Would You Be Willing To Report A Family Member For Financial Elder Abuse? The National Center on Elder Abuse noted that most abusers are family members. And they tell us that only 44 out of 1000 instances of abuse are reported to authorities. Why aren’t more cases reported to the very authorities capable of stopping the abusers? We must stop this $2.9 Billion dollar a year problem. If you know of someone being financially abused, please speak up! You can remain anonymous in your reporting, just as you can with any crime.
On March 14th, 2016 I received a panicked call from my mother in San Diego saying that she didn’t have enough money in her account to pay the rent. My 85 year old mother, Irma “Paquita” Hornedo, had been living by herself in a senior community and was receiving a subsidy that lowered her rent from the San Diego Housing Commission due to her low income. Her income during that time was a total of $1,802.14 per month from Social Security plus a small pension from the school district she had worked for. I told her to go to her bank and call me from there. She called me and with the aid of The bank’s rep we discovered that her account had been overdrawn and had dipped into her over-draft account because she had given a check of $1,000 to my youngest brother Sam on March 2nd. She had also given him a check for $500.00 back in February of 2016. I explained to my mother that this had to stop and that she couldn’t afford to keep helping my youngest (51 year old) brother in this way because she simply couldn’t afford to do this on her limited income. I explained that he was old enough to handle his own finances and shouldn’t have been depending on her. I extracted a promise from her that she wouldn’t give him any more money and I sent her a check for $500.00. At that time I had just been laid off. I contacted my middle brother, Elwin who lives in Texas and explained to him what I had discovered. He sent my mother a check for $1,000 to help her out. Elwin and I began planning a trip to meet in San Diego to help my mother out with managing her finances and any other help we could set up for her. We planned the trip for June of that year. I would be coming from Colorado and Elwin from Texas.
The last time I had seen my mother was the previous Thanksgiving. We had flown her to Texas to join Elwin’s family and my wife and my daughter and I so we could celebrate the holiday together. We had invited Sam and his family from San Diego as well but Christina, Sam’s wife said they couldn’t attend for financial reasons. I hadn’t seen my mother for a couple of years and I was astonished and heartbroken at how frail and skinny she looked. She had always been a slim person but when we weighed her with clothes on the scale came to 74lbs! We noticed that her short term memory was beginning to slip as well. We knew then that we would have to keep a closer watch on her and began to make general plans to start doing that. This would entail calling her more frequently and start thinking about getting her into an independent or assisted care facility. Then I received that call the following March.
After having learned that my mother had been giving money she didn’t have to give to my youngest brother Sam, I sent him the following email:
I know that we haven’t been the closest of brothers for which I take much of the blame. I know I could have attempted to reach out to you more over the years and I apologize for this. This grieves me and I wish that our family was closer. I know that you and Christina are currently having problems but I am also hopeful that you will work things out through the marriage counseling that you are both undergoing. I know that you were away from your family for a while and that this caused an estrangement between yourself and your daughters. I am very sorry to hear this as the most precious possessions we have are the relationships with our loved ones. I know this first hand because there was a time when Bianca and I were estranged. We have repaired that relationship and are now on great terms.
I hope that you know that I care about you as my youngest brother and as a brother in Christ. I hope you know that I am writing to you now out of a concern that is borne of that love. The truth is that I need to confront you about an important matter. I would rather speak to you about it over the phone but you have not returned my phone calls. Recently it came to my attention that you borrowed $1,000 from Mami a couple of months ago. My understanding is that you told her that you needed this money because you couldn’t pay your rent. The truth is that Mami didn’t have the money to spare either but yet she gave it to you not knowing how adversely it would impact her own finances. I am requesting that you return that money to her as soon as possible. It is obvious that a 51 year old son should not be asking his 85 year old mother for help with rent. If your finances are in such dire conditions, get some help but don’t go preying on a frail, easily taken advantage of 85 year old woman (your mother!).
Elwin and I are going to soon spend 3 days in June with Mami to help her get some things together. We may or may not see you but that may be a good time for a reconciliation between us. I certainly welcome that if you are open to it. I have heard that you are upset that we don’t communicate with you or keep you apprised of what it is we are planning in regards to our mother, but you should understand our reluctance to keep you in the loop: your recent behavior does not make you a trustworthy person in our eyes.
I know I should have confronted you earlier and that Elwin has already confronted you. I just hope that you take these rebukes the right way, not in anger and as an attack on you but as an opportunity to look within yourself, look to our Lord for help and begin healing your life.
Please know that I am praying for you and that I love you as a brother.
From the heart, your brother,
Sam never responded to this email but the day before Elwin and I were scheduled to arrive in San Diego, we received the following text from him:
“Hello, please do not make an effort to see me when you’re here. I have way too much other stuff going on and don’t want the additional stress. I’m firm on this and would appreciate you both to respect my wishes.”
I wasn’t going to get into an argument with him so I just responded: “NP bro. I’m praying for you.”
Well, Elwin and I had already made an appointment to take our mother to her Bank so that we could get on her accounts and more closely protect what little assets she had. We set up a joint account for all three of us in which only Elwin and I had control. We also got put on our mother’s account to be able to monitor it and transfer money to the joint account as needed. We started setting up automatic payments for her bills so that she wouldn’t have to concern herself with them. I had also previously contacted Jewish Family Services (JFS) in San Diego to send a representative to meet all of us together and do an evaluation of my mother’s capacities. We could also sign my mom up for services they provided such as transportation, home visits and food. This was scheduled for our visit. Finally, we scheduled and took her to see her doctor at Kaiser. I had previously made the arrangements for myself and Elwin to obtain medical Power of Attorney for her. We wanted to express our concern regarding my mother’s lack of weight and get the doctor’s opinion regarding the onset of dementia that my mother may have been experiencing.
The meeting with the evaluator from JFS went well. She thought that my mom was doing very well compared to other elderly folk she had visited. The doctor showed us the range of my mother’s weight over the years which tended to fluctuate in pounds between the low 70s to the mid-80s. At the time of the Doctor’s visit my mom had increased her weight to 80lbs which appeared to be within her norm. The doctor concluded that my mother was experiencing “age appropriate” memory loss. All of the above findings reassured us and we thought that we were starting to get things under control until we started looking at her bank account for the previous year and one half.
What a shocker that turned out to be. My mother had broken her promise to no longer help Sam financially. Not only that, we could never have imagined the extent to which she had been helping him. Between ourselves, we ended up calling my mom’s propensity to “help” Sam financially, his own personal ATM. When we started to look back in my mother’s checking account, we found that she had given him $13,525 since September of 2014 (this from a woman whose net income was less than $21,626 per year). Since we had sent her money to help her pay her rent in March, she had written him checks for $400 on May 20th and another one for $250 on June 7th, just two days before Elwin and I were scheduled to fly in and help her. We felt betrayed. With the money that we were giving her to help her out, she was turning around and subsidizing our youngest brother’s fiscal irresponsibility and dependence. When asked for an explanation, our mom stated that she was helping him because he was intimating that he couldn’t pay his rent. Needless to say, Elwin and I were very upset with our mother, our brother, and the whole situation.
Below is an excerpt of a list of checks my Mom gave Sam from September 2014 to May 2016:
|Amount||Date Check Written|
After we found out in March how Sam had been receiving money from my mother, my brother Elwin, emailed Sam that if he asked for another penny from her, he would report Sam to Adult Protective Services (APS) and to the San Diego Police Department’s Elderly Abuse Division. He did this in June when we found out that Sam was continuing to ask for and receive money (that she couldn’t afford to give). The APS case was assigned to Avery Ware who attempted to contact Sam who never returned any of his calls. Mr. Ware did eventually speak face to face with Sam and his wife Christina after he had filed a police report.
That Friday night, June 10th, 2016, Elwin and I were faced with a dilemma. That night, Sam’s wife, Christina, and Sam’s three daughters were coming over to visit with us at my Mom’s apartment. I was leaving to return to Colorado the next day. Should we tell Christina what we had discovered that very day about our brother’s financial abuse of our mom? We decided to hold off so that Andrea, Elwin’s spouse could call Christina and disclose our findings to her woman to woman. We didn’t know if Christina had been complicit in this abuse and we wanted to gauge her reaction when she heard the news. That last evening was difficult, holding a secret knowing what their husband and father had done. Sam’s oldest daughter Leia made a comment during the conversation which proved ironic. She was working and supporting herself and said something to the effect that she wasn’t depending on anyone financially. I thought to myself, “If you only knew what your father has been doing”.
Elwin and I have been criticized by Sam’s daughters for bringing this elderly abuse to light. They have stated that this is a private family matter and we shouldn’t be airing this dirty laundry. I can understand that. It is embarrassing and hard to believe that your own Dad is taking advantage of their grandmother in this fashion. When we found out the extent of the abuse, we were flabbergasted. With every revelation uncovered about how he had taken advantage of our mother, I couldn’t believe it and thought it couldn’t get worse but the facts are undisputable. We are publicizing this behavior by my youngest brother, Samuel A. Hornedo, (a worship leader in several Christian churches in the San Diego area) because he has not come forward to take responsibility for his actions even though he has been given many opportunities to come clean. Therefore, this is a cautionary tale about safeguarding our elderly parents who are often most vulnerable to abuse by their dearest loved ones.
This is only the beginning of the story. As we proceeded and investigated further, we discovered that there were hundreds of thousands of dollars missing from a trust account that my mother had set up. Writing my recollections of this story brings back feelings that I would rather not re-experience. Also, as we continue to write about it, many occurrences will read like fiction because they are hard to believe. We would often comment that we couldn’t make this stuff up. It is truly stranger than fiction.
By Miguel Hornedo