A New York man held an 81-year-old veteran hostage for at least four years in order to collect his benefits, police said Thursday, weeks after the US House of Representatives passed legislation to call attention to financial elder abuse.
Perry Coniglio, 43, is accused of holding an elderly veteran with dementia at the U.S. Academy Motel in Highlands, New York, near West Point, in a room adjoining his own. The motel is located next to a police station, according to the Associated Press.
Mr. Coniglio was able to collect a "tremendous" amount of monthly funds through Social Security benefits, pension payments, and food stamps, police said, without specifying the amount.
Police were recently tipped off to the situation by concerned neighbors, one of whom had captured the former Marine being abused on video.
Coniglio is being held on $15,000 bail and is being charged with grand larceny and unlawful imprisonment, among other charges.
Elder abuse has become a particularly pressing issue as the population ages, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last month. In the vast majority of cases, the abuser is a family member.
A study from the British Geriatrics Society released in June found that more than a third of caregivers engage is potentially abusive behavior. Often, the abuse occurs when demands on carers become too much for them to be able to meet.
"Findings highlight the need for support and training for carers, so that they can care with confidence, have the skills to manage difficult caregiving situations and recognise when the pressures associated with caregiving may be harming the older person and know at which point they should seek help," the researchers wrote. "Community-based professionals such as public health nurses, GPs, social workers and home care staff need the skills to recognise behaviours that may act as early warnings."
The researchers said the data shows that family caregivers need more support to fulfill their duties.
One in 5 Americans will be in the "older" demographic by 2030, according to the US Census Bureau. Five million elderly adults are abused each year, according the National Center on Elder Abuse, 90 percent abused by family members.
Fighting elder abuse has become more of a priority on both the state and federal level in recent months.
The House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that would protect financial advisers who try to fight the financial exploitation of the elderly, as Investment News reported.
The legislation gives financial advisers the ability to report abuse without fear of being prosecuted for violation of privacy laws. It also discusses training on how to identify financial abuse of the elderly.
"While Washington has been gridlocked for a long time, I'm very pleased that the House was able to pass this critical legislation, and I am hopeful the Senate will quickly follow suit," Dale Brown, the president and chief executive of the Financial Services Institute, said in a statement. "The Senior Safe Act is a big step forward in the prevention of elder financial abuse across the country."
The Senate could vote on a similar legislation this year.
One the state level, laws went into effect July 1 in Alabama, Indiana, and Vermont that require financial advisers to alert the state if they suspect elder financial abuse.
This report contains information from the Associated Press.