Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning, everyone, and thank you, Hilary [Dalin], for that kind introduction. My team and I have had the pleasure of working with Hilary as part of an inter-agency effort to combat elder fraud and abuse. She and the team at the Administration for Community Living have been fantastic partners for us at the Department of Justice. I also want to thank the American Bar Association (ABA) for having me here today to speak with you. And thank you to the panel for providing us with the valuable perspectives of those who fight for older Americans in their communities day in and day out.
As Hilary said, my name is Beth Williams, and I am the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. By way of background, the Office of Legal Policy is sometimes described as the “think tank” for the Department of Justice. Our staff is comprised of mostly lawyers, but we do not litigate cases. Instead, we typically develop and advise on policy initiatives that are priorities for the Department. I’m honored to be here today to discuss one of those priorities with you — access to justice, and a part of that which is particularly relevant for this audience, elder justice.
My office is proud to coordinate the Department’s access to justice portfolio. Among other things, we co-chair the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, we develop and work to refine legislation to enhance access to justice, and we confer with relevant subject matter experts throughout the Department to improve policy related to access to justice. Just as importantly, we work to encourage collaboration among stakeholders within the federal government and the private sector to ensure that people in need have access to necessary services.
As you may already know, elder justice is a top priority of the Attorney General. Just two weeks ago, the Department released the Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress on Department of Justice Activities to Combat Elder Fraud and Abuse. As Attorney General Barr said with the release of the report – “Crimes against the elderly are particularly despicable because they exploit and endanger citizens that are among our most vulnerable.” He further emphasized the Department’s commitment to “bringing justice and peace of mind to America’s seniors.”
I won’t attempt to catalog everything the Department is doing to promote elder justice because we would be here for far too long — and I have been informed that I am the last speaker before lunch. But I’d like to highlight a few things that may be of interest to you. Of course, the Department’s primary role in ensuring justice for older Americans is to investigate and prosecute cases. And we have been doing that at a record-setting pace. In both 2018 and 2019, the Department conducted Elder Fraud Sweeps, focusing resources to identify, investigate, and bring to justice those who have defrauded America’s seniors. Collectively those Elder Fraud Sweeps resulted in criminal and civil actions against more than 500 defendants responsible for defrauding over 1.5 billion dollars from at least 3 million victims.
And in June of this year, the attorney general announced the establishment of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force – a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for six federal districts, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and other organizations. The Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force focuses on investigating and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that disproportionately affect American seniors, including telemarketing, mass-mailing, and tech-support fraud schemes.
But we know this problem can’t be solved through federal prosecutions alone. The victims of these schemes must be made whole for justice truly to be served. And for that to happen, we at the Department of Justice and in the federal government more broadly must have cooperative relationships with providers of civil legal aid. We must work cooperatively with the organizations and people, like many of you in the audience, who can connect victims with the information and services they need to put the pieces back together. And that works both ways. We want the people providing these critical resources to America’s seniors to feel comfortable identifying cases that may involve criminal activity and referring those matters to law enforcement. To that end, every United States Attorney’s Office has an Elder Justice Coordinator. The Coordinator is a fantastic resource for practitioners. Working together, the Coordinator and prosecutors help ensure that criminals are brought to justice and that victims are served in a fulsome way.
We at the Department have also emphasized education and outreach as ways to empower our communities to combat these criminals. Our team has strived to alert the public of the dangers and threats we identify so that fewer seniors fall prey to these schemes. And we provide training, resources, and tools to our law enforcement and legal services partners to bolster their efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. For example, last November, the Elder Justice Initiative and the Office for Victims of Crime held a Rural and Tribal Elder Justice Summit. The Summit brought together a diverse group of over 260 subject matter experts and elder justice professionals to identify challenges, best practices, and opportunities for greater collaboration in these often underserved communities. The Elder Justice Initiative also compiled and distributed a comprehensive Rural and Tribal Resource Guide for professionals in those communities to quickly access useful information and resources. Additional information about the Department’s Elder Justice Initiative — including resources, training materials, tools, and useful data — can be found on the Department’s Elder Justice website.
And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the Department’s grant funding. The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) provides funding for crime victim compensation and victim assistance. In Fiscal Year 2017, more than 4,600 VOCA-funded organizations provided services ranging from emergency shelter and transportation to crisis counseling, long-term therapy, and civil legal assistance, to over 250,000 victims age 60 and older. And just this week, the Department released awards totaling more than $2.3 billion to state victim assistance and compensation programs, funding thousands of local victim assistance programs across the country and providing millions in compensation to victims of crime.
Briefly, I would also like to mention another aspect of access to justice that is a priority for all of us at the Department. That is support for the brave men and women in uniform who have sacrificed so much for our nation. The Department’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative provides guidance and resources for current and former members of the military, military family members, and legal practitioners who serve the military community. The Department also investigates and prosecutes individuals who commit crimes against America’s heroes. Just last year the Department prosecuted defendants who used their trusted, or in some cases misrepresented, status with the Department of Veterans Affairs to defraud veterans and their families of hard-earned retirement investments, bank accounts, and social security and disability benefits. The actions of these criminals is truly deplorable. The Department is dedicated to serving and protecting America’s veterans and servicemembers as each of them has served and protected this country.
As the attorney general has said, “The Department of Justice is committed to ending the victimization of elders across the country.” And we are proud to be a part of that mission at the Department. Thank you again to the ABA for having me here to speak with you today. And thanks to all of you for your dedication and commitment to this important work.