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‘Financial rape’ of elderly deserves tougher laws, Sedita says

The crime of elderly financial abuse is similar to predators’ abuse of young children, Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita suggests. Both kinds of criminals pick on the most defenseless people in society. He calls it “financial rape.”

“The law already recognizes the special-victims dynamics in sex cases,” he added. “We should recognize them in these kinds of cases as well.”

So two years ago, New York’s White-Collar Crime Task Force, co-chaired by Sedita, recommended six changes in the state’s criminal procedure law in these cases, to help balance the scales in what the district attorney called “extraordinarily difficult” cases to prosecute. Those recommendations, though, have not made it into law.

Several of those recommendations would apply in the Grand Island case:

• Just as with young sexual-abuse victims, one proposal would make a mentally disabled elderly person “legally incapable of consent.”

• Another could allow an elderly victim to be accompanied by a social worker, another professional or even an “informal caregiver” while testifying before a grand jury.

• Because of the months or years that may pass between a criminal complaint and the trial, abusers may try, as Sedita put it, to “run out the clock” in such cases, hoping that the victim may become incapacitated or even die before trial. So law-enforcement officers would be able to conduct a “conditional examination,” like a filmed deposition, of any victim who’s at least 75.

Erie County Assistant District Attorney Candace K. Vogel, the chief prosecutor in elderly financial abuse cases, noted that prosecutors have to establish the victim’s mental condition at three different times: at the time of the crime, during the investigation and at trial.

Sedita pointed out that the law needs to catch up with the changes in society, such as the elderly living longer and many having all their children out of town.

As the district attorney said of the proposed changes, “What’s the downside of this?”

Meanwhile, John Bidell realizes the coming criminal case has no guarantees, but he’s grateful that his aunt may see some justice.

And he has a piece of advice for others.

“Look out for the elderly,” he said. “If you think someone’s caring for them – whether it’s a family member, a neighbor or a stranger ‘helping’ the elderly – make sure the elderly person’s best interests are being cared for.”