The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Sacramento County lacks elder financial abuse unit

The Public Eye
The Public Eye

Nearing the end of a long life that included service in three wars, Clyde Gleaves Murphy decided to rewrite his will. He excluded his wife and son and gave almost all of his $300,000 estate to a man who had started taking care of him.

While a Superior Court judge last year upheld the will, Murphy’s son and his attorney maintain that it was a case of an elderly man getting ripped off. They also say Sacramento County Adult Protective Services failed to thoroughly investigate the case.

Gene Murphy brought the case to the county’s attention in 2010, the year after the county dismantled a financial unit that investigated financial scams against the elderly. Since then, Sacramento County has seen the number of reported cases skyrocket by more than 50 percent, raising questions about whether the county has the resources needed to handle such cases.

Financial scams targeting the elderly have been called “the crime of the 21st century” because of a combination of factors: an increase in the population as baby boomers age; the rise of identity theft and other Internet-based crimes; and the often trusting and vulnerable nature of older people.

Last year, Adult Protective Services received 1,330 reports of financial abuse against elderly or dependent adults, compared to 873 in 2010.

Before, financial cases were handled solely by six social workers and a supervisor in that unit. Now, financial cases are spread among all the social workers in Adult Protective Services, who also investigate allegations of physical abuse, neglect and other mistreatment.

Experts say specialization helps social workers better investigate financial-abuse cases, which are considered more complex than other cases handled by Adult Protective Services. They involve complicated financial transactions, complex family relations and victims who aren’t aware they’re being robbed or don’t want to admit it for fear of alienating someone they love.

In 2011, the county’s Adult and Aging Commission reviewed five financial cases handled by Adult Protective Services, and found in each one “the need to enhance training” and “evidence of the value the dedicated unit to financial abuse contributed now that everybody has to work these cases with little or no experience in most of them.”

In a report last year, the commission questioned whether Adult Protective Services had enough social workers to investigate abuse complaints.

“We know financial abuse is growing,” said Bob Ingols, the commission’s chairman. “We would like to see an appropriate amount of resources dedicated to it.”

Debra Morrow, the division manager responsible for Adult Protective Services, said most of the cuts identified in the commission report have been reversed – but not the loss of the financial unit. She said the county would like to reinstate the unit when funding is available, even though she said social workers have done a good job handling financial cases.

“The increased number of cases has not affected the quality or speed of investigations,” she said. “The loss of expertise set us back for a while, but this year we have already begun restoring our capacity.”

Frank Mecca, executive director of the California Welfare Directors Association, said Adult Protective Services agencies in California have historically been underfunded and that staffing shortages have grown more acute in recent years due to a 10 percent cut in state funding and the recession. But as the economy has improved, some counties have begun to rebuild staff.

“It’s critical that we have the statewide infrastructure to support APS,” he said. “This is critical in light of a growing, aging baby-boomer population, increased awareness around elder abuse, and the growing complexity of these cases, particularly with regard to financial abuse.”

Gene Murphy said Sacramento County Adult Protective Services failed to thoroughly investigate his complaint alleging that his father was being financially manipulated by a former neighbor, Manuel Ybarra, 46. Murphy also twice told the county Board of Supervisors about his frustrations with the agency.

Division manager Morrow said she could not comment on the case because of confidentiality laws. Ybarra’s attorney, Trudy Nearn, said she would contact Ybarra about discussing the case, but she did not return subsequent messages from The Sacramento Bee.

Clyde Gleaves Murphy, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, injured his hip several years ago, requiring him to be placed in a care home, according to his son. The elder Murphy disappeared from the home, and his son and wife could not find him.

When they located Clyde Murphy, he was living with Ybarra in an apartment at the former McClellan Air Force Base, Gene Murphy said. It’s not clear how he ended up leaving the care home and living with Ybarra.

In July 2009, a Veterans Administration police officer got into the middle of the dispute when he observed Ybarra yelling and threatening Gene Murphy at the VA Hospital at Mather, according to a report filed by the officer. The officer said Ybarra was cursing and yelling and said if Gene “comes near Ybarra or Clyde again, Ybarra is going to beat Eugene’s ass.” The officer said he interviewed Clyde, who said he didn’t believe Gene was his son, that his wife had cheated on him and that he liked the way Ybarra was taking care of him.

Three months later, Clyde Murphy rewrote his will, specifically excluding his son and wife, and leaving 90 percent of his estate to Ybarra and the remainder to a cousin, according to probate records filed in Superior Court.

Murphy died of congestive heart failure in May 2011 at age 88. He was buried at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery without his son and wife there, Gene Murphy said. His headstone reads, “Special Friend. An Honest Man with a Heart of Gold.” Gene Murphy, who also served in the military, said he wants the U.S. flag families are supposed to receive when veterans are buried.

Murphy’s wife, Carmen, planned to challenge the will but died before the case could go to trial, and a judge ultimately named Ybarra as executor in October 2013. Three counties have sought a claim to some of the money, because of the more than $11,000 in child support Ybarra owes from when he “had no known source of income,” court records state.

Ybarra took advantage of a man who was not of sound mind, even though Clyde Murphy testified he was in that condition in his will, said Douglas A. MacDonald, the attorney for Gene Murphy and his late mother.

“He was claiming that Gene wasn’t his son,” MacDonald said. “He mysteriously disappeared from his wife when they had had a long and beautiful marriage.”

The dispute should not have ended up in court, MacDonald said. “Adult Protective Services should have gotten involved a long time ago,” he said.