Could Maine do more to protect seniors?



AUGUSTA — The Maine Attorney General’s Task Force on Financial Crimes Against the Elderly is calling for changes in state law to protect Maine’s seniors. A report issued Wednesday highlights the issue of financial exploitation of the elderly and the challenges faced by Maine’s law enforcement agencies when called upon to investigate these crimes. The report also makes several suggestions to improve state laws to better address the issue.

The United States Department of Justice estimates that one in nine people over the age of 60 will be abused or exploited this year, or an estimated 33,000 victims of elder abuse in Maine alone. Older adults who are abused or mistreated are three times more likely to die within a decade of the abuse than are adults in the same age group not subject to abuse.

Attorney General Janet Mills said, “Maine’s senior citizens are a vital part of our community. They have worked hard and they deserve respect and protection. Their financial and physical security should be our highest priority.

“We need to put out the welcome mat to seniors on the steps of our police stations, district attorney offices, sheriff departments and our courthouses. This report makes some common-sense recommendations to improve the statutes and improve the prosecution of these crimes.”

For instance, people need to know that a power of attorney is not a license to steal. Better training will reinforce this basic principle.

The task force identified a number of barriers to prosecution, including a perception among criminal justice professionals that financial exploitation is a family or civil issue; a lack of training in handling financial crimes against the elderly; and an inadequate legal framework for prosecuting elder financial exploitation.

Financial exploitation causes economic losses for businesses, families, elders, and government programs. Robbing individuals of their property not only increases the victim’s reliance on public assistance programs but also creates stress and a loss of dignity that has profound consequences on the victim’s mental and physical health. Making matters worse is the fact that often the perpetrator of this behavior is a family member, caregiver or someone who has a relationship of trust with the older adult.

“Maine’s population is grayer every year and we have no reason to believe that crimes against the elderly will go away anytime soon,” said Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, a senior fraud prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office and task force chairman. “The task force talked about what makes a successful case and what the barriers are. Something as simple as giving cases involving elderly victims priority on the court docket will go a long way to ensuring that justice is done.”

The task force is making a number of recommendations to improve the prosecution of crimes against the elderly, including statutory changes, changes in judicial case management, changes in staffing and specialized training for law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and the judiciary.

“It is very difficult for someone to admit that someone they trusted stole from them,” said Jaye Martin, Esq., executive director of Legal Services for the Elderly, who provided research and staffing support to the task force. “We need to be sure that when crimes against the elderly are reported, law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts are trained to respond in an effective manner.

“I am pleased with the work of the task force and I urge the Legislature to heed these recommendations.”

The Attorney General’s Task Force was convened in January 2014 and is a partnership between prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office, district attorneys, members of law enforcement agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Court System and Legal Services for the Elderly.

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