by Brian Mahany
This is a very sad story. Unfortunately, it’s one we see with increasing frequency. As millions of families gather for holiday festivities, many of our elderly and disabled family members find themselves the victims of elder fraud and theft. The people committing these terrible crimes? It’s often family members or caregivers.
Michael Ostrowski of Patchogue, New York was appointed temporary guardian over his grandfather’e estate. In 2006, the grandfather required hospitalization and was ultimately moved to a nursing home. While incapacitated, his “beloved” grandson became his temporary guardian. Acting in that capacity, Michael had a legal obligation to act in his grandfather’s best interests. Unfortunately, Michael decided to line his pockets instead.
During his short tenure as guardian, Michael managed to deplete his grandfather’s savings leaving his grandfather and grandmother with no money to pay for required medical and nursing care. Prosecutors say that within a few weeks of becoming guardian, Ostrowski cashed in his grandfather’s Certificate of Deposit. In one day, they say he took over a quarter of a million dollars.
Where did the money go? We are not completely sure. The indictment charging Michael said he cashed the check. While the grandfather struggled to pay for required medical care, grandson purchased a new pickup truck, big screen TV and an assault rifle.
Elder theft and abuse is usually prosecuted locally. Stealing money is a state crime, although federal prosecutors say that Ostrowski failed to declare the stolen money as income on his tax return. (History buffs will remember this was the same thing that landed Al Capone in prison.) They also say that he sent false documents to the family services workers and lied to the court (mail fraud and perjury).
Ultimately, Michael Ostrowski was indicted on multiple felony counts. He later pleaded guilty and was ultimately sentenced earlier this year.
Prior to sentencing, Ostrowski told the court that he grew up in a broken home and apparently “hung out with the wrong crowd.” Although everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a defense, we are hard pressed to figure out how his upbringing mitigates the seriousness of the offenses or has any relevance to sentencing. More telling, however, was Michael’s assertion that it was his father who actually behind convincing the bank liquidate the grandfather’s CD. (Dad was never charged.)
Michael asked the court for suspended sentence – pretty much a slap on the wrist. Instead, he was sentenced to 2 years in prison and ordered to pay $186,000 in restitution.
While we have no idea if Michael’s father David was involved in the conspiracy, vigilant family members are still the best line of defense. As more and more baby boomers reach retirement age, the incidents of elder crime and financial abuse will only increase. Everyone has a duty to keep track on bank accounts, stocks, investments and the like of a person who is incapacitated or too mentally feeble to care for themselves. Unfortunately, even family members steal.
Banks can sometimes blow the whistle when they see an elderly person’s life savings depleted overnight but in many cases, they are powerless to stop the theft. Since many elder financial fraud cases occur gradually – a family member who writes multiple checks to him or herself – don’t expect the banks to be very effective.
The fraud lawyers at Mahany & Ertl help victims of elder abuse and probate fraud. If a family member has lost his assets because of a fraud or if you believe someone forged, altered or used undue influence to change a will, give us a call. Our asset recovery team has helped many people get back their hard earned money.
Founding partner Brian Mahany is a former police officer, criminal investigator and felony prosecutor.
Mahany & Ertl aggressively represents victims of probate fraud, estate fraud, elder abuse and a wide variety of other financial crimes. For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at (414) 704-6731 (direct). All inquiries are held in strict confidence.
Mahany & Ertl – America’s Fraud Lawyers. Offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Maine and Minneapolis, Minnesota. We have successfully handled fraud cases from California to Maine and many places in between.