David Rikhus was easing into a peaceful retirement of hunting and fishing near his riverfront cabin outside Rochester when he got an unexpected phone call.

Olmsted County was seeing a surge in financial crimes against the elderly. Thefts involving tens of thousands of dollars were not being investigated. Victims were dying before prosecutors could file charges.

The county's Adult Protective Services unit wanted to add forensic firepower to its staff, and hoped to create a position that was unheard of in Minnesota. Would Rikhus, a former sheriff's detective with 25 years of experience as a forensic investigator, consider coming out of retirement to help the county solve crimes against the elderly?

Rikhus agreed, and he's now at the forefront of an effort to bring more perpetrators of elder crimes to justice.

Since returning to the Olmsted County payroll half-time in 2013, Rikhus has investigated 80 financial crimes with total losses exceeding $3 million. His work has led to more than 30 convictions and hundreds of thousands of dollars in recoveries for elderly victims.

Statewide, reports of financial exploitation in state-licensed health facilities surged 80 percent between 2011 and 2015, reaching 1,828 allegations, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

"The amount of greed out there between family members just blows me away," said Rikhus, 62. "But a lot of these cases were not even getting charged out, which only made the problem worse."

“The amount of greed out there between family members just blows me away.”
David Rikhus, Olmsted County Protective Services

In one of Rikhus' recent cases, a woman used her power of attorney to swindle $280,000 from her elderly father, who lived at a Rochester area nursing home. By combing through bank records, the detective was able to show that she used her father's bank account to fund her gambling addiction.

"She made trips to Las Vegas like folks in Minneapolis go to St. Paul," he said.

In another case, a man siphoned more than $400,000 from his father's account to buy tractors and other equipment for his landscaping business.

Rikhus relies on basic financial forensics to pursue many of his cases. He subpoenas bank records and credit card statements and starts searching for clues. He also works closely with Olmsted County's adult protection unit, where social workers can intervene to protect the victims while he gathers evidence.

Nursing home managers are often the first to detect the crimes, he said. Suddenly, an elderly patient misses a few payments, and relatives stop answering phone calls from the facility.

"I go to sleep at night dreaming numbers in my head," he said. "It doesn't take long going through the bank records to get a feel of what's going on, and it's usually not pretty."

Rikhus takes issue with what he considers law enforcement's bias against prosecuting financial crimes against the elderly. Often, he said, financial abuse is intertwined with physical abuse.

Many victims hesitate to report the abuse for fear of retaliation or a reluctance to upset family members.

"The amount of mental anguish can be off the charts," Rikhus said. "The [victims] have worked hard and put their money away their entire lives, just so a family member can come in and wipe them out."

Chris.Serres@startribune.com 612-673-4308David.Joles@startribune.com 612-673-7904