Woman hopes her experience with elder abuse and exploitation can help save others from similar situations

Hunter Herbaugh
Thursday, May 21, 2020
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A local woman is sharing her story of fraud, theft and broken trust in hopes that she will be able to help others who suspect they are in similar situations spot the warning signs and react in time to avoid the worst results of such situations. Jan Kruger is opening up about the ordeal she experienced following her sister’s sentencing in a fraud case regarding their mother. The conviction and sentencing wraps up a nearly four year investigation into allegations of theft and exploitation.

Kruger’s sister, Marian Tooley, was sentenced on May 15 in the Ninth Judicial District Court in Pondera County after being convicted of Elder Exploitation and Money Laundering, both felonies, following an investigation into allegations that she had been using her power of attorney for her mother to her own benefit. She was sentenced to 10 years probation and ordered to pay over $210,000 in restitution, as well as being given 5,000 hours of community service.

The incident involved the sisters’ mother, Helen Davis, who at the time resided at the Bee Hive, a retirement facility in Conrad, Mont. Following her husband’s passing in 2005, Davis inherited his life insurance, giving her roughly $500,000. According to documents provided by Kruger, it was her father’s wish that her mother have enough money to take care of herself without having to rely on public assistance.

“This money is to take care of your mother when I’m gone and the government will not take care of her,” a note from Davis’ husband reads.

Furthermore, Davis was the sole heir to her son’s estate following his passing in 2013. The estate was home to several vehicles as Kruger described her brother as a bit of a hoarder and a “heck of a Ford mechanic.”

Kruger said that her suspicions of her sister’s actions first arose in 2014 when she received a call from Tooley saying that she was applying for Veteran’s Affairs benefits for Davis, saying she was “essentially broke.” Knowing that her mother should have had plenty of available funds, Kruger referred the situation to Adult Protective Services.

APS then began an investigation that lasted until 2015 when they determined that there was reasonable evidence to begin a criminal investigation and the case was handed to the Pondera County Sheriff’s Office for further investigation. The criminal investigation lasted until April, 2019 when charges were finally filed. Kruger was appointed her mother’s permanent guardian and conservator following a contentious court hearing in 2016. By that time, there was only about $5,000 left in the account. Davis passed away in 2017.

Over the course of both investigations, officials determined that Tooley had been moving money from Davis’ account, into a checking account she had created for her late brother’s estate and then using that money to pay for goods and services for her own benefit. It was also determined that she had been selling cars from her brother’s estate without permission.

Before passing away, Davis became aware that her daughter was mishandling her funds, as she left voice mails on Tooley’s answering machine pleading with her to stop.

“Marian, this is mom, I’m very upset,” one recording starts before becoming inaudible, according to court documents.

“Marian, I want you to leave my affairs alone. You’ve got this thing in such a terrible mess,” another message reads.

Kruger noted that this experience revealed to her how under equipped rural counties can be for investigating and prosecuting cases of elder abuse. According to Dawson County attorney Brett Irigoin, that is a fair statement, as cases of financial elder abuse, such as this one, can be difficult to track in rural towns.

“Cases of financial elder abuse can be difficult to investigate, especially in smaller communities because then you need things like a forensic auditor to go through records, and other resources that smaller police department’s don’t normally have readily available,” Irigoin said.

He added that elder abuse, in general, is an enormous issue in Montana, so much so that Gov. Steve Bullock assigned a task force to address the problem. The Eastern Montana Elder Justice Council was created via executive order in October of last year to “address the exploitation, abuse, and neglect of Montana’s aging population,” according to the state website. The announcement for the task force’s creation went on to breakdown that there had been over 11,000 calls for service for the elderly in 2019, with 2,453 being reported for abuse, 2,486 for neglect, and 1,599 for financial exploitation.

Meanwhile, Kruger wants to reiterate the warning signs that people should look out for if they believe a care giver is taking advantage of an elder. Warning signs can include if the caregiver is not giving straight answers when asked questions, such as saying “they have enough”, “they’d just forget” or “I’ve got it handled” when asked about finances. Other warning signs can include when a caregiver is being verbally abusive and degrading towards their charge. Both of these, Kruger said, she witnessed with her sister.

On top of reminding people about warning signs, Kruger also had her own suggestions of how to improve transparency in care for adults and design a system of checks and balances for Power of Attorney. After learning of what her sister was doing, Kruger noted that she spoke to a representative of one of the banks involved in the scheme who remarked that she was suspicious that Tooley was using her mother’s funds inappropriately but didn’t say anything because there was “no avenue to legally report” such action.

A few of the changes Kruger proposes include; bond requirements for power of attorney, availability of attorneys for victims, especially in financial crimes, and a requirement for investment entities and banks to report when there is suspicion of inappropriate activity.

Reach Hunter Herbaugh at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

“Cases of financial elder abuse can be difficult to investigate, especially in smaller communities, because then you need things like a forensic auditor to go through records, and other resources that smaller police department’s don’t normally have readily available,”

Brett Irigoin, Dawson County attorney