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Reports of suspected elder financial abuse on the rise

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A state law mandating that bank and credit union employees report suspected financial abuse of elders has resulted in a rising number of reports, including one that led investigators to a Sacramento-area attorney accused of squandering a 94-year-old man’s wealth while gambling, golfing and dining out.

The 2005 law, which is scheduled to fall off the books in 2013, requires bank employees to report suspicious financial activity to a local Adult Protective Services office.

Such reports filed with the county offices are on the rise, with 1,730 filed in the first four months of 2008 compared with 2,132 filed during the first four months of this year, according to data compiled by the state Department of Social Services. Since 2005, the number of confirmed cases of elder financial abuse went from 1,375 to 1,654, records for the first four months of each year show.

Jenefer Duane, founder of the San Francisco-based Elder Financial Protection Network, said the law has been critical to identifying abuse and is likely to be renewed by the Legislature this session. Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, carried the 2005 bill and the pending legislation to renew the law.

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The 2005 law ultimately spurred a report from a fraud analyst at the Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union, which has a Roseville branch, setting off an investigation that led to the April arrest of a Roseville attorney who specializes in Medicare set-aside processes.

Delbert Joe Modlin is accused of two counts of theft from an elder, embezzlement by a trustee and unlawful taking of a vehicle. Deputy Attorney General Steve Muni of the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud & Elder Abuse said the investigation is ongoing.

Neither Modlin nor his attorney returned calls or an e-mail Monday or Tuesday. Modlin has not yet entered a plea in Placer County Superior Court, where the case is moving forward.

According to a declaration in support of Modlin’s arrest, he earned $40,800 in “excessive” attorney and trustee fees while handling the affairs of an elderly Auburn couple.

The declaration says the couple received medical care at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, where Modlin’s wife was a patient discharge planner who referred the couple to a senior placement agent. That agent arranged for the couple to move to an elder care facility and suggested that the family make financial arrangements with Modlin, records say.

Kaiser Roseville said in a statement that it has cooperated fully with the attorney general’s investigation, is not a target of the probe and no longer employs Modlin's wife, who was an on-call discharge planner.

Court records say that once Modlin began working as a trustee with the family, he charged high fees to move and re-invest the couple’s assets and sell their home. Court records show the home was sold against the owners' wishes.

Modlin also arranged for his brother to sell the couple’s annuities, earning a commission of $15,000, half of which he paid back to Modlin as a “kickback,” court records say.

Modlin hired a son-in-law to move the couple’s belongings out of their Auburn home, filling three rollaway Dumpsters and keeping a china cabinet and dishes, the affidavit says. Modlin also parked the victim's 1998 Oldsmobile at his home and tried but failed to get the vehicle put in his name.

Modlin also relied on a power-of-attorney document signed by the 97-year-old wife of the elderly man, who at the time believed that it was 1994 and that Lyndon Johnson was president.

An investigator for the attorney general’s office also reviewed bank accounts and found that Modlin routinely withdrew $500 to $7,000 of the man's money at Thunder Valley Casino and also used his money for dining, golf outings and gas.

The older man already has testified about his experience, a technique employed in elder abuse cases and meant to document testimony of people who may not survive a lengthy legal process.

Duane, an elder financial abuse expert, said her organization's website has a number of tip sheets for those concerned about elder financial abuse.

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