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Vulnerable adult abuse takes center stage

State officials announced efforts to combat scams that prey on the elderly just as a case involving a vulnerable adult made its way through the Washington County courts system.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced Thursday, June 16 that it will join a nationwide effort to protect elderly residents from investment fraud and other scams aimed at vulnerable adults.

"With our aging population, bad actors will try to exploit vulnerable, aging adults," Commerce Commissioner Mike Rother said. "We recognize that threat."

Minnesota now joins the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program. The program educates medical professionals about how to identify senior citizens who may be particularly vulnerable to investment fraud. The program calls on those professionals to refer such cases to adult protective services.

Washington County prosecutors filed three felony charges in April against a Cottage Grove woman, alleging she whittled down a vulnerable adult's bank account to the extent that the 85-year-old was faced with eviction from a Woodbury senior complex.

Charges in the case were dismissed Friday because the suspect died on June 8, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said.

He said the case sheds light on the issue; he recently assigned a prosecutor to focus specifically on cases involving abuse of vulnerable adults.

Woodbury police began investigating the local matter after Washington County Common Entry Point officials received a report in December 2010 of possible exploitation of a vulnerable adult. At the time, the elderly woman was facing eviction from Woodbury Health Care Center due to more than $18,000 in unpaid expenses.

According to a criminal complaint:

The 60-year-old Cottage Grove woman was assigned Power of Attorney rights in 2006, though investigators said the declaration did not authorize the transfer of assets.

Later in 2006, the elderly woman was paid $200,267 for the sale of the home she and her late husband lived in. She then moved to Woodbury Estates before being moved to Woodbury Health Care Center following a fall.

She was diagnosed in 2009 with senile dementia and was deemed in need of 24-hour care at the nursing home.

The 60-year-old paid the woman's bills from an account largely comprised of proceeds from the home sale.

But by June 2010, the Cottage Grove woman sought medial assistance for the woman, indicating that her assets had been depleted.

A Washington County specialist reviewing the woman's eligibility for public assistance discovered that in August 2009 the Cottage Grove woman had transferred $72,221 from a joint checking account she shared with the woman into her personal checking account. Two months later, the Cottage Grove woman transferred $40,687 from the joint account to her personal checking account.

Police said she transferred $30,000 from her personal accounts back into the joint account by November 2009.

Investigators also learned the 60-year-old had withdrawn funds from the woman's account at several casino ATMs in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In an interview with police, the Cottage Grove woman said the elderly woman had told her she wanted her to have some money in return "for all the work" she had done.

The Cottage Grove woman claimed the elderly woman insisted she take $10,000 for each year she had assisted her and described the $72,221 funds transfer as payment for her "fees."

Investigators said the 60-year-old didn't explain what was behind the $40,000 transfer, but said all the money had gone to pay debts and toward a used car.

"(The Cottage Grove woman) stated that she had no idea that taking the money would have such a negative effect on (the elderly woman)," the complaint states.

The complaint notes that the original request for medical assistance for the woman was denied due to the uncompensated funds transfer.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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