Good morning from Augusta. On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice has conducted a huge enforcement action against perpetrators of financial abuse against senior citizens. Nationally, charges have been filed against more than 250 defendants who are accused of scamming more than a million Americans out of more than a half of billion dollars.
Those numbers are staggering but unfortunately are just some tiny percentage of the overall problem. Studies have shown that older Americans lose at least $2.9 billion a year to fraud or financial exploitation and that at least 11 percent of the population is victimized — and that number is rising. In Maine, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton told Maine Public last year that tens of thousands of Mainers, up to 7 percent of the total population, are suspected to be victims of some kind of elder abuse, including financial, physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect. The federal Office of Justice Programs has recently estimated that about 33,000 Mainers are victimized each year
The Department of Justice sweep targeted mostly organized crime entities operating on large scales, but most abuse is one-on-one. Some 90 percent of elder abuse is at the hands of friends, neighbors and especially family members, which makes the crime all the more insidious and difficult for victims to report. Hamilton said the numbers in Maine are increasing, partially due to the fact that the number of people entering their senior years is rising. Sgt. Patrick Hood of the Maine State Police, who co-chairs the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention, has estimated that only about one in 14 cases of elder abuse is ever reported.
Law enforcement entities are escalating the fight. According to Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who co-chairs the Senate Aging Committee, the Department of Justice has directed U.S. attorneys’ offices to designate elder justice coordinators. In Maine, curbing elder abuse is a near-constant project in the Legislature. This session alone has seen at least four bills aimed at the problem, though only one has survived. LD 968 would require a new safeguard when joint accounts are opened at a bank or credit union, with each party answering the question “Do you intend for the sum remaining upon your death to belong to the surviving party or parties?” The bill is awaiting consideration in the House and Senate.
Collins called the Department of Justice action “historic.” She said large-scale announcements like Thursday’s will send the message that perpetrators “will be caught, their operations will be shut down and they will be punished” because of heightened coordination between the attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission and other state and federal organizations. At the state level, this is sustained attention on the issue. In May, the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention will hold its fifth annual Elder Abuse Summit in Augusta.
Help is available. People who suspect elder abuse have a number of resources available.They can call their local police or Maine Adult Protection Services at 1-800-624-8404. The Senate Aging Committee’s toll-free fraud hotline, which fielded nearly 2,300 calls in 2016, can be reached at 1-855-303-9470.
Former GOP legislative leader running for district attorney
After about two years as a prosecutor, a young Republican is challenging an incumbent district attorney. Former Maine House Assistant Minority Leader Alex Willette, a Republican from Lewiston, filed earlier this week to run in November against Andrew Robinson, the Democratic district attorney in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties..
Willette is only 28 years old, but he’s a powerful figure. He helped President Donald Trump head off convention challenges in 2016 as a national committeeman. He has been a prosecutor in Sagadahoc County for just over two years. Robinson started with the DA’s office in 1999, according to the Daily Bulldog.
Today in A-town
It’s quiet at the State House. Only the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee is scheduled to work today and could be close to voting out a bill that’s been under development for over a year.
- Maine saw 418 drug overdose deaths in 2017, continuing an upward trend with 11 percent more than the previous record year. Attorney General Janet Mills attributed the increase to the rise of fentanyl, an opioid that is hundreds of times more powerful than heroin and is often used to lace heroin because it’s cheaper. It killed 247 people alone in 2017. In 2016, 376 people died from drug overdoses in Maine.
- A judge on Thursday found a man guilty of a 1980 East Millinocket killing, ending one of the longest homicide investigations in Maine history. A state court judge found Philip Scott Fournier guilty of killing Joyce McLain. Her mother, who vigorously pursued her daughter’s case, told the Bangor Daily News “you’ll never see a happier mother than this one is right here, right now.” The case spurred rumors and doubt in East Millinocket, where many are glad to have the case over, but some still believe others were involved.
- Ethics regulators declined to investigate the Maine Republican Party’s ties to a once-anonymous ‘news’ site. The Maine Ethics Commission voted 3-2 against a probe into the Maine Examiner, a site run by Jason Savage, the Maine Republican Party’s executive director. He said he ran the site without the party’s knowledge, though he said he participated in party decisions to share articles on social media during the Lewiston mayoral race.
- A salmon farm is coming to Bucksport and Maine may soon supply 10 percent of the nation’s demand from just two farms. Whole Oceans, a Maine company, signed an agreement on Thursday to buy most of the shuttered Verso mill in Bucksport, where it is planning a $250 million land-based farm that will open in 2019 and is expected to employ 200. It’s bigger than another recently announced farm in Belfast and together, they’re expected to supply 10 percent of U.S. salmon demand.
- The University of Maine has chosen a different potential supplier for a large energy contract after a controversial partner withdrew. Maine’s flagship university will negotiate with Honeywell International, the second-best bidder for the deal to supply energy to the campus, after the Portland Press Herald raised concerns of inside influence in an earlier deal with ConEdison Solutions.
On Thursday, while noting that Alex Trebek will moderate a gubernatorial debate in Pennsylvania, we created a fantasy “Jeopardy” category for Maine politics and provided five answers. Click here to refresh your memory.
Here are the questions for those answers:
- $200: Who is Burton Cross?
- $400: Who is Beverly Daggett?
- $600: What is a log?
- $800: Where is Bath?
- $1,000: Where is the Hotel Holly?
An alternative answer for the final question is: Blown to smithereens.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.