Thursday, July 12, 2007

Financial Elder Abuse Cases in PA

Last evening, I noticed "Breaking News" about "senior exploitation" posted on the Penn-Live Blog by The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA). The brief news article was entitled "Family member accused of stealing more than $200,000 from aunt":

A woman has been charged in what is being described as the "biggest case of senior exploitation" in Dauphin County's history.

The woman was arrested and accused of stealing more than $200,000 from her 80-year-old aunt's bank account, according to county officials today.

An initial press release from county authorities said a couple had been arrested in connection with the case. The aunt, a Middletown widow who has not been identified, received $300,000 in an insurance settlement from a car accident, officials said.

The arrests followed an investigation conducted by the county Criminal Investigation Division and the county Elder Abuse Task Force.

More details about the case will be provided at a news conference at 10 a.m. today in the Dauphin County Administration Building, 2 S. Second St., Harrisburg.
A follow-up article appeared on Thursday, July 12, 2007, entitled "Pair charged in 'biggest' Dauphin Co. senior scam, officials say". It largely repeats the text of the prior article, except to add three further elements:
  • A quote: "County officials believe that this arrest involved the biggest case of financial exploitation of a senior citizen ever in Dauphin County," according to a released press statement.
  • Identification of the investigating personnel: District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr. & Assistant District Attorney Mike Rozman.
  • Prior investigations that were conducted by that task force: Financial abuses involving "a construction contractor, a plumbing contractor and three in-home caregivers", who bilked several seniors out of tens of thousands of dollars.
As further information is reported about this case from Dauphin County, PA, I will provide an update.

Dauphin County is among several counties (or multiple county combinations) in Pennsylvania that have created an "elder abuse task force" to coordinate county resources, such as the local area agency on aging and the county's district attorney's office. See: Pennsylvania Elder Abuse Task Force Listing (6 pages, PDF), posted by the National Center on Elder Abuse.

This reported case of financial abuse of a senior reminded me how many other such cases are reported around the Commonwealth involving either elderly or disabled victims. I had archived many case reports personally, but had not yet mentioned many on this blog yet. It is time for such mention.

Following is my sampling of such cases or events, as reported by articles that appeared in Pennsylvania newspapers, listed in chronological order:

Allegheny County, PA: "Elderly bilking case tip of iceberg: Stockbroker charged in theft of $130,000-plus from senior citizen clients" , published February 19, 2006, by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- To the Luffey and Trumble families of Bethel Park, Jamin Epstein was a bright, affable stockbroker who had proven himself trustworthy for years in handling hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments. The families and police say he violated that trust. Arrested last month in two separate cases of theft by deception, Mr. Epstein is accused of pocketing more than $130,000 from elderly clients. He allegedly had them sign paperwork authorizing withdrawals from the variable annuities he controlled for them, with the checks made out in his wife's name instead of his clients'. The charges reflect a problem that authorities on elder abuse say receives too little attention: financial exploitation of individuals who have saved carefully for their retirement years, only to become vulnerable when their mental sharpness wanes. * * * [This article includes the "Elder Abuse Chart" graphic, which I reproduced above.]

Lackawanna County, PA:
"Caretaker arrested for theft", posted October 20, 2006, by the Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA) -- A Telespond Senior Services home health aide, who was caretaker for a city man, was arrested Wednesday after allegedly taking $600 from her client over a two-month period. Roxann Armintrout, 41, of 1509 Myrtle St., was arraigned before District Justice Laura Turlip Murphy on four counts each of theft, forgery and access device fraud. City Detective Ed Rutkowski said in an affidavit that he was contacted Sept. 29 by Margaret Evanisk, sister of the victim, Michael Kuzma. Ms. Evanisk, who has power of attorney over her brother’s finances, said that while she was checking her brother’s bank account balance, she noted four checks had been written to and cashed by Ms. Armintrout between July 19 and Sept. 9. Mr. Kuzma told Ms. Evanisk he had not written nor authorized the checks to Ms. Armintrout. * * *

Schuylkill County, PA:
" WPPA & WAVT Local News Blog for December 18, 2006" -- The problem of elder abuse is growing across the nation in general, and in Schuylkill County in particular. From theft, to other forms of exploitation, the elderly are vulnerable to people who may befriend or take care of them. A community event to bring attention to the issue has been scheduled * * *. The Elder Abuse Task Force of Schuylkill County will hold a free event at 8am Friday, January 5th [2007] at the Wall Auditorium at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center. The program “An Introduction to Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation” is co-sponsored by the Task Force and the Temple University Institute on Protective Services.

Lebanon County, PA: "Caregivers charged with abusing disabled people", posted March 14, 2007, by The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA) -- Federal officials have charged two people with patient neglect, abuse and health care fraud at a personal care home in Myerstown, Lebanon County. One is accused of taking about $20,000 from some of the disabled people who were cared for under a contract with Lebanon County. Bobbi Sue Cessna of Drums faces nine federal criminal charges including neglect of dependent persons, aggravated assault, conspiracy, reckless endangerment and theft by deception. * * *

Montgomery County, PA: "Couple charged with stealing $60K from paralyzed man", published March 29, 2007, in the Pottstown Mercury -- A Hatfield couple has been charged with allegedly stealing nearly $60,000 from a paralyzed man of whom they were taking care. Heather Hall, 35, and John Anthony Pallante, 42, who resided together in an apartment at the victim’s home in the 400 block of South Main Street, each was arraigned Tuesday on multiple theft-related and conspiracy charges in connection with the alleged thefts that occurred between March 2006 and February 2007. * * *

Mercer County, PA:
"Woman charged with stealing $141,000" [Link no longer live], published April 14, 2007, in the York Dispatch -- A woman [from Fredonia] has been charged with stealing more than $141,000 from a woman for whom her husband allegedly had power of attorney. Judy L. Fagan, 57, of Delaware Township, was arraigned Friday on theft, identify theft and forgery charges. Her husband, John, has power of attorney for the 82-year-old woman, police said. The elderly woman gave John Fagan, who had handled the couple's finances, power of attorney in 1999 after her husband died, police said. Some of the money had been used for the Fagans' house payment and bills, police said. * * *

Indiana County, PA:
"Elderly women from Indiana County duped in sweepstakes scam" , published May 16, 2007, by The Tribune-Review (Pittsburgh, PA) -- State police at Indiana are investigating an incident of theft by deception after an elderly woman from White lost money she thought she was sending to insure a large cash prize. Eleanor Blair, 93, told police someone called her and told her she won $350,000 in a sweepstakes, but she needed to wire $2,800 to cover insurance costs. Blair wired the money in May, but did not receive her prize.

Lackawanna County, PA: "Man Charged with Stealing from Dad", posted June 13, 2007, by WNEP-TV (Northeastern PA) -- A man is accused of stealing money from his own father in Lackawanna County. Authorities said Francis Kester was stealing money from his father's bank accounts. They passed the case along to the Elder Abuse Task Force, which got phone records of a man they said is Kester pretending to be his elderly father. Kester, 54, of Scranton, is back in state prison for violating his parole on unrelated theft charges. Now he could spend up to nine more years behind bars for forging checks. Lackawanna County prosecutors said while Kester was out of prison he stole close to $54,000, all from his elderly father, a resident at an assisted living center in Moosic. * * *
As Pennsylvania's elderly population expands & ages further, we can -- sadly -- expect more such cases reported as criminal proceedings.

Update: 07/13/07:

The Patriot-News reported further on July 13, 2007, after a press conference held on July 12th, in an article entitled "Woman accused of theft from aunt", by Jerry L. Gleason:
[Dauphin] County officials said $200,000 was stolen from an 80-year-old Middletown woman.

"The thief was her own niece," County Commissioner George Hartwick III said.

Teresa Marie Glassic of Middletown was charged with theft for allegedly taking $200,000 from her aunt, Theresa Kiss of Middletown, District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr. said.

Glassic and her husband moved in with Kiss shortly after the older woman received a $300,000 lump-sum insurance settlement from a car accident, county officials said.

Kiss received the insurance check in February 2006 and deposited it into her bank, officials said. On Jan. 22, Glassic made two transfers from her aunt's bank account into her own, officials said; each transfer was $100,000.

Kiss was unaware of the transfers, Marsico said.

"We will be seeking restitution, and hopefully we can recover most, if not all, of the money," he said.

Kiss had added Glassic to her bank account and had put Glassic and her husband as co-owners on the deed to her house, Marsico said.

"We are working to get their names removed from the deed," he said. * * *