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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | CRIME WATCH

County Gets Graphic About Elder Abuse

March 13, 2000|Holly Wolcott

Fewer than 100 elder abuse cases are reported in Ventura County each year but officials believe the true number is far higher, perhaps 5,000 annually.

For this reason, the district attorney's office has launched a public campaign to inform victims, caretakers and others about who they can call for help.

Three posters, 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide, have been erected at a heavily traveled bus stop in Oxnard.

Each shows a real victim of elder abuse and lists phone numbers to report incidents. Prosecutors define elder abuse as either physical assault or financial exploitation.

The images are more graphic than the standard public information campaign. One shows bruises on a victim's eye and neck.

"Probably some people will be shocked, but we needed something to catch people's attention," said Jose Velasco, a county victims' advocate. "We hope the message will strike a chord in people and they will call. We know there is more out there than what is reported."

Velasco said research by AARP and the county's Adult Protective Services office shows that most cases of abuse aren't reported because victims fear retaliation from their abusers.

When the county began keeping track in October 1996, one case was reported by the end of the year. Since then, the numbers have grown steadily, to 25 in 1997, 36 in 1998 and 82 in 1999.

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After 18 months of fighting to get his job back, Ventura County Sheriff's Deputy Donald Rodarte will return to work this week and receive back pay totaling about $40,000.

The 29-year-old officer was fired in September 1998, after sheriff's officials decided he had lied about his role in breaking up a rowdy Ojai party that ended with a man's death. Last week, the Civil Service Commission said Rodarte didn't lie and gave him back his job.

Sheriff Bob Brooks said Rodarte will return to his previous position as a patrol deputy in the west county.

However, Rodarte won't return to the Ojai station. He will be assigned either to the department's headquarters in Ventura or its Camarillo station.

As for the back pay, the department says it owes Rodarte a year's salary, which he will get in one lump sum.

"He's got to be made whole," said Sheriff's Chief Deputy Dante Honorico.

Rodarte said he is just glad to get back on the job.

*

It was old-fashioned detective work that busted open the case of the phony welfare checks, which led to the case of the phony paychecks.

After receiving reports that an Oak View woman was passing counterfeit welfare checks at local convenience stores, sheriff's detectives searched Audrey Leslie's home. They came across pay stubs in her name and other paperwork showing she allegedly collected more than $10,000 fraudulently, authorities said.

But the investigators didn't stop there.

The pay stubs led them to an Oxnard printing company, where Leslie's husband worked. There, detectives uncovered an alleged conspiracy to help Leslie's husband, Mark Farris, avoid paying child support for two young children from a previous relationship.

Instead of garnisheeing his wages, the company's two owners and a manager allegedly made out his paychecks in Leslie's name.

"It started out with her, but a lot of people got into trouble," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kim Gibbons.

The company's owners, Charles and Clara Utts, and the manager, Eli Eccles, have been arrested, charged and released from jail, pending their next court appearances. Officials believe Leslie and Farris have fled.

Holly Wolcott can be reached at 653-7581 or at Holly.Wolcott@latimes.com.

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