Iberia DA’s office helps to protect elderly

The Iberia Parish District Attorney’s Office has taken the reins of a multi-parish social services program designed to protect the elderly from fraud and prevent abuse of people 60 and older.

Iberia Assistant District Attorney Donnie Akers, who is part of the Elderly Protective Services program, said there is an advantage of having prosecutors in the same office as the social workers looking into abuse claims.

Prosecutors know the finer details of the law and can weigh in on cases that straddle the line, Akers said. Assistant district attorneys also teach classes to law enforcement officers, bank employees and others about reporting suspected abuse.

Akers said bank employees often are the first to witness when someone — often an adult child or other caregiver — steals from an older person.

“(Bank officials) are under the misguided misconception that federal banking laws prohibit” reporting the theft, Akers said. State laws demand that people who suspect abuse of those 60 and older report it to police or another government agency, he said.

In many cases, Akers said, the victims do not want to report abuse for fear of being put into a nursing home, or because they remain loyal and loving to the ones who are hurting them and stealing from them.

“We always know that the most difficult cases are elderly abuse,” said M. Bofill Duhé, first assistant district attorney for three-parish 16th Judicial District Court.

Duhé and other prosecutors will assist case preparations at EPS, and veteran abuse investigators Audrey Thibodeaux and Dennis Broussard will conduct initial investigations.

District Attorney Phil Haney earlier this month signed an agreement with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to run the EPS program in 10 Acadiana parishes. It had been run by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office since 2008, and by the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office before 2008.

Haney said his office’s one-year, $235,000 contract with DHH calls for providing investigators into reports of elderly abuse. The contract covers the three parishes of his 16th Judicial District, Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary. It also encompasses seven other parishes in the Lafayette region: Acadia, Assumption, Evangeline, Lafayette, St. Landry, Terrebonne and Vermilion.

If abuse occurs, Haney said, EPS investigators report the findings to the appropriate police agency. Police investigators then pass on their findings to a district attorney’s office.

Hugh Eley, assistant secretary for the DHH Office of Aging and Adult Services, said Haney’s takeover of the EPS contract on July 1 was the first awarded to a district attorney’s office.

Eley said DHH has EPS services contracted out to non-state agencies in the Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette areas. DHH runs the remaining programs in southwest, central and north Louisiana, he said.

DHH started the EPS programs in 1992 and mostly contracted with local agencies, such as sheriff’s offices, but “over the years it moved more toward state operations,” Eley said.

Having the state operate the programs costs a bit more because of civil service salaries and benefits associated with jobs at DHH, Eley said.

The effectiveness of each program depends on the people running it, he said.