NASGA is a public interest civil rights organization founded by several victims and for victims of unlawful and abusive guardianship and conservatorship cases. Please visit our website at www.StopGuardianAbuse.org for more information on how you can help stop guardian abuse.
BOWLING GREEN — A former lawyer who stole more than $400,000 from a client took a gamble and lost, a judge said Wednesday.
Robert Searfoss III, 40, of Perrysburg was sentenced by Wood County Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $400,718 in restitution to the victim, Eric Walker.
“I think the defendant gambled and lost in this case,” Judge Mayberry said. “Not only did he lose, but he took down his family with him, took down his parents with him, took down his in-laws with him, and certainly, terribly, tragically took down the Walker family with him.”
Although Searfoss had no prior criminal history, the judge noted he had not repaid a penny of restitution.
“For someone that's held to a higher standard, that's engaged in the practice of law, and that's sworn an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Ohio, it's beyond the pale that someone would be in a position of trust as a trustee, entrusted with someone's life finances in their hands, and would instead use it to their own advantage,” Judge Mayberry said.
Prosecutors said Searfoss was in serious personal financial straits when he dipped into Mr. Walker's trust to buy a house and pay off debt, including back taxes, child support, and a home-equity loan.
A jury found him guilty Nov. 29 of two counts of aggravated theft, four counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, four counts of money laundering, three counts of theft, and one count of grand theft.
In addition to restitution, Judge Mayberry ordered Searfoss to forfeit his interest in a Shawnee Drive home in Perrysburg, a Georgetown Drive property in Bowling Green, a 2013 Dodge Dart, and the Bowling Green firm where he once worked, Searfoss Law, LLC.
Shackled and wearing orange jail garb, Searfoss apologized to Mr. Walker and his family, saying that he considered Mr. Walker a friend and knows that he violated his trust.
“I'm just ashamed of what I did,” Searfoss said. “I'm usually a very intelligent person, also very stupid. I got lost somewhere along the way. I had all these elaborate rationalizations in my mind. I mean, all the way through the trial, I just couldn't see things clearly.”
He said he didn't own up to what he'd done until the morning after the jury found him guilty.
“I was an attorney in the community, and I did no service to the public opinion of attorneys and their trust in it,” he said. “I've done a lot of good in my life, and I've done a lot of bad here.”
Thomas Matuszak, chief assistant county prosecutor, asked for a 20-year sentence, saying repeatedly that Searfoss was figuratively playing poker — gambling with Mr. Walker's money and with his own future.
“The defendant now understands that the poker hand he played was a loser, and at the end of the day he went all-in and he took everything from Mr. Walker in the process,” Mr. Matuszak said. “As a result, he should be punished accordingly, not only to punish him but to deter others who might conceive of committing similar offenses.”
Mr. Matuszak read a letter from Mr. Walker to the court, in which the victim said the trust his grandmother had set up for him “should have been there for the rest of my life to pass on to my children after my death. I put my trust in someone that I would have never thought would do me wrong.”
Mr. Walker said that if Searfoss had begun paying the restitution, he would have asked for leniency, but that was not the case.
Defense attorney Rick Kerger pointed out that prior to trial, prosecutors offered Searfoss a plea agreement with a recommended sentence of three years. He asked for a sentence “as short as possible” for an otherwise law-abiding man.
Mr. Kerger said afterward that Searfoss was considering whether to appeal his 20-year sentence.
“It seems excessive for a first-time offender,” he said. “He's given up his law license. He's lost all his assets. The court is stressing the importance of making restitution and then sentences him to 20 years.”
A Florida woman was sentenced to prison for bilking an elderly Martha's Vineyard woman out of $3.5 million for "repeated exorcisms."
BOSTON, MA — A Florida woman who claimed to be a psychic was sentenced to two years in prison on Wednesday after bilking an elderly Martha's Vineyard woman out of $3.5 million for repeated exorcisms. Sally Ann Johnson, 41, also agreed to repay the victim, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.
Johnson conducted the scheme from from 2007 to 2014, prosecutors said.
"Johnson was paid over $3.5 million by an elderly woman living on Martha's Vineyard to purportedly perform spiritual cleansing and healing services to rid the woman of demons through repeated exorcisms," Lelling said in a statement.
Johnson admitted to concealing the money from the Internal Revenue Service. In October, she pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to interfering with tax laws.
"Johnson used an alias and directed the woman to send payments to at least three different bank accounts with which Johnson was associated, including an account in another person's name," then-U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said in a statement in October. "Johnson then withdrew large portions of the woman's payments from the accounts in cash. In addition, Johnson accrued substantial charges on a credit card held in the name of the elderly woman, who ultimately paid the credit card bills, thereby concealing from the IRS the true extent of Johnson's income. Neither Johnson nor any of the businesses she operated filed a tax return or paid taxes on the income she received from the woman."
Johnson owned several businesses, including "Flatiron Psychic," "Psychic Match, Inc." and "Psychic Spiritual Salon, Inc." She offered "psychic readings," "spiritual cleansing & strengthening," and "meditation & healing. She had several aliases, including Angela Johnson, Angelia Johnson and Sally Reed, prosecutors said.
Judge Diane Vettori-Caraballo walked into a federal courtroom and said hello and then told 21 News "I did not do this."
Vettori-Caraballo is charged in a federal criminal information and accused of stealing cash from two shoeboxes from a dead client's home.
The FBI says the crime happened in early 2016 and Vettori-Caraballo allegedly stole between $96,200 and $328,000.
It's money the deceased woman intended for the charities Angels for Animals and Animal Charity.
Vettori-Caraballo who has reigned over the Sebring Court since 2002 was arraigned on the criminal charges today in Cleveland, and when Federal Judge Dan Aaron Polster asked her, "How does she plead?" There was a long pause. Then after consulting with her attorneys in a surprise move Vettori-Caraballo said not guilty.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan McDonough told the judge, "The government had anticipated a guilty plea today. So they'll be filing a superceding indictment with additional charges."
More charges Vettori-Caraballo will have to defend herself against at trial, now scheduled for March 26th.
The judge has told Vettori-Caraballo she has until March 5th if she decides she wants to change he plea.
She will be held on a $20,000 unsecured bond.
The Ohio Supreme Court has suspended her from hearing cases on the bench.
But the Judge has not resigned.
Vettori-Caraballo's attorneys J. Gerald Ingram and John Juhasz did not wish to comment on a pending case.
SANTA FE, N.M. -- A bill being proposed at the Roundhouse aims to protect the state's citizens placed under court-ordered guardianship.
Senate Bill 19 completely re-writes New Mexico's current guardianship law. It’s a long and complex bill coming in at 165 pages. State Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, said the state currently has a guardianship law in place, However, it needs to be improved.
"It hasn't worked real well," he said. "Although reports have been required and guardianships have got responsibilities, those folks have abused the process. They’ve found a way to make the situation ugly, taken some of the money that doesn’t belong to them and we’re trying to straighten that all out."
For example, the feds closed Albuquerque-based guardian firm Ayudando last year after its owners were charged with embezzling millions of dollars from their clients' trust accounts.
“The bill corrects a lot of the problems we’ve had," White said.
The bill essentially makes the court-appointed guardianship process more transparent by improving notification of guardianship court proceedings and making the records public. It also improves visitation rights and includes bonding requirements for guardianship agencies.
"So if there's a loss of funds the bonding agency will have to make up for that," White said.
If passed the bill would apply to new guardianship cases starting in January 2019.
"There are two parts to the guardianship system," White said. "First is to take care of the individual to make sure they’re taken care of physically they’ve got places to live and they’re taken care of properly. But it’s also the finances part of it, so you might say it’s a two-pronged approach to make sure both of these things are taken care of."
Despite this short 30-day session, White said he's optimistic the bill can make it to the Gov. Susana Martinez's desk.
More families are skipping guardianship for their children with disabilities, even as they're exploring other legal methods to protect their loved ones.
By Taylor Knopf
Janie Desmond was nervous the first time she boarded a train in Durham headed for Greensboro. From her wheelchair, the train seemed big, loud and unfamiliar.
“I kind of wanted to convince my mom to take me to school, but I had to take the train,” Desmond said describing her freshman year UNC Greensboro. “There were a bunch of people on there that I didn’t know.”
When the train would make stops, Desmond said she was confused about what was going on.
This was one of Desmond’s first explorations away from home on her own. Over time, riding the train became no big deal. After that, she took on ordering groceries, preparing food, managing money, and other life skills.
Desmond, now 25, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, severe visual impairment and mild intellectual disability as a child.
Many parents of North Carolinians with disabilities obtain guardianship of their children when they become adults.
But not Desmond’s parents. When she turned 18, they wanted her to live as fulfilled and independent of a life as possible.
Now living in her own apartment with a roommate in downtown Durham, Desmond is proud of her accomplishments.
“Mom doesn’t have to do everything for me anymore, which I’m grateful for,” Desmond said. “Freshman year, my mom would always have to handle all of my medicine. I didn’t know how to get my prescriptions […] She use to have to do it all. Now, I’m like, ‘Mom, I’ve got this. I don’t need any more help.’”
Betsy MacMichael, Desmond’s mother, said she and her husband talked about the idea of obtaining guardianship of their daughter for about five minutes and then decided she needed to be part of the conversation.
In North Carolina, a parent seeking guardianship must file a petition with the Clerk of Superior Court, and the court must find their child to be legally “incompetent.” Guardianship removes a person’s adult rights from them.
“We wanted to give her every chance to be as competent and independent as she could be with help,” MacMichael said. “That didn’t mean we wouldn’t be there. We talked about ways we would still be in her life and supporting her no matter what. We felt like we wanted her to have the dignity of us not being her boss.”
There’s a growing movement challenging parents to consider alternatives to guardianship and think about other ways to support their children with disabilities.
A group called Rethinking Guardianship— comprised of clerks of court, civil rights lawyers, university experts, state health and human services staff and other disability advocates — is working to improve North Carolina’s guardianship process and help people think about alternatives.
These experts say guardianship is unnecessary in many cases because young adults need to make their own decisions in order to mature into adulthood.
MacMichael is part of this movement as the executive director of First in Families of North Carolina, a statewide nonprofit that helps people with disabilities live more independently in their community.
And for seven years now, MacMichael and Desmond have worked out a system that allows Desmond to live on her own with support.
What are the alternatives?
MacMichael said that First in Families favors using alternatives to guardianship first. However, she recognizes that guardianship is necessary sometimes.
“Too often, people with disabilities are segregated into special communities, such as group homes,” MacMichael said. “First in Families wants to help them integrate and live in the regular community, if possible.
“Obtaining guardianship of someone with disabilities when they turn 18 hinders their ability to mature as an adult,” MacMichael said.
Most 18 year olds make mistakes and require advice from their elders on financial, health, housing and career decisions. A person with disabilities is no different. However, this structure of supported decision making sometimes needs to be formalized.
MacMichael recommends helping a young person establish a personal support network, people who can help in different areas of life such as finances and healthcare decisions. Many parents worry what will happen to their child once they are gone.
Creating this support network helps alleviate some of those fears. It also helps the siblings of someone with a disability not feel like the sole person responsible for their brother or sister later in life. One organization that supports siblings is called NC Sibs.
“It’s a way for families to leave a loved one money in a trust that won’t jeopardize any government benefits that they have,” MacMichael said. “Say a grandparent leaves someone like my daughter money, she would get bumped off Social Security and she would lose her Medicaid waiver and that would be really bad.”
A special needs trust would protect from something like this.
North Carolina also passed the ABLE Act in 2015, which allows families to squirrel away some funds in a tax-exempt 529 fund, up to $100,000. The money can be used for things such as buying a new van or a major appliance.
First in Families holds workshops on will and estate planning to help demystify these things for parents of people with disabilities. MacMichael said there are ways to leave a child money in a special needs trust even if you’re not independently wealthy, such as a life insurance plan.
If a parent still feels like their loved one needs a guardian, MacMichael said she will talk to them about various degrees of guardianship, such as partial guardianship or just guardianship of the estate.
‘Love being independent’
Desmond graduated from a four-year program at UNC Greensboro called “Beyond Academics,” designed specifically for people with intellectual disabilities. She learned about budgeting, menu planning and other skills for independent living.
Then in April 2016, Desmond moved into her own accessible Durham apartment, decorated in pink, with her roommate, Suyva Carroll.
Desmond’s parents had bought a two-story house and converted it into four apartments. The bottom two are accessible for those with disabilities and the upstairs is rented out at market rate to subsidize the lower level.
The two young women said they love to sing together, go bowling, and hang out at Fullsteam Brewery. Desmond’s boyfriend Sloan often comes with them.
“I just love being independent because I can buy what I want, eat what I want, I can exercise when I want, and go out when I want to,” Desmond said.
“I love eating salads, vegetables and fruit. If I was at a group home, I wouldn’t be able to make my own decisions with food and having friends come over,” she added.
Both are looking for a paying job, but in the meantime they take advantage of volunteer opportunities, in places such as schools, the hospital and the farmers’ market.
“I’m also waiting on a paying job, but right now I’m doing a lot of volunteering because then it might turn into a paying job,” Carroll said. “Whatever God blesses you with, you got to run with it.”
North Carolina's program to provide guardianship for people with serious mental health or intellectual issues is in need of updating. In a multipart series, NC Health News will take a look at the issues around guardianship and what might need to change.
By Taylor Knopf
A week before Shawn Stead’s 12th birthday, he was riding a scooter in his Garner neighborhood when a Ford F-150 truck hit him.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), spending the first three weeks at WakeMed hospital in Raleigh unconscious. Doctors said he would likely die or be brain dead.
Shawn’s mother, Kristine Stead, said she needed hope of a better outcome.
“He said, ma’am, I don’t think you understand the severity of your son’s injuries,’” Kristine recalled the neurologist saying. “I don’t think you understand I’m his mother and I need a third option, please. We need something else to hold on to,” she told the doctor.
Shawn defied everyone’s expectations. After 78 days at the hospital, Shawn was discharged.
He relearned to walk and talk. He’s participated in Special Olympics. And he graduated from Garner High School.
“I was like a Pokemon, leveling up higher and higher,” said Shawn, now 22.
Though Shawn made a full-recovery physically, his brain was altered in the accident. Daily life tasks are more difficult for him. He can’t drive. And as Shawn approached 18, it was clear he wouldn’t join the workforce and live independently right away.
Shawn’s mother Kristine is one of many parents in North Carolina who have sought and secured a type of guardianship over her child.
Now, there’s a growing movement challenging parents to move away from guardianship and think about other ways to support their children with disabilities.
Some experts say it’s unnecessary to obtain guardianships in many cases because young adults needs to make their own decisions in order to mature into adulthood properly. NC Health News will examine that more fully in Part 2 of this series.
But Kristine says the process has worked for her family and Shawn.
How it works
In North Carolina, there are a few types of guardianship.
A “guardian of the estate” is an adult appointed only to manage a ward’s property, estate and business affairs, according to N.C. general statute 35A. A “guardian of the person” is an adult appointed only to manage the care, custody and control of a someone the court deems “incompetent.” And a “general guardian” is someone who controls a ward’s person and estate.
A parent seeking guardianship must file a petition with the Clerk of Superior Court and for parents seeking guardianship of their children aging into adulthood, the court must find the teenager to be an “incompetent child.”
The term is legally defined in the general statute as “a minor who is at least 17 1/2 years of age and who, other than by reason of minority, lacks sufficient capacity to make or communicate important decisions concerning the child’s person, family, or property, whether the lack of capacity is due to mental illness, mental retardation, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism, inebriety, disease, injury, or similar cause or condition.”
A guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the ward and make sure he or she understands what is happening. The guardian ad litem also talks to the ward about rights they may wish to keep, such as the ability to vote, choose their own religion or pick friends.
This can be helpful for some families, like the Rainears of Raleigh. Their 18-year-old son Gaven has autism and Asperger’s syndrome. While Gaven has a pretty large vocabulary, he’s soft spoken and doesn’t always tell people what he wants.
“We didn’t have any idea he would like to have the ability to pick his own religion,” his father Russell Rainear said. “I’m fine with it. You pick your religion, friends and who you vote for, absolutely. But I wouldn’t have thought of any of those things had [the guardian ad litem] not talked to him about it.”
Obtaining guardianship of an adult means taking individual rights from them. It requires the person seeking guardianship to file a lawsuit against the person they are seeking guardianship of.
Parents must inform family members via mail and give them an opportunity to object. Law enforcement officers serve papers on the wards to inform them a parent is seeking guardianship.
Kristine Stead found the process mostly pain free. After all the paperwork was filed and the guardian ad litem met with Shawn, they headed to the Wake County courthouse.
“The judge was sitting up at the bench when we walked in. He came down from the bench, grabbed a chair and sat at the table with us,” she said. “It was very informal — I think because we weren’t fighting against someone [.…] Neither parent was fighting for custody.”
Kristine didn’t hire a lawyer because no one was contesting the guardianship.
Russell Rainear hired a lawyer. He and Gaven worried some relatives might interfere. A couple clerks of court interviewed have said it is not necessary to obtain a lawyer, but sometimes people do.
“A year before we filed the paperwork, we had conversations once a month, reminding him that this was coming. This is how this will go. It’s not a bad thing,” Russell said. “The officer is going to the house in uniform and serve you papers. He’s going to tell you we are suing you for guardianship of you… It’s a very intimidating process.” Angela-Christine Rainear, Gaven’s step-mother, said she thinks there should be a different process for uncontested guardianships of people with established disabilities.
“There should be a gentler, softer version,” she said. “Gaven didn’t contest to guardianship, but we still had to sue.”
The Rainears said they are dreading going through the guardianship process again with their youngest son, who is 17 and also has autism. Unlike Gaven, the younger boy is mostly non-verbal.
Peace of mind
Many parents of children with developmental disabilities see guardianship as a way to protect their loved one. It gives them peace of mind.
Kristine Stead said she sought guardianship of Shawn mainly for any medical need that might arise.
“If he needs to go to the doctor or has a procedure, I can go in. There is no signing anything,” she said. “I go right in. They have to answer my questions, they have to talk to me. It makes it easier.”
She added that if Shawn gets into a difficult situation, or makes a poor decision, she can override it as his legal guardian.
“Or if he makes a decision and it’s someone taking advantage of him, I can come back and say, ‘you didn’t get my permission.'” Kristine said.
Russell Rainear feels similarly about Gaven.
“The world is going to expect him to walk out of high school, across that stage and be somebody he’s not ready to be,” he said.
“Gaven is a gem. You can take him anywhere. He’s super polite and proper. He can carry himself well in general,” Russell added. “He just can’t by himself. He won’t speak up for himself. He won’t take care of himself. If left alone, he won’t make the right decisions.”
Both Kristine and Russell plan to restore their sons’ rights someday when the young men are ready.
Shawn has become more independent over time. He takes a cab when he needs to go somewhere. He likes to run errands and go to the gym with his grandfather.
He’s made small steps towards self-sufficiency, such as clipping his own nails, doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher, and taking the trash and recycling out on the right days.
When he got a job at Target recently, his mother was thrilled.
And Shawn’s fine with his mom being his guardian. It helps him out, he said.
Gaven said sees guardianship as a necessity.
“I’m incredibly less stressed now,” he said.
Gaven is excited to graduate from high school and building skills for independent living. He’s starting to figure out the bus system.
He can prepare simple meals such as rice, mac ‘n’ cheese and frozen pizza. And he does some chores, like folding clothes and emptying the cat’s litter box.
He enjoys writing science fiction short stories and looks out for his little brother. Gaven holds his brother’s hand and walks him to his special education classroom every morning.
Is guardianship always necessary?
There is a growing movement challenging parents to move away from guardianship and think about other ways to support their children with disabilities.
“In North Carolina, we overuse guardianship,” said Corye Dunn, a lawyer with Disability Rights NC.
She said there are small number of cases where guardianship is necessary. But Dunn and organizations such as Rethinking Guardianship and First in Families NC believe in helping a young adult with disabilities through supportive decision making.
“I think people really need to examine their goals in seeking guardianship,” Dunn said. “There are important developmental opportunities in those years between 18 and 25. Most young adults make mistakes and that’s developmentally appropriate. That’s how you learn to be an adult.”
Just because someone turns 18 does not mean they have all the knowledge and skills to be a successful adult. Most young people turn to trusted elders for advice, Dunn explained.
“Maybe you go to dad for financial help,” she said. “Or maybe it’s an aunt who is a nurse who you talk to about healthcare.”
For someone with a disability, the goal would be to formalize this support network for them.
“You create an agreement with the focus person and all the people in their life who they trust to be advisors,” Dunn said. “The advisors agree to be the advisors in specific areas and only those.”
Someone with a disability can give their power of attorney over if needed or ask that a parent come into a doctor’s appointment with them.
Parents often focus on good decision making and keeping their child safe, Dunn said.
“As people, we balance safety against freedom, what we enjoy, and long and short-term benefits,” she said. “If everything is about safety, we deny them the human experience.”
A Tom Green County jury sentenced Sweetwater attorney John Stacy Young to 11 years in prison and $40,000 in fines Wednesday.
The jury deliberated for about three hours. Here's a breakdown of the sentences:
On Count 1, forgery, state jail felony: 24 months in a Texas State Jail facility and a $10,000 fine.
On Count 2, forgery, state jail felony: 24 months in a Texas State Jail facility and a $10,000 fine.
On Count 3, theft, first-degree felony: 11 years in an institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and a $10,000 fine.
On Count 4, money laundering, second-degree felony: 11 years in an institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and a $10,000 fine.
He will serve the sentences concurrently.
Young's family was in court for the sentencing. His daughter and son, both college age, broke into sobs and hugged their father.
Young, 57, was found guilty Monday, Nov. 6, on all charges related to conspiring with a San Angelo bail bondsman to forge a will and claim a local man's estimated $8 million estate.
Because he was found guilty of theft, Young almost certainly will be disbarred, according to information from the Houston Chronicle. It's not yet clear whether restitution will be required.
During closing arguments, Shane Attaway — with the state Attorney General's Office — told the jury that Young as a criminal defense attorney "knows the laws" and started "building his defense right from the start."
The defense urged the jury to consider "restorative justice" with a community supervision or probation option requiring Young or his family to pay back the estate.
"Make them (the Young family) pay," said Daniel Hurley, an attorney on Young's defense team. The easy option, he said, was to put him in jail and "let the taxpayers pay."
The prosecution team said Young had three years to pay restitution before now and "probation is not revoked for a failure to pay restitution," especially if the defendant has no assets or income to pay with.
The prosecution also pointed out that Young transferred ownership of his 5,000-square-foot home to his wife about two and a half weeks before the trial.
"Probation is a hammer only if it's made of plastic and comes with a McDonald's Happy Meal," said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan White, one of the prosecuting attorneys.
Young faced punishment of 180 days to two years in jail and two to 99 years in prison for theft, money laundering and two counts of forgery. The trial lasted about 3 1/2 weeks. Judge Brock Jones presided.
The Texas Rangers charged Young and former bail bondsman Ray Castro Zapata, 66, with stealing the estate of San Angelo resident John Edward Sullivan, 77, after he died June 4, 2014.
Zapata was bail bondsman for Sullivan when Sullivan was arrested in March 2014 on charges of soliciting minors online, and possession of child pornography. Court documents said Young became Sullivan's lawyer through a referral from Zapata.
According to previous testimony, Zapata said he found the alleged will — bequeathing Sullivan's entire fortune to Young — on the day of Sullivan's death. It was handwritten in black ink and about a paragraph long, inside a prayer book at Sullivan's residence, he said.
Zapata, who faced the same charges as Young, was found guilty in a May trial. A Tom Green County jury sentenced him to six months in state jail and 10 years' probation.
Judge Jones also ordered him to pay $1.8 million to Sullivan's estate. Zapata is appealing the conviction.
Tonight's guests expose local authorities in Oklahoma ignoring proofs of a hate crime. Patrick Cross’s strong voice and warrior for his son, 20 year old Christian-victim who is struggling yet surviving a brutal attack.
But that's not all that will be shared tonight.
Patrick Cross, father of victim- is ready to “show and tell” more sad truths about other injustices far too many are experiencing in this little municipality where the comforts of crimes by the true criminals upon citizens will no longer be tolerated.
Tanya Hathaway is not an attorney and cannot give and does not give legal advice. She is an activist, advocate, victim-survivor-whistleblower, blogger and author and speaker. Tanya strives to give opinion and resources, discuss options and encourages moving forward in bringing Justice to Oklahoma and realizing the true “Access to Justice” as our constitution was and is meant to be.
This is so common in Oklahoma that we have countless other warrior victim- advocates; advocates coming forward and lining up. And as we are building a major case against the state of Oklahoma- we won't stop until the job is done. Reform is on it's way… ! Join us and join in.
Next Sunday, FBI undercover turned whistleblower will be our guest.
Undercover blew the lid off of what he believes to be an unlawful set up against Jerry Varnell, now facing life in prison for failed attempts to blow up bank building. Wait til you find out the twists and turns in this case and hear the recordings of FBI conversation.
The Allure Group, a Brooklyn nursing home chain, has been mired in a major real estate scandal during more than 20 months of city and state investigations. Now it’s finally poised to pursue its stalled growth plans after reaching a settlement with the state late last year.
Allure, run by operators Joel Landau and Marvin and Solomon Rubin, agreed to pay $2 million in penalties and charitable contributions to local nonprofits in a deal with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, announced Jan. 5.
The agreement marks the end of the state’s investigation into Allure’s closing and subsequent sale of Rivington House on the Lower East Side as well as its closing of a second facility, CABS Nursing Home, in central Brooklyn. For community groups, it opens up the possibility that the city will finally get new long-term-care facilities in neighborhoods that sorely need them. But mistrust persists. “They have to be watched,” said K Webster, who leads the Lower East Side community group Neighbors to Save Rivington.
In February 2015 Allure purchased Rivington House, an HIV/AIDS facility on the Lower East Side, for $28 million. It sold the building a year later to luxury housing developers for $116 million, provoking an outcry from the community, the media and the city.
Allure will pay $750,000 in fines and contribute $1.25 million to health care nonprofits on the Lower East Side. It also committed to spend $10 million in the next five years to establish health care facilities both in central Brooklyn and on the Lower East Side. Allure must run them for at least eight years each.
Schneiderman withdrew his objection to Allure’s purchase of Greater Harlem Nursing Home on West 138th Street, where Allure has served as the state-appointed receiver of the financially distressed facility since 2014. Under the settlement, Allure must keep the facility open for at least nine years.
Allure can now resume the expansion plans that Schneiderman blocked in 2016 during the investigation. “Now that the roadblocks holding up our full control have been lifted, we look forward to turning our Harlem center into a world-class facility similar to all other Allure facilities,” Landau said.
Landau and the Rubins entered the nursing home business in 2010 with the backing of Leibel Rubin, Marvin and Solomon’s father, who has run nursing homes for decades. The partners bought the vacant nursing home portion of the former Victory Memorial Hospital in Bay Ridge for $20 million and set up Hamilton Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
Landau and the Rubins went on to acquire four more Brooklyn facilities. They successfully raised occupancy at these struggling locations. Its six homes generate about $200 million a year in revenue, according to Landau.
When they sought to buy Rivington House from nonprofit VillageCare, the property had a deed restriction that required it to be used as a nonprofit residential health care facility.
Because Allure is a for-profit company, the city informed Landau and Marvin Rubin that they would have to pay $16 million to lift that restriction. Landau told the city that the price, which was five times higher than anyone had ever paid to lift a deed restriction, undermined the financial viability of operating a Medicaid-funded nursing home.
By May, three months after buying the 219-bed Rivington House, Allure had an agreement to sell the building for $116 million to investors including Slate Property Group, Adam America and China Vanke. A partial stop-work order that limits construction and demolition remains in place.
In November 2015 Allure paid the city, and the deed restriction was lifted, facilitating the sale to developers, but they didn’t disclose the deal until several months later. The city Department of Investigation found that City Hall officials ranking as high as then-First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris either were aware or should have been that the deed restriction was being removed, causing the property to lose its public purpose designation.
“This was a mistake. It was ridiculous, and I’ve said it a thousand times,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in June during a town hall meeting on the Lower East Side. “Not only did we entirely change the rules around anything like this; now it will require a personal signature from me to happen, which did not happen in this case.”
De Blasio said last week that NYC Health and Hospitals is adding 60 beds at its Gouverneur facility in Lower Manhattan to offset the Rivington closure. The beds are a welcome addition in a neighborhood that lost 335 beds when the Bialystoker and Cabrini nursing homes closed in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Still, a larger facility is needed, said Webster. “We don’t want any more stopgap measures,” she said. “We really have a crisis on our hands, and it’s going to get worse.”
The Rivington sale ultimately passed legal muster, as Schneiderman’s office concluded that the developers’ title to the property “is not subject to effective legal challenge.” But Schneiderman enforced penalties on Allure because his office found that designated members of the company’s board of directors failed to fulfill oversight duties. When Allure purchased Rivington from VillageCare, it appointed four board members: the brother-in-law of Allure CEO Solomon Rubin, two Allure employees and a truck driver for a food-delivery business who had no prior nursing home experience. But it was ultimately Landau and Marvin Rubin’s decision to sell.
Besides failing to question the move, the board did not notify the state Supreme Court or the attorney general before the nonprofit sold its assets. Allure did not admit to or deny any of the attorney general’s findings.
“It was a big struggle for us the last two years while this was going on, and it affected our focus,” Marvin Rubin said. “Now we can continue to do what we do best, which is constantly improving long-term care.”
A former attorney has been charged with stealing $426,000 from his clients.
Connecticut State Police say 65-year-old John Butts, of Salem, has been charged with first-degree larceny after taking funds from two people he had represented in probate matters.
Police say in one of the instances, the former Salem probate judge failed to provide a woman more than $150,000 from the sale of her late father's condominium. In another instance, Butts took about $276,000 from a client.
The state Division of Criminal Justice says Butts was suspended from practicing law last February and surrendered his law license in September.
He's been released pending his arraignment in Norwich Superior Court on Jan. 25. A phone number listed for Butts was unable to accept new messages Thursday because its inbox was full.
Haley is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and in the past months, Haley has had trouble paying his rent.
"He right now can't eat, drink very little, can't walk, talk and there's no way he can possibly leave this home and that was also his last wish to be home as his dying place," said Denise Haley, Mervin Haley's ex-wife and care giver.
His family reached out to property management to make a partial payment with what they had.
A leasing manager told her they could only a make a full payment on the money owed.
She said this was the first time she was given an option to sign up for a payment arrangement.
"They're still saying he's 500 something dollars behind well then come first of January went to pay it they said they couldn't accept a partial payment they had to have the full amount," said Denise Haley, Mervin’s ex wife and caregiver.
Haley owes $569 but with late fees and January`s rent the total is now $1,500.
During a court date this week a judge ruled Haley had to be off the property by Sunday.
Denise Haley wrote the judge a letter detailing her ex-husband’s condition and asked for more time to come up with the money.
"There's no way that man can possibly be out of the house by then if he goes outside he's going to get pneumonia and that's going to end him right there," Denise Haley said.
A small sign of hope as she watches her loved one struggle to survive.
"You know it's gotta be hard on him to be worrying anyway about his life and then worrying about this on top of it," Denise Haley said.
Please join Marti Oakley, Luanne Fleming and Robin Austin as we host Rosanna Miller. Rosanna will be discussing the the underpinnings of the probate tribunals laid out in the UCC code.
The UCC (Universal Commercial Code) which deals with commerce and contract law. We have been commodified, sectioned off as chattel property and are bought, sold and traded under the UCC.
Rosanna will go over specific codes that pertain to fiduciary's, probate, and the uniform probate code. She will have specific information that applies directly to the lack of judicial accountability, corruption of the courts and the ongoing kidnapping, imprisoning and theft of estates from not only the elderly but also the disabled. The question remains....WHO is actually responsible for correcting and abolishing this system?
Have pen and paper ready...you will want to make notes. The show will be available in archive.
A 22-year-old Lyndhurst woman and her 23-year-old boyfriend on Jan. 19 were convicted of charges relating to the theft of around $75,000 from the woman’s elderly grandfather, according to a statement issued by Lyndhurst police.
“On Sept. 1, 2017, Angel S. Kolasinski, 22, and her boyfriend, Garrett W. Brewster, 23, were indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury for identity fraud, telecommunications fraud, and theft for stealing approximately $75,000 of the victim’s life savings,” the statement reads.
Police confirm the victim was Kolasinski’s 89-year-old grandfather, with whom Kolasinski and Brewster had been living in his home.
“Tips from residents concerned about the welfare of their elderly neighbor sparked investigation by the Lyndhurst Police Department with assistance by the Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services,” the Lyndhurst Police Department’s news release reads.
As part of a plea agreement, Kolasinski pleaded guilty to theft, aggravated theft and telecommunications fraud. She was sentenced to nine months behind bars for each of the three convictions, to run concurrently. She also was ordered to pay restitution to the victim.
Brewster pleaded guilty to identity fraud, attempted theft and aggravated theft. He was sentenced to two years behind bars and ordered to pay restitution to the victim.
The victim’s home also was the target of an investigation after a friend of Kolasinski and Brewster suffered a drug overdose there in May 2017, according to Lyndhurst police.
A guardianship compliance manager has been appointed to head the Nevada Guardianship Compliance Office, whose creation is due to legislation that took effect on the first of the year.
The Supreme Court of Nevada, Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), has hired Kathleen McCloskey to lead the newly created office.
McCloskey, formally with the Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division, will make it her focus to hire an investigator and a forensic financial specialist to support Nevada's district courts in the administration of guardianship cases.
Other priorities include the development of a toll-free hotline and assisting the Permanent Guardianship Commission in the formulation of state rules and forms for guardianship cases.
"I am honored to be appointed as the Guardianship Compliance Manager. People under guardianship are some of our most vulnerable citizens and I am excited to build an office that will be supportive to all of our district courts in the administration and oversight of guardianships, as well as provide essential services that will support and protect the rights of individuals under guardianships."
McCloskey brings 20 years of experience developing comprehensive compliance systems in both the fields of intellectual disability and aging service systems in the states of Maine and Nevada. She received her bachelor's in sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell and her master's in sociology from the University of Nevada, Reno.
The Commission to Study the Administration of Guardianships in Nevada's Courts proposed seven major reforms, including the Nevada Guardianship Compliance Office, resulting in five bills approved in the Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
The creation of the Nevada Guardianship Compliance Office, a Guardianship Bill of Rights, and mandatory appointment of legal counsel for persons in need of protection were all enacted by legislation.
WEST CHESTER >>The former owner of an art gallery in Kennett Square has been found guilty of illegally intruding into a conference between her aging father, a court-appointed attorney and psychologist trying to determine his competency by secretly videotaping it with a webcam.
The Common Pleads jury hearing the case against Megan Brooke O’Conner deliberated about three hours on Wednesday before returning to Judge Ann Marie Wheatcraft’s courtroom with guilty verdicts on charges of interception of communication, a violation of the state Wiretap Act, and criminal use of communications facility.
Both are third-degree felonies, and could be punishable by a prison term. Wheatcraft ordered a pre-sentence investigation into O’Connor’s background before setting a sentencing date later this year.
The prosecutors in the case, Assistant District Attorneys Vincent Cocco and Daniel Hollander, told the jury of seven women and five men who heard the two-day trial, that O’Connor had been upset that she was being excluded from the conference with her father, a millionaire who had been bankrolling what Cocco called “a lavish and extravagant lifestyle.”
The conference had been set up as part of a guardianship proceeding brought by O’Connor’s half-sister to determine whether O’Connor had been abusing her father’s finances.
“She had a lot to lose depending on the outcome” of that case, Cocco told the panel in his opening statement. “She had a lot at stake. She wanted to be in that room.”
O’Connor was found guilty of setting up a web camera in the room in her father’s garage apartment at their North Union Street home in January 2015 and watching and listening to the meeting between her father, David Umbs, guardianship attorney Nancy Pine, and psychologist Kenneth Carroll. The meeting was to have been confidential, but O’Connor “believes the rules don’t apply to her,” Cocco said.
In her defense, attorney Steve Jarmon said that O’Connor should not be found guilty of the offenses because the meeting was ultimately not a confidential matter. What was discussed between Ulms and the others was eventually part of the record in the guardianship hearing. Those involved had no “reasonable expectation” that it would remain private, as the law requires, he argued.
“She listened in, we concede that,” Jarmon said. “But does that make her guilty?”
Much of the two-day proceeding, which featured testimony from Ulms, Pine, and Carroll, as well as O’Connor’s ex-husband, Patrick O’Connor, concerned not the facts surrounding the wiretap violations, but the dispute over O’Connor’s handling of her father’s money and the objections by her half-sister Mary Ulms.
The two sides of the family are estranged, and O’Connor was given power of attorney over her father’s finances. With it, she took expensive trips, bought jewelry and other items, and ended up buying the Longwood Art Gallery, which closed last year. Mary Ulms brought suit against her, and Judge John Hall ended up appointing Pine as his guardian to oversee his finances.
David Ulms testified briefly, and told Jarmon that O’Connor had his permission to use his money as she saw fit. Jarmon had contended that O’Connor was his sole companion, and that his children from his third marriage did not pay him much attention.
The criminal charge she faced was brought against O’Connor by Kennett Officer Amanda Wenrich in May 2016.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the matter, Wenrich began investigating O’Connor in December 2015 when Pine contacted her about a possible wiretap violation. She said that she had scheduled a private meeting in January 2015 with Umbs and Carroll, a Swarthmore psychologist, to help determine what his mental capabilities were. There was no permission given to anyone to record the interview.
But in December 2015, 12 months after the meeting, she was contacted by Patrick O’Connor who told her he had witnessed his wife watching the meeting via a live feed through a computer camera.
Patrick O’Connor told Wenrich that he had come home the day of the meeting between Pine, Carroll, and Umbs to find his wife sitting with a laptop, “watching video and listening to conversations occurring … in her father’s garage apartment.” While doing so, the compliant states, she was speaking by phone to an attorney who was representing her in the civil action and said: “We are screwed. He can’t answer a single question.”
Patrick O’Connor told the investigator that he recognized the computer camera that O’Connor was using as a portable device that had been installed in their home’s basement to monitor the activity of her two sons. She could easily have moved it, he said, and viewed the video on her laptop.
Wenrich had O’Connor’s laptop seized, and Chester County Detective Joseph Walton was able to find images and data that showed the laptop had been hooked up to a computer camera on Jan. 30, 2015 between 8:35 a.m. and 9:29 a.m., when the meeting between Pine and Umbs took place.
Wenrich also learned that O’Connor had testified about the video recordings during a guardianship hearing in Orphans Court in December 2015, admitting that she was able to “see it live.” O’Connor also told the officer that she had watched the meeting, but “wouldn’t have done so if she had known it was illegal.”
Tonight’s story is a tragic story of a family who lost their mother at the hands of medical predators.
Marsha Joiner shares with us how safe she felt to have her mother in the care of a hospice after her mother was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. Her mother’s doctor stated that the family could contact hospice for assistance for her mother’s care because she did qualify for the criteria; the family felt secure with this decision because Marsha’s father had been the hospice chaplain for 15 years at that same hospice location.
That was a decision they lived to regret.
Please take this time to listen to Marsha!s story as she gives her mother a voice and a huge wake up call to this society about the Hidden realities of what is occurring in some hospices today.
Given our long-standing support for Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Robert N. Rusu, we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma.
A complaint has been filed with the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct against the judge alleging he failed to recuse himself from at least 200 cases in which he previously had served as an attorney.
State Disciplinary Counsel Scott J. Drexel of the Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed the complaint and is asking the board to find Rusu in violation of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and the Code of Judicial Conduct.
To be clear, Rusu, who has been on the bench since 2014, is not facing criminal charges, nor is he accused of using his public position for personal gain. Neither has he been charged with doing favors for friends.
At most, the complaint filed by Drexel amounts to poor judgment.
Rusu insists he has done nothing wrong and that the complaint against him is based on an incorrect reading of the codes of conduct.
Nonetheless, there’s a cloud of suspicion hanging over him that has given us pause.
What he is accused of doing does not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, but given the long history of misbehavior by public officials in the Mahoning Valley, we are not prepared to shrug off the allegations against the probate judge.
Indeed, we have invested a considerable amount of time researching Rule 2.11 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. We received guidance from a lawyer who has long served as our editorial legal adviser.
He concluded that Rusu’s involvement as the judge in cases he handled as a probate lawyer did not violate the judicial codes because there was nothing controversial about them.
Rusu also insisted that he did not benefit financially from the disposition of those cases. He pointed out that when he became probate judge, he cut his ties with the law firm in which he was a partner by selling his interest in the firm.
A UNIQUE COURT
The probate court is unique in that the judge largely administers the distribution of an estate’s assets and there rarely are litigants who contest such distribution.
Similarly, if a judge is asked to approve a fiduciary’s fees, and nobody challenges the propriety of those fees, presenting an invoice to the judge for his approval isn’t an adversarial matter.
Rusu has hired a prominent law firm out of Cincinnati and intends to challenge the disciplinary counsel’s reading of the codes of conduct during the hearing before the board of professional conduct.
We would urge all parties to move as expeditiously as possible to schedule the hearing because the longer the matter remains unresolved, the more the judge’s reputation will suffer.
The appearance of impropriety could be as egregious as an actual impropriety if an allegation of wrongdoing remains unresolved.
At this point, we must acknowledge that our immediate reaction to the filing of the complaint by the disciplinary counsel was to call for Judge Rusu’s resignation. But after a great deal of research and deliberation, we have concluded that such a call is unjustified.
A cursory reading of the allegations suggested that the judge had thrown caution to the wind by being involved in the cases that he had handled as a lawyer, and had benefited financially.
But we hit the pause button after taking a close look at the relevant codes and talking to our lawyer.
Rusu’s predecessor, former Probate Judge Mark Belinky, was investigated for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office.
Belinky resigned in 2014, and Gov. John R. Kasich appointed Rusu, a well-known, seasoned probate lawyer, to replace him.
Rusu won the general election that year, and since then has received high marks from lawyers who practice in the court.
We supported his appointment and endorsed him in the general election.
He has given us no reason to regret that decision.
But now, with the cloud of suspicion hanging over his head, we urge a quick resolution of the matter.