Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Justice Often SLOW For Elder Crimes

Raleigh , North Carolina. USA by Thomas Goldsmith, thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-8929 Staff Writer for News Observer.Com

CLINTON - So far, Mary Morris has spent three years and $73,000 to get back just part of the $475,000 that was withdrawn from her mother's accounts by the relative who was overseeing the elderly woman's affairs.

Morris' mother agreed, three years before she died at age 96 in 2004, to give legal power of attorney to a grandnephew. It's a step that many advocates for older people say should be considered when people begin to show signs they are having difficulty managing finances, selling property, making acquisitions and buying insurance.

But a caution always accompanies that advice: Be careful whom you trust, and be careful about giving total authority to one person.

"You need to make sure that you either thoroughly trust your agent or you have some kind of controls on the agent's abilities to move assets," said Bob Mason, an Asheboro lawyer and vice chairman of the elder law section of the N.C. Bar Association.

Legal experts project a massive increase in lawsuits and prosecutions involving older Americans in decades to come as baby boomers reach retirement age and beyond. Already, substantiated instances of elder abuse are rising nationally at the rate of 15 percent a year, according to the American Bar Association. ABA members recently adopted a resolution urging that prosecutors be given more resources to fight elder crime.

Last year, North Carolina adult protective services sent county district attorneys written notices of 1,451 cases involving abuse, neglect or exploitation of adults. The numbers represent a 15 percent increase in cases since 2004.

Advocates say civil and criminal legal protections for older people are at the stage where domestic violence and child abuse safeguards were two decades ago -- in need of reform.

"As we have an aging population, there are reasons to say prosecutors should be paying more attention and using more resources to deal with what's going to be an increasing problem," said Stephen Salzburg, a Georgetown University law professor and co-author of the ABA resolution.

In many ways, Morris' mother did the right things when she gave her grandnephew, Allie Ray McCullen, 63, the legal power to manage her affairs. She had been in the hospital, and her health was failing. McCullen was a respected businessman, a farmer and a member of the local hospital's board of directors.

"It's one of the first things we encourage people to do when there's an early diagnosis of dementia: Let's talk about a power of attorney," said Dee Dee Harris, family services director of the Alzheimer's Association, Eastern N.C. Chapter.

"When we don't get the power of attorney in place early, if Mom or Dad starts making bad decisions, the kids can't step in to protect them."

After Morris' mother died and her estate was assessed, however, Morris discovered that at least $450,000 was missing. Bank statements included in Sampson County court records show that McCullen wrote himself dozens of checks as financial decisionmaker for Mary S. McCullen, Morris' mother and his great-aunt.

Morris, 77, filed to have Allie Rae McCullen removed as executor in Sampson County Superior Court, and in a two-hour deposition taken in 2006, McCullen did not deny writing the checks to himself and his businesses. In October 2006, he signed documents promising to pay Morris $450,000 within a year, giving her a $25,000 first payment at the time.

In February, McCullen paid Morris $296,000 from a land sale. Morris said she is still waiting for McCullen to pay the remainder, while the cost and annoyance of the case keep increasing, she said. "I just want to see justice served," Morris said.

Cases of abuse and exploitation of older people can tear families apart; in many cases the abuser is a family member or close friend. Even when victims or relatives take their cases to authorities, advocates say, it can be hard to get the attention of police or prosecutors who are already overburdened with violent crime.

"Sometimes seniors are reluctant to testify because the perpetrators are their own children or family members," said Lori Levin, a former Illinois prosecutor and co-author of the ABA resolution.

David D. Jones, 35, a Raleigh resident, has "called and called and called" Raleigh police to get them to arrest his sister, Natashi Jones, 25. Natashi Jones, according to a civil court order, received all the money from a $46,853 life insurance policy left by the siblings' late father.

Court records show Natashi Jones swore in a Wake County assistant clerk of court's office that she had no brothers or sisters, and she was issued the check as the sole beneficiary. She then paid more than $2,000 to get it cashed immediately at a check-cashing business, according to an order finding her in contempt of court.

Bob Morton, a Raleigh lawyer, helped Natashi Jones prepare an inventory of her father's estate last year, but he said Friday that he does not know how to reach her. David Jones said Friday he's still trying to recoup some of his inheritance.

"I'm sitting here left with nothing, and my sister got away scot free," Jones said. "It's like they pushed the thing under the rug."

Abridged =>>


Not only is justice SLOW for elders as some are starting to notice but sentences for elder crimes are often suspended and fines are not collected. When Mr. Jones "called and called and called" the police, he became painfully aware just as we have and thousands of elder abuse victims and their families have, that family members enjoy certain immunity from elder abuse and elder financial abuse in certain parts of the country.

So far Clara G. Fernandez has spent over $150,000 and four years of endless court hearings and to my knowledge has not gotten any property back from the sibling that after assigning himself a POA after Clara had developed clear signs of dementia, forgetfulness and Alzheimer's cleaned the elders Trust of all Real Estate,bonds,stocks,certificate of deposits and left her in financial ruin.)

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