Justice Department hosts Summit on Elder Justice: Keeping Seniors Safe
Articles,  Blog

Justice Department hosts Summit on Elder Justice: Keeping Seniors Safe


Maria Chapa Lopez: Good morning again everybody.
My name is Maria Chapa Lopez and I’m the United States Attorney here in the Middle
District of Florida. We are very excited here this morning to welcome Attorney General William
Barr, thank you so much for being here this morning [Applause]; Assistant to the President
and Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway, thank you so much [Applause]; and Assistant to the
President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Mr. Joe Grogan, thank you so much
[Applause]. Welcome to all of you as well as our distinguished guests here in the audience,
our fellow U.S. attorneys from around the country and all of you, our special guests,
here today. Welcome to beautiful Sun City Center here in beautiful Tampa, Florida [Applause].
Yay. Together with my fellow U.S. Attorneys from the Northern District of Florida, as
well as the Southern District of Florida, and our law enforcement community partners
who have joined us here this morning, we’re gathered to discuss one of the Department
of Justice’s top priorities and that’s keeping all of you, all of our seniors, all of our
senior community safe. Today you will hear from an array of esteemed speakers about our
various efforts in the Department of Justice to keep our seniors safe. Moreover you’ll
learn how you can become a critical partner in helping us keep you safe. We would not
be here today without the assistance and hospitality of some very special people that I would like
to thank before we continue the program. I would like to thank the Sun City Center Community
Association [Applause] with a very special thanks to Lynn Wrights [Applause], thank you
so much for all the work you’ve been doing this morning, thank you; to Sam Sudman [Applause];
the Sun City Center Men’s Club; and the entire staff here at Sun City Center Community Hall.
Thank you. I’d also like to thank Deputy Jeff Merry and the entire Hillsborough County Sheriff’s
Office who were here early this morning, when I arrived early this morning, making sure
that the hall was safe and that it was secure, so thank you so much for your [Applause].
Now I would like to introduce Mr. Joe Grogan. Mr. Grogan currently, as I mentioned earlier,
currently serves as Assistant to the President and as Director of Domestic Policy Council
where he heads up the administration’s domestic policy agenda. Previously he served as Associate
Director for Health Programs at the Office of Management and Budget, managing the allocation
and budgeting of more than one trillion dollars in federal spending. In the private sector,
he worked in management at leading biotechnology firms such as Gilead Sciences Inc. and Amgen
Inc. During the administration of President George W. Bush, he served as both a civil
servant and in policymaking roles for more than seven years. He served as Executive Director
of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, Senior Advisor to the FDA Commissioner
and Special Assistant to the Administration for Children and Families. He is a graduate
of William and Mary School of Law and the University of Albany. Please welcome Mr. Joe
Grogan. Thank you. Joe Grogan: Thank you Maria and thank you
all for coming. It’s my pleasure to share the stage with the Attorney General and Kellyanne
Conway and to work on issues for this president that cross cut various federal agencies. Elder
fraud, elder abuse, making sure that our seniors are taken care of in quality health care facilities
is a priority for the Department of Health and Human Services, and it’s a priority for
this president. I have the opportunity to sit down with the President just about every
day, I’ll see him this afternoon, to talk to him about various issues that he wants
to address or that we want to help solve. I can tell you that he is always focused on
fixing problems that other administrations have ignored and standing up for people that
can’t fight for themselves. [Applause] He’s constantly bringing us problems and telling
us to stand up for people who are being taken advantage of or who are vulnerable. He’s not
reacting to polls or the latest fad or what’s the latest news story is, and he wants us
to fight for America’s seniors because far too often America’s seniors are taken advantage
of and nobody’s standing up for them. It’s one of the reasons why this initiative has
been so much, frankly, so gratifying to work on because he’s so focused on it and never
lets it stop and doesn’t want anything to get in our way. The Department of Health and
Human Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been focusing on
protecting the vulnerable by ensuring that Medicare is solvent, by keeping waste, fraud
and abuse out of the system. Other administrations come up with ways to save money in Medicare
by bringing forth proposals for seniors to sacrifice or seniors to pay more. This administration
is saying no. There is plenty of waste, fraud and abuse in the system and we should be focusing
on quality care for our nation’s seniors. We should be focusing on making sure [applause],
making sure that our dollars are devoted in the best way possible for quality care for
our seniors. It’s been our primary focus from the beginning. In his budgets that he sent
forth to Congress, you will not see cuts for seniors anywhere in there, no proposals for
increased cost sharing, proposals for reduced payments to companies, to providers, in various
aspects that are not providing quality care. That’s where all the funding cuts comes from.
When quality is not provided, people shouldn’t get paid for substandard care. As part of
that initiative, Seema Verma at CMS launched an icon to increase transparency on websites
to make sure that seniors who are looking at senior living facilities and nursing homes
can identify institutions that may be at risk for elder abuse or fraud. Every month, CMS
updates their database and puts on their web a listing of institutions that they’ve inspected
and those that they have identified that may be putting seniors at risk of fraud or abuse.
It’s doesn’t hang out there for six months or four months or a year and not get revisited.
Every month this website is updated so that seniors and their family members can help
shop for the best facilities for them. I want to make sure that people understand in this
focus on quality care how much the President, the Secretary of Health and Human Services,
Alex Azar, and Administrator Seema Verma spend on this issue. It is always top of mind when
they’re confronting policy issues. It is our number one health care agenda item, is to
make sure that money is not wasted and everything we spend money on is devoted to quality. It’s
a pleasure for me to work on this issue, as I said, with the Attorney General and Kellyanne
Conway. Kellyanne Conway has become one of my best friends in the White House because
she never loses energy, and whenever I have to go and seek help from somebody on an issue,
she’s willing to roll up our sleeves and help. She is out there on TV all the time defending
this President and our agenda. She always gives good advice, she’s a great person to
work with, and it’s a pleasure for me to be on the stage with her, let alone to introduce
her. Thanks very much. [Applause] Kellyane Conway: Thank you very much, Joe
Grogan. Hello Sun City, thank you for being here today. I also would like to acknowledge
and thank Attorney General Bill Barr for being with us today. Maria thank you so much for
that lovely introduction of all of us. And to all the law enforcement and first responders
with us today, veterans especially, a special shout out to each and every one of you. But
we’re here to give you specifics. This is very simple. This is about protecting our
seniors from pernicious, predatory behavior, both financial, physical and often emotional.
And we’re also here to punish those who are doing the preying on our seniors. We have
had, [Applause] thank you. President Trump and his entire administration is committed
to protecting elders from the criminal enterprises that increasingly are on the dark web, the
open web and also overseas hiding beneath many layers online and offline. They are difficult
to detect and difficult to bring to justice but that will not stop us from seeking justice
and compensation to make sure our seniors are not victim any longer to these type of
criminal enterprises [Applause]. Too many of our seniors in this country are unwittingly
one click away on the computer or one phone call away from having their entire life savings
wiped out. And in some times these calls take the nature of inviting you to invest money
or to claim a big lottery prize, and other times they are specifically meant to harm
and frighten you. “You must send me this amount of money now to pay these taxes or
pay this bill or else” and then there’s usually a threat at the other end of the phone.
This has totaled about 1.8 billion dollars in losses and has affected over, well, millions
and millions of seniors nationwide including here in Florida in Sun City just since 2018
alone. So, what have we done and what would we like to do about it? One thing that passed
in 2018 is called the Senior Safe Act and that went a pretty good way. It’s a bipartisan
initiative, it went a pretty good way to incentivizing financial institutions to help us, to ferret
out the fraud ahead of time or as it’s happening. So if there are large withdrawals occurring,
unusual or irregular financial activity in a senior’s account, these financial institutions
now have both protection from prosecution and civil action, and also an incentive to
help, to report this to the FBI and to other local and federal law enforcement agencies.
We’re trying to fix that through new legislation, and again, this is a nonpartisan issue starving
for bipartisan solutions. And so the new fix would basically enhance penalties and put
a ten year penalty, up to ten additional years, for any telemarketing or email scams that
target anybody over the age of 55. Now, respectfully, I’m 53, so when I read that I said, oh, I
thought this was for the elders but okay. [Laughter] Maybe this is for the seniors and
what I would call the junior seniors who aspire to be seniors. We realize that the original
legislation did not adequately address big schemes, far reaching schemes, like the Jamaican
lottery system and impersonation fraud schemes which are often increasingly some of the most
lucrative. We are always trying to stay a couple steps ahead of these very innovative,
very punishing and unforgiving, pretty creative, and pretty ruthless and craven-brazen criminal
enterprises. In addition, my colleague Joe Grogan mentioned the Centers for Medicare
and Medicaid Services, so my message is to remind each of us that President Trump said
he will not touch Medicare and Medicaid, and my message to people who are in assisted living,
in nursing homes, in banking, we’re not touching Medicaid and Medicare for seniors, and you’re
not touching the seniors anymore. That is my message to them. Hands off the seniors.
[Applause] But just a few months ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
launched a successful antifraud initiative and technology and the twenty five, I’m sure
that’ll make you a superstar tonight, but I’m here for the seniors. It’s easy to be
loud, it’s much more difficult to do something about it and we’re here to do something about
it. [Applause] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the top 25 participants
selected to advance a stage one of the Artificial Intelligence Health Outcomes Challenge and
this directly talks about what we’re doing here to keep patients healthy including our
great seniors. This engages with innovators from all sectors and I think it’s such an
important initiative for another reason. We in the federal government don’t expect to
and don’t want to do this alone. We are calling on the private sector, obviously financial
institutions, but other private sector actors who wish to help, in addition to our law enforcement
and our community-based actors. We really feel like those closest to the people in need
know best how to administer to those needs. And one thing I would ask each and every one
of you to do today is to become an ambassador for these messages and for these initiatives.
Because if people see you they’re going to say, “Hey, I like you, and you’re like me.
We have a connective tissue. You also are a senior living in this part of Florida, or
you know someone who’s been a victim of these fraudulent, pernicious, predatory schemes
and now you have information to help them become whole.” Also, I’m happy to tell you
that in our latest budget, the President’s latest budget, there’s 7.2 million additional
dollars in funding to help support a Transnational Elder Justice Strike Force, and we are going
to be having, either at the White House or out on the road with the President, hopefully
the Attorney General will be there as well, I know he will be, an Elder Justice Summit
either out in the country somewhere or certainly at the White House so that we can bring to
bear additional action. [Applause] Yes. We’re increasing penalties for those who illegally
smuggle large sums of cash, including money fraudulently obtained from the seniors. We’re
making it easy to freeze the assets of those offending bank accounts and also those who
are concealing the laundering of elders’ money. And also, we’re working increasingly
with those in the know to help make our seniors whole. Sometimes the restitution in making
you whole, restoring you to where you were, takes longer than you would wish, but this
is something that’s very important to us. You deserve the financial and physical security
and safety, and the dignity of knowing that your assets are indeed your assets. I have
discussed, as Joe Grogan and the Attorney General have discussed, this issue directly
with the President of the United States. He’s very focused on elder abuse in our assisted
living and nursing home facilities. He’s very focused on the financial fraud and very excited
that much like the VA hotline that we put up in the White House, Veterans Hotline a
couple of years ago, that we’re going to have a brand new hotline committed to elder
fraud. Please share that, please write that down somewhere, please give it to everyone
you can think of. It takes you a couple of seconds, and you may just be able to be a
part of the solution as well. So I would like to thank you all again for having us and give
you, redouble our commitment on behalf of President Trump and our entire administration,
to work in safeguarding our seniors and their assets. And it gives me great pleasure to
introduce today Attorney General Bill Barr [Applause]. Yes. He was confirmed as the 85th
U. S. Attorney General last Valentine’s Day, over a year ago, and you’d have to go back
to the Millard Fillmore administration and John Crittenden to find somebody who’s the
only other person in American history to do what Bill Barr has done, which is to serve
as our Attorney General twice, for two different administrations. The Attorney General is a
native New Yorker with his undergraduate degree from Columbia University. His career has spanned
the public and private sectors. He has worked on many, many different matters that have
directly affected and impacted the United States whether it be on civil rights, cyber
security, detecting fraud and abuse. He’s currently working doggedly on trafficking
of humans, of drugs, of firearms, and I also have had a real pleasure working with the
Attorney General and his large team at the Department of Justice on our crisis next door,
the poly drug crisis of opioids, meth, heroine, and the like and fentanyl. And I also want
to say that here we are on the stage today, Mr. Attorney General, but 28 years ago, this
May, the Attorney General was the commencement speaker at my law school graduation. [Laughter]
We actually went to the same law school. So from there to here, it’s been a straight line
of 28 years. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure and privilege to introduce
the 85th and the 77th Attorney General of the United States, Bill Barr. [Applause] Attorney General Bill Barr: Thank you very
much. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you Kellyanne and Joe
for all you do to help us at the Department of Justice. I do like to say that I am the
first person to be Attorney General in two different centuries [Laughter]. I’d like to
thank the Honor Guard and the Choir for the presentation and of colors and musical interlude
[Applause]. I’d like to thank all of my colleagues in federal law enforcement and state and local
law enforcement, as well as all of you who are sharing time with us today. And I’d like
to thank you for your commitment to keeping seniors safe. Today’s event highlights what
I am personally very committed to and what the Department of Justice is very committed
to and that is protecting our senior citizens from abuse and from predatory fraudulent schemes.
I’m very proud of the work that the Department has been doing, and I’m pleased that today
I have several announcements to make in this area. Let me start with the problem of fraud.
As people live longer, fraud directed at our senior citizens has become an increasingly
serious problem. In fact, it’s been mushrooming over the past several years. According to
one report of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial scams and other crimes targeted
at our senior citizens quadrupled since 2013. It’s involved more than $6 billion dollars
of losses. With the advent of the internet and other technology, the elderly have become
especially vulnerable. What makes these crimes particularly heinous is not just the vulnerability
of the victims, it’s not just that it involves an abuse of trust, but rather that due to
the victim’s stage of life, it is frequently impossible for them to recover the financial
loss. And this means a devastating impact on the victims. These victims should be in
their golden years having worked very hard to save up for retirement and frequently their
life savings are just taken from them by these cold-blooded fraudsters. This is why the administration
has made attacking this particular form of fraud which as I say, has been mushrooming,
as one of our highest priorities. Shortly before I was appointed to serve as Attorney
General, something happened that drove home to me both the viciousness of this crime and
why we had to really tackle it full on. I myself was used as a lure in a scam. I was
sitting one day in my family room and the phone rang and like many of us I let it go
to voicemail and I heard on the voicemail that it was a reporter, which made me even
more determined not to pick up the phone. But I listened as she left a message and she
said you know, Sir we you aware that you were being used as a lure for scams directed at
senior citizens. So I called her right back and she laid it out for me. My official photograph
from when I was attorney general in 1991 and 1992 was being put on websites and people
were being told that because of my vast experience and connections with government, I was able
to secure federal grants for people and all they had to do was send me some money and
I would arrange for these federal grants. And at that time I started noticing I was
getting calls at my law firm office and some of the people I talked to, others left messages,
and it was really heart wrenching. People called with desperate hope that this was real,
they had already put their money into it, or others called and said they were embarrassed
and ashamed that they fell for it they didn’t hold me responsible but they wanted suggestions
of what they should do about it and just wanted me to know about it. I remember one woman,
I had a very nice conversation with her down in a rural part of Georgia, and she and her
husband had lost her entire life savings to this scam. So that crystalized the issue for
me and when I got to the Department, I wanted to make sure that this was one of our highest
priorities to go after this. Now, before I arrived, the president had already taken steps
to confront this evil. He signed into law in 2017 the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution
Act to improve the Justice system’s response to victims of elder abuse and exploitation.
And then the following year he signed an executive order that established a task force within
the Department, which placed new emphasis on this problem. The problem especially of
cyber fraud and fraud targeting the elderly. We have established, in our main justice headquarters
in Washington, a national coordinator for elder justice and we have lead prosecutors
in every single one of our ninety-four U.S. Attorney districts, who are also the lead
in prosecuting and pursuing elder fraud in those districts. And we have aggressively
been bringing both criminal and civil enforcement actions throughout the country. Now, last
year we had the largest Elder Fraud Sweep ever conducted. And I was proud to announce
the results of it in March, it involved more than 260 defendants who victimized more than
two million Americans and caused more than 750 million dollars in losses. When I announced
these results, I vowed that we were gonna escalate our actions and so I am proud to
announce that the Department and its Law Enforcement partners have fulfilled that promise. This
year’s Elder Fraud Sweep involved over four hundred defendants from around the globe.
Fifty four percent increase over the previous year and an excess of one billion dollars
in losses. And I am proud of the fact that every single one of our ninety-four U.S. Attorney’s
Offices were involved in these cases. And that shows I think the breadth and depth of
the Department’s commitment on this issue. And I’ll pledge we will continue this fight.
So as we have been working closely with our Law Enforcement colleagues but also from our
friends in the private sector, banks and other companies, it became clear to us that a substantial
part of this fraud against elders is conducted by transnational criminal organizations. And
for that reason, we have now expanded our Law Enforcement efforts to have global reach.
Last June, I announced the establishment of the Transnational Elder Strike Force. This
is a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the
Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in six of our
districts, the F.B.I., and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and other organizations.
The strike force has been investigating and prosecuting individuals who are involved with
foreign based fraudulent schemes that target Americans. And impressively already, since
last June, one quarter of the sweep results I announced were due to the work of this international
strike force. Now, where we can, we like to charge people criminally but we also made
effective use of our civil enforcement tools. Just last month, for example, the government
filed landmark civil actions for temporary restraining orders against five companies
and three individuals allegedly responsible for carrying out hundreds and millions of
fraudulent robocalls. Those led to massive financial losses across the nation. In a one
week period, they placed over thirteen million fraudulent calls in Florida alone. The complaints
alleged that the defendants ignored numerous warnings that the calls carried over their
system, facilitated foreign-based fraudulent schemes targeting Americans. The complaints
against the alleged defendants, alleges that the alleged defendant carried out an astronomical
number of robocalls most of which originated in India. Another line of attack been for
us to go after, has been the money flows as it goes back to the fraudsters. And last year,
I announced an effort targeting what we call money mulls, money mull activity. Money Mulls
assist fraudulent schemes by receiving the money from the victim and then taking it and
funneling it back to the foreign-based perpetrators. During a two month initiative, U.S. Law Enforcement
disrupted Mull Networks that span from Hawaii to Florida, and from Alaska to Maine. Actions
were taken to take down six hundred domestic money mulls. The Department has now tripled
the number of criminal prosecutions brought against money mulls as compared to the prior
year. The Department is also fully engaged with other government agencies and with our
private partners to expand our outreach to our seniors. Currently, only one in forty-four
cases is reported. One way to increase this is to increase awareness of the problem and
to that end, we are committed by the end of next Fiscal Year conducting at least 375 elder
fraud related events for state and local law enforcement and local government two hundred
and seventy five events with senior citizens organizations, and one hundred and fifty such
events with industry groups and their representatives. Unfortunately, the victimization of our elders
is not limited to financial predation. We’re very concerned about physical abuse and neglect
of our seniors. Over the past few years, the department has uncovered horrifying examples
of certain nursing facilities where seniors are being mistreated, undernourished, and
neglected. These incidents are extremely unsettling and I will not get too graphic about them,
but frankly when the evidence was reviewed with me it was nauseating to see it. Suffice
it to say that we encountered nursing homes where residents were literally being eaten
away by scabies, where patients were left with bedsores down to the bone, where prescribed
medication is not being given to the patients, who are left screaming in pain for hours on
end. And we have found facilities that are just unfit for living, plagued by filth, mold,
insects, and rodents. As you know the president has repeatedly pledged to help and to provide
hope to forgotten Americans, and as part of that commitment I’m now announcing the launch
of the department’s National Nursing Home Initiative. This will be a comprehensive Department
of Justice effort led by our Elder Justice Initiative and in strong partnership with
the Department of Health and Human Services, and together we will use every available tool
we have to pursue nursing homes that provide grossly substandard care to their residents.
In fact, we have initiated investigations into approximately 30 individuals – individual
nursing facilities – in 9 different states. We already have gotten that far. Mark my words,
this initiative will bring justice to those owners and operators who put profits over
patients and it will help to ensure that residents of nursing homes receive the care to which
they are entitled. Now, I want to point out, and I want to stress,
that none of this is an indictment of the assisted living industry as a whole. There
are many terrific facilities out there managed by wonderful people and dedicated staff and
to be sure, most of them are doing a fine job delivering the care their residents need
and deserve. But, unfortunately, there are some very bad apples out there, who were abusing
seniors and we are set on figuring out exactly who they were and putting an end to it. The
criminals, who perpetrate these crimes, depend on their victim’s silence. Victims routinely
report feeling embarrassed and ashamed having fallen for these ploys. However, we must act
and speak up. Moreover, we must do a better job of making assistance readily available
to seniors, who are the potential victims of these scams. So, I’m pleased to announce
the launch of the department’s National Elder Fraud Hotline. It will provide services
to adults age 60 and over, who may be the victims of financial fraud. English, Spanish,
and other languages will be available. The hotline will be staffed by experienced case
managers, who can provide personalized support to callers. Case managers will assist callers
with reporting suspected fraud to relevant agencies and by providing resources and referrals
and information appropriate to the circumstance. When applicable, case managers will complete
a complaint form with the FBI and submit consumer complaints to the FTC. The number is 1-833-FRAUD-11,
that’s 1-833-372-8311. Reporting is the first step. It can help authorities identify
those who commit fraud, which can then prevent others from being victimized. To be sure,
the ongoing campaign against elder fraud and abuse is a collaborative effort and it will
require all of us working together. It will demand a close partnership between the government
agencies and the public sector and the private sector. Everyone has to do their part. If
you’re a local banker, who spots something fishy, call. If you’re a cashier, who sees
a senior buying gift cards in bulk, step forward and say something. If you are a local sheriff
that notices some abnormal trends, take action. If you work in a nursing facility or an EMS
and see something out of the ordinary, report it. We will continue to prosecute an all-out
attack on elder fraud and abuse. As long as I am Attorney General, this will be a priority.
Seniors are a cherished part of our society and we must treat them as such. In a special
message to Congress in 1963, President John F. Kennedy noted that “Longer lifespans
offer distinct opportunities for our nation, namely the chance to draw upon the skill and
sagacity of our senior citizens and to, in return, provide the respect and recognition
they have earned.” He continued, “It is not enough for a great nation merely to have
added new years to life. Our objective must also be to add new life to those years.”
Thank you to all the U. S. attorneys, our elder justice coordinators, our trial attorneys,
and the thousands of state and local law enforcement officers across the country, who have fought
hard to continue this effort, and they should take great pride in the results we’ve already
achieved. Again, thank you for your time this morning, for all you do in the pursuit of
justice. It means a lot to millions of people. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *