Published in the Muskegon Chronicle, Feb. 04, 2022, By Lynn Moore
MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – A man arrested in a so-called “grandparent bail scam” who allegedly stole thousands from a Muskegon woman is just one in a growing number of scams against senior citizens investigated by a dedicated Muskegon County task force.
To continue the work of that task force, the city of Norton Shores stepped up this week and committed more than $86,600 for a detective who works solely on vulnerable adult abuse cases.
The city council on Tuesday agreed to commit its entire share of Muskegon County’s senior millage on the effort to prosecute those who financially and physically abuse vulnerable older adults.
Its funding will pay for most of the costs of Norton Shores Police Detective Jared Passchier who serves on the county’s Safe Seniors Task Force that was formed in late 2019.
The city stepped up to fill a funding void that occurred when the committee charged with distributing the millage proceeds decided to reduce its direct funding of the task force, said Norton Shores Chief Jon Gale.
The city’s commitment to the task force increased by nearly $32,000 from last year. Norton Shores Administrator Mark Meyers told MLive the city’s funding also paid for about $25,000 in wellness and meal programs for seniors that still will be available, but not at the previous subsidized rate.
“We’re using (the funding) based on where we see the greatest need,” Meyers said. “It certainly meets a need in the community.”
Among the task force’s efforts is education of seniors and such organization as banks, pharmacies and restaurants on how to spot fraud and abuse against older adults, Gale said. Those efforts are paying off with more cases being identified, but that has increased the workload of the task force, he said.
“Now we’re overwhelmed,” Gale said.
In the 2020 fiscal year, the task force reviewed 90 cases, a 300% increase from the prior year, with 107 victims and 19 people convicted, according to an annual report for that year. It had recovered more than $1.6 million in restitution since its inception, the report says.
In addition to Passchier, the task force includes detectives with the Muskegon Township Police Department, Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office and prosecutors with the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office.
“They’re just really, really sad stories,” Gale said. “Unfortunately, they’re happening almost every day…These detectives, that’s all they do.”
Among the recent cases was that of a grandmother who received a phone call from a stranger telling her her granddaughter was in jail and needed money for bail, Gale said. She agreed to put “thousands” of dollars in an envelope that was picked up from her home by a courier.
That courier allegedly is a New York man arrested in Kent County last month after a suspecting potential victim alerted police, Gale said. Charges are expected to be brought against the 27-year-old in Muskegon County as they already have in Kent County, he said.
The arrest brought relief to the local woman, who was afraid the man would come back for more money or even try to break in her home, he said.
Gale told of another scam in which an older man was befriended via telephone by a woman who convinced him to send her money, promising she was about to receive a big cash settlement and would pay him back with interest. The man’s son became alarmed when he learned the man had put his house up for sale to come up with more money for the woman, Gale said.
It took a lot of convincing for the man to understand he was being conned, the chief said.
“We run into that all the time. They give away money and they don’t want their kids to know,” he said. “They feel stupid, embarrassed. They keep it a secret that they dumped their whole savings account into some scam.”
Muskegon County voters in 2016 approved an eight-year, 0.5-mill property tax levy to support services to residents who are age 60 and older. The millage raises about $2 million per year and supports a wide range of services, including recreation, meals, home repair, transportation, home care, health services and more.
Specific programs are provided millage funding and so are municipalities, which can choose how they spend their share.
Last year, the city spent $55,000 of its allocation for the detective position in the investigative task force. The rest of cost for the detective, which totals about $92,000, was provided through direct allocation of millage funds to the task force.
When deciding this year’s funding, the millage grant committee “requested that the team seek other funding sources to keep the team funded,” Gale wrote in a memo to Norton Shores council members. It did agree to fund the $6,277 difference between Norton Shores’ allocation and the cost of the detective, he wrote.
Other communities help pay for the task force, Gale said. Norton Shores has one of the highest populations of senior citizens in the county, he added.
The Norton Shores City Council unanimously agreed to increase its commitment to fighting elder abuse.
“A lot of the city council members knew people who were helped by the team,” Gale said.
Those who suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation of a senior citizen can call 855-444-3911 any time to make a report. To learn more about the Safe Seniors Task Force, visit www.safeseniors.info.