A Lawton woman who pleaded guilty earlier this year to stealing from her elderly father was sentenced last week. Janetta Whitethunder, 52, was sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years of probation after pleading guilty in January to a single count of exploitation of an elderly adult.
The Lawton Constitution, a local newspaper, describes the case against Whitethunder as follows:
"Whitethunder victimized her father, who had been diagnosed with dementia, by obtaining and cashing 18 checks totaling $11,258.85 between December 2011 and Feb. 8, 2012, according to an affidavit filed in court. She was accused of "grooming" her father for further exploitation by trying to convince him to close out his bank account, containing $92,000, which would have provided her instant access to his savings without an itemized list of transactions."
They say she twice tried to close his account before a bank employee contacted the victim's son, who held power of attorney.
In Oklahoma, it is often considered a more heinous criminal offense to victimize a particularly vulnerable person. Children, the disabled, and the elderly are among the groups of people the state considers to be in need of additional safeguards. When a person commits a crime against a member of one of these groups, the penalties are often more severe than if the same crime were committed against an able-bodied adult of sound mind.
Assault and battery, for example, is punishable in most cases by 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If assault and battery is committed by "a person of robust health or strength" against a person who is "aged, decrepit, or incapacitated," it is considered aggravated assault and battery, which is a felony punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. If the victim is a child, however, the assault is considered child abuse--a felony punishable by a maximum of life in prison.
Financial exploitation of an elderly adult is similar in holding harsher penalties than typical fraud charges. Fraud, embezzlement, and other theft crimes are often prosecuted and penalized according to the value of the stolen property. In general, fraud that involves $500 or less is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in jail; fraud in excess of $500 is a felony punishable a maximum of 10 years in prison.
While fraud can be a misdemeanor, under 21 O.S. § 843.4, financial exploitation of the elderly (defined as anyone aged 62 or older) is a felony. If the value of the assets are less than $100,000 the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison, but if the assets are valued at greater than $100,000, financial exploitation of an elderly person is punishable by 15 years in prison.