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Press Release

Department Of Justice Observes 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by Reiterating Commitment to Protect Seniors

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

         LOS ANGELES – United States Attorney Nick Hanna today joined the entire Department of Justice in observing the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Justice Department echoes voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

         “As some of the most vulnerable among us, senior citizens, unfortunately, are a prime target for criminals,” Mr. Hanna said. “The elder fraud cases brought by my office highlight our ongoing determination to bring unscrupulous actors to justice and put them in prison where they belong. Our outreach efforts demonstrate our commitment to protecting the rights of elderly residents and giving them tools to prevent exploitation.”

         The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our country and the world, and senior citizens are among the most severely affected by the threat of the novel virus. During this time, when seniors are most vulnerable and isolated from their families and loved ones, criminals are exploiting the health crisis to prey on the elderly through a host of scams and fraud schemes. In April, federal prosecutors from the four United States Attorney’s Offices in California and special agents with the FBI participated in a telephonic town hall that provided thousands of California senior citizens with information to help them identify and avoid fraudulent schemes related to coronavirus and COVID-19.

         As the world takes this day to remember the elderly during these uncertain times, the Department of Justice remains committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative, to prevent and prosecute fraud on America’s seniors. The United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles is one of six offices participating in the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, which was established last year to focus on investigating and prosecuting individuals and entities associated with foreign-based fraud schemes targeting American seniors.

         The United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California has brought federal charges in numerous cases involving elder fraud. Some recent cases targeted:

  • Paul Horton Smith Sr., 56, of Moreno Valley, was arrested last month and charged with wire fraud for allegedly engineering a $10 million Ponzi scheme that targeted elderly and retired victims.
  • Mehmet Fatih Biyikoglu, 53, the former CEO of an Irvine-based financial services firm, was sentenced in March to more than 10 years in federal prison for stealing over $3.5 million from elderly victims whom he conned into believing their money was being invested in a certificate of deposit at a major bank.
  • In March, Clifford Kirstein, 29, and Mark El Bernachawy, 43, both Canadian nationals, each were sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for their roles in a telemarketing scam that conned U.S. senior citizens by impersonating their grandchildren over the telephone and asking for financial help to get the purportedly distressed relatives out of trouble in a foreign country.

         Combating elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors is a key priority of the Department of Justice. Elder abuse – an intentional or negligent act that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult – is a serious crime that affects at least 10 percent of older Americans every year. The Department of Justice is steadfastly committed to combating all forms of elder abuse and financial exploitation through enforcement actions, training and resources, research, victim services and public awareness.

Updated April 4, 2023

Elder Justice
Press Release Number: 20-099