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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND--Taking advantage of an incapacitated adult would be a felony under a bill from Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford.
Stuart's bill was approved Monday by the Senate Court of Justice Committee, then sent to the Finance Committee because, if passed, it could cost the state money.
The bill is the culmination of several years of effort to find a way to crack down on people who would take advantage of adults whose capacity is diminished because of dementia or other problems, Stuart said.
The bill would protect not just the elderly, but any incapacitated adult, he said.
Stuart filed the bill last year and it was sent to the state crime commission. There, Stuart said, it was reworked to make sure it would catch actual fraud and abuse while not inadvertently criminalizing well-intentioned caregivers.
The proposal makes it a felony, punishable by at least a year and up to 20 years in prison, to deceive or intimidate an incapacitated adult into giving up control of the person's money, assets or property. It also makes it a different class of felony if a person who is a caregiver takes advantage of the person for whom they are caring.
Stuart said the measure could cover everything from fraudulent contractors who canvass neighborhoods selling unneeded home repairs, to caretakers who steal a mentally incapacitated person's money.
According to a crime commission report last November, financial crimes against those over 65 years of age increased by 18 percent between 2001 and 2007. Overall, state financial crimes increased 8.6 percent in that time.
A 2010 study interviewed 54 older adults in Virginia and their caseworkers, and analyzed the crimes and abuse they suffered. Among that group, victims averaged a loss of nearly $88,000 each.
In Virginia, larceny, embezzlement, larceny by trick and false pretenses are already crimes. According to the crime commission's report, law-enforcement officials in Virginia have successfully prosecuted clear cases of elder exploitation.
But the report said there can be many gray areas, such as when a person "is not clearly incompetent," or is convinced by a supposed friend to give gifts or money.
"It is a problem far more prevalent than will ever be reported," said Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, a member of the courts committee.
The bill is going to the finance committee because it has an undetermined fiscal impact. Creating a new felony means more people being sent to state correctional facilities to serve time for that crime.
Legislation passed last year requires that in cases where a cost is expected but can't be determined, lawmakers must assume a fiscal impact of $50,000.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028