- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana senators considered Monday whether to double the penalties and restitution associated with stealing from elderly or disabled people.

Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, introduced House Bill 57 in the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee. The House passed the measure by a vote of 63-37 in January.

Under the bill, the maximum punishment for securities fraud that victimized an elderly, disabled or mentally impaired person would increase from $5,000 to $20,000 and from 10 years to 20 years in jail. Possible restitution would increase from $25,000 to $50,000.

“By passing this bill we are making the consequences for the dishonest heavier and the ability to recuperate lighter,” Funk said.

Jesse Laslovich, chief legal counsel to Montana’s Commissioner of Securities and Insurance office, said Montana law currently defines an “older” person as anyone who is at least 60. The same age minimum is applied in House Bill 57 because, Laslovich said, older people are disproportionately targeted in securities fraud.

Jane Amdahl, who spoke in support of the bill on behalf of AARP Montana, said it is much more difficult to make up for stolen money in the later years of life than when a person is working.

Mark Murphy of the Montana County Attorneys Association said securities fraud is one area in criminal law where deterrence actually works.

“These are people who balance the risks and rewards of their crimes,” Murphy said. “It’s not one drunk whacking another drunk in the head at a bar.”

Laslovich said a fiscal note attached to the bill that stated one person has been convicted since 1992 was incorrect. One or two people are convicted of securities fraud each year in Montana, he said.

Laslovich said the auditor’s office has been looking to back a bill like Funk’s since a Belgrade man was convicted in 2013 of operating a Ponzi scheme. Richard Reynolds stole more than $5 million from people in 20 states and four other countries, most of whom were elderly.

House Bill 57 will be carried by Sen. Gene Vuckovich, D-Anaconda, in the Senate. In 2013 Vuckovich introduced Senate Bill 134, which later became law, providing increased protections for crimes against the elderly. Funk and Laslovich said the 2013 law did not cover securities fraud.

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