A woman has been charged in Kay County District Court after she was accused of taking more than $2,000 from the Ponca City nursing home where she used to work. Medicaid Fraud Unit Investigators say that the former nursing home administrator admitted to her employer that she took money from a trust account set up to deposit money for residents of Shawn Manor.  Kari Sawyer, 35, is charged with 3 counts of financial exploitation by a caretaker.

Financial exploitation by a caretaker is penalized as a criminal offense in 21 O.S. § 843.1. It is a felony that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

However, punishment does not end there. Anyone convicted of financial exploitation by a caretaker is subject to the Elderly and Incapacitated Victim’s Protection Act, which includes a mandatory minimum jail term; restitution to the victim for not only the amount of funds taken, but also out-of-pocket expenses, losses, damages, and medical expenses; and community service.

Now we know how financial exploitation by a caretaker is punished under Oklahoma law, but what exactly is it?

Section 843.4 of the state criminal code defines “exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult” as follows:

  1. Knowingly, by deception or intimidation, obtaining or using, or endeavoring to obtain or use, an elderly person’s or disabled adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the elderly person or disabled adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property, or to benefit someone other than the elderly person or disabled adult, by a person who:
  2. stands in a position of trust and confidence with the elderly person or disabled adult, or
  3. has a business relationship with the elderly person or disabled adult, or
  4. Obtaining or using, endeavoring to obtain or use, or conspiring with another to obtain or use an elderly person’s or disabled adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the elderly person or disabled adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property, or to benefit someone other than the elderly person or disabled adult, by a person who knows or reasonably should know that the elderly person or disabled adult lacks the capacity to consent.

The Oklahoma Mental Health Code, Title 43A of the Oklahoma Statutes, lists several definitions that encompass the perpetrator, victim, and nature of the offense:

  • A caretaker is a person who has the assumed, appointed, or familial responsibility for the care of a vulnerable adult or the financial management of his or her resources.
  • A vulnerable adult is someone who is “an incapacitated person or who, because of physical or mental disability, incapacity, or other disability, is substantially impaired in the ability to provide adequately for the care or custody of himself or herself, or is unable to manage his or her property and financial affairs effectively, or to meet essential requirements for mental or physical health or safety, or to protect himself or herself from abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, or exploitation without assistance from others.”
  • Exploitation  is the “improper use of the resources of a vulnerable adult for the profit or advantage, pecuniary or otherwise, of a person other than the vulnerable adult through the use of undue influence, coercion, harassment, duress, deception, false representation or false pretense.”

In other words, a person who is determined to have the responsibility for taking care of an elderly, disabled, or otherwise incapacitated person may be charged with a crime if he or she uses the finances of the vulnerable adult for personal gain and in a manner inconsistent with the best interests of the vulnerable adult.