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Groups ask state for release of fraud-compensation funds

October 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
An advocacy group says it's time the state of California starts paying some elderly residents the money they deserve. The funds are compensation for victims of a nursing home fraud scheme involving hundreds of seniors.

Retiree Jerry Noel lost thousands of dollars after he paid a now-bankrupt company to handle his and his wife's nursing-care finances.

The company's owner disappeared after bilking more than 500 seniors from Redding to San Diego.

"Took my money. Haven't seen a penny of it. No benefits, no anything," said Noel.

As a last resort, Noel and others went to the California Secretary of State's Office, which administers the California Victims of Corporate Fraud Compensation Fund, and applied to get some money back, up to $20,000 available per person.

The fund was created almost 10 years ago after the Enron energy company scandal. Corporations in California pay $2.50 a year into a state account, generating almost $15 million over the last decade.

Fraud victims like Noel called on Secretary of State Debra Bowen to start compensating victims, not just for their losses but countless others.

The fund has only paid out $92,000 to seven people since its inception in 2002.

One group submitted its claim in May 2010.

"Today, we know of 50 to 60 elders that have passed away since this has started, of the 500," said attorney Lawrence Salisbury.

Bowen's office says not everyone is eligible for the fund because a court has to say fraud happened, and then money is dispersed only in July.

"The way the fund is written into law and regulation, there is a waiting period," said Nicole Winger, a spokesperson for Bowen. "It's out of respect for all the eligible victims so that everyone has an equal shot at that pool of money."

The fraud fund is used so infrequently that then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers seized $10 million last year to pay other bills, making victims think the money is actually a "slush fund."

Noel is frustrated because his fixed income could use a boost.

"Could live a little easier. We've had to cut back," said Noel.