A Missouri-based home care company must pay $444,817 for scamming a Long Beach veteran out of his pension by selling him services he didn’t need, a jury decided Tuesday.

The estate of Lawrence Eber was awarded the money after jurors found that the company, Veterans Care Coordination LLC, had committed elder abuse by taking 99% of Eber’s pension for nearly a year under the guise that he would receive up to 69 hours of home care benefits each month.

The amount of money taken was $19,817, but, in addition to that amount, jurors decided to award $50,000 in noneconomic damages and $375,000 in punitive damages, according to court records.

Eber, a Vietnam War veteran, died in 2020, but his estate and attorneys continued pursuing the case and ultimately prevailed after a 10-day civil trial in Long Beach Superior Court.

“We went to trial in Larry Eber’s case because we wanted a jury to tell Veterans Care Coordination that this is not acceptable behavior,” said James Morgan, the attorney representing Eber’s estate. “They made offers to settle, … but we didn’t feel that they understood that their conduct was wrong. They would just try to bury what they’ve done.”

Veterans Care Coordination did not respond to questions from the Long Beach Post.

According to Morgan, Eber became a target for the scam in 2017 while living at a housing facility in Long Beach for low-income veterans called U.S. Vets.

At the facility, a caregiver introduced Eber to Veterans Care Coordination, which helps veterans sign up for their pensions and also offers home care services for those who need assistance with daily living, Morgan said.

The caregiver sold Eber on the idea and Veterans Care Coordination submitted his pension application to the Department of Veterans Affairs, but that’s when the first red flag appeared, according to Morgan. He alleges Veterans Care Coordination lied on Eber’s application with the intent of getting the VA to pay out the highest possible pension.

Then, when Eber received his pension, Veterans Care Coordination convinced him to sign up for the company’s home care services, which required him to pay them a portion of his pension and a commission for the company, Morgan said.

Morgan said Eber was in his early 70s and in good shape at the time: “He didn’t need assistance with his activities or daily living, but they sold it to him anyways so they could make a commission.”

In total, Eber was receiving a monthly pension of $1,830 from the VA, and Veterans Care Coordination was taking $1,820 of it, Morgan said. Despite taking almost all his payment, Veterans Care Coordination did not provide the 69 monthly hours of home care they promised Eber, according to Morgan.

In addition, because the pension showed up as additional income, Eber lost access to some of his Social Security benefits, dropping his income by 25% and leaving him with less than $700 to live on each month, Morgan said.

Morgan alleged Veterans Care Coordination was running the same scam on other local veterans. During the trial, he said, the company testified that it had roughly 40 other clients in Long Beach.

In 2019, Morgan’s firm filed a lawsuit on Eber’s behalf.  The case took a hit in 2020, however, when Eber passed away from cancer at the age of 77, Morgan said.

But Larry Eber’s brother Richard Eber soon decided to take on the lawsuit, which would now be filed on behalf of Larry Eber’s estate, Morgan said.

“It was a very long battle to get this far, and to his credit, his brother stuck with it,” Morgan said. “He could’ve been enjoying his retirement years and instead, he chose to stick up for his brother.”

In a press release Wednesday, Richard Eber said he hoped the jury’s verdict would make the VA take notice and draw attention to “those businesses that profit by manipulating U.S. Veterans out of their pensions.”

Morgan called the verdict a “victory” for Larry Eber and all other veterans who may find themselves in a similar situation.

“After four years of litigation, it is gratifying to see a jury agree that Veterans Care Coordination, LLC’s conduct amounted to financial elder abuse and should be punishable with a punitive damage verdict,” Morgan said.

“The verdict sends a strong message against the exploitation of elderly veterans and underscores the importance of protecting this vulnerable segment of our community,” Morgan said.