Revisited, The Elder Abuse Tale

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I have not posted for this blog for quite a while. The reason was that I was in the process of a career change and directed all of my energy towards that goal. I am re-posting this as a refresher of what had transpired at the end of my mother’s life. I am doing this not only as a journal of what happened but also as a way to hopefully help and guide others who are or have experienced in their family Financial Elder Abuse. The cautionary tale…

I want to write a cautionary tale of what has transpired in the past 2 years, but I do not know where to start. Should I start at the end like I did for my mother’s eulogy and hit the important items I want to convey? I have been writing this in my head for a while now, processing the events leading up to this moment.

My deceased mother was the victim of Elder Abuse at the hands of my younger brother Sam Hornedo and his wife Christina. They have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from her, that left her almost penniless with very little left to live on.  My older brother Miguel and I discovered that my mother was writing checks to Sam that she could not afford to write.  It turns out Sam would come crying to her for years that he could not pay his rent.  So, she would sometimes write him multiple checks monthly totaling $2000. She was on a fixed income where she would clear approximately $1800. So how could she possibly afford to “give” him money?

In 2000 at the start of the California Housing boom, she sold her house and cleared $180,000. In 2001, my father died and part of their divorce decree was that he had to have a life insurance policy of $150,000 payable to her. Prior to that, she had received $40,000 from the sale of a Florida house she got in the divorce. All in all, $370,000. She lived in an elderly community where her rent was anywhere from $550/mo to $800/mo depending on subsidies from the San Diego Housing Commission. After receiving the money, she bought herself a 2000 Honda Civic for $13,000 and gave each of us $2000.

So, the breakdown of her money is as follows:

Home Sales:   $220,000
Insurance:      $150,000
Total:              $370,000
Honda+Gifts ($ 19,000)
Remainder:  $351,000

So, through research and forensic accounting we have confirmed that over $134,000 in checks and cash were taken by Sam and Christina and we cannot find the remaining $217,000. We think it disappeared between 2010 and 2012 when Sam got my mother to redo her will and made him the Trustee of her trust. We believe that when he was the trustee he plundered her remaining accounts and hid the money. When my mother discovered this, she changed the trust and made my older brother the trustee again.  I will continue to write about our experiences in dealing with this issue.  They say that truth is stranger than fiction and I could not have made this stuff up.  Some of it is so ridiculous that it is funny and some of it incredibly sad and beyond belief. Stay Tuned!

The Reveal

200wElder financial exploitation is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, with the emphasis on crime.  Elder financial exploitation (abuse) involves the wrongful act of taking money or property and can be committed through scams, fraud or other means (embezzlement, identity theft, etc.) The perpetrators may include family members, caretakers, online or telephone fraudsters, financial managers, social contacts or service providers.

I know, I know I left you hanging last time and that wasn’t fair…El has been hounding me to get on the ball writing about the phone call. I hate feeling the way I do when I rehash this stuff even though, as I mentioned in my first post, my deepest hope is that it will help someone catch signs (earlier) with their loved one. So, write I will. One thing I do want to say is, in reflecting on how things were handled from all sides, I will be honest with you about how I or we could’ve said or done things differently so that maybe you can also use that information to have a more effective outcome than we did.

OK, the first call to Christina Hornedo.

Where I left you before was when Elwin and Miguel were in San Diego to take Irma to doctor appointments, get her assessed and to plan the next steps in caring for her. At that time, they began the discovery process of just what had been going on with her finances. Since Christina and the girls were visiting the guys at Irma’s apartment, they had decided to keep the visit positive to protect her, and the grand-kids, by not bringing this up in their presence.

Once the boys returned to their respective home cities, and we received additional information from Citibank and Adult Protective Services, a call to Christina was planned. We were devastated at what had come to light and decided that I would initiate the conversation with Christina. Since she had told me about Sam’s indiscretions that I detailed in my last post, we figured if she didn’t know anything and I reached out to her, woman-to-woman and wife-to-wife, then I could more gently break the news to her. But, if this information wasn’t a surprise to her, well…then we wanted to determine what she knew about the financial theft. We strategized our wording to leave things open-ended enough so that her initial response would be very telling. Indeed, it was. A week after the guys returned from San Diego, I set the call on speakerphone while Elwin listened and Miguel was silently conferenced in. Elwin took notes on what was said. We have reconstructed the following from those notes and filled in any gaps from Elwin’s, Mickey’s and my memories.

1 tpcChristina answered the phone and I asked if she had a few minutes to talk. She said, “I need to take my youngest daughter to the doctor.” I asked if everything was okay with her and after she told me what was going on and I asked her to call me back later when she had some time to talk. At this point she asked, “What’s this about?” I started by stating that “Something had been discovered and out of respect for her, I wanted to give her the courtesy of having the conversation, wife-to-wife.” She pressed and asked, “What’s going on?” so I said, “It’s come to light that Sam has been taking money from Irma.” Christina: “What are you talking about?” Defensively, she pushes back “Why is it any of your business?!?!” More a statement than a question. I said, “Well it became our business when Irma called us freaking out because she didn’t have enough money for her [$540] rent payment, and we had to send her $1,500 to bail her out because of the money Sam had taken from her.

Yeah, you read that right just $540.00 dollars…. not much at all for a woman who lived as austerely as Irma had. Irma cleared over $1,800.00 every month in her social security and pension since she retired (I’m not even accounting for her income when she was working so it really was much more until she retired). Since the year 2000, she had a minimum of $200,000 dollars in savings from the sale of her house; plus, in 2001 added another $150,000 from a life insurance payout. On top of all that, since 2002, we had been sending her another anywhere from $120 to $500/month consisting of repayment of a loan to us (including 7% interest rate we insisted upon, until repayment was complete). Just an aside, we felt paying her interest on her loan to us was the honorable way to do things. Since she would normally have had the amount she loaned us sitting in a bank or money market account earning between ½% – 5%, we insisted the 7% rate was the right thing to do to make sure her money was still working for her even though we were the borrowers. Just sayin’.

So, Irma had $540 in rent and maybe another $300 – $500 in expenses (Kaiser, car insurance, landline, cable, Electric) and a little bit of money for lunch with a friend or a small gift. She was always incredibly careful with how much she spent. Remember she had almost 400K in money market CDs.

This is her monthly income on top of savings.

$1,800 +  (Social Security and pension income)
$  300 + (Payment from us for the loan from 2002-2014)
$????.?? Interest income on the ~$400,000.00  she had in long-term CD/money market acct. (although, the interest was supposed to get reinvested each month she could have conceivably accessed the interest without ever touching the principle)
$2,100/monthly  Conservatively total income.
($1,100) Bills and discretionary expenses (let’s be generous)
$1,000/Month  Overage of this amount every month since at least July 2001, would have gone to savings in early years and on top of the hundreds of thousands that she already had invested.
Where did all that overage go?

Sorry, I digressed.

My point? Not only should Irma have had enough for her rent, but conceivably on top of her hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings, she should have had another $210,000 just sitting in her bank account. And she was calling us for $540.00. So yes Christina…you made this our business.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

1 countSo, Christina doesn’t think it should be any of our business. I then said, “Would it surprise you if I told you it was $5,000 this past year?” She replied, “That’s between her and Sam”. So, I said “What about “$10,000?” She replied, “I don’t know, again if she gives us money that her prerogative and again I just don’t see why this is any of your business?” I replied “Again, you guys made it our business when she couldn’t cover her bills because she was giving you her money.  And actually, just what we’ve found from this past year alone, is $16,000 …between clearing everything out of Irma’s bank account plus approximately $3,000 in overdraft Loans and Fees! Now she has no money to pay her bills and you’ve left Irma in a position needing to call Elwin and Miguel to pay for her expenses, so yeah, it’s our business now.”

Christina said, “I don’t know what Irma gives to Sam that’s between her and Sam” and “we have separate bank accounts because Sam would spend money before paying bills and checks would bounce for our bills, so I don’t know what she gives him.” I asked, even though we now knew the answer, I wanted to hear it out of her mouth, “Christina, you know how much he makes where do you think the $2,700/month for rent came from?” Nothing…… So I continued, “On top of that, Sam has been fraudulently using Irma’s credit cards! He apparently has sent some woman money multiple times from Irma’s credit card account.” Ah, now she’s interested… ”What woman?” she asks. I tell her.

I just thought I’d give you the courtesy of letting you know all of this and that Adult Protective Services (APS) has been informed.” Christina blows up “I’m gonna be really mad if things go legal!” I asked her “Who would you get mad at?” Her answer, “I don’t know.” I explained to her that Elwin had warned Sam back in March that if he continued to take money from their mother that he would contact APS.  Searching for an excuse she then says “You know Sam was never taught how to handle money and he’s not good with it, that’s not his fault! No one ever taught him how.” (she learned through their own accounts and the many bounced checks and overdrafts that he had no concept of how to handle money and she had to take over the finances). I said to her, “Christina, just because no one taught Sam how to handle money, doesn’t absolve him of learning financial responsibility! Nor does it excuse stealing it from his 85-year-old mother. You wouldn’t do this to your own father or mother, but have no problem doing it to Irma?!?!?!?

1 Just…. And then here comes the justification: “Well, we’re here and we take care of her.” which is pretty ironic coming from Christina because Irma had always told us, her friends, and other family that they never came around much (except for the holidays and birthdays, or whenever Irma went to their place because they used her as a built-in babysitter). We later found out from Irma that Sam would come around at least once a month to get money, not to visit, not to help her out with appointments or just visit. At that point, I mentioned about Irma’s Diminished Capacity she said that they had noticed that for the last few years (soooo…. you continued to take advantage of someone when you knew she was experiencing diminished mental capacity?).  At that point, Christina said “Look, I have to take my daughter to the doctor, I can’t deal with this right now.” I said, “That’s fine I just wanted to give you the courtesy of having this conversation, so you wouldn’t be blindsided.” (which clearly shouldn’t have been a concern on our part since she knew about getting money from Irma all along!). End of call.

The next day Elwin, Miguel and I were on the phone talking about the conversation that I had with Christina when the APS case worker called and we conferenced him in.  He stated that Sam had not returned his calls. We told him that Christina knew about the money and had mentioned that she had been aware of Irma’s diminished capacity for some time.  After hearing this, the APS case worker informed us that he was going to submit a criminal report for Financial Elder Abuse implicating Sam Hornedo.

Two days later after trying to get a hold of Miguel and Elwin, Christina called me.  She was angry that a police report/investigation had been opened.  She was not happy and proceeded to inform me that the she had spoken to Irma and had gotten the APS case workers phone number and called him.  He asked her questions regarding the money and then informed her that a police report had been submitted on the matter.  We had another long conversation basically rehashing the situation and I honestly told her how I felt regarding this matter. The conversation ended amicably but it finally proved that Christina knew what was going on all along and was complicit in this situation.

And there it is folks. In black and white.

2 call

How to Talk Honestly About Money With Your Family

1 alDiscussing financial topics with aging parents can be uncomfortable, but it’s so important.

Protecting the Elderly From Financial Abuse1 sign

Elder Financial Exploitation (Abuse) Reporting Requirements …

Continue reading The Reveal

The Difficult Truth

I’ve been putting off writing this, in part because so many of the things that transpired are incredibly upsetting and in part because no justification can excuse what Sam and Christina Hornedo did to Irma. I know we can only change what happens in the future, but I can’t help but wish things had happened differently, that we’d moved Irma out-of-state to our home, that we’d been able to improve her care, that we could have prevented the emotional and financial abuse. But here we are now, missing Irma terribly, and left with answers that are painful and excuses that leave you speechless. Rather than taking any adult responsibility for their lives, Sam & Christina instead opted to fleece a woman in her 80’s, living on a fixed income, of all her life savings AND monthly income, so that they could live a lifestyle beyond their means. I know writing is cathartic but more importantly it is my deepest hope that any of the things we share with you might help you to catch the signs as early as possible if someone you care about is being taken advantage of or suffering financial abuse.

1 comp 1Facts and Premonitions

I utterly adored Irma and have always said I was so lucky to get a second mother who was such a kind and lovely person. I have many wonderful memories of times we shared together, with other family, hers and mine, but especially treasure the talks we shared just between the two of us. But I get ahead of myself…first, I have to jump back to November 2015 when she came out for Thanksgiving, before we had any inkling of the abuse that was going on. What I write here is not to gossip but to lay the groundwork for understanding everything that took place with regard to Irma, her money, and the continued threat to her emotional and physical well-being leading up to her death.

At the time, I’d had a long conversation with Christina when I’d called to invite them to join us for Thanksgiving at our house, where they could Join Irma and bring the kids, have most of the cousins together and to stay with us for some family fun and bonding. What she’d told me on the phone was saddening but not surprising, given Sam’s track record of past behavior. Apparently, Sam had already moved out and they were separated as result of his constant lying, lack of financial restraint with their income, and his bastardizing the Church doctrine as an excuse to tamp down Christina’s strong and outspoken nature. Christina detailed Sam’s history of lying, of blowing through their finances on his electronics, Star Wars stuff, sixteen electric guitars, motorcycles, etc., his failing to tell her when their house was being foreclosed in 2010, until days before the bank was to take it. Since then, as a result of losing their home, she had to get much more involved in managing the finances to make sure their essential expenses got paid before the rest of the money was spent on lifestyle stuff. Sams bad behavior apparently continued. More recently he had come home and said, “hey we’re gonna go pick up a car,” that he’d bought from someone at his church I believe, but hadn’t discussed it with her prior (because he was the head of the household so why would he?). So Christina had to get even more involved in the finances and ultimately taking them over. Despite attempts at counseling with a pastor over these issues, Sam refused to change his ways. Irma always told me that Sam and Christina argued intensely, and that Christina was strong-willed and hotheaded. So, it was no surprise that she refused to accept his attempt at lording over her. Some years before they had drifted away from a church they went to as a family. The arguing continued, and by the time she and I had this conversation in 2015, she didn’t even know where Sam was staying, but said that Julia (their daughter) was so furious with Sam because of all the crap he pulled and that she wanted nothing to do with her father. 

“A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went” – Dave Ramsey

People ask me how we didn’t catch the financial abuse of Irma sooner given these things we knew about Sam? Here’s the truth about that…I don’t judge others for making financial mistakes…in the past, we’d made a lot of financial mistakes ourselves. In my early twenties, as a result of not managing our money properly, or living beneath our means, we screwed up big time and our home was foreclosed on. The situation was more complicated than the typical story (the bank made a change on the loan via a loophole), but that doesn’t change the fact that we needed to grow up and not spend every penny we made). Simple math, we didn’t have the money to resolve it so we lost our home, which really sucked, but it was a big lesson in life about needing to live beneath our means and not be caught unaware in the future. Unfortunately, even after beginning to straighten up our financial lives, the consequences of our lack of budgeting were still coming to fruition. One night at 4 a.m. the repo man came for my car. I called my dad crying as this was happening and he yelled over the phone “God damn it, Andrea, you can’t have things you don’t pay for!” and then hung up on me. He was right, and although I didn’t like it, it was one of the best life lessons I have ever had.

That humiliating experience really made me determined to improve our money skills and make sure we had enough money put aside to cover our bills. Since those days, I’ve become a huge fan of natural consequences in life… for ourselves, in raising children, etc. We had to pay dearly for another fifteen years to clean up the mess we made, and in some ways, we’re still paying for those mistakes today because we could be so much more financially stable than we are now and in the future, but, well…natural consequences of our actions.

Anyhow, I have a dear friend that had around $70k in law school debt and she had utilized Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (TMM) and really sacrificed to become completely debt-free in just 2-3 short years. Not long after, her mom became terminally ill and because she had no debt, she was able to move to another state and care for her mom until she passed away. The time she was able to spend with her mom without the stress of needing to spend half her days at a job to pay bills… well, you can never get back! That had a massive impact on me; there is no number of things, owning toys, that could match the value of being able to spend that time with someone you love, time that could never be recuperated.  So around ten years after losing our home, we too turned to the Dave Ramsey TMM to clean up our budgeting even more, in hopes we would be able to save for the future, and really get right with money all around.

Newsflash! Emergencies in life will always happen, count on it!

1 emergencies-of-life-instead-of-og-mandino-118552It took a long time for me to figure out that it is less stressful to be prepared for the inevitable emergencies that life will throw your way. By putting a little bit aside at a time (and sometimes, it was less than $10) and having some or all of the money when those emergencies arose, reduces a lot of stress. Not long after we’d gotten ourselves on the TMM program, due to needing mold-remediation in our home plus catastrophic illness in the family, we were on payment plans with almost every hospital in the city as well as with many specialists for at least another seven plus years. Still, we had to take care of our bills because no one was going to do it for us. It’s called being accountable for one’s actions and not being the victim to life’s circumstances. This didn’t make us experts at budgeting or financially stable overnight. We’ve lived month-to-month for almost all our adult lives, while rectifying our past mistakes, on top of handling many bumps in our road in life. But the point is, we’ve handled our own bumps.

The difference between Sam & Christina and us, is that we sacrificed ourselves, while they sacrificed Irma!

The biggest sacrifice we made to take financial responsibility for ourselves was moving away from our families and going where work was. It is the single deepest regret that I have today (and I have a lot to choose from!). But we simply could not continue living near our loved ones and all of our friends in beautiful San Diego and be able to support ourselves, without asking for help from others. Everything I’d ever known was in California, but we didn’t want to ask our families for money when we needed to learn to take care of things ourselves and how to live beneath our means no matter how small or erratic those means were. And guess what!?! It is really empowering when you take ownership of your finances and responsibilities! For one, when you earn your own money and pay your bills, there are no strings attached to how you spend it or don’t spend it.

My final point on that is, we constantly made an effort to get better at budgeting and saving a little bit so that life emergencies wouldn’t result in our having to ask someone else for help or rely on credit to carry us through. Over the years, we continually worked at it, and we still do, making smaller mistakes as time goes on but still learning from every experience and mistake we make.

Putting Irma’s Wellbeing First

So back to Sam & Christina, where I first started above…with all this in mind we thought, “let’s give Christina the benefit of the doubt that maybe she didn’t know about all the money Sam was taking from Irma. So, let’s approach this as though Sam had likely not told her anything as he’d done so many times before. Perhaps he’d done it without Christina’s knowledge or consent.” Little did we know then. But we were very concerned first and foremost about Irma’s wellbeing. So, when Christina brought the kids over to Irma’s place to visit with their uncles, out of respect for all present, Elwin and Mickey (Miguel) didn’t want to sour the visit by bringing up the proof they’d found about Sam taking Irma’s money. Sam wasn’t there, as he refused to talk to or visit with his brothers, presumably because of his shame about what he’d been doing, but what we now know is his modus operandi.

1 dfIn fact, Sam had actually been spinning lies to Irma about Elwin and Mickey, which was incredibly upsetting to her, causing her to be unable to eat little for days on end, getting horrible acid reflux, and causing her significant emotional upset. He’d put on the faux waterworks and whined to Irma “Elwin and Mickey don’t love me…. they’re excluding me and won’t talk to me, etc.” (What? Are we five?). These were blatant lies as we have the texts, emails and phone calls to prove it. In the long run, Sam created so much havoc and stress, causing Irma significant distress resulting in her having increased incidences of unresolved acid indigestion and driving her to tears. Knowing what we know now, I can’t help but wonder if he isn’t at least indirectly responsible for her needing a feeding tube to be put in because of the damage to her stomach caused by the long-term exposure to the additional acid. I realize that is speculation, and yes, maybe a bit inflammatory. I’m not saying he killed her outright, but it is my opinion Sam & Christina both, significantly contributed to creating emotional and physical distress for her over the years.

To put Irma’s care and feelings first, it was decided Christina would be brought in the loop via me, woman-to-woman, wife-to-wife after the guys returned home. Elwin and Mickey both listened in on and took notes during my call to Christina. I will say that one of us had a strong feeling that Christina was well aware of sucking Irma financially dry and sadly, how very right he turned out to be. You’ve obviously already figured out by now that Christina not only knew about the money taken from Irma but what came out of her mouth will leave your jaw on the ground. Next time: Initial conversations with Christina

Andrea Hornedo

The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey

14 Signs of Financial Elder Abuse – LawyersAndSettlements.com