SAN ANTONIO - Elder abuse, fraud and neglect affects senior citizens so severely that Bexar County Commissioner Trish DeBerry wants to spend $200,000 to address the backlog of cases.
"We need to protect this very vulnerable population that is preyed upon on a regular basis," DeBerry says.
"The problem that we have is that you have senior citizens that have been waiting for justice. Unfortunately for a senior who might be 80 or 90 years old, time is running out regarding prosecution and restitution."
David Gollem is one of those seniors.
Now 79, he says a vacation club he joined in 2010 - then quit years ago - is trying to take advantage of him.
"In April (2021), I got a letter stating I owed back dues for a thousand some dollars," he says, despite quitting the club in 2014.
To officially leave the Outrigger Vacation Club, he's being asked to pay $199 for each of the past seven years.
"They’re still persistent in wanting to collect these back dues," he says. "They would now terminate my membership, but I had to pay the dues."
That's after Gollem and his wife, who are frequent travelers, paid $3,000 to join the club following an informational meeting in San Antonio. But they soon grew disillusioned with the company.
We tried to get an explanation for Gollem but did not hear back from the company.
DeBerry wants to help seniors who are facing similar situations.
Why is it so important to her?
"It’s a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart because I have older parents," she says, expressing emotion when thinking about her 90-year-old mother and 94-year-old father.
DeBerry is proposing the district attorney's office add both a prosecutor and investigator to pursue crimes against seniors. She was told there are 100 cases backlogged, some going back eight years.
After she heard more about the issue at a recent Elder Abuse Task Force meeting, "I was on it in a hot second," she says.
"This happens to thousands of seniors across Bexar County and we need to do a better job protecting them."
DeBerry estimates the cost of a top-level prosecutor at $100,000, with another $85,000 for an investigator. She says District Attorney Joe Gonzales is excited about the idea too.
DeBerry expects the positions to be approved this fall when the county budget is confirmed.
"It’s a sad, sad situation," she says. "But if we can move the needle in a positive direction to be able to offer justice and protection, that is what I was elected to do - protect the most vulnerable populations and this is a critically important one."
To report elder fraud, click here.