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Lower Swatara man victim of one of the biggest financial exploitation cases in county history

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 10/22/18

An 87-year-old Lower Swatara Township resident is a victim of one of the largest cases of financial exploitation of a senior citizen in recent Dauphin County history, officials said Monday.

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Lower Swatara man victim of one of the biggest financial exploitation cases in county history

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An 87-year-old Lower Swatara Township resident is a victim of one of the largest cases of financial exploitation of a senior citizen in recent Dauphin County history, officials said Monday.

A Swatara Township couple drained the man out of $153,168.83 in money and assets from 2013 to 2017, after taking over the victim’s finances, according to Lower Swatara Township police.

Police on Oct. 12 filed felony charges of theft by unlawful taking and access device fraud against Chester Robert Garman III, 54, and his wife, Kathy Alice Garman, 62, both of the 6000 block of Hocker Drive.

Unsecured bail of $50,000 was set for each by District Judge Michael J. Smith during an Oct. 12 arraignment. They are both scheduled for an Oct. 31 preliminary hearing before Smith. They are not listed as being in Dauphin County Prison.

Police say the thefts began in January 2013 when the Garmans made the victim — a family member, then 81 years old — sell his own home and move in with the Garmans, who at the time resided in the Willo-Farm trailer park in Lower Swatara.

The victim told police that the Garmans took over his bank accounts and his credit and debit cards, and denied him access to his own cards.

The Garman case is the fourth largest financial case since 2004, when the county created a task force to combat elder abuse, Commissioner George Hartwick said.

Dauphin County officials held a press conference Monday to draw attention to elder abuse.

The number of cases, both financial and physical including sexual abuse, keeps going up each year — mostly due to the increase in the number of potential victims.

In Dauphin County and in Pennsylvania generally, the largest increase in population is among people 85 and older, said Robert Burns, director of the Dauphin County Area Agency on Aging.

In 2016, 1,564 cases of elder abuse or neglect were reported to the county, followed by 1,836 in 2017, a 17 percent increase.

“This year so far we have seen 1,634 cases reported. If you just do the math with that, we are on pace to exceed last year’s number,” said county Commission Chairman Jeff Haste.

In 2004, when the task force began, the county had three caseworkers assigned to investigate elder abuse. Today, the task force has eight caseworkers assigned, but more will be needed to keep pace with the increase in reported cases that Burns expects to continue each year, as the elderly demographic keeps growing. He said the county needs more state funding that can be directed toward investigating elder abuse.

But because just one in 14 cases of elder abuse get reported, the actual number of cases in Dauphin County could be 14 times higher, Hartwick said.

Burns said the investigation leading to the Garmans arrest  began with a tip made to the county elder abuse hotline — 866-SAFE-111.

Regulations prohibit the agency from releasing details about how the task force learned of the abuse, Burns said. Most tips to the hotline are made anonymously, he added.

Signs that an elderly person is being financially exploited can include the victim not paying their bills and withdrawing large sums of money from the bank, said Elena Welsh, protective services supervisor with the Dauphin County Area Agency on Aging.

It also can include the victim losing his or her home, although in the Garman case the victim losing his home was not a consequence of financial abuse, but marked the start of the exploitation, said District Attorney Fran Chardo.

Chardo said the best way to guard against financial exploitation of the elderly is to protect money and assets through a written power of attorney.

“Most well-written POAs have limits on what gifts can be given to self, and a monetary limit per year on what gifts to self can be given. Otherwise it can be a license to steal,” Chardo said. “You want to have a clear delineation of what the obligations are of the caregiver to the person who is receiving the care.”

In this case, there was no POA in place, Chardo said.

The DA’s office will pursue full restitution toward making the victim whole, Chardo said.

“That’s going to be an important part of the prosecution,” he said.

Hartwick said the county offers seminars to educate senior citizens on how to avoid becoming a victim and provides free legal representation to such victims, through an arrangement with Widener University.

In the Garman case, the victim before moving in with the suspects always paid his monthly Discover card bill in full and never had a balance higher than $2,844, according to a criminal complaint Lower Swatara police filed with the district judge.

But less than a year after moving in with the Garmans, the Discover card balance was more than $10,000, police said.

The Garmans went on what police called a “literal shopping spree,” using the victim’s money and credit to make purchases at department stores, eat at restaurants and buy food from a grocery store, purchase alcohol and a firearm, make a car payment, and buy items online from Amazon.

The victim still owes Discover more than $11,500 due to the purchases made by the Garmans. However, the victim had less than $100 in his savings account as of November 2017, police said.

The Garmans had drained the victim’s checking account to $629 by October 2013, at which time the Garmans made the victim cash in 117 of his own bonds worth nearly $10,000 to cover the debt racked up by the Garmans, police said.

By December 2016 — after the Garmans had moved the victim out of their home and into an assisted living home —  the victim’s credit union account was down to $50.64, from $22,677.66 in December 2012, police said.

Police said that the Garmans stole $141,640.06 from the victim’s bank accounts over the period. When the outstanding Discover balance is added in, the total amount of money taken from the victim by the Garmans from 2013 to 2017 comes to $153,168.83, police said.