Stories of Abuse

Fresno Woman Investigated for Ripping Off Senior Citizens

A woman in Fresno, CA, Sharon Harrelson, 55, is being investigated by local police for elder financial abuse. Elderly people, such as Michael Wyrick, trusted Ms. Harrelson and thought she was a friend, when depositing money directly into her account. She convinced these senrios that she could help them with their long term care by hiding their assets.

To qualify for Medi-Cal, these vulnerable adults entrusted her with tens of thousands of dollars. Police began investigating her in 2009, and alerted her employer about her possible criminal activities.

An investigator reported that Harrelson actually admitted to her employer that she had embezzled some money when they did an audit. She was fired soon thereafter.

Sadly, this type of situation is multiplying across the country, including in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon Senate Approves Bill To Curb Elder Abuse

Yesterday, the Oregon Senate approved House Bill 4084, which supporters sayOR Detective.jpg will beef up the ability of law enforcement to protect vulnerable seniors from financial and physical abuse.  

The bill is modeled on legislation protecting children from abuse. It’s much harder under current law to step in with seniors and seek their financial and medical records that could provide evidence of potential abuse.  

As The Oregonian’s Rebecca Woolington wrote last month, the proposal allows law enforcement to gain access “to records that belong to elderly victims without them — or a caregiver  — signing a waiver, if investigators believe abuse is occurring.” That way, authorities can access records in a much speedier 

Population of 90+ Year Old Tripled Within 3 Decades, Will Quadruple by 2050.

The Census Bureau reports some sobering statistics: The segment of our population that is 9!Cedar Village.jpg0 years old or older has tripled in the past three decades to 2 million. The number is projected to quadruple by 2050.

As the economy continues to limp along and the aging population jumps, an increasing number of elderly people are forced to turn to their younger relatives. Unfortunately, these family members don’t always have their vulnerable elders’ best interest in mind. This is one of the key reasons why elder financial abuse is growing at epidemic proportions.

A recent USA Today article addresses this troubling problem, reporting the opening of the first elder abuse shelter in Ohio. Despite the statistics that point to widespread abuse, the total number of elder abuse shelters in this country are in the single digits, Non profit groups fund all of them.

Word still needs to get out that our the elder abuse problem is cutting across socio-economic lines.

Frontline Reveals Sad & Shocking Story About Elder Abuse

Frontline revealed a sad story that may stun those who do not know much about the rise of eldeautopsy_rates_2008_111220.jpgr abuse in this country. Its investigators focused on a number of cases, one of which was that of a retired U.S. government scientist.

Mr. Shepter had spent his final years in a Mountain Mesa, CA nursing home. A stroke had paralyzed much of his body, while dementia had eroded his ability to communicate.

Shepter died in January 2007 at 76. His nursing home chief medical officer explained on his death certificate that his cause of death was heart failure due primarily to clogged arteries.

Shepter’s family did not question this and the local coroner did not probe further.

Then, a tip off from a nursing home staffer led state officials to reexamine the case and find a set of different conclusions.

They found that Shepter had actually died from a combination of illnesses, most related to poor care, including an infected ulcer, pneumonia, dehydration, and sepsis. Powerful antipsychotic drugs also likely sped up Shepter’s demise, which often have lethal side effects for elderly patients.

Prosecutors charged that nursing home medical officer, Dr. Pormir, along with two of his former colleagues with killing Shepter and two other residents at that home. The criminal case is ongoing, while health care regulators have already severely restricted his license and fined the home $150,000.

Frontline investigators learned the following, which I hope will help inform any of you who may have recently faced a death of a loved senior:

When treating physicians report that a death is natural, coroners and medical examiners almost never investigate. But doctors often get it wrong. In one 2008 study, nearly half the doctors surveyed failed to identify the correct cause of death for an elderly patient with a brain injury caused by a fall.

In most states, doctors can fill out a death certificate without ever seeing the body. That explains how a Pennsylvania physician said her 83-year-old patient had died of natural causes when, in fact, he’d been beaten to death by an aide. The doctor never saw the 16-inch bruise that covered the man’s left side.

Autopsies of seniors have become increasingly rare even as the population age 65 or older has grown. Between 1972 and 2007, a government analysis  found, the share of U.S. autopsies performed on seniors dropped from 37 percent to 17 percent.

Son Faces Elder Abuse & Drug Charges

According to an AP report, Alfonso Patrick Moya, Jr. faces abuse and drug charges related to the death of his 72-year old father. Apparently, Mr. Moya was selling his father’s pain medication. Mr. Moya was his father, Alfonso Patricio Moya Sr.’s primary caregiver. MedsElderAbuse.jpg

The day after being admitted to a Veterans Administration hospital, Moya Sr., died from dehydration, malnutrition, and bedsores that resulted from neglect. Police claim that Moya Jr. had been filling his father’s monthly Lortab prescriptions and sold them.

According to hospital officials’ reports to the Salt Lake Tribune, the eldery Moya’s bed sores were so severe that one bed sore was the size of a fist. That sore would have required surgery as well as an open sore on one of his feet. His feet and ankles were swollen to twice their normal size. As recently as December 2010, doctors claimed that Moya Sr. was able to walk and speak.

When police entered Moya Jr’s house, they said that they were overwhelmed with a “very strong odor” of bleach, feces, and decomposing tisue. Despite the fact that the bedding had been disposed of or in the laundry, the mattress where Moya Sr had been lying was “saturated with urine and feces”

Moya Jr. admitted that his father hadn’t been bathed for at least two weeks, but blamed his estranged wife for not cleaning off the fecal matter before calling 911.

Holiday Season Sees Surge in Scams Preying on Seniors

This time of the year, many seniors are particularly vulnerable to elder abuse and scam artists who prey on our senior citizens.

! holiday phone scams.jpgThe following examples highlight scams regularly perpetrated against senior citizens. You are encouraged to share examples with all the senior citizens you know.

The Grandparent Scam

There are several versions of the “Grandparent” scam. In the most common version the victim will receive a call from an unknown person who will immediately say “Grandma” or “Grandpa” after the victim answers the phone. The victim will reply, “Johnny” or Janie” (the name of their grandson or granddaughter). The caller will reply, “Yes it’s your Grandson Johnny.” The caller will explain they are in trouble while visiting another country. The most common countries are Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, and Spain. The caller will claim to have been arrested and/or in jail, involved in a vehicle accident or experiencing a medical emergency and they need money wired to them urgently.

The caller will ask the victim not to contact other family members because they are embarrassed. The caller will ask for the money to be wired in the name of an unknown third-party. The amount to be wired can vary from $500.00 to $50,000.00. The largest amount wired from San Diego to China was $130,000.00. The caller said he needed emergency surgery. The hospital would not perform the procedure without a “bond” to cover the expense since the imposter did not have medical insurance in China.

What can I do? The victims in these scams have all sworn the caller sounded just like their loved one. The first thing you should do after receiving such a call is make a telephone call to a “good” phone number you have for your grandson or granddaughter. If you cannot reach them call your grandson or granddaughter’s parents to confirm they are indeed out of the country before you wire any money. Once the money has been wired and received, the money is gone!

The “International Lottery” Scam 

Another common telephone scam is the “International Lottery” scam. The caller will inform the victim they have won a substantial amount of money from the lottery of Jamaica or Canada. The victim will be instructed to wire money to cover the “taxes” associated with the prize.

The amount can range from $1,500.00 to $15,000.00. Usually the prize is worth anywhere from one to four million dollars. If money is sent, the victim will begin receiving multiple calls asking for more money to be sent to cover additional taxes, fees, and/or insurance. In reality, the victim has not won any prize and will never see any of their “winnings”. And just as the “grandparent” scam: once the money is wired and received, it’s gone!

What can I do? Before you send any money remember this, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” Also, did you know it is against federal law to participate in an international lottery? The reason, the Federal Trade Commission says most foreign lotteries are likely to be scams and U.S. citizens send an estimated $120 million a year to foreign countries on the prospect of obtaining instant wealth. Scammers have turned to the telephone because federal law enforcement officials intercept and destroy millions of foreign lottery mailings every year.

Home Improvement Scams

There are several versions of the “home improvement” scam. An unknown and unsolicited building contractor / handyman will come to the victim’s door soliciting for work. In the most common version, this unknown person will explain they are working on a neighbor’s home and they ordered too much product for the job. They will also explain that he cannot return the materials, so they will offer to re-roof, paint, or fix cracks in the driveway of the victim’s home at a substantial savings.

The catch: the victim has to pay in cash. The amount can range from $500.00 to $5,000.00. The work on the victim’s home will look professional at first glance, but it will turn out to be substandard and it usually ends up costing the victim a substantial amount of money to repair.

The purpose of the scam is not to perform substandard work for an inflated expense. The purpose of this scam is to steal cash, jewelry, or any other property from inside the victim’s home. The victim’s home will be burglarized while they are distracted by the workers.

What can I do? Do not allow unsolicited workers into your home. If someone is soliciting work in your neighborhood, make an appointment for them to return on another day to give you time to check the credentials of business. Check their rating on the “Better Business Bureau” for example.

Vehicle Repair Scams

There are several versions of this scam. In the most common version the victim will be approached by an unknown person after the victim parks their vehicle, usually in a mini-mall. In some cases the victim was followed home. The unknown person will tell victim they are a mechanic and noticed an unusual amount smoke coming from the rear of the victim’s vehicle.

The “mechanic” will ask the victim to open the hood so they can take a look at the engine. The “mechanic” will then pull the “O2” sensor or another small component that will disable the vehicle, not allowing it to start. The “mechanic” will now ask the victim to start their car. The “mechanic” will offer to fix the car for less money than a shop or dealership. The amount can range from $300.00 to $500.00. Why, because this is usually within the amount a person can withdraw from an ATM. The “mechanic” will offer to go to a parts store that is around the corner, pay for the part and replace the defective part. In reality, the “mechanic” will leave for twenty-minutes and return with the same part, re-install it and the victim’s vehicle starts no problem.

What can I do? Thank the “mechanic” for their concern, but you would rather call a tow truck or relative to assist you. Start to call someone you trust to come help you. Once you start to introduce someone else into the situation the “mechanic” will walk away. Remember, do not open your hood or let this unknown person in your vehicle. If you become afraid, call 9-1-1 to have an officer respond. The police would like to talk to this person and document who they are.

The Immigrant Scam

This scam usually targets Spanish-speaking women. The victim will be approached in a public area, commonly a clothing store by a Hispanic female. The female will claim to be an immigrant from the interior of Mexico. She will tell the victim a sad story about how she came to the United States looking for work. She lived with an American family as a housekeeper and the family mistreated her. She ran away because of the abuse and wants to return to Mexico, but does not have enough money.

She will show the victim a bar of gold, or a bar of silver, or a diamond she took from the American family to sell in an effort to return to Mexico. An unknown male will introduce himself during the story and say he “could not help but over hear” their conversation and offer to help. The male will explain that he has a friend who works at a jewelry store and he’ll offer to take the gold, silver, or diamond to have it appraised. The male will return and tell the victim the item is worth thousands of dollars and talk the victim into buying the item for a profit from the female. In the end the victim gives the female $1,000.00 to $5,000.00 for the bar of gold, or silver or the diamond and then cannot find the unknown male to sell the item for profit. As for the bar of gold, silver or diamond, it’s fake, usually a painted lead paperweight or Cubic Zirconia gem and not worth $100.00.

What do I do? Offer to refer the female to a church or other service for assistance. But, do not engage in a business deal with unknown people you’ve just met.

Remember – If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Elder Abuse Results in $2.9 Billion Loss Per 2011 Report

A June 2011 by the MetLife Mature Market Institute (MMMI) reports that older Americans lost $2.9 billion as the result of elder abuse. This is a whopping 12% increase from the previous year. Financial Elder Abuse.jpg

A common practice among banks is to allow older customers to use signature stamps (especially for those clients who find it more difficult to sign their names on forms, etc.)

The MMMI report is a sobering reminder that elder abuse comes in many forms–not only physical and emotional, but also financial. However, if a signature stamp fall in the wrong hands, it can do much more than wreak more than a little havoc to one’s finances. Case in point: Ms. Isenberg.

Ms. Isenberg’s daughter, Liz Sanders, hired a caregiver for her bedridden mother. This caregiver, Ms. Wofford, slowly drained over 3/4 of $1 million from Ms. Isenberg’s accounts. Wofford wrote herself checks and withdrew from Wofford’s life insurance. In addition to racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt at various department stores, Ms. Wofford treated herself to a Mercedes courtesy of Ms. Isenberg–unbeknownst to Ms. Isenberg and her daughter.

When Liz Sanders found out about how Wofford had victimized Ms. Isenberg, she also learned that restitution was not a reality. However, she was determined to make it less easy for such financial abuse to occur to other elderly Californians. She went to her state senator, Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), and put together California Senate Bill 586, which would have doubled the penalties for elder and dependent adult abuse in California. It added new provisions for the issuing of signature stamps by state-organized banks and credit unions.

The legislation passed easily, backed by the AARP along with other advocates for seniors and the CA Senior Legislature. Yet, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill last week. His message with the veto was that he did not believe that the bill would prevent fraudulent use of stamps. Brown pointed to another bill that increases penalties for elder abuse embezzlement, forgery, and identity theft as sufficient.

Liz Sanders says she pursued the legislation to find justice for her mother, and also to protect other seniors who might be at risk. The process helped spread the word about this problem throughout California and the United States.

Please heed Sanders’ plight and stay mindful of common signs of financial elder abuse:

  • Unusual financial activity, abnormal purchases, unpaid bills
  • An individual seems neglected physically or his/her home seems neglected
  • An elderly person asks to add a new name to bank accounts or seeks other co-signing arrangements
  • An individaul is granted power of attorney, although the senior may not have known that person for a long period of time
  • Increasing isolation of a senior along with decreasing contact with family members/friends
  • The emergence of a sudden “new best friend,” especially of someone who is much younger than the senior.

Better to err on the side of caution and report any suspicions to local authorities, which often have a division that focuses on assisting seniors.

"Caregiver" Bilks Elderly Seattle Couple

In today’s Seattle P-I, there’s a sad story about a supposed “caregiver,” 52 year old Samantha Pierce, who bilked an elderly couple for several years. Pierce was hired in 2005 to serve as an in-home caregiver to the 93 year old woman, who did not want to move to a nursing home.Escalade.jpg

Instead of focusing on caring for the dying 93 year old woman, Pierce integrated herself into every aspect of the man’s life, including managing his finances. Writing roughly $300,000 worth of checks to herself, her family, and friends, she also convinced the man to buy and transfer the title of a Cadillac Escalade SUV, which was “was inconsistent with (the man’s) tastes” (according to what a detective was told). 

By 2007, Pierce had herself added to the man’s checking account. 

Pierce’s presence had grown so dominant in the man’s life, that he toasted Pierce rather than commemorate his wife on the day his wife died.

She battled with the man’s children, who demanded early on that she be fired after their mother had suffered an overdose because Pierce had given her too much Ritalin.  The woman ended up in a nursing home after all, and died in early 2007. However, Pierce returned as his “Executive Assistant, CNA,” which is what she called herself on her business cards that she had made. Pierce was not ever a certified nurse’s assistant.

After keeping the man isolated and apparently over-medicated, she was poised to purchase a $2 million Lake Washington house sight unseen.  But thankfully, Pierce was arrested in 2009, and the man appears more cogent and now spends more time with his family–something that he has always enjoyed.

This story seems fantastic, but it is true. What is even scarier is that there are likely more stories like this out there, which no one has yet (or may never) unearth. One of the lessons that we can take away from this man’s misfortune is to stay vigilant, if you see your loved one/elderly relative under the care of a suspicious “caregiver.” Trust your instincts. Ask a lot of questions from the start. Ask to see verification, when they call themselves a “CNA.” It may save your elderly relative a huge sum of money and heartache.





Nursing Home Abuse Includes Broken Bones & Infections

A watchdog group, Nursing Home Complaint Center (NHCC), recently reported that many nursing homes in this country are keeping fewer staff on their payrolls, to meet their financial goals.  Not surprisingly but unfortunately, this means that we have seen a rise in broken bones and serious infections that have led to wrongful death of nursing home patients.

Tragically, family members often were not aware of warning signs. People typically do not connect elder abuse with the fact that their loved one may be a victim, if they have frequent serious infections and broken bones.  They may not realize that these are signs that the nursing home may be negligent in their care of its patients.

If you know someone who may be an actual victim of nursing home neglect or worse yet wrongful death, call the Nursing Home Complaint Center at 866-714-6466, or contact the group via its web site

"The Unspeakable" – A heart wrenching story of elder neglect.

Juicy Nurse is a blog devoted to giving nurses an outlet for their stories, whether they be sad, happy, or just plain hilarious. Unfortunately, the following story is all too common:

Several months ago I stayed at work until almost midnight "cleaning up" a man that came from a nursing home and may, very well, die of nursing home neglect. This man was unable to communicate much at all because he had suffered a devastating stroke in the past leaving him unable to care for himself. As if this was not sad enough, he presented to me with the UNSPEAKABLE!

This man had a rash that covered his entire back, buttocks, groin and legs. This "rash" turned out to be burns from urine and feces that burned his skin only because he sat in it for several hours without being changed. He had ulcers, open and infected, on his ears caused from the oxygen tubing that stayed in the same position for so long that it actually wore through his skin and caused ulcers that became infected. His scrotum was the size of a volleyball and his penis was swollen and oozing. The Foley catheter that he had in his penis had remained there so long without being changed that bacteria had actually eaten a path in between his penis, scrotum and bladder. He had a tube for feeding (G-Tube) that was ulcerated and oozing with a dressing on it that had not been changed in weeks. He could barely breathe when he got to me. We did everything we could to support his oxygen level, just to find that he had a piece of pita bread lodged in the back of his throat……about the size of a hockey puck! When we were able to finally pull it out the smell was so foul that I actually began to dry heave in a nearby trash can. This smell was only a bit comparable to the smell that you can only imagine was coming out of his penis.

I was SO disgusted when this man fell on my list of things to do for the day. Clearly not because I was upset to care for him but only because it broke my heart EVERY TIME I walked into the room. He did nothing but stare at me. He locked his eyes with mine in a way that assured me that he could understand everything that I was telling him.

I immediately called social services, his family, and the department for children and family services. I cleaned this man from head to toe, with the assistance of many others. I stayed with him until midnight, not because I was busy, or overworked or covering for another nurse, but because what happened to him took away all of his pride and dignity. This man deserved a voice… advocate.

We took pictures and filled out paperwork and cried with family and talked about it in the break room and lost a little sleep here and there………but ultimately, what happened to him was UNSPEAKABLE! Abuse at its finest, most disgusting and most difficult to prosecute!

This case is so sad and will NEVER leave my mind. I don’t know what ended up happening to this man. I assume that infection probably took over his body and that he has probably passed on, but I don’t know for sure. This is the case of many patients that we see and treat in the hospital. They impact our lives and we never forget them. We impact their lives, i assume, and then we only hope that things get better for them.

I thought of this man 2 weeks later when I admitted a mentally challenge female from a nursing home with severe bruising to both of her inner thighs, her chest and her upper arms. I did for her as I did for him, as I will do for the next one.

When will the unspeakable stop? How do those of us that deal with it all of time, move on?

All we can do is give these people a voice.

It is refreshing to me that people can come from such varied backgrounds and all have the same passion for these problems of neglect and abuse. The nurses, the investigators, and even the attorneys all see the same things and want the same changes to occur. We all want to fix the underlying problems in the system that will allow our most vulnerable to suffer. We will change things. We will give them a voice.

Continue reading

About Kevin

Kevin Coluccio was recently named one of the Top 10 Super Lawyers in Washington State. He has long history of successful elder abuse/neglect cases and has a stellar reputation for getting results for his injury clients in serious car crashes, pedestrian accidents, trucking accidents, maritime claims, and asbestos injury cases.