When one discovers that a loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, it breaks one’s heart and justice for that loved one becomes a priority. What if you are a retired Los Angeles Police Captain, who co-founded the Elder Abuse Unit and was commanding officer of the Financial Crimes Division? This is the story of retired LA Police Captain Glenn R. Ackerman.
He discovered that his 82-year-old mother’s life savings, roughly about $150,000, had been stolen by a relative. My mother, Jonnye Ketchum, was left penniless, except for a $900 per month pension. Her home, in Camarillo, California, was fully paid for.
He filed an elder abuse crime report with the Camarillo station of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, naming the relative as the suspect. The detective assigned to the case had no prior experience handling an elder abuse case and literally had no idea how to proceed. Because of his background, he was able to provide assistance and brought in two expert detectives from his former unit to assist in the investigation.
Their tests and interviews of Mrs. Ketchum revealed that she was suffering from significant mental impairment and that the suspect had obtained her savings through an ongoing pattern of threats and browbeating; even as the investigation was being conducted, there was evidence that the suspect was helping herself to the bulk of Mrs. Ketchum’s pension. The suspect admitted to receiving large sums of money from Mrs. Ketchum, claiming that they were “gifts” and “loans.”
When the case was submitted to the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office for filing, it was rejected on the basis of a seemingly willful failure to understand the fundamental elder abuse concepts of diminished capacity and undue influence. In effect, Mrs. Ketchum was deemed competent to do whatever she wanted with her money (This is a common occurrence across the country in many District Attorney’s offices).
He realized, as a result of his experience and instincts, that the relative would probably go after the house. He was right! His mother called him explaining that the relative, using a power of attorney that she had coerced his mother into signing, was selling his mother’s house out from under her; his mother told him she loved her home and begged him to stop her from selling it.
He immediately filed an elder abuse crime report and retained an attorney. This matter lasted for several years. The relative managed to have herself appointed conservator over his mother in order to sell the home because of her refusal.
When Captain Ackerman and his attorney found out about the home, it was already in escrow and they were unable to stop the sale. The judge, however, did block the wire transfer of funds. The funds were transferred to an account in Nevada. It was later revealed that the relative was a convicted felon.
The attorney and the detectives managed to collect evidence, medical and financial, clearly showing the relative’s guilt. In court, the relative’s attorneys were able to convince the judge that the allegation were false.
The Ventura District Attorney’s office still rejected the case and the probate court judge’s final words were as follows, “But Mr. Hankin (Ackerman’s attorney), parents give their grown children large sums of money all the time. That doesn’t constitute a crime.”
Captain Ackerman’s story is tragic but true for many families who have tried to receive justice for their loved ones. In fact, he said he felt that “it was as if, having saved what remained of Mrs. Ketchum’s estate and appointed an honest conservator, the courts decided that their responsibility had ended; no need to trouble themselves further.
As I always mention, please report all incidents to the proper authorities. You can also find information on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website at http://www.ncea.aoa.gov.
Please feel free to leave your questions or comments.