Crimes against state’s seniors up 40%; many ripped off by family

SEATTLE – It is still not easy for Ann Hanni to talk about the brother who stole from their mother to feed his gambling habit.

“We believed him and we trusted him,” Hanni said. “He did a lot more than just take the money. It’s a betrayal.”

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Hanni’s parents bought a house in Magnolia, raised their eight children there¬†and planned to use the equity to fund the remaining days of their lives. By 2006, her father was dead and her mother, Mary Anne, had dementia. So the siblings agreed to give financial power of attorney to their brother, John.

By 2014, however, their mother needed round-the-clock nursing care. She moved to a Queen Anne nursing home. But her bills weren’t being paid. And soon the family Hanni¬†had always known began to unravel.

She said she got a call from her sister to meet her at the nursing home. Then, they contacted their brother.

“My sister texted him, ‘Is all Mom’s money gone?'” Hanni said. “And he said, ‘Yes.’ And then he left town for a year and a half. He ran.”

How had he done it? Hanni said he got an $855,000 reverse mortgage on his childhood home, a house that had been paid off in 1979.

“He then proceeded to spend $605,000 of that, that they could prove, gambling,” said Hanni.

King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Ann Froh handled the case against John Hanni.

“He had emptied her bank accounts, cashed out a life insurance policy that was intended for his developmentally disabled sister and by the time her family figured out what was going on, all of her assets were gone,” Froh¬†said.

According to the state Department of Social and Health Services, more than 19,000 cases of elder abuse were reported in 2012. The number has grown steadily each year. Last year, DSHS handled nearly 50,000 elder abuse cases.

And DSHS spokesman Chris Wright predicts that number will only rise.

“It’s potentially only going to get more significant year after year as we have retiring Baby Boomers,” Wright said. “I think everyone’s familiar with the age wave and we’re in the midst of it.”

A DSHS pie chart shows that, among all the ways the elderly are abused, financial exploitation is the most common. In fact, 25% of the elder abuse cases involve the victim’s finances.

John Hanni pleaded guilty to theft for stealing from his own mother. He is currently in the Monroe Correctional Facility, serving a four-year sentence. His sister said¬†she has learned a hard lesson she’d like to share with others.

“It sounds a little cynical but I guess I would say: Don’t just assume or be, well trusting,¬†even if it’s your sibling,” she said.

Mary Anne Hanni was 90 when she died in 2016. She went to her grave never knowing her son had betrayed her.


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