Wednesday, September 27, 2006

PA AG's Elder Abuse Unit Files Charges Against Daughter in McKean County

In an earlier posting, I referenced the new "Elder Abuse Unit" of the PA Attorney General's Office, created by Tom Corbett:

"Sadly, Pennsylvania seniors often suffer at the hands of those entrusted with their care," Corbett said. "The sole mission of the Elder Abuse Unit is to investigate and prosecute all forms of abuse of the elderly and fight the exploitation of our seniors."

That Unit is active, as evidenced by a press release, entitled "Attorney General Corbett announces criminal charges against McKean County woman accused of stealing from her elderly mother", issued on September 25, 2006, which is found online here. A related video is found online here.

Attorney General Tom Corbett today announced that agents from the Attorney General's Elder Abuse Unit have filed criminal charges against a McKean County woman accused of stealing in excess of $100,000 from her 73-year old mother.

Corbett said that Grace Damon was appointed to act in the best interests of her elderly mother, Maria Telese, under the terms of an August 1999 power of attorney. Damon is accused of systematically withdrawing or transferring funds from her mother's bank accounts for her own benefit. Damon is also accused of emptying a trust account that had been created for her young daughter.

"This is a case of greed overpowering family loyalty," Corbett said. "Rather than helping to take care of her widowed mother, Grace Damon took care of herself - taking advantage of her mother's faith and trust and looting her mother's assets."

In Maria's situation, it is alleged that there should have been sufficient assets saved during her marriage for her care once she became a widow. But then her own family member is alleged to have interfered:

The criminal charges state that despite the substantial financial assets that had been set aside for Maria, by the fall of 2004 her bank accounts were nearly empty and she was left with insufficient money to purchase groceries or pay overdue utility bills.

Corbett said that according to the criminal complaint, a review of financial records indicated that Grace Damon had systematically used her mother's money and assets for her own personal gain, transferring thousands of dollars from her mother's accounts to her own personal bank accounts.

Corbett noted that the terms of the power of attorney required that Damon keep Maria's funds separate from her own and to maintain accurate records documenting the proper use of those funds.

Instead, the criminal charges state that Damon failed to document thousands of dollars in withdrawals and payments from her mother's accounts and regularly combined money from accounts that were supposed to remain separate, allegedly in an effort to make it difficult to track the spending of these funds.

The press release describes the alleged misappropriation or misapplication by her daughter of Maria's assets -- a trust account for her granddaughter, which was liquidated; her personal bank accounts, which were transferred; her two cars, which were retitled; and her home, which was mortgaged.

If these allegations prove true, Maria's daughter faces severe criminal penalties, highlighted below:

Corbett said that Damon is charged with one count of identity theft, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, along with two counts of forgery, both second-degree felonies each punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Damon is also charged with one count each of theft by unlawful taking, access device fraud, theft by deception and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds. Those counts are third degree felonies punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine of $15,000.

Additionally, Damon is charged with a first-degree misdemeanor count of theft by unlawful taking, punishable by up to five years is prison and a $10,000 fine, along with second-degree misdemeanor counts of misapplication of entrusted property and securing execution of documents by deception, each punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000.

Is such alleged conduct unusual within a family relationship?
It is not, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article published August 30, 2006, entitled "Getting Going: Retirees Should Be Wary of Family Betrayal".

The article notes that:

Financial swindles are one of the fastest-growing forms of elder abuse. By some estimates, as many as five million senior citizens are victimized each year, says Sara Aravanis, director of the nonprofit National Center on Elder Abuse, which provides information to federal and state policy makers. * * *

Yet it's not dodgy financial experts or crooked caregivers who are the biggest threat. It's family. Children, siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and even spouses are the people most likely to rob the elderly, according to elder-law advocates and attorneys. The data that exist -- albeit in a spotty manner -- suggest that financial crimes rank as the third-most prevalent abuse of the elderly.

The article outlines the types of financial elder abuse, its tell-tale signs, and the best means of self-protection. One of the best defenses is a reliable legal counselor, notes the article:

Establish a relationship with a local elder-law attorney (you can find one through the National Elder Law Foundation, These lawyers can help set up legal safeguards. More important: They can read between the lines if you show up with someone else in tow looking to change your will or power-of-attorney.

A complete version of the article, as republished by the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, can be found online here.

The AG's Elder Abuse Unit seeks to remedy financial elder abuse; a good elder law attorney seeks to prevent it.

"Prevention is better than cure."

Desiderius Erasmus, Dutch Humanist (c.1466-1536)