Group pushes lawmakers for elder abuse legislation

Published On: Jan 09 2014 05:31:25 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 09 2014 06:41:42 PM CST

Ending elder abuse is the focus for a group of state leaders.  They plan to introduce a series of bills to help protect seniors.

The term elder abuse generally makes us think of physical abuse or neglect, but there's another growing problem this group is aiming at - financial fraud of those sixty and over.

"Financial abuse cases against senior citizens in this state happen every day, happen every hour," said Senator Jeff King, a Republican from Independence and the Senate Vice President. 

He's working with Wichita's own Senator Michael O'Donnell to spearhead the legislation.

Nationally financial fraud of the elderly is reported less than 1% of the time.  Even when it is reported the money is usually gone for good.

"By the time our office figured out something was wrong, went out there, this woman had been bilked out of $106,000, her entire nest egg," recounted Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett when explaining how devastating the cases he's worked can be.

That's why several senators joined local and state prosecutors to come up with new legislation to help catch those who rip off the elderly.

There will be a series of bills introduced tightening laws and strengthening penalties.  For example, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt will be asking for tougher criminal penalties.

"Right now it is very difficult, in fact it is very close to impossible, for me to actually send somebody to prison for defrauding the Kansas Medicaid program, regardless of the amount of the fraud," said Schmidt. "And they steal tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars.  We think that there ought to at least be an option for a jury and a judge to send them to prison."

So does the Kansas Securities Commissioner.

"And so we would be looking to add prison time in many instances to securities related offenses when proven in court," said Josh Ney.

The proposed legislation began as a series of discussions over the summer between state senator and Republican Michael O'Donnell and former Sedgwick County District Attorney and Democrat Nola Foulston.

"It crosses the aisle. It's not a Democrat bill. It's not a Republican bill," said Foulson.  "We're all going to be there at some point in our lives and we need to protect those that are our most vulnerable, from our children through to our parents and grandparents."

The combined legislation will be known as the Nola Foulston Senior Citizens Protection Act in honor of her work as a prosecutor.  The first of the bills will be introduced in the next couple of weeks.

If you've already been the victim of elder abuse but don't know where to go for help check out the Kansas Attorney General's special website In Your Corner, Kansas.  Folks there will put you in contact with the people who can help you.