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City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office filed suit against a local landlord this week for allegedly bilking a 73-year-old San Francisco man of at least $53,000. Elder abuse cases have long been prosecuted through the district attorney’s office in San Francisco. But the complaint filed Monday marks new efforts by the city attorney’s office to assist the district attorney’s office in targeting elder abuse, particularly recouping victims’ assets in civil court. “It is the first time, to my knowledge, that this office has pursued an action of elder financial abuse,” said Aleeta Van Runkle, chief of the city attorney’s Neighborhood and Community Services Division. The civil suit is the first to come out of the Financial Abuse Specialist Team, forged about six months ago by the city attorney’s office, district attorney’s office, public guardian, adult protective services and police department. The public guardian must be appointed conservator for the victim for the city attorney to have standing to sue. In such civil actions, the city attorney is able to seek attorneys fees and treble damages, something the DA cannot do in criminal prosecutions. While the DA and city attorney decide separately when to file criminal charges or a civil suit, they can coordinate their efforts and resources through FAST’s twice-monthly meetings, lawyers in both offices said. San Francisco is trying to emulate a similar partnership in Santa Clara County, Herrera said. That county’s agencies created a FAST program in 1999, when the state legislature mandated that certain agencies and authorities report elder abuse. “We found that elder abuse was one of the fastest-growing crimes in America, often underreported, and often undertaken by people who knew the victims,” Herrera said. Financial abuses that target seniors range from identity theft and telemarketing fraud to predatory lending and scams to deceive or coerce the victim into turning over cash or signing over assets. Victims are typically over age 70 and virtually always have some form of dementia, said Denis O’Neal, a Santa Clara deputy county counsel with that county’s FAST program. In many cases, perpetrators think they’re “taking their inheritance early,” he said. Prosecutors cite many obstacles to prosecuting elder abuse cases. “Often, elders are in a more isolated position,” Van Runkle said, noting that they may not have family watching out for them. “They’re easily befriended by somebody who’s going to abscond with their property.” In part because the victims are often embarrassed or can’t figure out the legal system, Van Runkle said, “these cases don’t really get reported with much frequency.” Plus, the perpetrator may be the victim’s only friend or loved one, so often the victims are loath to admit to themselves what happened, or they may change their will willingly. “Typically, the suspected abuser will say, ‘No, my grandmother wanted me to have it, it was a gift,’” said Santa Clara’s O’Neal. The city attorney’s office is also exploring options to target predatory lenders, Van Runkle said. Prosecutors in the DA’s office said the city attorney’s efforts are welcome. “It’s always kind of nice if you can double-team the bad guy,” said Diane Knoles, the assistant DA who heads the elder and dependent abuse unit. The offices may get an opportunity to cut costs by sharing expert witnesses, she noted. In Stuhr v. Fabbri, 427302, the city attorney accuses Basilio Fabbri of financially and emotionally abusing his former co-worker and tenant, Phillip Stuhr. The case was filed Monday in San Francisco Superior Court through the San Francisco public guardian, Stuhr’s court-appointed conservator. The complaint alleges that Fabbri deceived Stuhr into giving him $53,000 from his bank accounts this year and told Stuhr he would receive more interest on the money by loaning it to him than by keeping it in the bank. “Had Mr. Stuhr known the actual facts and/or not been coerced � he would not have given [Fabbri] the money,” says the complaint, written by Deputy City Attorney Ingrid Evans. Police thwarted another attempt by Fabbri to intimidate Stuhr into loaning him $33,000, the complaint says. Fabbri isn’t yet represented by an attorney in the case and attempts to locate him for comment late Tuesday were unsuccessful. The suit seeks a slew of damages, as well as attorneys fees and investigation costs.

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