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February 22, 2012

Elder Abuse on the Rise? (CA. USA)

Local prosecutors seeing more elder abuse cases
February 19, 2012
By Tomoya Shimura
VICTORVILLE

Making just one mistake, Yachiyo Haney lost everything — including her Apple Valley house and her life savings of $435,000.
Haney, 68 at the time, trusted a stranger who promised a high return for a short-term investment. But it never happened. Instead the man fled to Thailand and Haney was forced to come out of retirement to support herself.
Haney was a victim of a $14 million Ponzi scheme, and while her losses may be higher than in a typical fraud case, perpetrators trying to take advantage of vulnerable elders have become pervasive.
And it’s not just strangers who prey on them — it can also be their loved ones.
“I seem to be getting more and more cases, but I don’t know if it’s being investigated more or if it’s on the rise,” said Deputy District Attorney Bryan Stodghill, who prosecutes elder abuse in Victorville.
Typical elder abuse cases fall into three categories, but almost always the perpetrators have a financial motive, Stodghill said.
The first type of abuse involves neglect by the victim’s caretakers, who could be family members, friends or designated professionals.
They fail to feed the victims, change their clothes, give them proper medication or take them to doctors. Some put money in their pocket instead of paying for the victim’s medication and food.
Another type is physical abuse.
William Hussey was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison last year after he was convicted of beating his 73-year-old mother to death at their Hesperia home.
Although Hussey’s motive wasn’t clear, Stodghill said abusers often live with their parents and beat them up when the parents don’t listen to them or don’t give them money.
Then there’s financial abuse, such as in Haney’s case.
In the majority of Stodghill’s cases, the victims suffer from early stages of dementia and ask their children or relatives to help them out, before the abusers take all or a significant portion of their money.
All these cases fall under the penal code of elder abuse, which could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of the physical or financial damage.
Stodghill said financial abuse cases are difficult to prosecute because the abusers often get permission to access credit cards and bank accounts and the victims may forget about details. Some victims who are close to the end of their lives cannot make it to court to testify, Stodghill said.
Many victims feel guilty about turning their loved ones in or getting them in trouble.
Stodghill handled a case in which a man beat up his mother and stole money from her. The man even put a knife to her throat, threatening to kill her, Stodghill said.
The son went to prison for the abuse, but when he was released, he abused his mother again. The mother asked Stodghill not to press charges against him.
“She always begged me not to because she loves him and because he’s got mental illness and was abused by his father,” Stodghill said. “She feels like she didn’t do enough to protect him, so she feels guilty.”
To prevent abuse, Stodghill advises elders to have a group of loved ones who understand their wishes to take care of them instead of relying on just one person.
The prosecutor also suggests family members ask banks to keep track of the elders’ records to spot big, abnormal purchases.

 SOURCE:     The VVDailyPress
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