To Protect and Defraud?

The Mercury News recently reported that a former commander in the Pinole Police Department, and his wife, have been charged with trying to defraud an 82-year-old Pleasanton woman. Matthew Messier, the 36-year-old former police commander was charged with several crimes including four counts of elder abuse. Messier and his wife attempted to defraud the elderly woman by placing her entire estate into a trust under their control.

The victim’s assets were estimated to be between $750,000 and $1 million.

The investigation began in July while Messier was still police commander with the Pinole Police Department. Messier used his position as police commander to gain the victim’s trust. The victim then began depositing funds into a trust controlled by Messiers. Messier had been with the police department since 2001, but he resigned his position October 21 of this year.

This is a difficult case to investigate and prosecute because there is no ”smoking gun” pointing to a specific crime. Instances of elder abuse involving financial crimes can be tricky absent outright fraud. In cases like this one, the investigators must attempt to follow the paper trail to determine exactly what happened. Fortunately, with something like a trust, the investigators can follow the paper trail to determine where the money came from, who it was transferred to, and who controls how it is spent.

In a previous blog post, we discussed various financial scams. It is difficult in many cases to prove any wrongdoing. In other cases, it is difficult to track down the perpetrator because they leave no trace behind. Messier was a respected officer who frequently engaged in public speaking. The victim had reason to believe that she could trust a police officer. After the fact, it looks like a situation ripe for fraud since the victim turned over her assets to a police officer with no experience in dealing with financial matters of this sort.

In many other cases of financial fraud, the perpetrator makes off with large sums of money, so at least it seems that the victim in this case may be able to recover some of her assets. This case highlights the need for increased vigilance against those who seek to defraud the elderly. The reported numbers of financial crimes against the elderly increased over the last couple of years, but that is due in part to an increase in awareness. More people know what to look for and report crimes more frequently than in the past. Friends or relatives need to work with elderly or mentally disabled individuals sooner rather than later to determine the fate of assets. The schemes are becoming more sophisticated so potential victims need to be aware of the danger ahead of time. Individuals need to be educated about potential scams so they can spot them. The authorities need to continue to encourage victims to report crimes.

Financial schemes to defraud the elderly or mentally disabled are a particularly sinister crime that require teamwork from family, friends and the authorities to detect, investigate and stop. If you or a loved one have been the victim of fraud, please contact our offices.

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