true that either person on a joint account can move funds or close the account, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, state laws can provide more protection. Toffolon pointed out that, under Maine probate code, a joint account belongs to the account holders in proportion to their contributions to it.
After their arrest, Camden National Bank told police it was closing out Steven and Ashley’s account, which had a balance of about $97,000. Steven also repaid his father-in-law what they had spent.
If any of the funds in the joint account belonged to Ashley, she was the one who lost her money, in the end.
‘A concerted effort to torment people’
Steven and Ashley each had separate bail hearings on Dec. 7, 2022, and were represented by different attorneys, but Toffolon and others in court did not distinguish between Ashley’s and Steven’s alleged actions, according to recordings of the proceedings.
As Steven listened to Toffolon speak during his teleconferenced bail hearing, he said he realized the situation was more dire than he had thought. The prosecutor, who argued the two were “unpredictable, volatile and dangerous,” was asking the judge to double their bail to $100,000 cash each, essentially ensuring they would remain in jail.
Though the Furths own a house in Milbridge and Steven’s great-grandparents are buried in Surry, Toffolon said they have “no ties to Maine” and came here “with a concerted effort to torment people.” They are “fanatics about pedophilia,” he said, and have made false allegations that local sheriffs and high-profile politicians, including the governor, are pedophiles.
When police searched the couple’s home, they found guns and enough ammunition to see Washington County deputies through 10 years of target practice, Toffolon said.
The evidence log shows they seized 13 guns, including two semi-automatic rifles, in addition to boxes of ammunition and loaded magazines.
Police also found a metal gas can and a legal compound known as Tannerite, which is used to create small explosions in targets. It was “not unreasonable to suggest,” Toffolon said, that Steven and Ashley were going to combine the two to make an explosive device.
“What these people really want is an Armageddon face off with law enforcement,” Toffolon said.
Steven said he was floored by the allegations. Neither he nor Ashley had a violent record. He owned guns because he enjoyed target practicing and considered them an investment, he said. He never planned to make an explosive device, he said.
Toffolon did not share any evidence in court that the Furths had a plan to make a bomb, and he did not charge them with a crime relating to what police seized from their home. But Sullivan, Steven’s attorney, hadn’t known about the bomb allegation ahead of time, Steven said, and didn’t argue against it in court.
“The odd thing was that nothing in my home was illegal. Every firearm I had was registered in my name,” Steven said. “The Second Amendment doesn’t have a threshold on how many guns or ammunition a person can have.”
A court-ordered psychological assessment of Steven found no issues and concluded there was no evidence he was at risk of harming anyone.
In another sign of the seriousness of the situation, Washington County Sheriff Barry Curtis took the rare step of urging the judge to not let the couple out on bail, saying his office had experienced “steady harassment” from the Furths and that their neighbors were “scared to death of them.” The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office had been getting “nonstop” emails as well, Curtis said. He did not elaborate.
“I wouldn’t release them on bail. This has gone beyond anything that I’ve ever had to work on, and I’ve been working at this for 30 some years,” the sheriff said. “They were ramping up to do something, and we’re not sure what it was. You know, the way they’re treating people and harassing people, something bad is going to happen.”
Curtis didn’t respond to questions about the case, including why he spoke in court that day. But it is not common for police to speak at bail hearings, let alone the county’s top cop.
Zachary Smith, a Bangor lawyer who was not familiar with the Furths’ cases but has argued bail hundreds of times, said he had never heard a police officer take any position on bail before. He had also never seen someone charged criminally for stealing from a joint account.
“Usually you don’t have testimony at bail hearings, and you certainly don’t have people just allowed to give statements that are not the district attorney,” added Jeffrey Davidson, who has practiced law in Washington County for 19 years and listened to the Furths’ hearings in court.
Having potential witnesses share their views without cross examination was “very unusual,” Davidson said.
Curtis wasn’t the only additional speaker in court that day. The Furths’ neighbor, who had feuded with the couple over their property line, said her life had been disturbed by Steven’s target shooting, and she was worried for her safety. She said the Furths had written to her on Facebook, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
Though he wasn’t able to respond in court, Steven later said he shoots far into his woods away from neighbors. He also wasn’t able to bring up that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office had issued a no-harassment order against the neighbor to prevent her from going onto the Furths’ property.
Toffolon told the judge he was going to charge Ashley and Steven “later today” with terrorizing against a “victim in the Skowhegan area,” though he did not provide details. Toffolon did not actually file this charge against them, however. And he did not charge them for any crime against the neighbor, according to court records.
In Ashley’s defense, Corbett said that Toffolon had not turned over all material relevant to the case ahead of time, a point the judge dismissed. She also argued there had been a lot of testimony about alleged harassment, but “we’re not here on that basis today. My client does have a right to free speech.”
Sullivan, Steven’s attorney, described the proposed bail as “completely unreasonable.” In court paperwork he later called the hearing “absolutely bizarre.”
Judge Terence Harrigan sided with the prosecutor and set bail at $100,000 cash each, saying the two had caused a “campaign of terror” and possessed firepower that “goes beyond what a normal Second Amendment proponent would have in their home.”
Ashley’s and Steven’s paths began to diverge.
Over the span of several months, Toffolon filed charges against Ashley for alleged crimes from before her arrest. He charged her with terrorizing and harassment for allegedly threatening a woman in another state; with violating a protective order taken out against her by another woman; and with disorderly conduct for making “loud and unreasonable noise” at a public place in Ellsworth. The cases are pending.
One criminal case stems from her time behind bars. In February 2023 Ashley was charged with violating conditions of release for allegedly contacting her father when she wasn’t supposed to. Instead of using her name, she signed the complaint paperwork, “FU.”
Three months after his arrest, Steven decided to take a plea deal. He would have rather gone to trial, he said, but it didn’t make sense to continue waiting in jail, unable to make bail.
The prosecutor’s original offer was for Steven to leave the state, essentially giving up his home and life in Maine, Steven said.
Instead, Steven accepted a deferred disposition where he pleaded guilty to theft but will see the conviction disappear after a year if he abides by certain conditions. He is not allowed to possess guns or have contact with his neighbors. He had to pay back $15,000 to his father-in-law on the day he signed the deal.
While Steven is free, he and his mother feel as though the district attorney’s office and police ruined his reputation.
“They didn’t find anything in his background. They had his computer for all this time, his phone. The fact that they haven’t come up with anything tells me they were just fishing,” Maria said.
‘Deprive someone of liberty indefinitely’
Steven does not see a clear way out for Ashley. He has no direct window into what is happening at Riverview, as the court has prohibited her from contacting him, he said, and he questions whether she will receive a fair resolution to her cases.
Felony theft carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, though judges often agree to less.
In 2014, a South Thomaston man was sentenced to seven months in jail for stealing $200,000 from a home on Vinalhaven. In 2012, a Topsham woman got 33 months for stealing $500,000 from the credit union where she had worked.
Steven said he felt heartbroken and confused after hearing descriptions of Ashley’s mental state in jail and then learning about her assessment in Riverview.
“I didn’t know how to comprehend it,” he said. “My wife was my best friend.”
Maria can’t know for sure, but she suspects that the unexpected death of Ashley’s mother contributed to the changes people began to see in Ashley. It was the height of the pandemic. Ashley couldn’t see her mother in the hospital before she died.
From their first meeting in 2019, however, it was clear Ashley was a “very kind, good person,” Maria said. She felt as though they became more like friends than a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Looking back, though, she recalled how Ashley’s texts began to turn mean, which was out of character.
Jail made it worse. Over time Ashley’s calls from the jail became more irrational, Maria said. Ashley told Maria she saw Steven all the time, when in reality he had been transferred to an entirely different jail.
“Sometimes she would call me 20 times a day. I would always answer the phone because she had no one else to talk to. So even though I knew the insults were coming, I didn’t care because I knew that was not Ashley,” Maria said.
Concerned about Ashley’s mental state, Maria said she called the jail frequently and struggled to understand whether Ashley was getting any help. At one point she talked to the detective who told her Ashley was fine, she said.
At other times police questioned Ashley’s mental wellbeing. After Steven’s arrest, Willey, the detective, asked him what was wrong with Ashley, saying she was talking “about demons and pedophiles” and wouldn’t comply with the booking process, according to a recording of their conversation.
“She stays here as long as she’s not willing to cooperate. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Is she mentally stable?” Willey said.
“I can’t speak to her and try to talk with her. I don’t know what to say,” Steven responded.
Since then, Ashley has been held in contempt for being “disruptive” during court. In her letters to the sheriff, judges, Toffolon and other officials, she has threatened to sue them for arresting her on bogus charges, taking her money and violating her rights, all to force her to plead guilty.
“They’ve taken everything from me. Literally everything — my money, my husband, my freedom,” she said in her interview from Riverview.
While the court has a responsibility to make sure defendants can meaningfully participate in court proceedings, it is not always clear whether it is more harmful or beneficial to keep someone with a suspected mental health condition locked up, said Davidson, the lawyer.
“Of course the state considers [Ashley] to be dangerous. So, from their perspective: Keep her as long as you can,” Davidson said. “From the defense side, the question is always: How can you just deprive someone of liberty indefinitely without giving them their day in court?”
If or when Ashley is one day released, Steven and Maria said they wonder who she will be.
“I like to think things can go back to normal,” Steven said. “But in the back of my mind I always worry: Are we past the point of no return?”
Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus at the Bangor Daily News. She may be reached at email@example.com.