Arizona Nursing Home Attorney - PDF by zcd19269


More Info
									2 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009

                    ANDREW THOMAS
                     M A R I C O PA C O U N T Y AT T O R N E Y

             “All residents of Maricopa County are affected by crime,
           but all too often the most vulnerable among us are targeted.”
                  Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - 3

                             TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction                                                 4

Arizona Statutes and Legislation                                 5

Maricopa County Attorney’s Office                               6

Training                                                    7

Noteworthy Cases                                             8

Outreach                                                   10

Looking to the Future                                         12
4 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009

All residents of Maricopa County are affected by crime, whether directly or indirectly. Many
criminals target their victims at random, but all too often they target the most vulnerable among us.
Arizona’s elderly population, along with other vulnerable adults, is specifically targeted by some of
the most unscrupulous criminals. These offenders take advantage of this valued segment of society
for a variety of reasons. Some of these adults
have diminished capacity to protect themselves
or their assets; some are in a unique position
of having to trust and rely on others; and some
may be less aware of specific tactics used by
criminals. Tragically, domestic violence among
this vulnerable population is also more prevalent
than many people might suspect.

Elder abuse is a term that refers to any knowing,
intentional, reckless or negligent act by a
caregiver or any other person that causes harm
or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. It
can constitute physical, emotional or sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect and abandonment. Nearly
700,000 residents in Arizona are aged 65 years and older.1 In fact, Arizona’s 60+ population is expected
to triple in size from approximately 875,000 to almost 3 million by 2050.2 Some of these members
of our community may reside in a nursing home or care facility. In 2006, 13% of Arizona’s nursing
homes were found to be in “jeopardy” during annual inspections—this is an increase from 1%-2%
in 2004.3

The MCAO prosecutes physical abuse crimes against the elderly in the Family Violence Bureau.
Financial and fraud-related crimes against the elderly are handled in the Fraud and Identity Theft
Enforcement Bureau. Prosecutors in these Bureaus identify appropriate cases for prosecution, provide
immediate safety for the victims, protect them against further abuse, minimize their trauma and hold
offenders accountable. Unfortunately, many cases are difficult to prosecute as victims can become
confused regarding the facts or are reluctant to testify, particularly if the abuse was at the hand of a
trusted family member or friend.

The office also partners with area social service agencies and other law enforcement agencies to develop
cases and create guidelines for police, prosecutors, victim services providers and offender intervention
providers. In addition, MCAO has partnered with numerous agencies to create and keep updated,
the “Elder Abuse and Exploitation Protocol” . This multidisciplinary protocol provides guidelines for
law enforcement involving crimes against the elderly and vulnerable adults.
                 Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - 5

                                                               Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) 13-
                                                               3623 makes it a crime to abuse, physically
                                                               or emotionally, vulnerable adults. A
                                                               vulnerable adult is an individual who
                                                               is eighteen or older and is unable to
                                                               protect himself from abuse, neglect,
                                                               or exploitation by others because of a
                                                               mental or physical impairment.

                                                             Arizona      law      requires      medical
                                                             professionals and other professionals
                                                             with a responsibility for the care of
                                                             incapacitated and vulnerable adults to
                                                             report abuse, neglect and exploitation to a
                                                             peace officer or protective services worker
immediately. This same law also requires professionals with financial and fiduciary responsibilities to
report immediately to law enforcement officers, protective services workers or the public fiduciary any
abuse, neglect or exploitation of an incapacitated and/or vulnerable adult. (A.R.S. § 46-454.)

Adult Protective Services (APS) is a State agency that works with law enforcement, community
organizations and the courts to help protect vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Situations of abuse, neglect or exploitation can be reported 24 hours a day by calling 1-877-SOS-
ADULT. Any person who believes a vulnerable adult is being abused or neglected may make a report
to law enforcement or an APS worker.

In 2006, House Bill (HB) 2558 passed the Arizona Legislature. This established an APS registry to
include substantiated reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults. The Arizona
Department of Economic Security maintains the APS registry, which includes perpetrator information
and allegation details. An important aspect of the registry is that it helps prevent abusers from being
hired at other facilities. The registry also provides the right to a hearing and excludes the dissemination
of victim and reporter information.

There have been two important bills introduced in the current Arizona Legislature that target vulnerable
adults. HB 2344 protects vulnerable adults from becoming financial victims through deception or
false pretenses. HB 2347 tightens the statute governing dangerous crimes against incapacitated or
vulnerable adults. A person convicted of a dangerous crime against a vulnerable adult will not be
eligible for a suspended sentence, probation, pardon or early release from incarceration. MCAO
supports both of these bills.
6 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009

Of the more than 37,000 victims that MCAO served in 2008, approximately 1,300 were age 65 and
older, a 13% increase from 2007. In 2007, nearly 5,000 cases of suspected elder abuse were reported
in Maricopa County.4 Senior Citizens are the fastest growing category of domestic abuse victims.2

The most common crimes committed against the elderly in Maricopa County in 2008 included
burglary, forgery and fraud, aggravated assault and auto and property theft.

Eight percent of the identity theft complaints received in Arizona in 2007, were from persons older
than age 60.5

Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO)

The RICO fund maintained by the MCAO has awarded grants to neighborhood groups and non-
profit organizations serving senior citizens. These organizations work to combat identity theft and
fraud perpetrated against senior citizens through prevention and education.

Special Investigations

                                            In early 2008, the MCAO concluded a year-long
                                            investigation into potential criminal conduct at the
                                            Arizona Veteran Home. Investigators found unsupervised
                                            elderly patients smoking; some burning themselves with
                                            cigarettes. They also identified several cases of severe patient
                                            neglect, including residents being left in soiled clothes and
                                            call lights left unanswered. MCAO investigators conducted
                                            interviews of patients and employees, extensively reviewed
                                            case files and consulted with experts regarding appropriate
                                            standards of care. The investigation concluded that so
                                            many individuals had a hand in patient care that there
                                            was no way to ascertain who was directly responsible for
                                            potential patient neglect. Under these circumstances the
                                            filing of criminal charges would not be sustainable.

The MCAO ultimately forwarded a portion of its findings to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office
to assist that Office’s ongoing investigation.
                  Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - 7

Elder abuse cases are challenging and often difficult
to prove given that abuse can go undetected in cases
where the victim suffers from a debilitating disease
or where family members are suspects. MCAO is
committed to prosecuting these cases to the fullest
extent of the law and to this end has sent Family
Violence prosecutors specializing in elder abuse
cases to the National District Attorneys Association’s
training entitled “Prosecuting Elder Abuse Cases”.

Furthermore, three MCAO detectives have
undergone specialized training in elder abuse.
Training included courses completed at the Arizona
Peace Officer Standards Training Facility regarding
financial and physical abuse and medical neglect. In
addition, a long-time investigator with the MCAO
was formerly employed by the State of Arizona as an
investigator with expertise in cases involving victims
older than 70 years of age and those with geriatric
issues. MCAO also provides extensive training to
other agencies on the specifics of elder abuse and our
prosecutors undergo specialized training on these
types of cases.

The Maricopa County Elder Abuse & Exploitation Protocol;
Multidisciplinary Protocol

In 1998 and again in 2001, the MCAO partnered with AARP the City of Phoenix, the Phoenix Police
Department, the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary and several other agencies to develop a protocol for
professionals who have contact with older adults and vulnerable or incapacitated adult victims of crime in
Maricopa County.

The protocol includes sections on the role of law enforcement, APS, ombudsman, the County Fiduciary,
the healthcare community, prosecutors and victims’ advocates. The protocol ensures that these types of
cases are properly investigated, evidence is preserved and cases are appropriately prosecuted to hold the
offender accountable.

In 2008, MCAO led the efforts to again revise the protocol. Legislation was updated, holistic approaches
now being used were integrated and the newest challenges inherent in these types of cases were included.
This update was finished in October 2008 and the revised version is now available on the MCAO website.
8 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009

                 DEBORAH RIDGELEY
                 Ridgeley misrepresented herself as a registered nurse and obtained jobs working for
                 the elderly and disabled. She stole and forged checks, made unauthorized credit
                 card purchases and opened credit cards in the victim’s names. She also used her
                 employment status to obtain financing for a vehicle. At the time she committed these
                 crimes she was on federal parole for Medicare Fraud.

                Ridgeley was found guilty at trial
                Sentence: 18.5 years in DOC

                 GEORGE GREGG
                 Gregg, known as “the Irish Traveler”, scammed several elderly residents in the Valley.
                 He collected payments from them for roof and house repairs, which were never

                Gregg pled guilty
                Sentence: 4 years in DOC, 4 years of probation. Gregg also is responsible for
                restitution to 14 victims totaling $128,790.

                 A woman and her son are suspected of swindling more than $100,000 from an 81-
                 year old Tempe man. Ruby met the victim on an online dating site. There may be
                 other victims as well. Ruby encouraged the man to give her $100,000 in cash and
                 property, telling him it was for a liver transplant and business start-up costs.

                Currently, bench warrants are issued for Ruby and Rocky’s arrests.

                STEVE MARTINEZ
                Martinez broke into an 88-year-old victim’s home, sexually assaulting her and
                breaking her arm. The physical injuries required surgery and hospitalization while
                the trauma deteriorated her mentally, requiring her to be transferred to a long-term
                care facility. The victim remains there today. Martinez had a prior attempted child
                molestation charge and had been out of prison for six months when he committed
                this crime.

                Martinez was found guilty at trial for burglary, kidnapping, aggravated assault and
                sexual assault.
                Sentence: 30.5 years in DOC.
               Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - 9

               MARIA GONZALEZ
               Gonzalez worked at a nursing care home and took victim’s debit cards to make $20-
               $200 cash withdrawals. Gonzalez was caught on bank surveillance video from which
               the nursing home owner could make a positive identification. Gonzalez also used an
               invalid social security number on her application for employment.

               Currently a bench warrant is issued for Gonzalez’s arrest.

               JUSTIN OLSON
               Olson used his girlfriend’s friendship with an elderly victim to convince the victim
               to allow them to move in and care for her. Subsequently they asked the victim for
               loans, which were not repaid, and used the victim’s credit card to purchase jewelry,
               restaurant meals and electronic equipment in amounts totaling over $125,000.

Olson pled guilty
               Sentence: 5 years in DOC, 7 years of probation

               KEN MCCRACKEN
               McCracken, an estate planner, scammed a victim in her late 60’s out of $250,000
               in secured annuities. The victim had worked her whole life as a house cleaner.
               McCracken befriended her and starting visiting her on a regular basis. He promised
               to invest her money where he invested his. He even went so far as to make her a few
               “interest payments.” He had previously been sued by 34 elderly victims who lost
               retirement funds after he gave them fraudulent advice.

               McCracken pled guilty
               Sentence: 10 years in DOC
10 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009

Speaker’s Bureau

The MCAO sponsors a Speaker’s Bureau. This is a free public service that provides MCAO experts
to present basic, useful information on                 a variety of topics in an effort to keep
citizens of Maricopa County aware                           of public policy, social issues, crime
trends and the criminal justice                                system. Our experts speak to
elementary and high schools,                                    colleges, civic organizations and
other business and professional                                  associations          throughout
Maricopa County.

Since 2005, MCAO experts have                                      made more than 25 presentations
to over 1,000 people discussing                                   elder scams, fraud against the
elderly and identity theft prevention.                          MCAO speakers visited senior
centers, trade associations, churches and                   neighborhood associations, in addition
to co-hosting three “Scam Jams”, to assist elderly residents and disabled adults in identifying and
preventing crime.

County Attorney Report -

                                     The County Attorney Report is a monthly television show,
                                     produced in-house, that features topics like forgery, fraud, identity
                                     theft, party crews, graffiti and drunk driving. Episodes started
                                     airing on Cox Channel 11 in November 2006. In early 2008,
                                     episodes were also made available for broadcast online. These
                                     30-minute shows serve as education and prevention messages
                                     for viewers and feature information and stories straight from the
                                     victims. Two noteworthy episodes have featured segments on
                                     “Scams and Scammers” and “Financial Fraud”, both detailing
                                     scams perpetrated against helpless, elderly victims.

                                     In 2007, MCAO’s County Attorney Report was the recipient of
                                     a National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Award.
               Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - 11


                  contains a comprehensive section on elder abuse
                           outlining the details and scope of elder abuse, information on the Area
                           Agency on Aging and their 24-hour senior help line, contact information
                          for APS, information on how to avoid becoming a victim of elder abuse
                        and information regarding the Maricopa Retired Senior Volunteer Program
                     (RSVP) that helps persons over the age of 55 discover uses for their energy and

Crime Prevention Summits

Each year since 2005, the MCAO has sponsored two crime prevention summits, a West Valley
Neighborhood Summit and an East Valley Neighborhood Summit. Citizens, neighborhood activists,
crime fighting groups and faith-based organizations are invited to attend these 5-hour summits
featuring fun and informative presentations by experts on gangs, identity theft, elder abuse, forgery
and fraud, drugs, property and violent crime and neighborhood empowerment. More than 1,500
attendees have participated in these summits.

These summits are designed to help residents stay informed about the latest crime trends and provide
helpful tips for preventing crime in our communities.

In 2007, the MCAO East and West Valley Neighborhood Crime Prevention Summits were the
recipients of a National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Award.
12 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009


The MCAO makes it a priority to aggressively prosecute elder and vulnerable adult abuse cases. These
types of crimes are particularly harmful because they target the most vulnerable members of our
communities and often victimize those who can least afford it.

Website -
In 2007, the MCAO published the Road Map to Crime Prevention booklet while unveiling a
complementary new website. The booklet and website include important information on crime
awareness and prevention. There is an updated section on elder abuse that includes a list of legal
definitions and a list of physical, behavioral and sexual abuse indicators. Currently the CrimeFreeAZ
website averages nearly 200 visits daily, providing specific valuable information.

The Investigations Division of the MCAO provides a full range of professional law enforcement and
investigative support services to the law enforcement community. The office has three investigators
who have undergone specialized training in elder abuse. MCAO will be a leader in combating elder

The MCAO is committed to support legislation that reduces elder and vulnerable adult exploitation,
elder abuse and fraud and care facility initiatives in 2009. HB 2344 and 2347 have been introduced
in the current session and offer protection for vulnerable and incapacitated adults. MCAO supports
both bills.

Task Forces
MCAO will actively participate in several elder task forces: Arizona Elder Abuse and Fraud Taskforce
Committee, the Maricopa Elder Abuse Prevention Alliance and the Stop Abuse and Financial
Exploitation of the Elderly Committee. In addition, MCAO has increased its contacts with the
Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) and APS; both agencies are key to the intervention
and prevention of elder abuse. Through these partnerships MCAO will assist investigations of and
strengthen prosecution of elder abuse cases.

Elder Abuse Unit
In 2009, MCAO created a new Elder Abuse Unit, which will provide a full range of prosecutorial and
investigative resources. The unit, headed by a 23-year veteran prosecutor, also includes prosecutors
experienced in family violence, elder physical abuse and financial fraud. These prosecutors have a
total of 70+ years of experience between them. Additionally, an experienced investigator in elder
abuse and fraud-related crime has been assigned to the unit.
              Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, February 2009 - ELDER ABUSE & NURSING HOME CRIMES - 13

                              SOURCES CITED
1. “The Coming of Age, A Research Report on Aging …” St. Luke’s Health Initiatives.

2. Ibid.

3. Arizona Republic, June 3, 2007, “Nursing Home Troubles Escalate.”
4. Arizona Republic, November 17, 2008, “Elder Abuse in Spotlight.”

5. Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse

To top