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DA’s Advisory Council lifts the curtain on elder abuse

— It’s a common crime that often goes undetected, unreported, unprosecuted and unpunished. It’s called elder abuse.

“In their later years, people become more vulnerable,” said Jenny Hicks, Abuse in Later Life project coordinator for Vera House, Inc. in Syracuse. “People start losing their eyesight, hearing becomes weaker and sometimes dementia sets in. And by the way, older folks have money.”

Elder abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, caregiver neglect and financial exploitation. “And 90 percent of the time it comes at the hands of family members,” Hicks added. “It’s shocking.”

A recent statewide study determined that, after turning 60 years old, 14 percent of seniors, regardless of their race, gender or socio-economic status, had fallen victim to such abuse. What’s worse, Hicks said, is that “only one of every 35 incidents comes to the attention of authorities in our region.”

In 2012, the county’s Protective Services for Adults agency received 118 referrals regarding suspected elder abuse, an increase of 18 percent over the previous year. Hicks estimated that, in reality, some 4,000 incidents went unreported in 2012.

On Jan. 29, Hicks joined a panel convened at Liverpool Public Library by the Onondaga County District Attorney Advisory Council to discuss the issue. Coordinated by Advisory Council officer Joyce Abold, the panel also included Liverpool Police Chief Don Morris, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Germano, and two members of the Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Jon Anderson and Chief John Balloni (pronounced Bell-LOAN).

Balloni, the former Baldwinsville police chief, recalled a classic case of a handyman scamming an elderly couple who lived down the street from him there.

“We discovered that the work he’d been hired to perform was not being done and that he was providing the couple with falsified receipts from a hardware store,” Balloni recalled. “We were able to trace $15,000 worth of work this young man had not done for this elderly couple.”

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