Facts of the Case
United States of America v. Robert Boling Jr., et al. details the indictment of five individuals for the perpetration of a multifaceted identity-theft and fraud scheme targeting thousands of United States veterans and service members between July 2014 and July 2019. Frederick Brown–a former U.S. Army civilian medical records administrator–exploited his post by illegally providing Robert Boling, Jr. with personal identification information (PII) belonging to thousands of U.S. military-affiliated individuals, including active service members and their dependents, employees of the Department of Defense and, predominantly, veterans. Boling then co-conspired with Allan Kerr and Jongmin Seok, utilizing the stolen PII data to access and steal from victims’ bank accounts, disability funds, and veteran benefit pay-outs via the Department of Defense benefits portal. Thereafter, Trorice Crawford recruited upward of thirty individuals as “money mules” to launder the stolen funds. Crawford then facilitated the remittance of these funds to his four co-conspirators, based in the U.S. and the Philippines.
Frederick Brown and Trorice Crawford were arrested in the United States in October 2019. In the same month, Brown pleaded guilty to his role in the fraud scheme and is currently detained awaiting a sentencing hearing in Las Vegas. On July 9, 2020, the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Justice reported that Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia has ordered Crawford to pay $103,700 in restitution and serve 46 months in prison for his involvement between May 2017 and July 2019. The remaining three, overseas-based co-defendants, Robert Boling Jr., Allan Kerr and Jongmin Seok, have been arrested in the Philippines and are awaiting extradition to the Western District of Texas. The indictment asserts that these latter three defendants specifically utilized stolen military personnel credentials to “compromise a Department of Defense portal.” Having entered through the portal, Boling, Kerr, and Seok are alleged to have accessed information about veterans’ benefits and stolen millions of dollars from victims’ bank accounts. Following Crawford’s sentencing, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, Ethan P. Davis, expressed the commitment of the Department of Justice to protect U.S. veterans and servicepeople, stating that “the Department of Justice will not tolerate fraud on America’s warfighters and veterans” and reasserting that they are “committed to protecting those who protect us.”
Elder Fraud in Numbers
The indictment of Robert Boling Jr. et al. is one among thousands of fraud cases targeting the vulnerable, elderly population. Data from the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative (EJI) presents a jarring snapshot of elder abuse statistics nationwide – wherein, in 2017 alone, the National Adult Maltreatment Report System (NAMRS) documented 143,622 victims of physical abuse and financial exploitation in the 60 and over age bracket. This accounts for a mere 26 states which reported data to NAMRS, and it is estimated that just “one in twenty-four cases” is disclosed to authorities. A study by the National Center on Elder Abuse found that “retrieval of personal financial information under false pretenses” was among the most common types of financial exploitation among elderly Americans. The Federal Trade Commission’s 2018-19 Protecting Older Consumers report illustrates, critically, that money lost to fraud ranged from $400-$506 among younger consumers aged 20-59, while older consumers (60 and above) reported median losses of $600-$1700. Those aged 80 and over reported a 55% increase in money lost to fraud relative to 2017, while those aged 20-59 reported a 2% average increase in money lost to fraud over the same period. National statistics on elder abuse, on the whole, portray an incredibly grim outlook in terms of the United States’ ability to prevent exploitative criminal activity such as that carried out by Boling, Brown, Kerr, Seok, and Crawford.
Precedent and Federal Action
The recovery of assets stolen through financial exploitation of the elderly is a fast-growing area of civil litigation. Elder fraud is not generally considered a criminal law matter because, in many cases, intent is nearly impossible to prove and to prosecute. Moreover, though orders for restitution are commonplace in the criminal law system, seeking awards of damages is a matter best serviced in the civil justice system. Most elder abuse statutes in the United States provide the definition of “the illegal or improper use of an older person’s money or property.” A handful of states, moreover, provide special provisions for the recovery of stolen assets through civil action – Maine’s Improvident Transfer of Title Act, for example, clearly sets standards for the courts to order relief or undo real estate transfers in cases of financial exploitation. In terms of precedent, perpetrators tend to spend or hide stolen assets in fraud cases, oftentimes rendering recovery of victims’ losses impossible. A comparable wire fraud and aggravated identity theft case, United States v. Gareth David Long, saw the defendant sentenced to 70 months imprisonment but with no order for restitution to the plaintiffs. Similar verdicts were reached in United States v. Shivang B. Thakur, United States v. Lori Owen, and United States v. Samuel Davalos, Jr. – all of which involved convictions for consumer and identity fraud targeting elderly citizens.
In October 2017, the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) was signed into law by President Trump to support the Department of Justice’s enforcement action in civil and criminal cases that disproportionately affect elderly citizens, and provide funding for investigation, prosecution and trauma recovery. Since the Act was introduced, the Department has engaged in hundreds of elderly fraud enforcement actions – including the largest elder fraud case in U.S. history, wherein 260 defendants were charged in a nationwide fraud sweep. The passage of the Act has, in addition, enabled the Department to conduct hundreds of outreach sessions and training programs across the nation.
Cameron Page is a Sophomore from Christchurch, New Zealand, studying Global China Studies and Political Science.