King County prosecutors warn of elder abuse after nearly 13,000 cases were reported in 2022

There is a silent epidemic happening to one of the most vulnerable populations. Several thousands of senior citizens in the U.S. are being victimized, in many cases, by the people closest to them. However, often they are too ashamed and embarrassed to say anything about elder abuse. 

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is working to raise awareness and fight this crime.

"The people who are being victimized are our parents, and our grandparents and our friends, and they will be us in the future. And as a society, I hope we care about that," said Page Ulrey, a senior deputy prosecutor in the Elder Abuse Unit.

The various forms of elder abuse include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional/psychological abuse
  • Neglect
  • Financial exploitation

Prosecutors in the Elder Abuse Unit said the most common cases they see involve financial exploitation and neglect. There were nearly 12,785 cases of elder abuse reported in King County in 2022. Prosecutors believe there are more, as cases are woefully underreported.

"They don’t report because they feel that they brought it on themselves. There’s also a fear of what will happen if I report. If that perpetrator is someone they rely on—physically, financially and emotionally, and they report that abuse, what then happens to that person? Are they going to have to move into a facility? Are they going to lose their home? Are they going to lose the independence that they have?" said Eileen Alexander, a senior deputy prosecutor in the Elder Abuse Unit.

The group explained most senior citizens are at risk of abuse because of social isolation or a condition, like Dementia, for example. The people that prey on them the most are people they know—including adult children, grandchildren, other family members and caregivers. Perpetrators also include strangers who create a relationship to exploit an elder.

In one of the bigger cases for the Elder Abuse Unit, the court found Elle Barksdale Loe guilty of theft and securities fraud during a seven-week trial in 2022. She was the daughter of a caregiver who worked for 97-year-old Morris Gorelick, father of famous saxophonist Kenny G. Barksdale Loe was sentenced to 26 months in prison for conning Gorelick out of $900,000 over the course of one year. 

Prosecutors said Barksdale Loe scammed Gorelick, who had Dementia, into signing a contract to invest in her alleged business.

"She failed to tell him how low her sales were and how really the business was completely underdeveloped. It was more of an idea for her more than anything else. But he was aging, he lost his wife, he was no longer working, and he’d really lost his identity, which I think happens to a lot of the older male victims that we see. So, the idea of running a business again, and be his own man again, was very appealing. And between that and his Dementia, he fell for it," said Ulrey.

During Barksdale Loe’s trial, prosecutors presented more than 14,000 pages of discoveries and 155 trial exhibits. This included documentation showing Barksdale Loe splurging the $900,000 on items like designer clothes, cars, cosmetic procedures, and vacations, plus rent and utility payments.

A pending case for the Elder Abuse Unit is against suspect Branchina Williamson-Holbert (a.k.a. Casablanca Hutchinson). Prosecutors said she is currently been charged with 44 counts of identity theft involving 44 victims. Kathy Van Olst, a senior deputy prosecutor, said Williamson-Holbert used a printed phone book to contact the victims.

"She would call the victims posing as a bank fraud investigator that had just identified fraud. And would use fear and persuade the victim that if they would provide their own personal identifying information immediately, she could intervene," explained Van Olt. "The defendant would then turn around, use that information immediately calling the bank, and posing then as the victim in the case and saying that she wanted to make transfers on her account. And used personal identifying information that she had just received to make transactions on the victims’ accounts."

Prosecutors in the Elder Abuse Unit said cases like these two require extensive investigative work. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, they said it has been difficult to find detectives these days who have the skill set needed for elder abuse cases.

"By far, the majority of detectives that we’ve been working with over the years are now gone. And so, we’re dealing with a lot of law enforcement agencies that don’t even have the resources to investigate these cases. And when they do, they have detectives that just don’t have the experience or the knowledge to know how to investigate them," said Ulrey. "Sinking their teeth into a case like this is complicated, and hard and I think it results in a lot of these cases kind of dying on the vine." 

The team said they offer training to first responders, medical personnel, and the public. The prosecutors said they are working on improving opportunities to offer more training to all 39 law enforcement agencies within King County.

They’re also asking for the public’s help. If something seems suspicious, report immediately, as it could prevent senior citizens from a devastating trap.

"We want to protect the people who are most vulnerable. And we think of children as being vulnerable, which they obviously are, but the elders are too. And we really have not been talking about that the way we need to be," said Ulrey. 

AARP reported financial exploitation costs senior citizens more than $28 million each year. Of that total amount, 72 percent is stolen by someone the elder knows.

The Elder Abuse Unit advised all people to report scams to the following agencies:

  • Local law enforcement agencies
  • Federal Trade Commission –
  • Experian Credit Bureau – 1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion Credit Bureau – 1-800-680-7289
  • Equifax Credit Bureau – 1-888-766-0008
  • AARP Fraud Fighters – 1-800-646-2283
  • Washington State Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division – 360-753-6200,