Elder abuse squad getting slammed with cases

Published: Nov. 7, 2013 at 10:50 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2013 at 6:38 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Retirement should be spent on cruise ships and playing bingo, but police say, thieves see the golden years as golden opportunities.

Scams against the elderly are on the rise.  And there are so many different scams, police have a hard time keeping up.

Since 2008, elder abuse cases have risen almost 300%.

Honolulu Police and prosecutors teamed up that year to form an Elder Abuse Justice Squad.  The size of the squad has since doubled in 2010, then expanded again last year.

The unit does not just handle scams against seniors but also physical abuse and neglect.

"The elders do not complain," says Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. "When they are physically abused, they do not complain.  And when they do complain, people don't believe them."

Kaneshiro says he wants the world to know that Hawaii is not a place that ignores crimes against the elderly.

The unit has 9 attorneys and legal aids and 13 HPD detectives who work cases involving people 60 years and older.

"We decided, we're going to make this a rapid response team," says Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Spallina.  He is on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Anytime a person is arrested for a crime against a senior, he is notified.

Trying to prevent people from becoming victims, Spallina gives seminars.  Hawaii News Now was invited to one seminar at Kahala Mall.  Spallina told participants about the various crimes targeting the elderly and what they can do about it.

One example he used, Katy Sterio.  A woman convicted of taking tens of thousands of dollars from a 73-year old man she met in Downtown Honolulu.  Spallina says she told the man her friend needed surgery but the doctor would only take cash.   An alert bank teller called police when he tried to withdrawal more money.

Sterio was ordered to pay it all back, but clearly, the scam took it's toll on the victim.  He went to every court proceeding, walking slowly, sitting quietly, occasionally shaking his head. His family says they continue to get calls from others trying to take advantage of the man.

Cases like this are so common, stacks of manila folders fill Spallina's office.

Police Lt. John McCarthy says as soon as they solve one case, more are called in.

If you need help, or knows someone who does, call the Elder Abuse Unit at 808-768-7536 or click here for more information.

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