State investigation stopped pair from bilking widower
|||Law makes it hard to protect Isles' seniors|
By Rob Perez
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rob Perez
When elder fraud cases are investigated, the system generally does a good job of protecting the victim, according to senior advocates. The problem, they say, is that not enough cases get to that point.
Hong Chow Chock was fortunate that his did.
In 2001, friends of the then-86-year-old Big Island man contacted Adult Protective Services, the state investigating agency, after they became worried he was being exploited by his caregiver and her husband.
Their concerns were on the mark.
Once Adult Protective Services investigators started looking into Chock's case, they found classic signs of financial abuse.
Still grieving from the death of his wife in mid-1999, Chock in early 2000 put an ad in a newspaper, looking for a caregiver. The retired aircraft painter lived a simple, frugal lifestyle and wanted someone to help him around the house and to take him on errands, like the almost daily trip he made to a mall to meet his friends.
Laura Kauwe responded, pretending to be his niece, and Chock gave her the job. As part of their deal, he allowed her to live rent-free in his home and eventually added her name to his savings and checking accounts.
Within four months, Chock's finances were in shambles.
"He was so taken in by that wahine," Chock's nephew, Rex Auna of Honolulu, said of Laura Kauwe. "She really got to him."
Kauwe used Chock's money to buy new furniture, a truck, Home Shopping Network merchandise and jewelry. She made large cash withdrawals. Chock even bought a $2,100 diamond ring.
By the end of 2000, the $47,000 Chock had in his savings account was gone. His checks started bouncing.
Kauwe also had managed to get Chock to transfer to her the deeds to his Hilo home and a vacant lot he owned.
Chock's friends at the mall soon began to notice that Chock would be dropped off looking unhappy, tired, sometimes not appropriately dressed. He often had no money — even though he was left at the mall virtually the entire day — and they had to treat him to lunch.
When the state took Kauwe and her husband, Abraham Kauwe, to trial last year on charges of stealing Chock's life savings and property, the prosecutor in the case, deputy attorney general Gary Senaga, stressed that the couple took advantage of a frail, vulnerable, lonely man.
"This case is about the gold-digging, life-draining manipulation of an 86-year-old," Senaga said in his opening statement to the jury.
The defense countered that Chock had promised to turn over his estate to Laura Kauwe in exchange for the care she was to provide him the rest of his life, but that Chock subsequently decided to renege on that promise.
Jurors didn't buy that defense and in September found the Kauwes guilty of multiple counts of theft. Laura Kauwe was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was ordered to return title to Chock's properties; her husband received a one-year jail term and five years' probation. Both were ordered to pay restitution of $28,000.
The two have appealed the verdicts and are free pending the outcome of the appeal.
Their attorneys didn't respond to requests for comment.
Senaga said Adult Protective Services was instrumental in gathering the initial evidence that led to a successful prosecution. "They did a good job," he said.
Chock now lives in a care home on the Big Island.
Rex Auna said his uncle still is preoccupied by what happened, especially knowing the Kauwes are not behind bars. "Every time I go see him, the first thing he'd tell me, 'I want you to lock them up and throw away the key,' " Auna said.
Reach Rob Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org.