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Ending Elder Abuse

Prosecutor Paul Greenwood is on a mission to protect older Americans from swindlers

Q. Elaborate.

A. He was a salesman who sold a vacuum cleaner to a charming, sweet 75-year-old woman. Six weeks later he came back, knocked on her door at 10 o’clock at night and said he had broken up with his girlfriend and could he come in and use her telephone to call his mother. Of course, my victim recognized him and without hesitation let him in. As he was being led to the telephone, he jumped her from behind. When she woke up, she had been duct-taped from head to foot. He put her in the trunk of her own car for 26 hours without food, without water, without restroom breaks and drove off.

Q. What happened?

A. Eventually she felt she was dying and she cried out to her late husband to send an angel to rescue her. An hour and a half later, the vacuum cleaner salesman blew through a red light and when the car stopped, a deputy sheriff opened the trunk and found the woman almost dead. The jury only took about an hour and 15 minutes to convict him of torture and attempted murder.

Q. How do you remain upbeat about your job?

A. I love what I do. I am very proud and passionate about pursuing justice for all victims. But there is an extra emphasis when I see victims in the latter stages of their life. They are typically the most endearing, trusting, wonderful, charming people and don’t deserve this. And in many of the cases, the defendants targeted them because they expected to get away with it.

I can honestly say in 14 years I have never been bored. I have been worn out. But I have never ever gotten burned out.

Q. What have you gained personally from defending elder abuse victims?

A. I have learned a great deal from the victims. A majority of them are astonishing; they are not entirely bitter about what has happened to them. They have been through World War II, and they don’t hold grudges. Many times they are devastated, but not vindictive. It has also taught me a lot, I am afraid, about human nature, that a lot of human beings are willing to go as far as exploiting the generosity and the kindness of older people. It’s taught me a lot about perseverance with cases. Ultimately, many times, the truth will prevail.

Cynthia Ramnarace writes about health and families from Rockaway Beach, N.Y.

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