Elder fraud cases need to be a priority

The Northern District of West Virginia was recently invited by the Department of Justice and Attorney General Sessions to highlight our prosecution of a fraud case involving elderly victims. It was the Department’s goal to highlight that prosecution and others being done by United States Attorneys’ offices throughout the country. It is very important work and crimes upon the elderly all too often go unreported. I intend to vigorously pursue anyone violating federal laws where the victims are elderly citizens of our district.

One of the victims in the case highlighted by the Department was Eugene Roman, whose identity was compromised by now convicted defendants. Mr. Roman spoke from the heart about how the crimes affected him, but the courage it took for him to speak in front of a room full of strangers at the Department of Justice and on video being transmitted around the country did not come from just his own experience. Instead, it was more important for him to help other future potential victims get the encouragement they needed to report the crimes.

In addition to Mr. Roman, there were several other older victims in the case my office prosecuted, some of whom were too frail to appear. He spoke for them. Many elderly victims of fraud or physical abuse are too afraid to come forward or embarrassed to do so because they felt like they should have been able to avoid being a victim. He spoke for them. Nearly 20 percent of West Virginia’s population is over the age of 65, and are often prime targets of those criminals wanting to take advantage of a vulnerable victim. He spoke for them.

Assistant United States Attorney Lara Omps-Botteicher prosecuted the fraud case on behalf of Mr. Roman and Assistant United States Attorney Anna Krazinski is my coordinator for elder abuse cases. I have several highly competent and aggressive prosecutors who will prosecute those who victimize elderly citizens in our district, and if there is no federal crime, they will ensure the case is forwarded to the Attorney General’s office or a state prosecutor.

Earlier this year, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners conducted the largest, coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history that involved more than 250 defendants and over one million American victims, most of whom were elderly. The Department of Justice has now teamed with the Department of Agriculture so that the resources of that department, particularly in rural areas, can assist elderly victims. This provides valuable and much needed resources.

Our older population represents one of our state’s greatest assets, but are also one of the most vulnerable groups to defraud. We will not tolerate these special West Virginians being victimized.

Thank you Mr. Roman for speaking on behalf of those who could not or were too afraid to speak about their experiences. I will do everything in my power to justify your faith in my office.

(Powell is U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia)