Waging war on elderly fraud

MANASSAS PARK — William Blevins never meant to become a spokesperson for those who have been taken advantage of because of their age, but it is a crime he takes seriously.

The Manassas Park man is retired and would like to be spending his time with his grandchildren, or maybe out in his yard, but all of that changed when elderly fraud struck his own family in the early 1990s.

Since that time he has taken it upon himself to make local law enforcement, elected officials and county prosecutors aware of this type of fraud, and to tell them just how disastrous they can be to a family.

He is now taking his message to the federal level and will testify this afternoonMonday on Capitol Hill during a U.S. Senate hearing. It is a hearing sponsored by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, who will be announcing proposed legislation regarding exploitation of the elderly during the hearing.

“There will be a number of witnesses who have had this happen to them or to one of their family members from all across the country who will be explaining to these lawmakers that something needs to change,” Blevins said.

He does have a few local law enforcement officials on his side. Detective Tony DeFelice with the Manassas Park Police Department has taken a special interest in cases of fraud involving seniors after working on the Blevins case.

Manassas Park police notified Blevins in 1997 that his 72-year-old cousin, Vaughan Blevins, had been found, acting lost and confused, adjacent to their headquarters.

“He only had three dollars in his wallet along with instructions to contact Larry Henderson in case of an emergency,” Blevins explains in the testimony he plans to present to the Senate today. “Larry was notified and came to pick him up. The officers on duty were suspicious and contacted Vaughn’s insurance agent, whose card they also found, who contacted me.”

Blevins said he was concerned as to why a stranger had his information in his cousin’s wallet when Blevins had placed his own information in the same wallet years before.

“During the next few days I found that Vaughn had only $14.21 in the bank with a $608 check drawn on the account, signature apparently forged,” William Blevins states in his testimony.

After finding that Henderson had swindled Vaughn Blevins for more than $75,000, and finding several other area seniors who were taken in by Henderson in the same time frame, a conviction was finally brought forth.

Last month, Henderson received an eight-year sentence on federal charges, in conjunction with six one-year sentences from a 1999 state conviction held in Prince William County Circuit Court.

Blevins credits not only Assistant Commonwealth Attorney John Notarianni, but also DeFelice, who will be going with Blevins to Capitol Hill.

“I will be there for the question-and-answer portion of the hearing,” DeFelice said. “They are going to announce new legislation; hopefully anything they do at the federal level the states will follow suit.”

Manassas Sen. Charles J. Colgan, D-29th District, said he is aware of the problem of senior fraud, and is trying to talk with local prosecutors to find out what laws need to be changed; however, no such meeting has yet been held.

DeFelice, who since the Henderson case has specialized in investigating fraud against seniors, is crusading with Blevins trying to make other police departments aware of the crime and get training in place for other departments.

The two are getting the message out. Last Wednesday, they were contacted by “CBS Evening News,” which said it wanted to interview the pair for a segment it is planning on the subject of fraud against the elderly.

“I have to be careful what I wear to work nowadays,” DeFelice said. “I never know when some news organization is going to want to come in for an interview. On Wednesday, CBS called and talked to us on Thursday; we have also been called by other stations. Hopefully, we can get some laws changed and raise awareness.

“Everyone is a potential victim … All of the persons I have talked to that have been swindled by people are all very friendly, open, trusting and easy to talk to. It is just part of the profile.”

The CBS segment is scheduled to air tonight.

Staff writer Trina Goethals can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.

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