By David Huck, Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 11:47 AM EDT
MANCHESTER — It wasn’t until resident Pamela Glasner traveled 1,300 miles to Florida to bury her mother last April that she began unraveling a web of mistrust in which she learned a complete stranger had embezzled her parent’s life savings.
Since the start of 2011, it is estimated that 11,000 Americans each day are turning 65 years old. With that aging population is a shifting of money from one generation to the next — and increasingly it is finding its way into the wrong hands.
Glasner’s story and others, including that of actor Mickey Rooney, are chronicled in her first film, “Last Will and Embezzlement,” which recently premiered in New York City to a packed theater and a standing ovation. In the documentary, the New York City-born author and filmmaker details how a man in his 60s had befriended Glasner’s parents, who were both in their 80s, at their local synagogue. In time, the stranger drew up a will giving him the ability to make all of Glasner’s parents’ financial decisions “unconditionally.”
Glasner’s father, a veteran who served during World War II in Normandy, France, died this year. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and was living in a nursing facility in the Orlando area. The couple had lived in Connecticut for years, but moved south for their retirement. Though the care facility was only a short drive away, Glasner’s mother was left isolated in their modest home. They had several hundred thousand dollars saved from the father’s pension as a former pharmacist in their checking and investment accounts.
Several days before their mother’s death in April 2011, Glasner’s brother called up the nursing home and said he was going to take care of his parent’s finances. Though Glasner has only one sibling, “The social worker said you don’t need to worry about it, your brother is taking care of it.” They learned that a new will had been generated by a man they would soon meet face-to-face.
“The day of my mom’s funeral in Orlando, the perpetrator came to my parents’ house and told me what he had done,” Glasner said. The man calmly explained that years earlier he had become executor of her parents’ will, had put his name on their checking account, and visited the nursing home where her father was and had the power of attorney transferred to his name. “He told me he was going to sell my parents’ house and put the proceeds into the checking account and said there is nothing you can do to stop me because I have more money than you and I can keep you tied up in court forever,” Glasner said. “And he was exactly right.”
She reported the incident to police — but by that point “everything had already been cleaned out of the accounts.” The detective said he spoke to the man and said he seemed like a really nice guy, Glasner said.
When the hospital gave their records to the chief state’s attorney’s office in Seminole County, that office said there was “insufficient evidence to warrant an investigation.” A paper trail was nowhere to be found — likely burned as part of a finely executed plan.
The perpetrator hasn’t been charged and the money hasn’t been recovered.
“Now looking back, I see the signs, but I didn’t at the time,” Glasner said. In hindsight, she says, she should have recognized something was wrong when her parents called and said they didn’t need her to fill out their tax filings any more.
Following her mother’s death, Glasner’s father’s health began deteriorating because the family couldn’t afford to transfer him to a more intensive care facility to help him recover from a bout of pneumonia.
Glasner said. “My parents died paupers. There was nothing left.”
Feeling helpless and having read a story about the millions of dollars that a member of Rooney’s extended family had embezzled, Glasner decided in the summer of 2011 to write her first film. She runs a production company called Starjack Entertainment with her friend and screenwriter, Deborah Louise Robinson, who lives in North Yorkshire, England.
“I said, you know what we really need to do is make a documentary about this because it’s a bigger problem than I made it out to be,” Glasner said to her friend soon after her mother’s death last year. “We wanted to make the point that this crime doesn’t know any bounds.”
The most common victim of these types of fraud schemes, Glasner says, are women between the ages of 80 and 89, alone, and generally dependent. The most common embezzler is a family member, followed by a stranger. A lack of security at the nursing home where the perpetrator frequently visited Glasner’s ailing father also played a role in keeping the fraud secret for several years.
During the incident, the perpetrator’s wife was also complicit in the scheme, having acted as a witness in the signing over of the power of the attorney, Glasner said. Pushing the case through court would have likely cost between $20,000 and $70,000 — money she didn’t have. “It was ridiculous big business, so I could never get the court to challenge those documents,” she said. “The perpetrators exist just within the law and exist with impunity because they know what the law is.”
In some states, Glasner says, there is a threshold where the “the state doesn’t even bother prosecution,” such as if the amount of embezzlement is less than $100,000.
Similar fraud cases happen to about 5 million seniors each year, in which a reported $2.9 billion changes hands, Glasner said. In some instances, the victim never reports it, for fear of being relocated to a nursing home due to perceived incompetence.
Glasner says the response to her film has been overwhelming, including positive reviews from Elizabeth Loewy, a prosecutor who works in the elder abuse unit of the New York County District Attorney’s Office, the office that investigated the fraud case involving the socialite Brooke Astor.
Other institutions, like Penn State’s law school, have purchased copies of the film, which was produced on a $130,000 budget, to screen for fraud courses. Another theatrical screening is scheduled for Los Angeles in early August, while a distribution deal is being worked out to bring it to a wide audience.
Glasner graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University with a degree in English after moving to the Nutmeg State at the age of 18. Her second film, a “rockumentary” that chronicles a heavy metal music festival in Leeds, England, is set to be released later this year or in early 2013. Her first book, “Finding Emmaus,” was released in 2009 and is a historical novel that covers the treatment and mistreatment of mentally ill patients over the course of 300 years. She is currently working on the second part of that trilogy.
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