Paul Greenwood is a great crime fighter. In particular, in his role as a deputy district attorney in San Diego, he heads up the elder abuse prosecution unit.
That’s why he was invited to testify last week at a hearing in Washington, D.C., called by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, titled, “America’s Invisible Epidemic: Preventing Elder Financial Abuse.”
Greenwood said at least 65 percent of his office’s prosecutions involve some form of financial exploitation.
“The conduct of the criminals is becoming more brazen and diverse," Greenwood testified. "The perpetrators are constantly developing new ways to gain access to our seniors’ life savings and have focused upon a generation that typically has been more trusting and less able or willing to self-report the victimization.”
That hesitancy makes it difficult to determine the size of the crimes.
“While the costs associated with elder financial abuse are estimated at $2.9 billion each year, financial abuse often goes unrecognized because victims are too afraid or embarrassed to report the crime to authorities,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, chairman of the committee.
Greenwood related several stories to the committee about cases he has prosecuted. One involved an elderly woman who hired a cab driver — Donald Wade — twice a month to take her to visit a friend who was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and resided in a skilled nursing facility.
On one occasion the woman had to cancel her visit, but the cabbie seized the opportunity and went on his own to pick up the sick woman. He took her to the bank, where he presented a CD surrender form authorizing the redemption of a $97,000 certificate and made it payable to one of his friends he described as the woman’s attorney.
“The crime was only discovered after Wade shot his friend over a dispute as to how the theft proceeds were being divided. Wade was convicted and sentenced to state prison,” Greenwood said to the committee.
The group of senators also received a detailed report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office on the scope of the financial abuse of seniors.
“Older adults are particularly attractive targets for financial exploitation by unscrupulous individuals," according to the report. "As a group, older adults tend to possess more wealth than those who are younger because they have had a longer time to acquire it. Moreover, financial capacity — the capacity to manage money and financial assets in ways that meet one’s needs — generally declines with age, and this decline may go unaddressed until it is too late.”
Greenwood pointed out in his testimony the challenges faced by a crowded court system and the attitude of some prosecutors, who have the perception that elders make poor witnesses in court or that financial exploitation cases are difficult to prove because of mental capacity issues.
“It is frustrating when a case is rejected by a prosecutor’s office because the loss involved does not meet the threshold for prosecution. In my experience, the theft of $500 can be as devastating to an elderly widow as a theft of $100,000,” Greenwood said.