A rabbit hole of documents, intrigue and human misery brought about by greed.
Mary Duan here, thinking about a case that sent me down a rabbit hole of documents and intrigue and, in the end, human misery brought about by greed.
It’s the subject of this week’s cover story in the print edition of the Weekly, about a Marina man named John Osborne, who is accused of more than two dozen felony counts stemming from what prosecutors have described as a long-running con game. Osborne is a charming, well-spoken man with a lot of creative ideas, and over a period of about 15 years, he is accused of using that charm and creativity to take Claude Wilson—an elderly U.S. Army veteran who had invested wisely, worked hard in his post-Army years and saved close to $1 million—for almost everything.
At age 84, Wilson should be enjoying these so-called Golden Years. Instead, he had to hire an attorney and try to get back at least some of the $800,000 he invested with or lent to Osborne. Meanwhile, Osborne’s former neighbor, George Gerena, is only in his mid-60s but suffers from a form of dementia that renders him unable to take care of his own basic needs. He had already been declared not competent to handle his financial affairs when, prosecutors say, he gave Osborne power-of-attorney. Within short order, Gerena’s house went into foreclosure, it was sold to a company that snaps up distressed assets and then sold back to a company started by Osborne and Wilson, the latter of whom says he had no idea Gerena suffered from dementia.
There are a number of things happening in the court system surrounding the case. Osborne is being criminally prosecuted. Gerena is under conservatorship of the county Public Guardian’s Office, which is trying mightily to work out a deal that would allow the house to be sold so Gerena isn’t left completely destitute. He will, the Public Guardian says, require 24-hour care for the rest of his life. And then there’s Wilson’s civil suit, seeking to recover some of the savings he gave to Osborne.
The financial abuse of elders or those who are incapacitated in some way is the subject of a county-run task force that meets every month and includes the Public Guardian and Adult Protective Services. Chief Deputy Public Guardian Sarah Solano tells me there’s been an uptick in financial abuse cases—not only because people are feeling increasingly desperate during the pandemic, but also due to the fact the Boomer generation is aging and becoming more susceptible to scams.
Mr. Wilson didn’t want to speak directly about his case, but through his attorney, he provided me with a picture from his Army days. He’s a handsome man, with a slight smile on his face, looking proud in his uniform, and had an entire life ahead of him. Through his attorney, he says he doesn’t have a lot of faith he will get back what he and his wife lost—but they want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
It’s a “trust but verify” mindset we all need to adopt, says Deputy County Counsel Christi McDonald, who represents the Public Guardian’s Office in court proceedings. If you suspect something has gone awry with the finances of an elderly loved one, avail yourself of the available resources, like Adult Protective Services or Legal Services for Seniors. Build in checks on how your senior citizen is doing financially, and if you see something, say something, before it’s too late.
As Matt L’Heureux, the prosecutor working on the case, describes financial elder abuse: “The victim never sees it coming. Everyone thinks it’s the thing that happens to other people.”
-Mary Duan, managing editor, email@example.com