Any Charges Reported on this blog are Merely Accusations and the Defendants are Presumed Innocent Unless and Until Proven Guilty, through the courts.

March 12, 2012

Robbing Our Aged (NEW ZEALAND)


Two weeks ago, Brenda Schwass-Arnold, her face twisted, snarled expletives at photographers as police led her across the grounds of Nelson's courthouse.
The 45-year-old had just admitted 203 charges of stealing almost $30,000 from Motueka woman Joyce Cherry, the 72-year-old mother of her ex-partner. She was jailed for two years and three months.
For Schwass-Arnold's younger sister, Debbie Apera, the sentencing, the photograph and the accompanying story in the Nelson Mail on February 28 were more unpleasantness in a nightmare that's been going on for years.
It's not the first time Schwass-Arnold has stolen from vulnerable people. In Nelson in June 2007, on Elder Abuse Awareness Day, she was jailed for 18 months for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her and Mrs Apera's sick and dying grandmother. Both the elderly women she fleeced had dementia.
"She managed to take away everything – pre-paid funerals, everything," Mrs Apera says now. "There was nothing left. We ended up forking out for everything, and then all the lawyers' bills for getting her charged."
Her sister had even emptied their childhood "baby bank book" accounts, into which her granny had faithfully banked money every birthday and Christmas.
"She appeared on the front page then too, and she didn't learn," Mrs Apera says. "There is no miracle pill, no therapy to help these people."
She is determined her sister will not get away with it again, and wants to warn others about the irreparable damage it can cause.
"Funerals are a hard enough and stressful time for people, but when they find out there's been mismanagement they split families apart."
But her sister's is far from an isolated case. In early January, another woman, Myrna Joseph, was sentenced to 12 months' jail in Nelson District Court after she used the bank card of a bedridden woman for whom she was caring to pay for her own groceries and car registration.
Elder abuse – whether financial, emotional or physical – can be shattering. Amongst other dirty little New Zealand secrets – child abuse, sexual abuse, problem gambling, alcoholism, neglect and violence – elder abuse is veiled behind a curtain of shame, silence, and quiet desperation.
But it's happening more often than the wider population might realise. Nelson's Age Concern, an older person's advocacy and support organisation, receives about five referrals a week, of which two-thirds are then confirmed to be cases of abuse. The most common complaint is financial – people stealing money off the elderly.
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Shocking though those figures are in our small region, there's no way they're indicative of the real problem.
Age Concern Nelson manager Sue Tilby says only 16 per cent of elder abuse is reported, and not all of it comes through their service. We might well be regularly shocked by headlines outing poor care in rest homes, but it seems that, in many cases, elderly people are worse off in the hands of their own flesh and blood.
A Victoria University working paper released in November last year found that most of the perpetrators of financial elder abuse are family members – especially adult sons, daughters to a lesser extent, and their partners. They're responsible for up to 80 per cent of financial abuse cases. These are the people, the report says, who have the opportunities – and perhaps also a sense of entitlement.
Up to 35 per cent of abusers are primary caregivers, and crimes may also be carried out by financial advisers, solicitors, paid carers in the home or in residential care, and less commonly, opportunistic strangers.
Of the abused, almost three-quarters are women, with 31 per cent involving women aged over 85. Almost half of the abused live alone.
Age Concern says elder abuse and neglect occur for many reasons – disagreements between siblings about assets like the family home, siblings blocking access to funds, or grandchildren taking money out of their grandparents' accounts. The strain of caring for someone with dementia can take a toll too.
Or, as Mrs Apera puts it, it could happen simply because it's too easy to let a few lapses here and there – such as putting milk and bread on Gran's eftpos card when picking up her groceries – slide into the extreme. The money can also be impossible to recover.
In 2010, as Mrs Cherry's health declined, Schwass-Arnold started looking after her more often and became familiar with bank account details and passwords, which the older woman had written down. She started taking money out of the savings account, withdrawing $100 at a time; maxed out her credit card to $11,000, and kept Mrs Cherry's eftpos card in her purse, where police later found it.
Schwass-Arnold simply frittered away $28,452 on food, petrol, and items from the $2 Shop, Mitre 10 and the Warehouse.
The toll is massive, and not just for the person who's lost their money. When Mrs Apera spoke out after her sister's sentencing, saying the sentence was not long enough and Schwass-Arnold was a "pathological liar" and a "predator" who would rip off people again when she was released, angry members of her family questioned why she'd want to air their dirty laundry in public.
Mrs Apera says she was speaking out for what was right. Her sister's offending has tarnished the family – but she's now finding herself alert for her next move. "I'm trying to keep communities safe by tracking her; if I lose track of her she commits something else. I'm tired now. I've had enough."
Most complaints will never make it to court. Last year, one Nelson woman in her 80s, who we'll call Mrs Brown, gave her daughter money under duress and says the stress has ruined her health. She feels robbed. The little money she has, she says, is meant to last her the rest of her life.
She says she didn't see much of her daughter, until one day when she "stormed in" crying and said she needed $30,000, although she wouldn't say for what purpose. Mrs Brown didn't have it – but gave her daughter, who she'd given power of attorney, $10,000. If she'd said no, she believes her daughter would have hit her.
She's too scared to broach the subject with her daughter, but wants others to be careful.
"You do articles on abuse on children, and I thought, well, I know there's a lot of elderly who are getting abused by their family [too]," she says.
"People don't talk about it. It's something you don't talk about to anybody ... but you feel guilty that your daughter would do that sort of thing."
She's sure health problems that have flared up recently are linked to the strain she feels over giving in to her daughter.
Age Concern elder abuse and neglect prevention adviser, Jess Breeze, says victims are often scared to speak up, thinking it's only happening to them.
 © Fairfax NZ News

SOURCE:      Stuff.co.nz


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Any Charges Reported on this blog are Merely Accusations and the Defendants are Presumed Innocent Unless and Until Proven Guilty.

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