Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bilked by a grandson, man becomes face of new law

Scott Anderson
Dementia landed Perry Bitzel in the Gilman Healthcare Center more than a year ago. It also placed the 82-year-old under the legal guardianship of a family member who allegedly wiped out his bank accounts and sold two of his houses.

Perry was a victim of fraud, and charges have yet to be filed against one of his grandsons. He was one of many senior citizens throughout the United States who lose a combined $3 billion every year, according to past studies.

However, Monday marked a breakthrough. State Rep. Tom Bennett and Sen. Jason Barickman, whose district includes Livingston County, announced a bill, known as “Perry’s Law,” that would enable Perry and his family to move directly to civil court. It is awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature.

Previously, families or guardians would have needed formal charges to be filed before they could pursue a civil case.

“It’s a sad reality that the most vulnerable in our community are often targeted for financial abuse and fraud,” Bennett said. “To add insult to injury, the high burden of proof in criminal cases often discourages prosecution and leaves victims and their loved ones without a good way to seek justice and to recover financially.”

That’s how “Perry’s Law” started. Perry’s other grandson and current guardian, Shawn Bitzel, learned of the scheme after it was too late. The accused grandson sold Perry’s home behind his back for a measly $5,000.

“I was devastated when all of this happened,” Shawn said. “With this new law, we were able to find a positive in the situation. It helped me get back on my feet, and hopefully it will prevent other situations like this from happening.”

Shawn eventually repurchased the house and discovered further indications of fraud. He obtained temporary guardianship of Perry in December 2014 and permanent guardianship this March. Yet, his family has not recovered the other finances that were lost.

Shawn met with a relative, Susan Wynn-Bence, Perry’s niece who works under Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. She arranged a meeting with Bennett and Barickman that eventually led to the creation of “Perry’s Law.”

Barickman explained that the law removes a loophole that did not protect people similar to Perry. He said he encourages those who do not agree with certain laws to contact state representatives and senators.

“It’s our job to figure out how to make sure those problems don’t exist in the future anymore,” Barickman said.

Bennett said he is confident Rauner will sign the bill, and allow elderly fraud victims to find justice.

"This change will help those victimized get the justice they deserve and their finances restored," Bennett said. "By making those responsible financially liable for more than the actual damages they cause, it also sends a strong message to those who would target the most vulnerable members of our community."

If Rauner signs the law, Shawn said he hopes legislators in Springfield will print several copies of it and display it at every nursing home throughout the state so that people are aware.

“A lot of elderly people in our society sometimes become the forgotten,” Shawn said. “They are the ones who put up with more than we have today. They went through the Great Depression, the wars, the economy. I think it’s great that we are protecting them now.”

Shawn said his family intends to pursue a civil suit against the ne'er-do-well relative, who has been held at the Iroquois County Jail since late May on felony charges unrelated to Perry’s case.

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Bilked by a grandson, man becomes face of new law

1 comment:

StandUp said...

But what about immunity? Does the new law override that?