State Elder Financial Exploitation Task Force

WILKES-BARRE — Continuing its work to address and prevent one of the fastest growing forms of elder abuse, the Department on Aging announced this week the creation of a special investigative unit to support area agencies on aging (AAA) in investigating complex cases of financial exploitation . and to achieve justice for older Pennsylvanians.

The Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST) is a four-person unit consisting of an analyst/supervisor, two analysts and an attorney to assist the aging network over the next two years.

The creation of FAST grew out of a pilot program that began with the hiring of David Aiello, a retired state police officer with a background in financial exploitation investigations who served as a general resource for the AAA network for the past two years.

The department received a $666,000 federal grant to expand the capacity of this program for the next two years.

“Based on a sample of 22 cases where we implemented improved coordination and early intervention, nearly $3 million in assets were protected from further exploitation,” said Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. “Given these results, we decided to expand this model and increase the capacity to better support AAA in these cases and get the justice victims deserve. This FAST unit will be available to assist in both the investigation and resolution of financial exploitation cases. He will also work to build or strengthen relationships with law enforcement agencies to achieve justice for elderly victims and reduce harm as quickly as possible.”

Financial exploitation is among the top three most severe forms of elder abuse reported by the Department. This may take the form of theft of property, misappropriation of income or property, abuse of power of attorney; or fraud of various kinds, including healthcare provider fraud, contractor fraud, grandchild fraud, Social Security or IRS fraud, fake charities, gift card fraud, pension poaching, and more.

The creation of the FAST investigative unit is a continuation of PDA’s ongoing work to protect the elderly and prevent financial exploitation. The department conducted a study on the impact of financial exploitation of elderly Pennsylvanians.

The average financial loss for each victim in the study was nearly $40,000, which is nearly $12.5 million in the cases examined in the study alone. The study acknowledged that many of these cases go unreported, so the loss due to financial exploitation is likely to be much higher.

In addition to FAST staff and the Department on Aging, see Torres was joined by representatives from the Pennsylvania State Police, the Attorney General’s Office, the Departments of Banking and Securities, and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, who each shared their department’s efforts to combat financial exploitation in various forms.

STC accepts updated year 12 transportation program

The Pennsylvania State Transportation Commission (STC) this week updated the 12-year-old program.

The new plan calls for $84 billion to be made available over the next 12 years to improve roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and railroads.

The 12-Year Program, or TYP, is a multimodal, budget-constrained planning tool used to identify and prioritize Pennsylvania’s transportation projects and the funds needed to complete them. State law requires the STC to review and update the TYP every two years. No capital project can move forward unless it is included in the TYP.

The newly enacted program, which takes effect on October 1, includes funding from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Act (BIL) and provides for the following funding in the first four years of TYP from federal, state and local sources:

$16 billion for state highway and bridge projects;

• $11.4 billion for public transportation;

• $331 million for multimodal projects;

• 232 million dollars for rail freight transportation; and

•$168 million for aviation.

“The bipartisan infrastructure bill has already had a noticeable impact on Pennsylvania transportation projects of all kinds,” said PennDOT Secretary Yasmin Gramian. “While additional investment in our great transportation network is certainly needed, PennDOT is proud to be a responsible steward of federal, state and local dollars to help improve infrastructure across all modes of transportation.”

TYP also highlights some of PennDOT’s major accomplishments over the past two years, from modernizing train stations to implementing innovative strategies and cutting-edge technologies to improve safety and efficiency across a wide range of operations.

Four rural planning organizations, 19 urban organizations and one independent county partnered with PennDOT to review and develop the update. Now that the STC has approved the update, it has been forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transportation Administration for review and approval.

Meuser is a co-author of the bill to protect correctional officers

U.S. Rep. Meiser, R-Dallas, this week co-sponsored legislation with Rep. David Kustaf, HR 8645, the Cell Phone Jamming Reform Act of 2022.

The bill would allow state and federal prisons to use jamming systems against contraband cellphones. The phones are used by inmates to carry out illegal activities, including ordering attacks inside and outside the prison, conducting illegal drug operations and planning escapes.

“This legislation will protect corrections officers across the country, including those in the Ninth Congressional District,” Meiser said. “These officers face many dangerous situations outside the prison walls. We often lose sight of how important their work is, protecting the community from some of the most dangerous people in society,” Meiser commented.”

Meiser said the use of contraband cellphones led to the killing of Corrections Warden Oswald Albaratti. He was killed on the Jose De Diego Freeway in Puerto Rico after finishing his shift at the Metropolitan Detention Center in 2013.

The killing was initiated by inmates housed in a federal penitentiary who contacted the gunman using a contraband phone.

The legislation is supported by the Association of Correctional Superintendents, the Council of Local Jail Residents, the American Correctional Association, the National Sheriff’s Association and the top county sheriffs of America.

Support for this bill builds on Meuser’s work on behalf of corrections officers. Earlier this year, he co-sponsored Rep. Brad Wenstrup’s bill, HR 5761, the Fair Pay for Our Correctional Officers Act.

Meiser said correctional officers currently employed by the Bureau of Prisons in the 9th Congressional District are unfairly compensated because they work directly outside the pay zones of Philadelphia and New York.

Wyoming County Joins AG Shapiro’s Healing Initiative

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced this week that Wyoming County has joined the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative (LETI), a program Shapiro launched in partnership with law enforcement agencies to help Pennsylvanians suffering from substance use disorders, in a filing for treatment.

Shapiro said 16 Commonwealth countries have previously joined the LETI program.

PA LETI is a law enforcement-led treatment initiative that will allow Pennsylvanians in Wyoming County seeking treatment for substance use disorders to contact local law enforcement, county officials and stakeholders with a substance abuse program and of Luzerne/Wyoming Alcohol to receive treatment services without risk of arrest.

“We’re losing 14 Pennsylvanians a day to the opioid epidemic,” Shapiro said. “Connecting people to the treatment they need will save lives, make our communities stronger and help minimize the stigma associated with substance use disorder. I am grateful to District Attorney Peters and our law enforcement partners throughout Wyoming County for implementing this program in their communities.”

Shapiro said the partnership with Wyoming County law enforcement and others under PA LETI:

• Open your doors to those suffering from drug addiction.

• Assistance in identifying individuals seeking treatment services.

• Assistance in providing people with transportation to treatment services.

• Liaise with our local Drug and Alcohol Administration to understand availability and collect data for outcome studies.

In Wyoming County, people can contact a law enforcement officer, county official, or interested community entity at any time to request a referral or connection to treatment without risk of arrest or prosecution. The policy also allows law enforcement agencies to connect people to treatment at their discretion. Wyoming County law enforcement and county management will work with the Luzerne/Wyoming Drug and Program to facilitate these leads.

LETI currently operates in Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Chester, Clearfield, Columbia, Dauphin, Delaware, Elk, Fayette, Mifflin, Montgomery, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Snyder and Somerset counties. District Attorneys in Pennsylvania interested in starting the PA LETI program should contact the Attorney General’s Office at 570-826-2483.

Contact Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

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