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Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen December 23, 2012

McDonnell proposal nixed by General Assembly

When he ran for governor, Bob McDonnell promised to seek tougher penalties for crimes against the elderly.

His 2009 public safety plan said, "McDonnell will propose legislation to create a greater deterrent for, and to punish more harshly, those crimes where the victims are ruthlessly selected due to their age and perceived vulnerability.

"The proposal is to raise the punishment for specific financial crimes by one class. Further, in cases of grand larceny and crimes punished as grand larceny, the punishment will include active jail time; and repeat offenders will receive a mandatory minimum two-year sentence.”

Unsuccessful bills containing all of those provisions were introduced in 2010 by two McDonnell allies: Del. Bob Tata, R-Virginia Beach; and Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk.  

Virginia law already mandated minimum prison sentences for financial crimes committed against people of any age: one year for grand larceny or forgery; two years for obtaining money through false pretense.

The 2010 bills would have increased those penalties -- if the crimes were committed against people 60 or older -- to two years for grand larceny or forgery and five years for obtaining money through false pretenses. Repeat offenders would have two years tacked on to their sentences.

Neither bill made it to the floor. Tata's bill was killed in a House committee and Quayle's measure died in a Senate committee.

Other measures taking different approaches to cracking down on financial crimes against seniors were defeated in 2011 and 2012. Lawmakers have been unable to establish a clear legal line between when a senior is bilked and when that person makes a competent decision that may not be in his or her financial interest.

"You have people who are competent that make decisions not everyone agrees with,” said Del. Robert Bell, R-Albemarle, who is chairman of the State Crime Commission. "Let's say Grandpa buys a sports car, for example. We"re trying not to infringe on a person"s right to make a decision.”

McDonnell asked the Crime Commission earlier this year to study this issue. Bell said he is preparing legislation that would toughen penalties for committing financial crimes against people with mental or physical incapacities. "The current plan is not to tie it to age (of the victim),” he said.

But let's get back to McDonnell's campaign pledge. True to his word, the governor did have legislation introduced that would have increased the prison time for those who commit financial crimes against seniors.

We rate this a Promise Kept.

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