Attorney General William Barr visits Sun City Center

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway spoke to seniors Tuesday on plans to combat elder fraud schemes.
US Attorney General William Barr and Kellyanne Conway, assistant to the president and senior counselor, are announced to  a crowd of about 500 at the Sun City Center Community Hall Tuesday.  Barr announced the creation of a National Elder Fraud Hotline during the "Keeping Seniors Safe" summit.
US Attorney General William Barr and Kellyanne Conway, assistant to the president and senior counselor, are announced to a crowd of about 500 at the Sun City Center Community Hall Tuesday. Barr announced the creation of a National Elder Fraud Hotline during the "Keeping Seniors Safe" summit. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published March 3, 2020|Updated March 4, 2020

SUN CITY CENTER — Pamela Pride didn’t plan on heckling senior White House officials during her vacation stay at a friend’s home in Tampa’s sprawling Sun City Center retirement community.

But when the Olympia, Wash.-based senior found out that Attorney General William Barr, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and a gaggle of Department of Justice officials were planning a Tuesday morning summit in the community hall down the street, Pride said she couldn’t resist asking them some questions.

There was no Q&A session on the agenda for Tuesday’s announcement of new elder fraud prevention programs planned for the Department of Justice’s multi-pronged Elder Justice Initiative. And there was little pomp in the circumstance: One press release for the event mistakenly sent attendees to the Sun City Center Community Association’s headquarters and shuffleboard courts down the street instead of the mostly-full auditorium. There, spotty microphones prompted attendees to tell U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Maria Chapa Lopez and Director of the President’s Domestic Policy Counsel Joe Grogan to “speak up!”

But when Kellyanne Conway took the stage and told the crowd that “President Trump has said he will not touch funding for Medicaid and Medicare for seniors,” Pride told the Tampa Bay Times, she couldn’t stop herself from standing up and asking why the 2021 fiscal budget “is doing the opposite.”

Pride was quickly drowned out by boos from the crowd and demands to “shut up” and “sit down.” Though a security guard asked her to sit, Pride was not asked to leave the venue.

She did, though, get a response from Conway: “I’m sure that will make you a superstar tonight, but I’m here for the seniors,” she said. “It’s easy to be loud, but it’s much more difficult to do something about it.”

Conway introduced Barr and a laundry list of speakers for the “Keeping Seniors Safe Summit,” including federal prosecutors and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.

“This is about protecting our seniors from pernicious predatory behavior,” Conway said. “We’re always trying to stay a couple steps ahead of these very innovative, very punishing and unforgiving, pretty creative and pretty ruthless and craven brazen criminal enterprises.”

Barr said plans to “do something about it” manifests in multiple new initiatives aimed at persecuting the individuals and companies profiting off “elder fraud” scams, including those carried out through emails, telemarketers and robocalls. Already this year, federal prosecutors in the “Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force” have charged more than 400 defendants, both in the U.S. and abroad, believed to be targeting seniors 65 or older in financial schemes estimated to have generated more than a billion dollars, Barr said.

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“Unfortunately, the criminals who perpetrate these crimes depend on their victims’ silence,” Barr said. “Victims routinely report feeling embarrassed and ashamed that they have fallen for these ploys. However, we must act up and speak up and we must do a better job of making assistance readily available.”

Barr announced the launch of the Department of Justice’s new National Elder Fraud Hotline, which will instantly connect callers 60 years old or older with multilingual caseworkers who can provide support for those worried they have become victims of financial fraud.

Case managers staffing the hotline will not only provide resources and referrals to callers, but also ensure that each report of potential fraud is sent to both the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission.

The new number is 1-833-372-8311, or 1-833-FRAUD-11.

Related: Florida's seniors most at risk if coronavirus spreads

Barr also announced the new National Nursing Home Initiative focused on increasing criminal investigations into nursing homes providing “grossly substandard care” to residents.

“In fact,” Barr said, “we have already initiated investigations into approximately 30 individual nursing facilities in nine different states.

“Mark my words, this initiative will bring justice to those owners and operators that put profits over patients, and it will ensure that residents of nursing homes receive the care to which they are entitled," Barr said.

Outside the venue, after Conway and Barr made their quick exit from the event, Pride said she was glad she got to hear their commitment to protecting the nation’s seniors from security fraud. And glad she asked the question.

“I’m a concerned constituent, and I think it’s important particularly that our senior community understands what is true and what is not true. And I spoke out because the information we were hearing today about Medicaid and social security was not true,” Pride said. “And if there are things being done around security fraud, that’s important and I hope those programs will be true, because we’re losing utterly essential programs for seniors.”