Senate Approves Senator Kennedy’s Bill to Crackdown on Financial Exploitation of Seniors

 
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Legislation would expand the crime of larceny to more harshly prosecute people who commit financial abuse of seniors or individuals with disabilities.

Kennedy believes bill would help ensure stiffer penalties in cases like that of Kenneth Hetizenrater, who exploited the trust of a 90-year-old man to steal $550,000 from him.  

ALBANY, N.Y. – Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, secured unanimous Senate approval for his legislation to crackdown on the financial exploitation of senior citizens and people with disabilities (S.373/A.2898). Kennedy’s legislation will expand the crime of larceny to more harshly prosecute individuals who exploit the trust of senior citizens or people with disabilities to swindle them out of cash, savings or other assets.

Senator Kennedy believes the bill would help ensure severe penalties are imposed in cases like that of Kenneth Heitzenrater – a Niagara County man convicted of stealing over $550,000 from a 90-year-old man who had trusted him like a son.

“After Kenneth Heitzenrater’s case of theft and deception came to light, it added renewed urgency to our efforts to crackdown on the financial exploitation of senior citizens,” said Senator Kennedy. “90-year-old Matt Pollack worked his entire life to save up over $600,000, so he could live comfortably and independently long into his retirement. Instead of looking out for his defenseless elderly neighbor, Heitzenrater exploited his relationship with Pollack, who had trusted him like a son, to empty out his savings and steal more than $550,000 from him.

“It’s a distressing case with an unfortunate ending for the victim, who has been forced into assisted living because of his depleted savings, but sadly, his story is not unique” Kennedy added. “For every case of financial exploitation reported to the proper authorities, 44 cases go unreported. This needs to stop before another one of our neighbors is robbed of their savings and their dignity. New York State needs gets tough on those who seek to hurt or exploit vulnerable senior citizens. The Senate has taken action, and now it’s up to the Assembly. We urge them to act immediately.”

Currently, there are no legal provisions in New York State law that specifically address the financial exploitation of senior citizens. Kennedy’s bill amends the state’s larceny code by adding precise language that establishes the new crime of financial exploitation of the elderly or disabled. Without specific statutes dealing with the financial exploitation of seniors, some offenders are able to avoid severe punishments – or any punishment at all – for committing acts the general public would deem immoral and criminal.

Kennedy’s legislation aims to address the growing need to safeguard the financial well-being of an expanding sector of our population. It establishes senior citizens and individuals with disabilities as a protected class within the state’s larceny codes.

With this change to the law, prosecutors will be better equipped to pursue charges against a person in position of trust who manipulates the elderly or disabled and deceives them into turning over property by means of false promises, extortion, fraud or intimidation. It also enhances state law against those who attempt to take advantage an individual’s deteriorating mental or physical condition in order to steal their assets.

At least 45 other states already have laws on the books that explicitly seek to prevent financial abuse of the elderly and persons with disabilities. New York State still lags behind when it comes to protecting the financial assets of senior citizens.

In most cases of elder abuse, especially when it comes to financial exploitation, the perpetrator tends to be a family member, close friend or a care taker who has gained close access to the victim. As the New York State’s senior population grows, this problem may only become worse – unless the state acts now.

Penalties for larceny are determined by the amount of money alleged to be stolen. An individual who steals more than $50,000 can be charged with second-degree grand larceny, a class C felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The bill now goes to the Assembly for approval, before it can be sent to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.  

Senator Kennedy took to the Senate floor to stress the urgency of enacting this legislation to crackdown on the financial exploitation of senior citizens. You can view his remarks here: http://youtu.be/LURoQffEoqY. 

 

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Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the town of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and nearly all of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at http://kennedy.nysenate.gov