Protection of elder rights 24 hours a day
| By Richard Devine
Cook County State’s Attorney
|Our job as prosecutors isn’t always easy. We not only deal with heartbreaking violent crimes, we also run across clever con artists who deliberately target victims because they’re elderly or vulnerable. We’ve seen caretakers who mistreat their charges pitifully—and steal from them in the meantime. We’ve seen cold-hearted cases of financial exploitation. And we’ve seen home repair fraud schemes that operate almost like corporate firms. A recent Sun-Times series outlined the kinds of crimes I’m talking about. I’m sure some of you read it. If you did, you learned that what we handle isn’t often pleasant. The cases are sometimes pathetic, and sometimes our work is tragically sad.
Recently, though, I had an unusual task — much nicer than the normal routine. This time, it was my job to hand out money. Let me tell you about it. It involved a case that had more than 100 victims. The victims were all elderly, and none of them were rich. But each had made at least one solid investment in their lives: they each owned a home.
As I said, they weren’t rich. Their houses were often small and deteriorating. Some of these men and women had lived in their homes for decades. Their houses didn’t look like much, but they were the only real assets these people had. And then those homes became the target for a clever ring of con men.
The con artists worked out of two companies. One was Senior Citizens Remodeling, Inc. The other was the Senior Income Reverse Mortgage Corporation. They approached homeowners one by one and convinced them that they could improve the value of their homes. The sales people were well spoken, sophisticated and persuasive. They spoke of new roofs, brand new garages, new electrical and plumbing systems. They convinced the victims to take part in a federally funded “Reverse Mortgage” program. That program allowed the homeowners to borrow against the equity in their homes.
Then, when the loan checks came, the con artists stepped in and took the money up front. They promised to do repairs and renovations. They promised to make things better and increase the worth of the old homes. But they never showed up to do the work. Or if they did, they often did the jobs only halfway, or worse.
The owners were trusting. At first, they thought they were making a smart move. Slowly they learned they were wrong. They started calling the company, again and again and again. They did what they could, but they got nowhere. To their detriment, they had believed the promises and they were left with nothing. There was another part to the scam.
When the mortgage company arranged the loans, they charged lender fees that were out of line and above federal limits. In most cases, the victims never even knew it. But I’m pleased to tell you that that’s not the end to the story. When we got wind of the con, our office went to work. We took action against both the remodeling company and the mortgage company they worked with. After long months of legal work, we reached a settlement with the mortgage company early last year. That settlement for $200,000 was paid.
Then, later in the year, we reached a settlement with the remodeling company, too. The scam company was ordered to pay full restitution to its victims, and $50,000 in fines on top of that. After that, our office had another job to do. We sorted through the evidence to try to find all the homeowners. By the time it was over, we’d found 164 elderly people who’d fallen victim to the cold-hearted scam. Next, we had to figure out how much money the con artists scammed from each one. In many cases, it amounted to thousands of dollars. The best part came last.
Last month, it was my job to start giving the money back. That was a pleasant task. We got a lot of smiles and a lot of thank you’s. One man, who is 82 years old, joked about it. He told me he didn’t like the scam companies, and was glad to see them go out of business. “I like YOUR company,” he told me.
Of course, our office isn’t exactly a company. But we try to operate in a business-like way. And we try, whenever we can, to protect the vulnerable and the elderly. To do so, we’ve taken up new legal tools and a new system of organization. Three years ago, we reorganized. We created a special “Seniors and Persons with Disabilities Division” made up of experienced felony trial attorneys. The attorneys rotate duty so that someone is on call 24 hours a day.
These specialized prosecutors handle their cases vertically. That means they go to work when a call comes in from police and work the case from beginning to end, from the preliminary hearing, to trial, all the way through to sentencing. It may be a financial exploitation case, a case of abuse or neglect, or a violent crime. Whatever the case, we find that elderly victims are more comfortable if they can rely on one attorney throughout. It takes away some of the intimidation that courts can cause, and it’s worked. We’re proud to say that our new division had a conviction rate of over 90 percent last year.
We also have specialized personnel in our Victim-Witness program, who help guide elderly victims through the legal process. When it’s needed, they offer transportation and other assistance as well. Beyond that, our office drafted new laws to fit the crimes. We’ve written laws that help strengthen the testimony of older victims, and we drafted groundbreaking legislation that tackles identity theft, another crime that often hits the elderly. We’re doing what we can to protect the vulnerable citizens of this city.
As I said earlier, the job can be sad. And it can be frustrating, but not always. I’d like to finish by reading you a letter we got after we handed out those checks last month. This was from a man named Harlan Naas, one of the victims in that home repair fraud scheme.
“Thank you for making my holiday season the happiest in a long time,” he wrote. “I am age 81, undergoing cancer treatment, and had less than $100 to spend when the $3,200 check arrived.”
That’s why we do what we do.
Please remember that at the State’s Attorney Office, it’s our job to protect you. If you believe that you or someone you love has fallen victim to fraud or exploitation, please contact us. It’s our job to do what we can.
I just wonder where Atty Devine was when we asked the states attorneys offices to protect Mary G. Sykes. Instead she was fleeced of hundred of thousands of dollars–which the attorneys said would be used for her care–but it went to the attorneys! She was guardianized and railroaded into this “crime” without due process-no evidence of service of process with Sheriff Dart and it was a done deal with Adam Stern and Cynthis Farenga and all Mary’s rights were gone, she was stripped of her home, her nearly $1 million in valuable coins (and discovery was suprressed on those at my trial and by the probate court whenever the GAL’s Stern and Farenga said so, or Harvey Waller or Peter Schmeidel said so. My trial was a joke with the Tribunal believing every dumb thing out of the mouths of Judge Jane Louis Stuart (who lied on the stand and was subsequently forced in the sudden retirement, likely by the FBI), now Aicha MacCarthy who was on the bench on this case when Mary G Sykes was narcoticed to death, placed in hospice and on drugs despite being a staunch Roman Catholic who put in her last POA to prolong her life by all means.
Where is the hue and outcry over the death of one lone woman from Norwood Park neighborhood in Chicago, her home sold by the probate flying monkeys for pennies on the dollar, stripped of her all her rights, isolated from 20+ former friends and family.
I understand that the Catherine Falk Organization is getting the Aging Parental Reunification Law passed in Utah right now, please pray for them to get this done. I believe in California it is on the Gov’s desk for signature. Please pray it is signed right away.
In the case of Gloria Sykes, she is now dead, being narcoticed to death, no funderal, no announcements, no obituary, embalmed while the Guardian waited. No tox screen, no autopsy.
What about the other seniors. At least Mary has quite a few voices–Gloria, Kathie, Ken, myself and others–willing to go to the ropes and beyond for one little old lady we knew and loved well. But there are others–Ms. Lipinsky’s mom was narcoticed to death after she plead with Ms. Lipinsky, a beloved daughter not to leave her with the evil sis, but Ms. Lipinsky had to, there was a court order. Not long after her mom too was narcoticed to death “in hospice”, and the sis made sure there was no tox screen, no autopsy and no questions, a quick cremation.
please pray for the below bill:
And if you get a chance, go to their website and show your support
Another good story to read is on the dangerous of psychotropic meds and how they are frequently used in nursing homes far too often and generally as chemical restraints. Of course, none of this is legal in Illinois where the patient has to give consent to the use of such drugs, warned of the side effects and given alternatives, but it happens all the time, so please be aware and protect your loved ones.