From physically to financially, 33,000 Maine seniors will be abused this year. Most of the time by family members.
Behind each one of them is a story of anguish, pain and devastation.
When it comes to stopping elder abuse, prosecutors in Central Maine are upping their efforts to protect seniors and punish those who hurt them.
But even when a person is convicted of a crime, the horror of the abuse doesn’t go away.
“This was at her 99th celebration.”
Hundreds of miles away in South Florida, Gayle Tolchin shares heartfelt memories of her cousin, Jessie Baig – born and raised in Calais.
She also shares a story of heartache.
“It just bothers me so much that this woman who trusted people was so taken advantage of and it’s very hurtful.”
Baig was one of 21 people – most of them elderly – financially abused by a former bank employee from Bucksport.
Lynn Bowden embezzled $3 million from her customers.
In 2014, she was sent to federal prison for eight years.
“It was $750,000 that had been taken from her accounts. The whole thing was just so horrible because Lynn had bought cars and boats with my cousin’s money. She treated my cousin like a commodity and she was waiting for her to die so she could collect it all.”
When Tolchin learned of the abuse, she quickly took over for her cousin, made sure she had the best care possible and helped federal prosecutors in their case against Bowden.
“Hi Brenda, it’s Maeghan Maloney over in the DAs office. How are you?”
As the focus on elder abuse grows, the Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney’s Offices recently added attorney Suzanne Russell, dedicated to bringing justice to seniors.
Four of the 15 prosecutors now make up the sexual assault, domestic violence and elder abuse unit.
Maloney says, “It makes it possible to keep the elderly in Maine safe and to go after anyone who harms them.”
One example of that is the case involving 67-year-old Linda Brown of Augusta, which started with a domestic violence call.
Russell says, “A young lady was grocery shopping. She pulled in and had gotten out of her car, heard a lot of commotion, observed the defendant striking her mother in the head. Her mother was in a wheelchair.”
As Russell and investigators dug deeper, they found Brown also funneled away more than 200-thousand dollars from her 84-year-old mother.
In September, she pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a dependent person and domestic violence assault.
It came with 4 months in jail and a $7,000 fine.
As part of a civil suit, one third of her mother’s estate was also given to Legal Services for the Elderly.
Russell hopes to aggressively prosecute more cases like that.
“Elder abuse cases I think are where we were with domestic violence cases 20 years ago. And it took a long time to get domestic violence victims to come forward and I think that’s where we are with elder abuse cases.”
Tolchin believes more checks and balances are needed to protect seniors.
Despite all her cousin endured, Tolchin is thankful for the role she played in the final days of her life.
“Once I became the conservator till she died, she was treated like gold and at least I know I did everything I could to make her last months as comfortable as possible.”
“Just behave yourself and live a good clean life.”
If you or someone you know suspects elder abuse, and that person is in immediate danger, call 911.
You can also contact Adult Protective Services – any time – at 1-800-624-8404.
And, Legal Services for the Elderly helps seniors who might not be able to afford legal help.
That number is 1-800-750-5353.