Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Theft of Elder Nation

Theft of Elder Nation: An editorial series: Getting involved early is critical
Contra Costa Times Article Launched: 12/11/2007

CARMEN PAREDES SEEMED like such a sweet, friendly person. "You just never would have suspected it," said Kathleen Whittaker, who hired the Peruvian native in 1998 to help take care of her 83-year-old uncle, William Fowler.

The "it" is one of the worst cases of elder financial abuse in Contra Costa County history. During 21/2 years, the $10-an-hour caretaker siphoned more than $600,000 away from the El Cerrito widower.

Paredes, 59, pleaded no contest to felony elder abuse and tax evasion in March 2004. She was sentenced to three years' probation. She got no prison time, although the judge could have given her as many as nine years.

Her two adult sons and a daughter also were implicated in the scheme. They were convicted of misdemeanors.

Obviously, The Law in This Area is Far From Robust.

One brazen caretaker stole $80,000 from a blind 77-year-old mother of a former San Jose acting police chief. Another took more than $35,000 from the ailing mother-in-law of an Alameda County Superior Court judge.

It happens all the time to all kinds of people.

Sadly, there comes a time for many elderly people when they are no longer able to continue living at home alone. Perhaps chemotherapy has destroyed their bodies or Alzheimer's has ravaged their minds.

That time came upon William Fowler, a retired sea captain, all at once. Going into his early 80s, Fowler was still going strong. He took walks and swimming lessons. He dated women he met in dance class.

The last thing she wanted to do was put him in a nursing home. So, she set out to help Fowler hire an in-home caretaker. Someone to help with bathing, dressing, keeping track of medications, shopping for groceries, preparing meals, cleaning the house and driving to doctor appointments.

Licensed home health care agencies cost a bundle. They charge $30 an hour and up. Some conduct background screenings that include a criminal records check. Others don't bother to check for local convictions. There are no guarantees that the person sent to your loved one's home isn't a sociopath.

Most people can't afford $30 an hour, so that point is moot. They end up hiring cheaper workers who aren't affiliated with agencies. They average $10 an hour and have no license or training.
The problem is we know nothing about these strangers we invite into our vulnerable loved ones' homes. They could be criminals for all we know. There have been documented cases in which people sent for in-home care have had criminal records. Caretaking is hard, low-paying work. People with criminal records don't have many employment options.

It doesn't take a genius to figure that convict plus vulnerable elder spells trouble. Paredes didn't have a criminal record that we know of, but she definitely had a criminal mind. At first, things seemed to go well.

One day, Whittaker got a call from the Richmond Police Department. Someone from Wells Fargo Bank had reported that a Spanish-speaking woman was trying to cash a $9,000 check on Fowler's account.

Fowler told his niece that he knew about the check and had written it for "house cash." Whittaker later found out that Fowler gave Paredes a check for $50,000 seven days later.
Paredes started taking frequent trips out of town. She left Fowler in the care of her adult children. The house and garden began to deteriorate.

Whittaker was appointed his temporary conservator. She froze his accounts and reviewed his bank registers: She discovered that $679,000 in checks had been written to the Paredeses.
Whittaker filed a civil suit on behalf of the estate after her uncle's death. But she dropped it after running up $60,000 in legal fees. The Paredeses settled for $45,000.

Whittaker says her greatest regret is that she didn't get more aggressively involved. "My purpose now," she said, "is to publicize what happened to my uncle as a warning to others." To that end, we offer the box in the next column detailing telltale signs of caretaker abuse.

Abridged please read the un edited and un abridged version here = >>


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very informative and balanced commentary on what is a national travesty. As the massive and largely affluent baby boom generation ages, and as predators -- more often than not the children of the elderly -- greedily eye that affluence, the problem is only going worsen. This editorial and the one yesterday reminded me more than I would have preferred of my own experience with a sibling who managed to circumvent our parents' living trust and loot their estate to pay off one house, buy another one bigger and better, all the while driving around in a succession of shiny new cars for which my mother, whether she knew it or not, was paying even before her death.

It is a gross understatement to characterize as "far from robust" the current legal system that allegedly protects the elderly and their legitimate heirs against such abuse. The brazen behavior of the Parades family, while particularly egregious, did not surprise me at all. The impotence of the legal system, impotence that I experienced personally, not only allows but encourages such behavior.

Let's do the math in the Parades case. A total of $689,000 stolen (let's call it what it is), less the $123,000 that Carmen Parades and her co-conspirator children had to pay to the California Franchise Tax Board (which, like the unmentioned IRS, obviously isn't concerned how ill-gotten your gains are as long as you pay your taxes) and the $45,000 settlement to William Fowler's niece left $521,000. Not bad compensation for three years of probation. By contrast, pity the poor twenty-something who pilfers a $10 DVD from Wal-Mart and finds himself in Stony Lonesome for life because his petty theft happened to be the last of a "three strikes and you're out" crime spree. Let's hear it for equal justice under the law.

And what about Kathleen Whittaker, the niece who by all indications was only trying to give her uncle a final few years that didn't involve being warehoused in a convalescent home somewhere? That same legal system generously awarded her a $45,000 settlement from the Parades' booty, enough to reimburse her only three-fourths of the $60,000 in legal fees that she had incurred before realizing that paying more would only have been throwing good money after bad. Like I did, she probably also realized that as long as she pursued her case in a judicial system as logic- challenged as ours, she was not only out the legal expenses she had already paid and those that she would pay in the future, but she was placing herself at risk of that same system ordering her to pay the legal expenses of the very perpetrators who had wronged her.

Crime doesn't pay? Don't believe it.

Anonymous said...

It is sad to see what is happening to our elderly. The good thing is that public awareness of this crime is growing and things are starting to change. Hopefully, soon, the courts will also realize the devestating effect some of these crimes have on our elders and start giving the appropriate punishment. In this particular case, the courts should have asked themselves, what chance does this victim have of building his finances again? Can he go back to work? I dont think so. The cost of the loss to the elder is much greater since they no longer have the ability to re-build. Let us hope that the awakening of society to the crimes against our elders continues and we learn to protect them better and we also learn to punish those that committ these crimes with enough severity that it might actually be a deterrent. Remember, we will be there someday God willing.

Anonymous said...

California is lucky to have a Sheriff's Dept Elder Abuse Unit with people like Fresno County Detective Dave Case. We have no such things, in florida where elders are open game all year around, we have groups that have "Widow Quit Claim Deed Signing Parties" Such groups operate with impugnity sometimes for dozens of years before they are stopped, there is just too much money involved.

Ray said...

We have to put the blame squarely where it belongs, sentiments flow from the top down, when you have officials encouraging elder abuse by not enforcing laws, commuting sentences, and otherwise giving the signal that elder financial abuse is ok. What we have here is the biggest transfer of wealth in the nation's history, granted neither you or I agree on the methodology, but it is a thriving industry, it creates income for the civil courts, the guardians, the guardian's attorney . Elder Financial Abuse I have found it is a multi billion dollar industry.
I could not understand why in my mother's case the thieves left a paper trail that would put most criminals in jail for life, yet the authorities still prefer to look the other way and act confused.
Until I realized what a huge industry it is and how it feeds other industries who profit by selling mailing lists entitled " Oldies but Goodies" people suffering from "Cancer" who are gullible, ect, etc......... Your article merely touches on the tip of the iceberg.... and if you write too much about Elder Abuse you might find yourself in court like I have, with your website entered as evidence of the comtempt.