Thursday, July 12, 2012

Senior Maine Resident Robbed, Left Only 37 Cents

Elder financial abuse is an increasing common and incredibly harmful practice.  Recently, a woman in Maine fell victim to this type of elder abuse.   Gwendolyn Swank was in her 70s and had hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings until someone came along and took it all. A next door neighbor, who eventually became friendly with Swank, had quietly taken her money over a period of six years until Swank was left with only 37 cents in savings.
Recently, Swank was awarded a $1.3 million civil judgment against the neighbor (who is also serving a five-year sentence for his crimes). 

Ironically, Swank had spent most of her life working as a financial bookkeeper. Due to her depleted finances, she owes $60,000 in state and federal taxes for money she withdrew from stocks and IRAs and gave to her neighbor.  The neighbor also emotionally exploited Swank, telling her lies that kept her isolated in her home and scared of everything outside of the safety of her property.

The neighbor began taking money from Swank in small ways, then grew his schemes to become bigger and more involved.  According to the article in the Main Sun Journal, "First, he convinced her to buy into an auto repair and recovery business where Swank was to be the bookkeeper. Though she paid for everything from a welder and tools to an expensive trailer to haul cars with, Swank never saw a dime of return on her investment. In fact, now she’s not even sure the business ever existed."  After that, he scared her about drug activity in her area and he needed money to bring in special forces to rid the area of the problem.  He even attempted to keep up the hoax by "pounding on the outside of her trailer at night and staging fights outside".  He also unplugged her phone, discouraged visitors, and limited the use of her car.

Eventually, Swank reported the neighbor and the case was brought to court.  She was awarded around $874,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. It should be noted that Maine has the oldest median age in the country and elder abuse cases are not uncommon in the state.

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