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New law stiffens penalty for swindling the elderly

HELENA (AP) — A new law in Montana will increase penalties for swindling elderly and disabled people.

Gov. Steve Bullock on Wednesday signed House Bill 57 sponsored by Rep. Moffie Funk.

The law will increase punishments for people convicted of securities fraud that victimizes vulnerable people, which includes anyone at least 60 years old or mentally disabled.

Maximum punishments for stealing from the elderly and disabled will increase from $5,000 to $20,000 and from 10 years to 20 years in jail.

Possible restitution for vulnerable victims will increase from $25,000 to $50,000.

"Unfortunately," Bullock said after signing the bill, "there are those who will prey on or take advantage of those are who most trusting."

Jesse Laslovich, chief legal counsel to Montana's Commissioner of Securities and Insurance office, said older people are disproportionately affected by securities fraud.

Laslovich said the auditor's office has been looking to support a measure such as Funk's since a Belgrade man was convicted in 2013 of operating a Ponzi scheme and stealing more than $5 million primarily from elderly people.

Jane Amdahl of Clancy testified in favor of the bill at its first hearing last month and joined Funk and Laslovich at the signing. Amdahl said her mother was scammed out of $60,000 when she was in her 90s.

"I'd like to keep things like that from happening to people," Amdahl said.

It was the first bill the freshman Democrat from Helena successfully moved through the Legislature.

State representatives voted 63-37 in favor of the measure in January and senators transmitted it to the governor this month by a vote of 49-0.

The law will become official once it is filed with the secretary of state's office at the end of the day Wednesday.


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