Wilma Agnew, elderly, alone and in rapidly declining health, needed somebody to watch over her in the last months before her death on Dec. 17, 2007.
Instead, the 82-year-old Arlington woman got a predator who cleaned out her bank accounts, sold her car and needlessly cashed in her stock, court records show.
Last month, Brandy Ann Bounds, 35, of Mansfield pleaded guilty to theft of $100,000 to $200,000 of an elderly person, a first-degree felony. She waived her right to a jury trial and was sentenced by state District Judge Robb Catalano to 10 years’ deferred-adjudication probation, contingent, in part, on her repayment of $87,441 to the Agnew estate. Failure to abide by the terms of probation could get her sentenced to five to 99 years or life in prison, regardless of how long she has been on probation, Tarrant County economic crimes prosecutor Susan Linam said.
The Tarrant County district attorney’s office is seeing “more and more” cases of elderly exploitation, said Linam, who handled the Bounds case.
“I would say it makes up 30 percent of economic crimes at this office,” she said.
On Thursday the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that it is seeking public comments as part of an inquiry into elder exploitation.
“Get us together and we can tell you horrifying stories about these crimes — people looted of their pension benefits, or talked into investing much of their life savings in endless varieties of fraudulent schemes,” the bureau’s director, Richard Cordray, said at a White House event to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The victims often end up poor and “in a nursing home at the expense of American taxpayers.”
Americans age 60 and older lost at least $2.9 billion to financial exploitation in 2010, up 12 percent from 2008, the bureau said, citing a study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Victims are most often women.
Many of the perpetrators are family members, according to Texas Adult Protective Services.
The bureau said in the statement it is seeking information on what resources are available to help with decisions on choosing financial advisers, and on evaluating their credentials. More broadly, it wants information on financial literacy efforts aimed at older Americans.
It is also seeking information on “unfair, abusive or deceptive” practices targeted at Americans age 62 and over, including veterans.
“We are also concerned about military pension buyout schemes,” Cordray said at the White House. “Military retirees are offered lump-sum cash payments in return for surrendering their rights to their pension payouts. These schemes are usually very bad deals for the retirees.”
Public comments are due by Aug. 13.
Power of attorney
Agnew and her sister O’Linda “Linda” Knight were tightknit widows who lived in Arlington and attended Grace Lutheran Church. After Knight died, Agnew’s mental and physical states quickly deteriorated. Already diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she developed progressively worse dementia and became a patient at Millwood Hospital, an Arlington psychiatric facility. When she was released, Bounds placed her in a Mansfield assisted-living center until the final days of her life, which she spent in hospice at Bounds’ direction.
But Bounds was doing more than seeing to Agnew’s medical needs. She was also getting more involved in Agnew’s financial affairs.
During those weeks, court records show, Bounds became a joint signer on Agnew’s bank accounts. Then, on Dec. 4, she and her husband had Agnew give them medical and durable powers of attorney.
That occurred one day after an Arlington doctor examined Agnew and deemed her incapable of making medical or financial decisions. He wrote in a letter that his office had seen Bounds attending to Agnew’s needs and that so long as Agnew’s family approved, it seemed reasonable for Bounds to assume powers of attorney.
Court records show that Brandy Bounds quickly withdrew a total of $180,826.44 from Agnew’s bank accounts and later deposited much of it in the couple’s account at a different bank.
She also sold Agnew’s car to a wholesale dealer attached to Classic Kia, where Jeremy Bounds was finance director. The couple kept $5,000 of the sale proceeds. Jeremy Bounds has not been arrested or charged in connection with the case.
Judge Steve King of Tarrant County Probate Court No. 1 ordered in a summary judgment in February 2010 that the estate was entitled to recover $228,252.46 in economic damages from the Boundses.
That spring, the couple spent about a month in jail for contempt of court for failing to cooperate with the discovery process.
In his final judgment, issued in October 2010, King ordered that the estate was entitled to recover another $228,252 each from Brandy Bounds and Jeremy Bounds, along with 5 percent annual interest and attorney fees. Because the couple had returned $66,088 to the court, that was applied toward their individual judgments.
Meanwhile, apparently hoping to have the estate’s claims against them tossed out, the couple filed for federal bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy judge threw out all damages except $193,882 that Brandy Bounds must still pay. Jeremy Bounds will not owe anything contingent on their making all the payments under their bankruptcy plan.
This report includes material from Bloomberg News and the Star-Telegram archives.
Tarrant County seeing more cases of financial exploitation of elderly
Patrick M. Walker
June 15, 2012
Fort Worth Star-Telegram