A Texas man was recently indicted in an appalling case of financial elder abuse that happened in Madison County, AL, according to a report from al.com. The federal indictment alleges that Dwayne Elllis Baptiste concocted a scheme to steal $545,000 from a retired Lockheed Martin employee who is now deceased. Baptiste became acquainted with the elderly man, Ralph Swinehart, as well as his son, Ronald Swinehart, in 2011. Both Swineharts died within a few days of each other in October of 2011. In order to carry out the scheme, Batiste filed a fraudulent Power of Attorney in Madison County Probate Court, and then proceeded to empty the senior Mr. Swinehart’s retirement accounts. If convicted, the maximum penalties for the crimes include 20 years in jail and a fine of up to $1 million.
Although this case involved a violation of federal law, Alabama has criminalized the exploitation of elderly people through the Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act. The law makes first degree intentional elder abuse a class A felony. Ala. Code § 38-9E-3. Financial abuse of an elderly person in the first degree, which includes cases of theft over $2,500, is a Class B felony under the law. Ala. Code § 38-9E-6.
Unfortunately, elder abuse is a nationwide problem that occurs much more often than many people think. In fact, about 10% of senior citizens have experienced a form of elder abuse. By some estimations, over 75,000 cases of elder abuse happen every year in Alabama alone. As the 65+ population is the fastest growing age group and now comprises over 40 million people, cases of abuse are also more likely to occur. Sadly, roughly 6 in 10 perpetrators of elder abuse are related to the victim.
Abuse can be either physical, mental, financial or sexual. In cases of physical abuse, someone near the elderly person physically harms the person or negligently allows their wellbeing to deteriorate. In financial abuse, the abuser takes advantage of the elderly person’s infirmities for their own financial gain. Physical abuse and financial abuse often are perpetrated together. Mental abuse comprises verbal or nonverbal behavior that inflicts mental pain or distress to the elderly person. For more information on the types of abuse, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse.
In order to help prevent mistreatment of senior citizens, know the signs of elder abuse. To spot physical abuse, look for bruises, bed sores, broken bones, abrasions, and burns. Emotional abuse often takes the form of sudden changes in temperament, strained relationships, and depression. For financial abuse, sudden changes like naming new beneficiaries on retirement accounts or in a will, and opening new bank accounts can be telling signs of abuse.
If you believe an elderly loved one is being abused, contact the Alabama Department of Human Resources – Adult Protective Services hotline at 1-800-458-7214 or visit their website here. If you’re an elderly person being subjected to abuse, contact us today for a review of your rights. We understand the unique challenges senior citizens face, and help victims of abuse find physical, mental, and financial recovery every day.