It was December of 2013 when Edith Hughes went to work for a Southern Arizona elderly care agency. One of the patients in her care was an 86-year-old Bisbee woman. Within two months, Hughes had quit her job, moved the woman out of the agency, named herself and her husband James powers of attorney, made themselves—and their son—beneficiaries of her estate, and gained access to the woman’s bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts. With the woman’s money, they made their car payments, went to restaurants, bought groceries and took family vacations. Sometimes they took the elderly woman—whom they called "Granny"—on vacation with them. When Edith and James Hughes contacted a realtor to list the woman’s house, and started boxing up her belongings and hauling them out of the home, someone got suspicious and called Adult Protective Services (APS). That report eventually led to the prosecution and conviction of James and Edith Hughes, who were sentenced to 7 and a half and 5 years in prison, respectively, for stealing approximately $25,000 from the woman who has since been moved into an assisted living facility, and is said to be doing well.
Arizona Elder Abuse Awareness Day Proclamation
While self-neglect continues to be most common problem among the elderly and vulnerable adults, financial exploitation is a very real—and growing—problem. Estimates on how much financial exploitation costs America’s vulnerable adults varies widely, anywhere from $3 billion dollars a year1 to $30 billion dollars a year2. The wide range could be attributed to the fact that it’s believed to be vastly under-reported. The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) estimates only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported. See SFY 2016 Arizona numbers in the chart below.
NAPSA reports 90% of the perpetrators are related to their victims, which makes the story of the Hugheses unique. They had no relation to the woman they preyed upon, though they pretended she was the grandmother of James Hughes.
These are the cases that keep Angel Guzman on the road all over Arizona. The APS Financial Exploitation Unit Manager and his staff of six travel anywhere and everywhere they’re needed, doing what they can to protect vulnerable adults from being exploited.
"Arizona is doing something really interesting; we’re marrying a social worker and an accountant together," said Guzman. "The skill is used simultaneously to insure our clients are safe, we’re protecting their assets, and improving their quality of life."
The Financial Exploitation Unit (FEU) is only five years old in Arizona. Guzman left Wells Fargo for the Financial Exploitation Unit (FEU) upon its inception in 2012. His staff is comprised of investigators who also came from the banking and financial industry--Wells Fargo, Chase Bank and Merrill Lynch—and some with law enforcement backgrounds—a retired police sergeant, and former investigators with the Office of Inspector General and Attorney General’s Office. Guzman also has an accounting specialist who handles all the financial analysis spreadsheets.
Reports come to APS either online or through the call intake center. Guzman estimates about a third of those reports are financial exploitation. He and his staff play detective, following the money trail, and working through the proper authorities to stop the financial bleeding. First comes a visit to the client’s home for an assessment of the living situation, then investigators may reach out to the victim’s doctor to determine mental capacity. APS will take steps to get a conservator or fiduciary appointed to handle the victim’s finances. The perpetrator is then listed on the APS Registry as an abuser (accused physical abusers are included as well) and stays on that list for 25 years. The list is updated on the public DES website every Monday. As of last week, it contained 719 names and the allegations against them. Other than listing the names and helping family members with resources to try to recoup these funds, there isn’t much else that can be done by FEU to get the money back.
The more egregious cases—those that meet the threshold of a "criminal," as opposed to a "civil" case-- are referred to local law enforcement or the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. Such was the case of 93-year-old Phoenix resident whose daughter stole $650,000. Prosecutors say Janine Adams spent the money on items from Ebay and the Home Shopping Network. Janine Adams pleaded guilty to the charges against her and was sentenced to three years in prison. Before she was brought to justice, her elderly mother passed away.
"It’s the crime of the century, it’s the baby boomers, it’s the largest transfer of wealth in many generations," explains Guzman, who thinks this is why the crime has become so widespread. "You have individuals essentially withdrawing early from their inheritance." Also, he says, the Great Recession left a lot of people in dire financial straits and prompted them to take measures they otherwise wouldn’t have. Others, he says, simply don’t understand their roles as caregivers and their responsibility with an elderly parent’s finances.
June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), where the 2017 theme to be observed at United Nations Headquarters is "Understand and End Financial Abuse of Older People: A Human Rights Issue." #WEAAD17
If you suspect and would like to report abuse, call 1-877-SOS-ADULT (1-877-767-2385) during normal business hours. Report adult abuse online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
1MetLife Mature Market Institute, in collaboration with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2011
Angel Guzman, APS Financial Exploitation Unit Manager
Unidentied APS client records, showing allegedly unauthorized transfers in an active case
Unidentied APS client records, showing allegedly unauthorized withdrawals totalling $623,758.54 in an active case
By Connie Weber