PART IV. CEDRIC AND PAULINE LONG
The Longs managed to avoid foreclosure by agreeing to buy their home back from Wells Fargo under a “mortgage modification” with the bank. They are paying $926.24 a month to stay in a home they had paid off years ago. “It’s changed my life quite a bit,” Cedric Long said. “But it’s better than being homeless.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
AMDEN — When his daughter-in-law approached him for a loan, Cedric Long didn’t hesitate. She was family. He trusted her.
Deborah Long sat at his kitchen table in the fall of 2007 and cried, telling him that she and her husband, Gary – Cedric’s own son – needed money to save their home in North Attleboro, Mass. She promised her father-in-law that the loan would be paid back in six months.
Cedric Long was never told the amount of the loan. He admits he didn’t ask.
He trusted his kids and believed that the loan would be repaid as promised.
“It’s the worst thing I ever did,” said the 81-year-old Camden man, sitting at the same kitchen table where he was betrayed by his daughter-in-law six years ago.
Deborah Long stripped the equity from the modest, two-story home on a back road in Camden where Cedric Long and his 82-year-old wife, Pauline, have lived since 1954.
Deborah and Gary Long got $164,000 in funds that put their parents’ home on the line. The younger Longs never made payments on the loan, which prompted the bank to initiate foreclosure proceedings on the elder Longs’ home. The parents now must use their fixed income to repay the loan or lose the home they had paid off decades ago. They have no savings left. Deborah Long has repaid them only $700.
What happened to Cedric and Pauline Long, who were forced to take their own son and daughter-in-law to court, is an all-too-common example of financial abuse and exploitation at the hands of a close family member. Exact numbers are hard to come by because many elders are reluctant to report their experiences, but the Maine Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 33,000 Mainers are ripped off by a family member every year.
About 72 percent of financial exploitation cases involve a family member, and the national loss among elders has been estimated at nearly $3 billion.
Reports of financial abuse cases in Maine have climbed by 33 percent over the last four years, and the number will push higher as a result of demographic changes that make Maine the state with the nation’s highest median age. Yet despite the magnitude and growth of the problem, Maine lags behind other states in beefing up enforcement and penalties for elderly financial abuse.
“A cultural shift needs to take place in terms of how people view this as a crime,” said Jaye Martin, executive director for Legal Services for the Elderly. “We’re not even scratching the surface of the problem.”
Cedric Long of Camden when he was a truck driver in 1982.
Contributed family photo
Having a massive debt to repay is foreign to Cedric and Pauline Long. They have always closely managed their finances and believed in saving money – even just 10 cents a week was important to them, Cedric Long said. They never had bills pile up before, and they both worked while raising their five children. He drove a truck for Rockland-Rockport Lime, now known as Dragon Cement and Concrete. She worked serving school lunches and at the local grocery store. Now, they plant extra rows in their garden to help cut their food bill and go without even small indulgences like their $15 annual subscription to National Geographic magazine.
When asked what they would do if they didn’t have to repay the $164,000 loan and were free from money worries in their retirement years, the Longs didn’t talk about exotic vacations or other impracticalities. Instead, Pauline Long said she wishes they could go out for breakfast now and then. And fix the chimney, and the basement. But those are luxuries they can’t afford now.
In response to an interview request from the Telegram, Deborah Long referred questions to her father-in-law. She told the newspaper she had no knowledge of a civil complaint against her and her husband. Gary Long did not return calls seeking comment.
Cedric Long of Camden in his senior portrait from Rockland High School in 1950.
Contributed Family Photo
Pauline Long of Camden in her senior portrait from Rockport High School in 1949.
Contributed Family Photo
The problems with Deborah and Gary Long started slowly. The two had borrowed money from Gary’s father before and never repaid him. When Deborah Long asked for the six-month loan, Cedric Long told her to just add in the other money she owed him.
In September 2007, Deborah Long, who works in real estate in Massachusetts, gave her father-in-law a dizzying number of papers to sign. At no point did Cedric understand that the loan was connected to his home and he risked losing it if the loan was not repaid.
At the time, he suffered from atrial fibrillation and early-stage rectal cancer. He also had memory loss and hearing problems.
“She had some guy with her – someone she brought with her. I don’t know who it was. He asked: ‘Do you know what you’re signing?’ I didn’t. She never told us how it would work – how it would connect the house to the loan,” Cedric Long said. “I thought it was just a temporary loan for six months. I thought I could help her out.”
In among the papers he signed, Cedric Long gave Deborah Long financial power of attorney, which allowed her to make financial transactions on his behalf.
“I figured it was to help them out,” Cedric Long said.
He said he thought the loan would help reduce the payments on the younger Longs’ home in Massachusetts. Deborah Long said her own father didn’t have the money to help, so they needed his support in order to save their home.
Cedric Long does not remember signing some of the papers and does not believe that it was his signature on all of the documents, according to a civil lawsuit brought against the younger Longs.
Yet, with that paperwork, the elder Longs’ home was now encumbered by a mortgage. Cedric and Pauline Long received none of the proceeds of the loan – the money was paid directly to their son and daughter in law.
The loan obligated Cedric Long to repay the money or lose his home.
Cedric Long didn’t have a lawyer’s advice when he signed those papers and never received financial counseling from Wells Fargo Bank, which processed the transaction. He transferred the value of his home under the undue influence of his son and daughter-in-law, according to the civil complaint filed in Knox County Superior Court.
“I was just discouraged,” said Cedric Long, who became depressed after having to launch legal action against his own son and daughter-in-law. “Some of those nights I went without sleeping,” he said. “I started cutting firewood and working in the shop. Then I’d be tired enough to sleep.”
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
On June 15, 2008, Cedric Long received a registered letter from Wells Fargo that he was in default on the loan and owed $3,815.26 in order to bring the loan current. He called Deborah and she assured him she would make the loan payments and everything would be fine.
Again, Cedric Long believed her. She was family.
Regardless of her promises to pay the loan herself, Deborah Long then requested cash from Cedric Long to make the payments. He sent her money to make the loan payments and to pay property taxes owed on the house.
However, she didn’t use the funds she received from Cedric to repay the loan. With some of the money, she adopted two black Labrador retrievers, said her sister-in-law, Diana Miller, one of the Longs’ five children.
“Otherwise, no one knows where the money went,” Miller said.
Deborah Long never made a payment on the loan nor paid her in-laws back. The sole amount she paid from 2007 through today was one bank check postdated July 25, 2012, in the amount of $700 that was sent to Cedric’s wife, Pauline, in April 2012, according to the civil complaint filed in Knox County Superior Court.
After time passed and no payments were being made on the loan – even though Deborah assured her in-laws she would handle it – Cedric Long received a complaint for foreclosure dated March 11, 2012, that was served April 13, 2012.
“I thought she was going to pay it back. I never would have done that if I had known,” he said. “You don’t think you can’t trust your own family.”
When he found out that his son and daughter-in-law deceived him and stripped away the value of his home, Cedric Long said he became depressed – not angry.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to live much longer,’ ” he said. “I felt like if I lost the house, we’d be out on the street and we’d be homeless.”
Cedric Long had limited assets to repay the loan. He also had some certificates of deposit for burial expenses. His total net worth in the fall of 2007, excluding real estate, was $50,000, according to the civil lawsuit. He said he sold some of the tools in his garage workshop to raise money.
in their words
an interview with Cedric & Pauline Long
For the elderly, the most common perpetrator of such financial exploitation is family. A study by the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services found that 72 percent of the perpetrators of financial abuse were family members. Only 11 percent were strangers; others were friends.
“Most of the time financial exploitation is almost always by a relative. Most of the time, there’s some element of consent – whether there’s undue influence or not – which makes it difficult to prosecute. It’s a real hard problem to prove theft,” said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
“People trust their family members. And then when something goes wrong, the elder doesn’t want to get the family member in trouble. They ask: ‘How could I have raised a child to do this?’” Maurer said. “It’s terrible. It’s insidious. To me, it’s no different than child abuse. Someone is exploiting dependency. It’s inexplicable.”
Financial abuse often goes hand-in-hand with sexual abuse and physical abuse of elders, Maurer said.
“Sometimes it’s a sense of entitlement, as in ‘I’m taking care of you, so I get to use your money,’” Maurer said.
She said there’s a number of reasons victims don’t report abuse. The elderly person may be reliant on the abuser for their care, food, medication or other help. Or they don’t want to get the abuser in trouble. Or the caregiver might be threatening the elderly person.
“Other times, people are just resigned to reality. Victims aren’t stupid – they know the money is gone and there’s nothing to do and no reason to launch a case,” Maurer said.
In Maine, there’s been an effort to clamp down on elder abuse.
This year, the Legislature passed L.D. 527, sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, a former Cumberland County sheriff. That measure clarifies state law to say that people with dementia and other cognitive impairments cannot consent to financially abusive conduct by caregivers that would be criminal without the consent.
Maine’s legal statutes do not define “elder abuse.” Other states, such as Missouri, have a definition of financial abuse of an elder in its criminal code. Maine has not moved toward specifically criminalizing financial abuse of the elderly. Currently, under Maine law, elder abuse of a competent adult is not a unique crime or a civil cause of action.
Other states, such as Florida, have specific laws on elderly abuse or put enhanced penalties on misconduct related to elders, said Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.
Officials at Legal Services for the Elderly said they handled 162 cases of exploitation or financial abuse in the past year, up 33 percent from four years ago.
“It’s not a new problem. It has gone on throughout human history. What is accelerating it is demographics,” said Denis Culley, senior staff attorney for Legal Services for the Elderly and the lawyer representing Cedric Long.
Financial abuse is “not a new problem,” said Denis Culley, senior staff attorney with Legal Services for the Elderly in Augusta, who is representing Cedric and Pauline Long. “What is accelerating it is demographics.”
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
It’s hard to get a firm handle on the scope of the problem. National studies vary on its extent since most cases are believed to go unreported.
In a state plan released last year, the Department of Health and Human Services said one in five Mainers older than 65 have been exploited financially by family members, caregivers or scammers.
By another measure, the number of elderly people in Maine who are targets of financial abuse each year is roughly 33,000, based on Department of Justice estimates of the percentage of elderly abused each year by population.
A 2009 report from the Maine Attorney General’s Office said 84 percent of elder-abuse cases go unreported, because victims either can’t report crimes, can’t keep themselves safe or are too afraid to tell someone.
“The elder is often embarrassed, frightened, hurt. It’s emotional violence with financial consequences,” said Dion. “The abuser is a criminal who has betrayed the most vulnerable.”
What drives elder abuse in Maine? Maine has the oldest median age and one of the highest homeownership rates in America – which means there are valuable assets in the hands of the elderly.
According to 2009 U.S. Census figures, Maine’s homeownership rate was 71.6 percent, topping the national average of 67 percent.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
In a 2011 study, the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that elder victims of financial exploitation lose at least $2.9 billion a year, a 12 percent increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008. That study used the assumption that for every case that gets reported, four cases go unreported.
Most victims in the MetLife study were 80 to 89 years old, lived on their own and needed help with health care or home maintenance. Nearly 60 percent of the abusers were men, most of them age 30 to 59.
In another study, a randomized New York telephone survey released in 2011, seniors cited being victims of financial exploitation more frequently than any other type of abuse. Yet, the study estimated that only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is officially documented.
In a 2012 survey of 2,600 financial planners by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, 56 percent said they knew clients who had been subject to unfair, deceptive or abusive practices. Only a quarter of the surveyed financial planners said the perpetrators rarely or never knew the victim.
Meanwhile, a study in Utah found that seniors, businesses and the government in that state lost up to $52 million in 2009 due to financial exploitation in that state. That study used the assumption that for every one case that is brought to authorities, 10 cases go unreported.
In the Utah study, the range stolen was from as little as $35 to as high as $745,640. The average loss was $90,362.
The National Elder Abuse Incidence study found that nearly half (46 percent) of financially abused elders had incomes of between $5,000 and $9,999, while 30 percent had incomes between $10,000 to $14,999.
“No amount of money is seen as too little to steal from an elder,” Culley said.
In that study, the top methods used to exploit seniors were bank withdrawals (44 percent), credit card misuse or identity theft (35 percent), stealing or forging checks (25 percent) and car theft (19 percent).
Victims were scared or embarrassed to report the crime, or hesitant to prosecute someone they know, researchers found. Often, cases of financial exploitation are reported by other relatives or financial professionals who notice unusual bank account traffic.
In the Utah study, 33 percent of the case referrals to Adult Protective Services came from other relatives of the victim, and 21 percent came from financial institution employees. Only 2 percent of the referrals came from the victims themselves.
“Often it’s hard to prove. The criminal could say the money was a loan. The victim says ‘Poor Johnny is down on his luck, so I gave him more and more money,” said Kristin Overton, the director of Bridges Home Care, a division of Spectrum Generations. “They’re taking advantage when the victim doesn’t know or understand the value of the money they’re giving.”
Financial abuse has made headlines in the recent past; it cost New York philanthropist Brooke Astor and the actor Mickey Rooney millions of dollars, for instance. But the abuse isn’t bound by class or fame or dollar figure. On average, seniors who become victims of financial abuse lose an estimated $140,500, according to a survey by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.
Fighting back against financial abuse can take time and money that the elderly victim may not have.
“These are time- and document-intensive cases. And many in law enforcement are reluctant to pursue these cases, in part because there are some resource constraints out there, but the biggest problem is that some see major theft as a family squabble,” said Culley.
Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Law found that adult protective services caseworkers tend to view financial exploitation cases as more difficult to investigate than cases of physical abuse or neglect. They also found that caseworkers believe that police and prosecutors are less likely to pursue incidents of financial exploitation.
“Awareness of financial exploitation is where child molestation and sexual assault was years ago. It happened, but it was covered by the cloth of it being a ‘family matter.’ Financial exploitation is cloaked in family secrecy,” Culley said.
Financial exploitation of the elderly can be devastating not just emotionally, but practically. The lost funds are often essential in helping a victimized senior citizen to maintain independence.
While other financial crimes targeting the elderly exist, such as Jamaican lottery scams or crooked handymen who bilk their customers, those are not the biggest problems. Financial abuse by family members or trusted caretakers is much more common, studies found.
If seniors are uneasy about calling the police, they could talk to pastors, doctors, even bank tellers to report problems. Even if the elderly victim doesn’t want to pursue a case, there are resources such as Legal Services for the Elderly that can provide information on housing, food stamps or energy rebates, for example, to help seniors cope with their altered financial situations.
Sometimes just calling the police or a lawyer can scare away a potential abuser.
“Just our attention may cause an exploiter to back off. Shine the light and they scurry like bugs,” Culley said.
Financial exploitation often begins slowly.
“The exploiter may have behaved well at first, but then they slide. For some, opportunity overwhelms their ethics,” Martin said. “It can start slowly for the victim, too. If a stranger asked for your Social Security number, you would say no. But when it’s your daughter and she’s been helping you, it gets harder. There’s a tricky balance between helping your kids and putting yourself in the poorhouse.”
This label on a folder belonging to Denis Culley, the attorney for Cedric and Pauline Long, illustrates the family conflict at the heart of the case. “Financial exploitation is cloaked in family secrecy,” Culley said. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
Emotionally distraught over the idea of having to launch legal action against his son and daughter-in-law, Cedric Long found his health declined.
That’s common among victims of elder abuse. Elderly people who experience abuse have a 300 percent higher risk of death compared with those who have not been abused and victims of elder abuse also suffer higher levels of psychological distress than those older adults who have not been abused, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.
“I was just discouraged. I didn’t want to hurt my son,” Cedric Long said. “Some of those nights I went without sleeping. I started cutting firewood and working in the shop. Then I’d be tired enough to sleep.”
Like many men of his generation, Long doesn’t talk about his emotions. Still, he can’t discuss the situation without hanging his head and becoming subdued.
“I lost interest in things,” he said. “It’s my nature not to talk much. But lately, I don’t want to talk at all. It’s hard for me to make conversation.”
Legally, the transfer of equity in his home to the younger Longs falls squarely within the parameters of Maine’s Improvident Transfer of Title Act.
The act creates a presumption of “undue influence” in any transfer of real estate, for less than full consideration, by an elderly person to an individual with whom the elderly person has a confidential or fiduciary relationship, including a family relationship.
The stripping of equity from the home also constituted abuse of a confidential relationship, unjust enrichment, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other charges, according to the civil complaint.
Culley called what Deborah and Gary Long did a grievous breach of trust and the financial abuse of a vulnerable elder.
“What Cedric gave, he gave out of love. In this case, that emotion was misused by those close to him to relieve him of the only thing of monetary value he had in this world – the equity in his home,” Culley said.
With the help of Legal Services for the Elderly in Augusta, Cedric Long won a default judgment against the younger Longs. The two failed to respond to the civil lawsuit filed against them and a default judgment was issued, making Gary and Deborah Long liable for the $164,000 loan, as well as interest.
Collecting any of the money, however, remains a problem.
“Collecting on a civil judgment can be difficult. Individuals are often ‘uncollectible’ – to collect from someone, they have to have something to collect,” Culley said.
The younger Longs have been through bankruptcy and are considered non-collectible, Culley said.
Camden police initially investigated the Long case, but no criminal charges were ever brought.
“This case illustrates the high-reward, low-risk dynamic that helps drive financial exploitation of the elderly here in Maine,” Culley said.
When the police and lawyers got involved, “I thought that would wake them up, but I don’t think it did anything to them,” Cedric Long said.
Talking about his son and the feeling of betrayal, Cedric Long said “He wrote us out of the picture. We’re not father and mother to them anymore in their eyes.”
On the financial side, Cedric Long went through a long mediation process with Wells Fargo. He managed to avoid foreclosure on his home by agreeing to buy his home back from Wells Fargo under a “mortgage modification.”
He is now paying $926.24 a month to stay in the home he had already paid off and that he expanded and renovated with his own hands. His only income is $1,489 a month from Social Security. His wife gets about $694 a month in Social Security.
“It’s changed my life quite a bit. But it’s better than being homeless,” Cedric Long said. “It bothers me the most when I get a bill and I can’t pay it.”
Cedric Long in his Camden home Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
When the financial problems with his daughter-in-law and son hit, he thought about trying to go back to work. Despite cancer, an eye injury, hearing loss and memory issues, Cedric Long thinks he still might find a job – and he’s not giving up on the idea.
“I’ve been thinking about what I could do for work with one eye,” he said.
When asked if he was more skeptical now about trusting other people, Cedric Long said “Somewhat. Signing for someone – I’m very skeptical of that.”
Pauline Long kicks herself, too. She said she was just a few feet away in the living room when her husband signed the papers putting their home in jeopardy. She said she should have been sitting at the table. Maybe it would have gone differently, she said.
“She took unfair advantage of him,” Pauline Long said of her daughter-in-law.
Pauline Long worries about her husband’s well-being. “He won’t open up about it. I don’t think it’s healthy,” she says. “It’s my job to protect him.”
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
Now, she worries about her husband because he doesn’t talk about what happened.
“He won’t open up about it. I don’t think it’s healthy,” Pauline Long said. “It’s my job to protect him.
“I don’t like stress. I want harmony in the family. There isn’t any anymore. It hurts,” she said.
Including their son, Gary, the Longs have five children. But the couple can no longer help the others out.
“As much as I love them, I wouldn’t give them money. We don’t have any more to give,” Pauline Long said. “My other children, though, don’t dare ask for anything.”
She said she’s talked to Gary Long twice on the phone since the papers were signed in September 2007.
“He says, ‘I’m so sorry.’ But I think talking about it isn’t going to help make the payments,” Pauline Long said. “I would go without before I’d ever borrow from anyone.”
When contacted by the Maine Sunday Telegram and asked whether she took out a loan in the name of her father-in-law, Deborah Long said, “You’ll have to talk to him about that.”
Asked about the civil judgment against her and her husband and the equity stripped from Cedric Long’s home, Deborah Long said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She hung up the telephone. Gary Long did not return calls seeking comment.
Wells Fargo did not directly respond to questions about how Cedric Long’s paperwork was handled or why the loan proceeds were sent directly to the younger Longs. Instead, the company issued a statement by email:
“We are currently working with Mr. Long and his attorney to address their concerns and identify options that will help Mr. Long retain the home. Wells Fargo has earned its reputation in the marketplace through honest business dealings and responsible lending practices,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Cedric Long still kicks himself for failing his wife and the rest of his family.
“I still think I’ve let them down,” he said. “It’s my fault. If I hadn’t signed all those papers. It’s still my fault.”
PART III. Kathy and Larry Roy
Over two decades, Kathy Roy of Bath lost almost everything to Alzheimer's – memory, mobility, speech – but found remarkable sustenance in her husband's loving hands. As Maine's elderly population surges, many more of us will experience stories similar to theirs.
Protecting your money
Under the proper circumstances, tapping into a home's equity can often mean greater financial security and stability for older Maine residents, but strict new federal rules will likely make the innovative loans – and their potential pitfalls – rarer than ever.