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How Financial Elder Abuse Works

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Renton, WALeonard Swenson was a lonely Washington state widower with a house, a truck, $90,000 in savings and a regular income. A trusting man with a limited education, Swenson became a target of devastating emotional and financial abuse.

Although the details differ, Swenson’s story is not untypical of the estimated 5 million cases of elder financial exploitation that occur every year in the US, according to the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study done in 2011. It is estimated that only 1 in 25 cases of financial exploitation is ever reported.

In 2005, Swenson was living on his own for the first time in decades, driving his truck over to see his adult children regularly, and going to his job at the auto body shop where he had worked most of his life.

It was then that he met Lisa O’Neill at a neighborhood bar. She quickly befriended Swenson. O’Neill’s financial picture was not as robust as Swenson’s. She had less than $500 in a bank account and had consumer debt of $47,000.

She slowly and deliberately began to gain influence over his financial affairs.

O’Neill’s sudden appearance and quick friendship should have sounded alarm bells somewhere, but as often is the case, no one seemed to see danger on the horizon, especially Swenson. The majority of victims of financial abuse are living alone and vulnerable to people who appear to want to take advantage of their resources.

A year after their meeting, O’Neill convinced Swenson to leave his house and live in her basement for $500 a month. Swenson believed that in time their relationship would become more intimate. He told his three adult children that someday he expected that “Lisa might be their stepmother.”

Over the next three years, Swenson’s finances slowly unravelled. All his social security checks were signed over to O’Neill. He made large cash withdrawals from his savings, which went directly to O’Neill. She convinced him to establish a joint bank account with a line of credit. The ATM card associated with the account was also in her hands. His two life insurance policies were cashed out in January 2007.

According to court documents filed by the prosecutor’s office in Kent, Washington, Swenson’s children became concerned about the large amounts of money Swenson was giving to O’Neill. But believing that they would get married, Swenson told his children, “It don’t make no difference.”

According to law enforcement officials, it is difficult to prosecute these cases because the victim often appears to consent to the financial arrangements. There was little that Swenson’s children could do to intervene.

When Swenson had a stroke in February 2007, O’Neill told Swenson she would continue to take care of him at her house. She took away his cell phone; his truck and his house were repossessed for non-payment, his savings were depleted. With no phone and transportation, he was essentially isolated from his children and they were not allowed to visit.

When Swenson became reluctant to do as O’Neill wanted, she bullied him emotionally, calling him “a fagot” and a “leprechaun.” She pushed Swenson down a flight of stairs and refused to take him to the hospital. She told him “not to say anything to anyone” and “not to talk at all” to anyone.

There are actually more cases of financial abuse than physical abuse according to the New York study. In fact, it is often financial abuse that leads to incidents of physical abuse.

Now, after three years, Swenson wanted out. He waited until O’Neill was asleep upstairs. He then crept out of the basement with a plastic bag containing his belongings. Everything else was gone - the truck, his house, his savings, his credit rating, his dignity, and he owed over $10,000 on a line of credit.

O’Neill, on the other hand, was debt free.

The courts charged O’Neill with 14 counts of theft, plus domestic violence and assault.

Swenson’s story has many of the hallmarks of financial abuse that experts say is raging out of control in the US. It is defined as “the theft of money or property, using items without permission, impersonation to get access, forcing or misleading to get items such as money, bank cards, accounts, and powers of attorney.”

According to the New York State study, the most common victims are Caucasian women in their 80s, and living alone. They are most often victimized by a relative under the age of 34. About a third of the victims are men, the rest are women.

The perpetrators are often people who appear to be helping the victims and slowly achieve a “position of trust.”

The study cites changing demographics as the reason for the increasing prevalence of financial elder abuse. An aging population combined with difficult economic conditions leads people to look for ways to access resources of older Americans. It is a crime that flies well below the radar in many cases, and often the perpetrators, sadly, go unimpeded.

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READER COMMENTS

Posted by

on
I can understand the frustration posted by "Allison" I have been dealing with financial abuse of my parents ( father just died in May 2016 96) mother 98 still living. I have been working on this on this case since 2012... Have all the proof in the world of her (their youngest child no longer NE thing to me) taking my fathers pension , social sec. & savings accts & taking my mothers name off , siphoning $ into accts with only her name on them! Since 2013 I've been in court 13 + times have won @ every level. Had her evicted from the house, got her off the POA ( which she obtained fraudulently... My father had Alzheimer's!)of my father & was told to return 28,000$ she took ... I need a collections atty to go into her accounts I have a docketed judgement & & court ordered accounting to assess how much more she owes to date my mother has received none of her marital assets from this criminal behavior (embezzlement conversion, elder psychological & financial abuse of my parents .. I have written to the asst DA ( commonwealth atty. ) judge including the civil case & Bank of America who are culpable in allowing her to put her on my fathers accounts as if SHE WERE HIS WIFE ! I had a 2 yr. PO which expired in Oct. 2015 ... & I have been Slandered & liabled .. She has defrauded the Veterans adm.& the IRS & used the $ she originally stole to file an appeal ... Which was denied! My mother has not received a dime of her marital assets! And she is still has her mind & feels the hurt daily!! My next step is TV American Greed , PrimetimeDoctor PHil... Please I need help in bringing her to justice & restitution ... To have done this to her parents under the guise of " loving ur parents " is criminal ... It is unbelievable that she has gotten away with this abuse!! I've been told by my atty that I need a collections atty...I am in Viginia thank you...

Posted by

on
Here's our story - still trying to get justice in Florida.

My aunt obtained POA and was a joint signer on my 92 year old grandfather's account. 5 years later, she has spent all his money, run up credit cards and it is all falling back on him. They are going to take his home - because she doesn't have anything to take. We contacted law enforcement and they are telling us she didn't do anything criminal because it was a joint account and essentially, the money was hers to do with what she wanted.

I understand she could spend that money - but as his POA, doesn't she have a duty to act in his best interest?!?! She let his electricity, water and trash service be within days of getting cut off (someone else had to pay them), she left him no money for food, let his property taxes go unpaid for 2 years and the county was set to auction his property off - and he didn't even know because she routed the mail to her own personal P.O. Box (so he would not see delinquent notices I surmise). The sherriff department seems more concerned about what they cannot do to her, rather than speaking up for him, the victim! I want to write letters all over the country about this. She has found the perfect crime. Get in a position of trust, get join account and TAKE IT ALL WITHOUT ANY FALLOUT!

So fed up with the legal system in Florida .. this can't be right. Floridians - take notice!!

Posted by

on
This type of abuse from strangers is rapidly growing in our country. Even if/when it is reported there is nowhere to turn for assistance. If a court gets involved and appoints a guardian, the guardian has no oversight... no one is watching them while they run off with the loot and create billable hours that may or may not be accurate. Basically your loved one is then abused and exploited with the Courts approval.

My story:

Rita Denmark was a divorcee in excellent physical health with mild/moderate dementia. Denmark domiciled and resided in Pennsylvania, she was registered and voted in Pennsylvania, she had a Pennsylvania prescription drug plan and a Pennsylvania Workers Compensation insurance policy for her personal care companions (all of which she had known for years). Denmark had her Advance Directives in place and she had a long term relationship with a favorite, local banker and an accounting advisor both of whom had assisted Denmark with her financial affairs for many, many years. Rita Denmark had everything was in place to enjoy her Golden Years with her family and friends when she took a "life changing" vacation to Florida with one of her daughters.

Just DAYS after their Florida arrival a dispute between Denmark’s children ensued causing them to reach out for legal direction. Denmark’s daughter was assured that the quickest, easiest and least expensive way to get the problem resolved and to get their mother back to her home in Pennsylvania was to allow AND assist Professional Guardian, Jetta L. Getty (owner of Young at Heart Elderly Services) to sort out the disputed facts and report back to the court within 90 days as required.

Jetta Getty promptly placed Denmark in a Port Orange, FL Assisted Living Facility (Summerville now called Emeritus of Port Orange) and Getty put Rita’s daughter, the vacationing companion, onto an airplane sending her back home to PA assuring her and other family members that Rita would be home soon.

Rita's daughters now believe that Getty’s motive was to get that daughter out of her way & hoodwink other family members long enough to get the court behind her then, she began the process of enriching herself, converting Rita Denmark's approx. $470,000.00 estate into fees for herself, her attorney and other business associates, including another Professional Guardian, Edith Myett who has sense been arrested!

In less than 5 years Getty has paid herself $93,932.75 [11/28/2007 - 08/03/2012].
That is almost $19,000 per year for ….

The documentation in the Volusia County FL Court record shows very specifically that Jetta Getty CHANGED Rita Denmark's address. The Volusia County Court record also shows that several attorneys and the guardian, AKA "Officer's of the Court" knew, or should have known, that Denmark was a vulnerable senior and was a PA resident being moved by Getty. These Officer’s of the Court were ALL paid (by Getty) from Rita Denmark's approximate $470,000.00 estate. It took approx. 3 ½ years to finally obtain the documented proof that NOT ONE of those “Officer’s of the Court” ever told the Judge that Denmark was a Pennsylvania resident and domicile. This FL court record is chocked full of deceit and omissions by Getty through her attorney and others.

We have reason to belief that Denmark’s entire estate has been plundered and converted into fees. We believe that Denmark is now supported by Floridians HARD EARNED tax dollars even though her family wants her home and to care for her.

WHO guards the guardian? NO ONE!!

Thank you for taking the time to read this, “to the best of my knowledge and belief,” real life story.

For more information or to inquire about supporting “public record” documentation, contact hlpeffer@yahoo.com or Info@StopGuardianAbuse.org

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