Spokane – Today, United States Attorney William D. Hyslop and the Department of Justice announced the observation of the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Department echoes voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
United States Attorney William D. Hyslop stated, “Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. But every day should be a day we all work together to stop elder abuse and elder fraud. These are serious crimes that prey upon our most vulnerable citizens. They should be honored and respected for their years. We cannot allow fraudsters and others to take advantage of them.”
“This is everyone’s responsibility to report elder abuse and elder fraud when you see it. This is everyone’s duty to help protect our senior members of our community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this is more important than ever,” United States Attorney William D. Hyslop said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our country and the world, but among those most severely affected by the threat of the novel virus are our senior citizens. During this time when seniors are most vulnerable and isolated from their families and loved ones by social distancing and quarantine restrictions, bad actors have immediately exploited this international tragedy to prey on the elderly through a whole host of scam and fraud schemes. As the world takes this day to remember the elderly during these uncertain times, the Department of Justice remains relentlessly committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative, to prevent and prosecute fraud on America’s seniors.
The Department of Justice and the United States Attorneys will aggressively prosecute fraudsters exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic and targeting seniors offering them fake testing kits and fake help obtaining stimulus and Paycheck Protection Program Funds. On this day dedicated to recognizing our seniors, the Department of Justice sends a strong message that we continue the fight to keep seniors safe a top priority.
Over the last year, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington obtained convictions in elder fraud and elder abuse related cases brought before the United States District Court, such as the following:
• On September 12, 2019, Michelle Susan Ferrell, age 59, of Spokane Valley, was sentenced on a federal wire fraud conviction to 3 years of imprisonment, 3 years of court supervision, and to pay $99,871 restitution and forfeiture. According to information disclosed during court proceedings (No. 2:19-cr-0029-RHW), Ferrell worked as a bookkeeper for Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels (Meals on Wheels) between May 2013 and April 2018. Meals on Wheels, which is part of the nationwide Meals on Wheels America organization operating throughout the United States, relies on government funding and private donations to provide over 1,000 meals each day to elderly and disabled residents of Spokane County. While employed at Meals on Wheels, Ferrell used the organization’s funds and bank accounts to pay for unauthorized personal expenses, including mortgage, utility, and property tax payments on her residence, and to electronically transfer funds to herself and her businesses. Ferrell concealed her thefts by making false and misleading accounting entries, creating the appearance that she was paying legitimate operating expenses of the organization. Over five years, Ferrell stole in excess of $99,000 in Meals on Wheels funds. As part of her scheme, Ferrell also defrauded the IRS by withholding Meals on Wheels payroll taxes and not remitting all the taxes to the IRS, failing to file certain quarterly payroll tax returns, and making false accounting entries.
• On July 9, 2019, Nazir Bolajoko Hamza, age 48, of Arlington, Texas, was sentenced on a federal money laundering conviction to 5 years of probation with 30 days of intermittent confinement, $98,000 in restitution, and an $11,000 money judgment. According to information disclosed during court proceedings (No. 2:18-cr-0081-RMP), the case involved a Nigerian e-mail compromise fraud scheme that targeted an elderly Spokane resident who was getting ready to close on the purchase of a house. The elderly victim was deceived by fake wire instructions into wiring what the victim believed was $98,000 for the closing on the house. Hamza was involved in the laundering of the wired funds by removing the funds from the account.
The preceding cases were prosecuted by Dan Fruchter, Tyler H.L. Tornabene and Brian Donovan, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Barr declared “Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud” to be an Agency Priority Goal, making it one of the Department’s four top priorities. Major strides have already been made to that end:
• National Elder Fraud Hotline: 833-FRAUD-11
Earlier this year Attorney General Barr launched a National Elder Fraud Hotline. Staffed by experienced case managers who provide personalized support to callers, the hotline serves to assist elders and caretakers who believe they have been a victim of fraud by reporting and providing appropriate services.
• Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force: Established in June 2019 to combat foreign elder fraud schemes, the Strike Force is composed of the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along with FBI special agents, Postal Inspectors, and numerous other law enforcement personnel. Since its inception, prosecutors in Strike Force districts brought cases against more than 140 sweep defendants.
• Annual Elder Justice Sweep: In March of this year, the Attorney General announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in department history. The Department, together with every U.S. Attorney’s office, charged more than 400 defendants, causing over $1 billion in loss through fraud schemes that largely affected seniors.
• Money Mule Initiative: Since October 2018, the Department and its law enforcement partners began a concentrated effort across the country and around the world to disrupt, investigate, and prosecute money mule activity used to facilitate fraud schemes, especially those victimizing senior citizens. In 2019 actions were taken to halt the conduct of more than 600 domestic money mules, exceeding a similar effort against approximately 400 mules in the previous year.
• Holding foreign-based perpetrators and those that flee the United States accountable: Transnational criminal organizations are targeting our elder population in schemes including mass mailing fraud, grandparent scams, romance scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams, IRS and Social Security Administration imposter scams, and technical-support scams.
For more information on enforcement actions, training and resources, research, and victim services, please visit www.justice.gov/elderjustice.