Breaking the Silence: Financial exploitation costs seniors billions each year

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Financial exploitation is costing older Americans more than $35 billion every year, according to the Adult Protective Services Association.

The financial exploitation of older adults is often called “the crime of the 21st century.” In a national study, nearly 20 percent of those 65 and older indicated some form of financial mistreatment or criminal fraud. Sometimes, however, criminals are caught.

A hundred people once trusted Roger Williams with their savings. He is now a federal prisoner for breaking their trust.

Jimmy Vineyard had invested with Williams. Filled with emotion, he could hardly speak when WATE 6 On Your Side spoke with him in July 2014. He and his wife, Ellen, who died in 2011, thought they had invested wisely after putting their money in investments operated solely by Williams.

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Showing deposit slips Mr. Vineyard had invested over half a million dollars with Williams. But when he needed cash to pay for his wife’s care, Williams told him the money was gone.

“Got all my life’s savings,” said Vineyard.

Because Roger Williams was a preacher, investors trusted him with nearly $2 million. At his former church in Gatlinburg, WATE asked him about his investors’ savings.

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“Their money is gone,” he said. “All of our investments over the past seven years.”

“I think it’s illegal what he’s done, very illegal,” said former investor Gerald Perkins.

Gerald and Judy Perkins, both retirees, lost their house to Roger Williams’s Ponzi scheme. For several years they received monthly checks from Williams drawn on their investment which paid the mortgage on their home.

The couple received devastating news in the summer of 2014.  Williams sent a letter saying he’s “going out of business, all distributions will cease immediately.” 

“It’s our money. My husband worked that. It was his retirement,” said Judy Perkins.

After an exhaustive investigation, Williams pled guilty last year to mail fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of IRS laws. The government said he ran a Ponzi scheme spending most of the money on himself. 

“Once they realized they had been taken, it hurts your pride. Not only have you lost your money, it hurts,” said Postal Inspector Wendy Boles.

Boles and an IRS Federal Investigator spent several years gathering information and building their case against Williams, eventually getting justice for those he cheated.

“A lot of these people considered him a friend. These Ponzi schemes, these investment schemes, it is high earnings. There are never ups and downs. Never. I’ve never seen it up and down, until it collapses,” Boles said.

The effects of financial exploitation on vulnerable adults are devastating: loss of security and loss of trust in others. There’s depression, fear, anger, and self-doubt. The financial profiteering commonly involves a trusted person. 

“I hope to see him stopped from this because he don’t need to do anybody else,” said Vineyard.

Vineyard died a broken man two years before Roger Williams had his day in court. Williams is no longer a free man. He’s serving a five-year sentence at a federal prison in Kentucky. 

If you feel that you or someone you know may have been or is at risk of being a victim of financial abuse contact Adult Protective Services. The toll-free number is 888-277-8366.

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