Harsher Sentences Allowed for Criminals Targeting Seniors

Elder abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight a recent ruling in Michigan that allows judges to impose tougher sentences on criminals who embezzle money from seniors and the mentally ill. Governor Rick Snyder signed the Vulnerable Adult Embezzlement Statute on Tuesday, May 21, 2013.

In Michigan, criminals who exploit seniors and the mentally disabled out of money, stocks or valuables are now subject to consecutive sentences for multiple offense convictions. Under Michigan state law, a vulnerable adult is anyone 18 years or older who, because of his or her age, disability, or mental illness, requires supervisions or personal care or lacks the skills to live independently.

Anyone who suspects someone is being abused, neglected or exploited and who meet the definition of being a vulnerable adult can make confidential report at 800.966.6226. The Michigan Department of Human Services is then required by law to investigate within 24 to 72 hours depending on the severity of the case. Additionally, those working in health care, teaching, law enforcement, and social welfare are legally required to report elder abuse.

It is a sad reality that criminals looking to exploit people out of money and valuables target the elderly and mentally ill. These criminals can be strangers, acquaintances, caregivers, and even family members. One case out of Kalamazoo in 2011 highlight just how real this threat is to the nation’s elderly.

Minnette Winkel was being cared for by Brenda Rodrigues-Ostland and her sister, Georgia Marie Vrabel during the time before her death in March 2005. Although Winkel had amassed a large collection of antiques, jewelry, and furniture throughout her life, she was ultimately buried in a cardboard box. She died completely penniless, because her two care givers, both employed by a legitimate agency, stole every last one of her belongings by 2003, two years before Winkel’s death.

The Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office worked with state legislators and funeral homes to figure out a way to bury Winkel. Brenda and Georgia were ultimately charged and convicted with larceny in a building. One was sentenced to nine months in jail with five years probation and the other a mere five years probation for her malicious criminal acts.

Michigan state senator Tonya Schuitmaker states that about 80,000 Michigan residents are victims of elder abuse. In 2011, she introduced a bill aimed at heightening the coordination between state and locals authorities in investigations into elder abuse claims, also establishing stricter penalties for those convicted and creating an Amber Alert-type system for seniors who become lost.

The rate of financial abuse of seniors in Michigan was about 12% in 2005. Today, the number is closer to 20%. A spokesperson for Senior Services, Inc stated that the agency has seen an increase in family-related issues due in no small part to the poor economy. Seniors often receive social security or disability checks in the mail, which their children are well aware of and easily able to take from them.

Non-related scammers may pose as a distressed grandchild needing emergency cash, workers claiming they can provide home repairs for a discount, or government officials online looking for social security numbers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 25 million adults were victim of fraud in 2011, costing them an estimated $3 billion. Those living alone or suffering from dementia are particularly vulnerable.

In addition to the Michigan Statute, lawmakers in Vermont and Florida recently introduced bills that would create offices at the Federal Trade Commission that would alert consumers of scams and ensure complaints of fraud are quickly handled. This is pertinent and extremely necessary because the number of Americans 65 and older is going to increase significantly in ensuing years as the baby boomer generation ages.

Senior abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm encourage the public to keep a watchful eye out for any suspicious activity involving vulnerable adults. If abuse, neglect, or exploitation is occurring, the most efficient and successful way to gain justice for that victim is through a elder abuse lawsuit. Our attorneys have decades of experience in this field, and can ensure you will receive the best representation and largest settlement possible.


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