Detective keeps an eye on elder abuse

Jacob Mueller quickly tired of his early retirement from police work.
He opened a private-investigations firm, but Mueller didn’t find adultery investigations and other divorce-related work interesting.
“I sat in cars taking pictures of cheating spouses and people collecting alimony who said they weren’t working but really were,” he said. “I felt like there was something missing.”
Through networking online, Mueller was hired by relatives of an elderly, disabled Prescott Valley resident to determine whether an employee hired to care for the person was stealing. It turned out the family’s suspicions were correct, and Mueller had found his niche.

“Families should not trust a $20 Internet background check when it comes to checking the backgrounds of the people caring for their loved ones,” he said. “There really is no national criminal background check” that can be conducted for a few dollars online.

Mueller has since moved to Ahwatukee and turned the focus of his company, Global Eye Investigations, to investigating abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of the elderly.

He pointed out that such crimes don’t just happen to older people who are isolated and unknown. Mueller said he was particularly troubled earlier this year when, at age 90, legendary actor Mickey Rooney testified before a Senate committee about being the victim of abuse and exploitation by a family member.

“Elder abuse is a lot more hidden than you would think,” he said. “The percentage of cases that are ever reported are very low compared with what is going on out there.”

Last year, Arizona’s Adult Protective Services investigated 6,488 reports of “vulnerable adult” mistreatment, and most of the reports were made by health or social-service workers, according to a report by the state Department of Economic Security.

Dana Young, owner of the Discovery Detective Group in Scottsdale and vice president of the Arizona Association of Licensed Private Investigators, said many private investigators, including those in her own group, take on elder-abuse cases. Three to 5 percent of the cases her company investigates annually are elder-abuse cases, she said. But Young said it’s rare for a company to specialize in elder-abuse cases.

“A lot of people don’t have the money to hire private investigators,” Young said.

All the more reason for elder abuse to be his specialty, said Mueller, who also said he is available to conduct no-cost workshops on recognizing and reporting abuse of the elderly. Mueller said his clients have fallen into three categories:

– Businesses that need to check the backgrounds of applicants for care-home jobs.

– Relatives of older people who suspect their family members are being abused, neglected or defrauded.

– People who want his general advice on how to recognize elder abuse.

In one recent case in Mesa, he said, a care-home owner became suspicious of the behavior of a worker. Mueller ran a background check and told the owner that the employee had served a five-year prison term for selling cocaine – something that was not disclosed on the job application.

He also said he recently looked into allegations of toxic mold and neglect of patients in a West Valley care home.

“I can’t guarantee what I am going to find, but I guarantee people will sleep a little better having the information they are seeking,” he said.

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In 2004, he left the Oxnard Police Department in California with enough benefits to provide a nice life in Prescott. But a retiree’s life was not enough to occupy someone who once thrived on participating in car chases and underwater rescues and arresting gang members.

“I found myself slipping,” Mueller said. “I needed something more challenging to do.”

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