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Courts and Crime

Maine AG Calls for More Resources to Fight Abuse of Elderly

Mal Leary
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills unveils the findings of a task force looking into abuse of Maine's elderly.

AUGUSTA, Maine - The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that there are more than 30,000 victims of elder abuse in Maine. It's one of the findings included in the report issued today by the state Task Force on Financial Crimes Against the Elderly. The group, which was set up by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, made several recommendations at a State House news conference.

Maine is the oldest state in the country, demographically, and members of the AG’s task force say there's been a growing number of cases of elder abuse in the state. They have also concluded that it often takes too long to prosecute cases.

Meghan Maloney, the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset Counties cites the case of a woman with dementia who was defrauded by a relative. "We were able to get restitution for the victim, but by the time the check was cut, the victim had died. So the criminal justice system is failing victims."

The task force recommends that the courts adopt case management procedures giving priority to elder abuse cases. In a statement, court spokeswoman Mary Ann Lynch says that crime against the elderly is a serious matter, and that the courts will take a hard look at the recommendations of the task force.

The panel also wants additional staff to help investigate and prosecute cases, and more training for law enforcement. "Those aren’t expensive, that’s not an expensive item," Mills says. "Second thing, there are positions in the governor’s budget for this 'FAST' team - Financial Abuse Specialists Team - so that would be something that would be up to the Legislature, obviously."

The task force is also recommending that "financial exploitation" become legal grounds for a protection from abuse order, and that the advanced age of the victim be a factor in sentencing for those convicted of stealing from elders.

The package of bills is drawing bipartisan support. Republican Sen. David Burns from Whiting co-chairs the Legislature’s Caucus on Aging. Burns is also a former state trooper who witnessed this type of crime. "We had very few tools to work with at that time," he says. "This is a great step forward, I think, to give the tools that are necessary for law enforcement to deal with this."

Those are changes to state law that will also take legislative action. Members of the task force point out that, unlike child abuse, there are no federal funds available to help with the prevention and the prosecution of elder abuse.  

Mills says members of the task force plan to call on Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who chairs the Senate Aging Committee and also service on Appropriations, for help in finding federal resources. "So we are going to be seeking her assistance and other members of Congress to help with any grants that might be available for those kind of positions."

The task force recommendations will now be submitted as several bills to the Legislature, and public hearings will be held later in the session.