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Federal bill introduced after I-Team's consumer investigation

Posted at 12:04 PM, Mar 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 13:31:12-04

WAUKESHA — There is new hope for elderly victims of financial abuse after a TMJ4 News consumer investigation.

On March 9, Sen. Tammy Baldwin introduced a bill that would help seniors who have fallen victim to financial fraud receive their money back.

The bill is named after Waukesha County woman Edith Shorougian. It's called the "Edith Shorougian Senior Victims of Fraud Compensation Act."

The piece of legislation calls for amending The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 also known as VOCA.

"Right now we have a crime victims compensation fund. It was set up in legislation that was passed many, many years ago. But it's not available to those who have been the victims of financial crimes like the one Edith faced," Baldwin explained.

Edith's bill would allow states to pay back victims of senior fraud. States would be reimbursed from what's called the Crime Victims Fund.

In order to supplement the fund, fines and penalties from deals resulting from cases like accused white collar criminals would now go into that fund instead of the general Treasury fund.

The I-Team has been covering Shorougian's case for more than a year after a Call 4 Action complaint.

Shorougian's long-time financial advisor and friend, Chris Kubiak, stole more than $80,000 from her and her husband's life savings. Court documents said his gambling addiction fueled his scheme. Shorougian hasn't seen any of her money back.

In September of 2019, a federal judge sentenced Kubiak to two years and six months in prison with three years of supervised release.

"When I heard Edith's story, it broke my heart," Baldwin said. "That somebody who she trusted, who she knew for a long time was defrauding her."

"I had my own up close association with the issue of elder fraud. I was the primary caregiver for my grandmother. One of the things I noticed when she asked me to help her with her mail and her bank accounts and balancing the checkbook was she was essentially giving money to what I might describe as fraudulent charities," Baldwin said. "I thought how angry it made me that she was being misled in that way."

Shorougian's family has worked tirelessly, advocating for change ever since they discovered the fraud.

TMJ4 News reconnected with Shorougian and her family after Senator Baldwin introduced the bill.

Shorougian suffered a major stroke in June and is now living with her daughter and son-in-law. They believe the stress of her financial loss caused her health problems.

"My mom is frustrated, embarrassed. She understands she had the stroke, but yet it still stresses her," said her daughter, Valerie.

Her family, though is excited about what this bill means for other families.

"To be honest, I'm amazed. I'm amazed that somebody thought it was a good idea to follow through. To follow up on it," said Gerry Studer, Edith's son-in-law.

"It's going to be a long process and I realize that the federal bill is just the fist step in it," said Studer.

"This doesn't just affect people in Milwaukee or Waukesha county. This is stuff happening all over the nation," he continued.

Edith's bill currently has bi-partisan support. The I-Team will be tracking its progress.

"The way the victims compensation fund works after a crime, you certainly can't always make someone whole, but you can assist in some sort of restitution through this fund because often times the fraudsters, the perpetrators of fraud, are not able to pay any restitution on their own," Baldwin said. "This would be some relief that would be available, where right now none is available."

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