Woman charged with Embezzlement from Vulnerable Adult

LANSING – Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced that he has charged a Southeastern Michigan resident, Renee Bullock, 31, of Redford with one felony count of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult.  An Attorney General investigation led to allegations that she used more than $140,000 of her father’s funds for her own personal use.

“Financial exploitation of Michigan’s most vulnerable, our seniors, is one of the fastest growing crimes,” said Schuette.  “Nursing home residents are the most vulnerable and the least likely to detect or report exploitation.  We are cracking down on criminals who target Michigan’s nursing home residents.”

Bullock’s father was admitted to a residential rehabilitation and nursing facility located in Westland in December 2010.  On June 27, 2010, Renee Bullock was granted general power of attorney by her father.  Bullock was named as her father’s temporary guardian and conservator in January of 2012.

One month later, Renee Bullock’s Letters of Conservatorship were restricted and her father’s assets were frozen by the Wayne County Probate Court, and she was subsequently removed as conservator of her father’s estate.

From the time that her father was admitted to the nursing facility in December 2010, until the court appointed conservator obtained control of her father’s accounts in March 2012, it is alleged Bullock failed to make appropriate payments to the facility providing her father’s care.  The Attorney General’s investigation also revealed that that Bullock allegedly leased a Cadillac CTS and a Chevrolet Tahoe and made payments for them using her father’s funds.  The investigation also documented expenditures of her father’s funds at casinos, nail and tanning salons, numerous restaurants and retail establishments.  In addition, the investigation documented cash advance loans that were allegedly repaid with funds from her father.

Bullock has been charged with one felony count of Embezzlement from a Vulnerable Adult ($20,000 or more), a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of $15,000 or three times the value of the money or property used or obtained, whichever is greater.

Bullock surrendered to authorities and was and arraigned on November 29th before Judge Mark A. McConnell in the 18th District Court in Westland.  Following arraignment, Bullock was released on a $10,000 personal bond.  She is next due in court for a preliminary examination on Thursday, December 6, 2012.

This case was brought as part of a project known as $CAMS ($top Crimes Against Michigan Seniors).  $CAMS is a project undertaken by the Health Care Fraud Division of the Michigan Attorney General’s office, in conjunction with the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration.  Its purpose is to uncover potential financial exploitation of nursing home residents with past due accounts.  Since January 2011, the Health Care Fraud Division has filed 17 $CAMS cases and secured 12 convictions and restitution awards in excess of $129,000.  The remaining five cases are still pending in the courts.

While exact statistics on how often financial crimes against the elderly occur are not available, it is widely believed to be underreported by the victims.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a recent study published by MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates that financial loss by victims of elder financial crimes and exploitation exceeds $2.9 billion dollars annually.  Sadly, all too often the perpetrators are close family members.

In the 2012 legislative session, Michigan, along with 26 other states and Puerto Rico introduced legislation to address financial crimes and exploitation against the elderly and other vulnerable adults.  In June of 2012, Governor, Rick Snyder signed a 10-bill package to strengthen protection of Michigan’s senior citizens and vulnerable adults.  The measures encourage the reporting of elder abuse and strengthen the penalties for those who are convicted.

Schuette’s Consumer Protection Division provides free presentations for Michigan Seniors on a variety of topics, including how to avoid financial exploitation, through the Senior Brigade Program.  To request a free presentation, please sign up at www.michigan.gov/seniorbrigade or call the Attorney General’s Consumer Programs Team toll-free at 877-765-8388.

Schuette offers the following tips to Michigan Seniors to protect their money and avoid financial exploitation:

  • Stay connected to your community. Social isolation increases your risk of becoming a victim of abuse. Find out about community programs or social activities in your neighborhood.
  • Put all financial instructions in writing.  This protects you and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings.  Keep records of all transactions.
  • Before you assign a power of attorney, be sure you understand the authority you are giving to your agent.  Know the person to whom you are giving this authority. Write in the agreement whether the agent will be paid or not, and if so, how much.
  • Be cautious of joint accounts.  Both parties are equal owners of the account and both have equal access to the money.
  • Ask someone to review your financial agreements. Your attorney, accountant, or a bank employee can detect changes in your financial activity that may signal a problem.  You can also ask a trusted friend or relative to review your monthly statements.
  • Ask a bank employee, a trusted family member, or a social worker or other professional for help when you are unsure about financial matters.

To report suspected financial abuse of a Michigan vulnerable adult, citizens should call the Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Hotline, 1-800-24-ABUSE (1-800-242-2873).

A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.