In March, authorities charged four people with stealing more than $2.4 million from 10 elderly victims in their 80s and 90s. Aside from the especially despicable nature of the crime - taking advantage of elderly people with no close relatives - the case is notable for several reasons.
One of the people charged in the crime, Northfield attorney Barbara Lieberman, 62, a leading specialist in elder law, was herself a guardian appointed by a court to take care of incapacitated seniors' assets. Also charged was former Atlantic County social worker Jan Van Holt, 57, who ran an in-home senior service.
The case also is worth careful attention because these charges might never have come to light if not for the tireless efforts of a private citizen - Barbara Martin, of Mays Landing. Martin has been pushing since 2011 to have something done about the court-appointed guardian she believes took advantage of her elderly aunt.
Let's stipulate that Lieberman and Holt have not yet been convicted of anything. But the idea that seniors who trusted the system may have been victimized - a 95-year-old Margate woman allegedly lost more than $600,000 - is shocking.
But just as shocking to us is the fact that it took an outside individual to bring the alleged misdeeds to light.
County Surrogate's Courts oversee guardianships for people who are incapacitated. Lieberman was often appointed as a guardian. The Atlantic County Surrogate's Court is now investigating to see if there are other instances where seniors with court-appointed guardians have been victimized.
Yes, Martin deserves accolades for having insight and rare persistence. State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who was contacted by Martin and passed her concerns on to the state Attorney General's Office, which he said sparked the investigation, was right when he praised her efforts. "People coming forward like Barbara is crucial because if they don't, it continues," he said.
But now Van Drew and his fellow legislators need to go further. Lawmakers have to fix a system that apparently has been far too trusting and short on oversight.
So while we are grateful to Barbara Martin and think she sets an example of how citizens should act when they think an injustice is being committed, we also think she should never have been put in this position in the first place.