Articles on this Page
- 03/30/18--22:30: _Local caregiver ple...
- 03/30/18--23:00: _Harvard administrat...
- 03/31/18--22:00: _Woman arrested for ...
- 03/31/18--22:30: _Owner of Bennett Be...
- 03/31/18--23:00: _NJ Attorney Gets 26...
- 03/31/18--23:30: _Happy Easter
- 04/01/18--22:00: _Elder abuse: Half m...
- 04/01/18--22:30: _Bill that gives eld...
- 04/01/18--23:00: _Family members char...
- 04/02/18--22:00: _Fort Lauderdale wom...
- 04/02/18--22:30: _State Auditor Wayne...
- 04/02/18--23:00: _Critics say insider...
- 04/03/18--22:00: _LETTER: Addressing ...
- 04/03/18--22:30: _Stopping elder abus...
- 04/03/18--23:00: _She went to prison ...
- 04/04/18--22:00: _Indiana guardianshi...
- 04/04/18--22:30: _Two former certifie...
- 04/04/18--23:00: _Who Is Watching Ver...
- 04/05/18--22:00: _US judge clears Dil...
- 04/05/18--22:30: _Great Falls assiste...
- 03/30/18--22:30: Local caregiver pleads guilty to sexually abusing elderly woman
- 03/31/18--22:00: Woman arrested for financial exploit of ex-boyfriend
- 03/31/18--23:30: Happy Easter
- 04/01/18--22:00: Elder abuse: Half measures won’t do this session
- 04/01/18--23:00: Family members charged in fatal neglect of elderly Bucks County man
- 04/03/18--22:00: LETTER: Addressing elder abuse in Minnesota
- 04/03/18--22:30: Stopping elder abuse is the goal of Georgia legislative measures
- 04/04/18--22:00: Indiana guardianship registry prevents exploitation
- 04/04/18--23:00: Who Is Watching Vermont's Legal Guardians?
- 04/05/18--22:00: US judge clears Dillon in civil lawsuit
Brandon Bowcut, 38, pleaded guilty to a single charge of sexual abuse or exploitation of a vulnerable adult on Wednesday.
“A vulnerable adult is someone who can’t take care of themselves in a given situation,” Madison County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Wood said.
Court documents show the sexual abuse occurred at Carriage Cove Care Center on West 1st North in Rexburg on Feb. 13.
“She was being treated for some injuries and allegations were made that Bowcut, a CNA, inappropriately touched her during treatment,” Rexburg Police Capt. Randy Lewis told EastIdahoNews.com last month.
Bowcut was working at the rehabilitation center and was assigned to the wing where the victim was a patient. While on his shift, Bowcut entered the woman’s room alone — in violation of the facility’s two-person policy — and turned his back to the door to conceal his activities, according to court documents.
He greeted the woman and told her he needed to apply a special medical cream to her groin area. He then proceeded to touch the woman inappropriately. The victim was unable to stand at the time due to an injury and was under the influence of narcotic painkillers.
Bowcut later admitted to police that this was a deliberate and planned assault, and not part of his job.
Police investigated the claim and arrested Bowcut, a Brigham Young University-Idaho student from Wyoming, on Feb. 16. He was booked into the Madison County Jail.
Bond was set at $100,000, which Bowcut has not posted.
His sentencing is scheduled for May 23.
Full Article & Source:
Local caregiver pleads guilty to sexually abusing elderly woman
|Meg DeMarco and a coworker are accused of stealing $110,000 from Harvard Law School. |
Meg DeMarco and Darris Saylors used to work at Harvard Law School, but resigned after a new budget manager discovered something wrong and started a police investigation, according to WBZ.
A criminal complaint seen by the station said that the pair each used tens of thousands of the stolen funds to buy iPads, IPods and laptops, with Saylors allegedly using a Dean of Students purchasing card for sex toys.
DeMarco, whose LinkedIn page says that she was in charge of managing the budget for the Dean of Students Office, is accused of using a mobile card reader to put money directly into her own personal bank account.
Saylors, who moved away from Boston, according to public records, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily News.
WBZ confronted DeMarco, now an administrator at Babson College, about the allegations.
“It was a big job and I made mistakes,” she said. “I never intended to harm the university. I’m very sorry and will do everything in my power to rectify the situation.”
Harvard University and the Harvard University Police did not immediately respond to questions about the alleged embezzlement.
DeMarco and Saylors are expected to be arraigned Wednesday.
Full Article & Source:
Harvard administrators accused of embezzling $110,000 meant for disabled students, buying gadgets and sex toys
According to an incident report dated Jan. 8, the 68-year-old victim "didn't notice anything out of the ordinary" when his ex-girlfriend, 32-year-old Quenelle Chemise Jordan of 311 NW Millbrae Drive, visited his home New Year's Eve 2017.
However, he later received an alert on his phone saying a $300 cash withdrawal had been made using his debit card at a Shell station in Ardmore, Alabama, according to the report. The alleged victim went to the store and confirmed it was Jordan on the security video.
He then received another alert, this time for a $202.50 debit at a gas station on Alabama 53 in Madison County, according to the report. Records show he contacted Huntsville Police Department, who helped him identify a second individual involved in the exploitation as 27-year-old Ezra Cortez Harper.
Police advised the alleged victim to file a report in Limestone County.
As of Jan. 8, Harper had also allegedly written and cashed $1,400 in checks that had allegedly been stolen from the victim. Warrants were obtained by the Limestone County Sheriff's Office for both Harper and Jordan, said Deputy Stephen Young, public information officer for the Sheriff's Office.
Jordan was arrested Wednesday in Madison County on a charge of first-degree financial exploitation of an elderly person, records show. She was transferred to the Limestone County Jail, where bail is set at $5,000.
Young said Harper had not been arrested as of Thursday morning.
Full Article & Source:
Woman arrested for financial exploit of ex-boyfriend
mobile home salesman has been arrested, accused of scamming an elderly, blind man out of $20,000.
The Wakulla County Sheriff's Office says that they received a complaint about James Bennett, the owner and operator of Bennett Better Built Homes, back in March 2017.
The complaint alleged that on March 10, a 68-year-old man who is legally blind and needs assistance with daily activities, applied for financing to purchase a $59,000 manufactured home from Bennett.
The man made a $20,000 down payment to Bennett and intended to finance the rest.
According to the complaint, Bennett led the man to believe that he would receive documents detailing the transaction the next day, and that they would be explained to him since he was legally blind.
However, the man never got the documents he signed and nothing was explained to him.
On March 13, the 68-year-old finally got documents detailing the purchase price of the home, which included $11,221 in closing costs in addition to sales tax, title fees, etc.
In total, the price had gone from $59,000 to $75,042, something the man had not agreed to. The man then contacted Bennett, telling him that he didn't agree to the increased price, wanted to cancel the sale, and wanted a refund.
Bennett reportedly told the man that he would return the down payment on March 17, 2017. But the man never got it.
In May 2017, WCSO detectives contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a squad that specializes in financial investigations.
Through further investigation, FDLE was able to corroborate the complaint with solid evidence. By refusing to return the man's money, investigators determined that Bennett knowingly and intentionally deprived him of $20,000.
On March 16, 2018, the findings were brought to the State Attorney's Office in Crawfordville and a warrant for Bennett's arrest was issued three days after.
On Tuesday, Bennett was arrested and charged with exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult. He was booked into the Wakulla County Jail.
According to the Better Business Bureau, Bennett Better Built Homes was established in 2010.
Full Article & Source:
Owner of Bennett Better Built Homes arrested for exploiting elderly, disabled victim
Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mirtha Ospina handed down the sentence to disbarred attorney Joseph Talafous Jr., 55, of Toms River, on Thursday.
Talafous, though, has denied the allegations and plans to appeal, according to his lawyer, Gerald Miller of Miller, Meyerson & Corbo in Jersey City.
Last Jan. 10, a jury found Talafous guilty of three counts of theft by unlawful taking, three counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property received, five counts of misapplication of entrusted property, two counts of theft by deception, and four counts of filing fraudulent state income tax returns. All of the convictions were for offenses of the second or third degree. The verdict followed a six-week trial before Ospina.
Talafous was also convicted of stealing approximately $461,000 from a trust set up for the benefit of a young boy in 2005 with funds from a wrongful death suit stemming from the death of his father. The father died in 2001 in a workplace accident when the child, a West New York resident, was still an infant.
He was also convicted of stealing approximately $300,000 from the estate of an elderly Jersey City woman who died in 2009 without any immediate family. She had hired him to prepare her will and had named him executor of her estate.
And he was convicted of stealing approximately $400,000 from the estate of a Jersey City man who died in 2012 and whose family hired Talafous as attorney for the estate, which included several life insurance policies worth a total of more than $870,000.
Finally, from 2012 to 2015, Talafous stole $330,000 that was entrusted to him as counsel for the estate of a Jersey City woman who owned property in New York, the jury found.
The case was referred to the Division of Criminal Justice by the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics. The Supreme Court of New Jersey revoked Talafous’ license to practice law by consent in August 2015.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a statement after the sentencing. “This prison sentence sends a strong message of deterrence that lawyers like Talafous who violate their duty and steal from their clients will be aggressively prosecuted,” he said.
Miller previously told the Law Journal, after the conviction, that Talafous maintains that he did not take any funds he was not entitled to. Miller, at the time, promised an appeal of the conviction.
If the conviction and sentence are appealed, it would not be the case’s first trip up the appellate ladder. Talafous’ charges originally included money laundering in the first degree, but that charge was dismissed by the Appellate Division in June 2017. The court said evidence that Talafous used his trust and business accounts to facilitate the alleged thefts by itself didn’t support the charge of money laundering, the only first-degree offense among the 19 counts with which he was originally charged. The appeals court said the money laundering statute is intended to be construed broadly to serve its purposes, but it requires proof of something more than an underlying crime.
“The State presented no evidence that the theft was concealed (as opposed to committed) through placement of the money in defendant’s accounts,” the Appellate Division said in that decision.
Full Article & Source:
NJ Attorney Gets 26 Years in Prison for Scamming $1.5 Million From Clients
To fix this problem AARP Minnesota and a coalition of family caregivers and consumer advocates, are supporting bipartisan legislation, endorsed by Gov. Mark Dayton, to improve both the regulatory oversight by MDH and the quality of care in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. These needed reforms will help prevent abuse from occurring in the first place.
The time has come for systemic changes in both the enforcement and licensing arms of the MDH. We must also strengthen state law, to prevent abuse and hold abusers accountable. In order to stop abuse before it occurs the state must focus on three key areas.
Stronger regulations for assisted living facilities. When it comes to regulating long term care facilities there isn’t a level playing field in Minnesota. Nursing homes are heavily regulated, but assisted living facilities aren’t even required to have licenses. That loophole needs to be closed. The population living in assisted living today — including 40 percent diagnosed with dementia — is much more vulnerable than when assisted living centers were first introduced over 20 years ago.
Minnesota families need to know that no matter what provider they choose their loved ones will have the some basic protections including discharge rights; adequate staffing levels; staff training requirements and safety standards. Especially for people with dementia.
More rights for seniors. Another significant problem is that too much of the power resides in the hands of the providers. Many vulnerable adults and their families are fearful to speak out about quality of care for fear of being retaliated against. This might be subtle, such as an unanswered call light, or sudden bill increase, or it can be more life threatening like an eviction without a right to appeal the decision. In addition, despite the fact that seniors pay thousands of dollars a month, residents and families do not have a right to put cameras in their rooms if they suspect abuse. This must change.
Pursue abuse aggressively. State regulators need to do a much better job of identifying abuse and when they do find it reacting aggressively. Our civil and criminal laws must also be strengthened to enforce the rights of older vulnerable adults.
Lapsed enforcement has created an environment where bad actors don’t have to fear consequences. When the maximum fine is only $5,000, in cases involving serious harm including death, facilities have little to fear. Equally, troubling is that under Minnesota law, a civil claim of abuse dies when the patient dies resulting in situations where facilities and insurers can simply delay getting medical information and other needed information to pursue a claim. Minnesota is one of only two states where this abhorrent policy exists and the time has come to end it.
The stories of abuse are shocking. The fact that this is happening in Minnesota, a state that prides itself in being a leader and taking care of our elders, is beyond disturbing. Half measures won’t do this legislative session. We need real, bipartisan action to protect vulnerable adults in Minnesota and we need it now.
Full Article & Source:
Elder abuse: Half measures won’t do this session
|State Senator Conrad Appel|
On Tuesday, the nursing homes won.
With a 6-2 vote, the Senate Health and Welfare committee rejected legislation aimed at giving more people access to home-health services, in lieu of being sent to a nursing home to live.
“Today, many members chose to ignore the tens of thousands of older adults in their districts who want to live at home, while offering no alternative or plan to help them,” said AARP of Louisiana lobbyist Andrew Muhl. “It was disappointing, but we always knew this would be an uphill fight.“
The Louisiana Nursing Home Association, representing 250 nursing homes in the state, spoke against the measure, saying it would result in a reduction in the quality of care.
The measure's sponsor, Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, called Senate Bill 357 one of the most important pieces of legislation lawmakers would deal with this session because it addresses the needs of Louisiana's aging population and attempts to mitigate the skyrocketing Medicaid costs required to care for their needs.
The elderly and disabled Medicaid population makes up the majority of the state’s Medicaid costs, which in large part is paid out to nursing homes.
SB357 attempted to move the Medicaid population in nursing homes under a managed care model, which means the state hires private insurance companies to make decisions about whether people should be cared for in nursing homes or at their own home with supports and staffing. Home- and community-based care is both less expensive and overwhelmingly preferred by elderly people, AARP surveys claim.
The home-based providers equip elderly or disabled people with medical support in their own home. They also provide staff who help clean, cook, dress and run errands for those in need of daily assistance. There’s 28,000 people on a waiting list for these home-based services.
"What this does is give people a critical life choice that has been denied to them in the past," Appel said. "Either stay at home or go to a nursing home."
Louisiana’s nursing homes are among the worst in the nation, according to national rankings. Louisiana also spends less on home- and community-based services than most other states. At the same time, nursing homes have unique financial protections that ensure regular rate increases, while other Medicaid providers have been cut year after year.
Several senators, including committee Chairman Sen. Fred Mills — who owns an interest in a Breaux Bridge nursing home — raised concerns that managed care was too risky and unreliable a method for the state to take on for its seniors, despite the fact that the vast majority of Louisiana's Medicaid population is already under managed care.
Mills raised concerns that managed care would result in an increase in medical claims being denied by insurance companies.
Appel dismissed the concerns about managed care as political misdirection.
“We have a huge managed care system in place in Louisiana for 1.3 million people. Those are just talking points,” Appel said. “We have ample evidence of the success of the managed care model in Louisiana.”
Proponents of the bill said it would be at a minimum revenue neutral but most likely generate savings for the state over the next few years, in large part because the state charges managed care companies a 5.5 percent tax that could generate about $100 million a year.
State Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, was incredulous about the claim.
He said if the goal is to give home- and community-based services to thousands of people on the waiting list, then the state would have to incur additional costs to serve a new population.
He said he'd prefer to improve access to home- and community-based services with more direct funding.
Luneau also said he was concerned about diminishing care for the elderly. He noted that people in nursing homes are within walking distance of people who can assist them 24 hours a day. But with home-health providers, they would only receive help a few hours a day.
Hugh Eley, a retired 30-year administrator for Louisiana Department of Health, told Luneau that many people in nursing homes and who are on waiting lists for services can get by with a few hours of help per day. Those who can’t, would still be allowed to go to nursing homes.
The Senate hearing was packed with nursing home leaders, including several former lawmakers who have ties to the industry or were major beneficiaries of nursing home campaign donations, like former Speaker of the House Jim Tucker, former state Rep. Sherri Buffington — who often carried legislation on behalf of nursing homes — and former state Sen. Joe McPherson, who previously chaired the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, who is a nursing home administrator, also sat in on the hearing, watching from the back of the room.
“This is emotional to me. It’s disturbing to me,” McPherson told the committee. “I don’t want to have to deal with insurance companies. There’s definitely a need for more home- and community-based services, but this is not the vehicle.”
On Wednesday, the House Health and Welfare Committee is scheduled to take up a similar bill sponsored by Prairieville Rep. Tony Bacala. Bacala said he was unsure if he’d pursue the bill because even if he got it passed in the House, it would likely die the same death of Appel’s bill once it made it to the Senate.
That committee will hear at least two other bills opposed by nursing homes — one that would change the way nursing homes are paid by the state and another that would allow surveillance devices in rooms to monitor care.
Appel said he was disappointed by the failure of his bill, but he thinks his peers are delaying an inevitability.
“I don’t think there’s any possibility this won’t go into effect in the next couple years in some form,” he said. “The number of people becoming eligible for these types of services are growing astronomically, and the model of jamming people into an institution is just going to get more and more expensive. We’re not going to have a choice.”
Those voting in favor of Appel's bill were Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales. Voting against SB357 were Sens. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette; Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge; Norby Chabert, R-Houma; Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge; Dale Erdey, R-Livingston; and Luneau.
Full Article & Source:
Bill that gives elderly 'a critical choice' to live at home or in a nursing home rejected by Senate committee
The victim, Albert Weaver Sr., died in November 2016 after being hospitalized for starvation and septic shock from deep, infected bed sores.
The victim's son, Albert W. Weaver Jr., 52; his wife Virginia L. Weaver, 49; their daughter Amanda Marie Weaver, 26; and Anthony James Dorney, 33, Amanda's live-in boyfriend were all charged in the crime.
Authorities said the suspects lived rent-free in a pair of houses that the victim owned on the 100 block of Union Road in Richland Township.
According to police, Dorney was the one who eventually called for an ambulance on November 10, 2016.
One of the responding paramedics told police that Weaver "looked like a skeleton with skin hanging on him," according to a probable cause affidavit. The document also said that he told hospital workers "Help me!"
Virginia Weaver acknowledged that her father-in-law complained of pain from sores that had been developing over six months, yet at the time of his death he had not been to a doctor in the past 11 months, the affidavit said.
Once at the hospital, further examination revealed that Weaver was so malnourished that his body had begun consuming its own tissues and organs for sustenance, according to court documents.
Investigators said one bedsore was so severe that after dead tissue was removed the bones of Weaver's spine were exposed.
Emergency room personnel at the hospital, suspecting elder abuse, contacted police.
All four suspects are charged with neglect of a care-dependent person and recklessly endangering another person.
All but Albert Weaver Jr. are also charged with theft by unlawful taking. Amanda Weaver and Dorney are further charged with conspiracy to commit theft by unlawful taking.
An investigation of Weaver's bank account showed it was jointly held by Albert Weaver Sr. and Virginia Weaver since it was opened in 2013.
Between that date and January 2017, the affidavit said, more than $150,000 was deposited into the account, mostly from Albert Weaver Sr.'s pension and Social Security payments.
By January 2017, the balance stood around $500, the affidavit said, with only approximately $6,500 having been put "towards items that were immediately identifiable as being associated with Albert Weaver Sr.," the affidavit said. Those items consisted of insurance premium payments and property tax payments.
For three months after Weaver's death, the affidavit said, Virginia Weaver continued to endorse and deposit her father-in-law's pension checks from AMETEK Inc. She is charged with stealing more than $3,000 in this manner.
"All of them were benefiting from him financially. Living in his own home, rent free, utility free, he was paying for all of their bills," said Bucks County Deputy District Attorney Kate Kohler. "All they had to do was take care of him and they did not do that."
Instead, prosecutors said more than 700 debit card purchases went toward an alcohol highway safety school program, firearms, a cell phone and video games.
Neighbor Susan Casey had no idea her neighbor was being neglected.
"I never in my wildest dream thought there was someone lying in there dying," she said.
All four suspects were arraigned, and bail was set at $500,000 for each defendant, except Virginia Weaver. Her bail was set at $750,000.
Their next court appearance is tentatively set for April 5.
Full Article, Video & Source:
Family members charged in fatal neglect of elderly Bucks County man
Althea Johnson, 66, was arrested Monday on a charge of elderly exploitation.
According to a Fort Lauderdale police report, Johnson was caring for Richard Shellene between October 2014 and December 2015 after he suffered a stroke and now gets around with the help of a wheelchair.
Police said Shellene listed Johnson as co-owner of the condo that he bought in March 2015 as part of a verbal agreement with Johnson.
In exchange for putting her name on the deed and giving her a $2,000 monthly salary, Johnson was supposed to move in with Shellene and be his caretaker.
Police said Shellene paid the entire amount for the condo out of his bank account and fully furnished a room for Johnson, paying for everything in it.
Instead of moving in, however, Johnson refused and tried to get half the value of the condo from him, police said.
"Considering the facts of this case, it is clear Johnson made the promises of moving in and becoming a caretaker to Shellene just to get her name on the deed," the report said.
Johnson was being held at the main Broward County jail on $10,000 bond.
Full Article & Source:
Fort Lauderdale woman dupes disabled man into buying condo, putting her name on deed
Full Article & Source:
State Auditor Wayne Johnson To Look For Audit Solutions For New Mexico’s Guardianship Program
Of the 22 people who applied to serve on the rules committee, the Supreme Court appointed eight members – two judges, five attorneys and a professional court visitor who advises judges in guardianship cases. The court visitor was the sole non-attorney appointed.
“Having seen the list, it looks like more of the same going on with the courts,” said Emily Darnell Nunez of Albuquerque, whose family was embroiled in a controversial guardianship case, beginning in 2010. “Some of these people make their living out of being attorneys for guardianship cases. So it looks like insiders.”
One non-lawyer who applied, but wasn’t appointed, is Jorja Armijo-Brasher, former director of the city of Albuquerque’s Department of Senior Affairs. She has been a vocal critic of the current system and served on the guardianship commission appointed by the Supreme Court to recommend improvements. That commission’s work ended Jan. 1, with a slate of reforms proposed.
“The hope was when it (the rules committee) went forward that there was potential and there would be some real scrutiny of the processes and procedures being used,” Armijo-Brasher said last week. “There’s always the concern when the people working for that industry may be the only ones looking at themselves. It is hard to always look at yourself without having other eyes to help you see clearly.”
Chairing the rules committee is Gaelle McConnell, an Albuquerque lawyer, who also served the Supreme Court commission last year. McConnell has a background in guardianship and conservatorship law.
The judges appointed are both from Albuquerque: Shannon Bacon, who has openly advocated change in legislative hearings, and Nancy Franchini, also a member of last year’s Supreme Court guardianship commission. Other members include Sarah Steadman, a professor at the University of New Mexico Law School, Alice Liu McCoy, a lawyer with Disability Rights New Mexico, and Mary H. Smith, a former assistant attorney general, who most recently worked for the state’s Office of Guardianship, which provides legal guardianship services to low-income incapacitated people.
The list also includes longtime Albuquerque attorney Ruth Pregenzer, who has specialized in elder law, probate and guardianship matters; and Mary Galvez, who has frequently worked as an appointed court visitor in guardianship cases.
Pregenzer, who said she no longer takes new guardianship cases, said in an interview Thursday that she understands concerns raised by critics.
“This (rules committee) is hard work. I’m not saying anybody can’t do it, but it doesn’t hurt to have some knowledge of the law, and some knowledge of the area of law that you’re being asked to prepare rules for. I don’t think that because I have expertise in this area that I represent the status quo.”
She also said the public will be able to comment on the proposed rules before they are adopted by the Supreme Court.
The rules committee work is considered especially important in view of this year’s legislative session.
The Senate bill that passed and goes into effect July 1 addressed several key concerns raised by advocates: more transparency in the now closed legal system by which incapacitated people are appointed guardians; more notice to family members of court proceedings; requiring financial bonds for professional conservators; and allowing greater visitation by relatives and others.
But other proposed legislative reforms were put on hold at the urging of the judiciary. Some see the rules committee as a vehicle for additional change without the need for legislation – although some say the committee could conceivably propose rules to limit the impact of some of the changes.
“I don’t know what direction this is going now,” Armijo-Brasher told the Journal last week. “Is it going in the direction we had hoped?”
The Supreme Court commission last year recommended the formation of the rules committee, and eight possible rules. They include:
• Requiring mediation in contested cases.
• Requiring national certification for professional, guardians and conservators.
• Addressing the court practice by which the petitioner’s attorney can “stack the deck” in favor of a guardianship by recommending to the judge who should serve as guardian, guardian ad litem, court visitor and the health care expert.
Critics have challenged whether appointed professionals are really working for the best interest of a protected person or family when it is the petitioner’s lawyer who has recommended their hiring.
Darnell Nunez served on the Supreme Court guardianship commission last year. She decided not to apply to serve on the rules committee, but she said it has the potential to make important changes.
“These (protected people) aren’t criminals we’re talking about. We’re talking about elderly people who are sick. Ordinary people who have lived good lives, who don’t deserve to have the fleecing of them at the end. Is this rules committee going to be the rules committee that creates the changes needed to make the guardianship system fairer and right for our elderly population?”
Both Pregenzer and Galvez were involved in the high-profile guardian/conservator case involving the mother of Emily Darnell Nunez, Corrales resident Blair Darnell. As profiled in a Journal series in 2016, most of Darnell’s adult children were highly critical of the closed guardian/conservator process and the fees charged by the professionals appointed to make decisions for Darnell’s care and her finances.
Both Pregenzer and Galvez also testified last May before the Supreme Court guardianship commission, chaired by retired District Judge Wendy York.
During her appearance, Pregenzer defended the professionals who are appointed on the recommendation of the person seeking the guardianship for an incapacitated person. Many petitions for guardianship aren’t contested by family members of others, but some are.
“Regardless of who nominates them to serve in these roles, (they) take their position very seriously,” Pregenzer told the commission last year. “Rather than rubber stamp any particular position put forth in a petition, they do their own independent investigation and try their best to provide helpful recommendations to the judge who has to make one of the most difficult decisions a judge can make.”
But the final report of the guardianship commission cited other testimony from “several commenters that the current system allows the petitioning attorney to ‘stack the deck’ in the petitioner’s favor. The Commission strongly believes that this practice should be avoided due to the potential of a conflict of interest.”
Some other states randomly select guardian ad litem attorneys for the alleged incapacitated person. In California, a court staff investigator also reviews petitions and advises the judge.
In New Mexico, there’s no court rule requiring the petitioner’s attorney to recommend appointees, but the practice has been described as a “convenience” for judges. The professionals who advise the court are paid from the protected person’s estate if a guardianship is granted.
In her testimony to the commission last year, Pregenzer said that more transparency would allow professionals to respond when family members publicly criticize their actions.
Under current law, when guardians or attorneys are “hammered” by criticism, Pregenzer said they cannot explain their decisions, because the cases are sequestered. Yet, she told the commission, “family members can explain their position to the news media.”
“I’m not against reforms,” she told the Journal last week. She said the new guardianship law’s mandate for open hearings “is going to help provide a more balanced view of the process, and heaven knows there are problems with the process.”
Once appointed, guardians and conservators have virtual carte blanche over a “protected person’s” life and financial decisions, and can dictate whether family members will be allowed to have contact with them.
Top managers in one now-closed Albuquerque-based guardianship firm have been indicted on federal charges alleging they stole millions of dollars from their New Mexico clients. The firm had been appointed in hundreds of cases.
There has been widespread criticism, here and nationally, that protected people under some guardianships or conservatorships are being isolated and their funds mismanaged.
The Journal reported recently that required annual reports guardians and conservators are supposed to file with the court about the welfare and finances of the “protected person” in their care were missing in dozens of cases in southern New Mexico alone.
Moreover, the courts don’t have the computer capability to say with certainty how many people in New Mexico are currently under a guardianship or conservatorship.
Full Article & Source:
Critics say insiders dominate committee working on guardianship reforms
I serve on the bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission, which helps select audits and evaluations of state government programs. Last fall, reports of elder abuse flooded the media in Minnesota. As a result, an audit was recently completed, evaluating the Office of Health Facility Complaints that exists under the Minnesota Department of Health’s umbrella. Alarmingly, the report found that between 2012 and 2017, the number of maltreatment allegations increased by more than 50 percent. This is unacceptable and requires serious action from the Legislature.
The House majority has introduced legislation that would create multiple work groups to further discuss the problem; my concern is that it doesn’t take needed action.
Several DFL colleagues and I have sponsored bold legislation in step with Gov. Dayton that will strengthen and expand the rights of older and vulnerable adults and their families; enhance criminal and civil enforcement rights; create new licensing frameworks for assisted living and dementia care across residential settings; and improve licensing regulation and the investigative and reporting process.
These measures are built upon recommendations from AARP and the office of the Legislative Auditor.
Minnesota seniors have given so much to our communities and state. It’s our responsibility to ensure they are safe and live with dignity and security throughout their life.
Rep. Connie Bernardy, District 41A
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LETTER: Addressing elder abuse in Minnesota
Georgia lawmakers this year handed seniors and their advocates several victories in their fight against the growing problem of elder abuse. Among them are tougher background checks for caretakers and a new statewide elder-abuse registry.
A new law will require employees with direct access to residents in nursing homes and other licensed senior care communities to clear an FBI fingerprint background check. The measure will help home care providers find out if applicants have been abusive in previous positions, and weed out current employees with a history of abuse.
That information will be put on a statewide elder-abuse registry so that anyone wanting to hire a caretaker can check the database.
The measure won’t kick in until 2021, giving elder-care facilities three years to complete comprehensive background checks on current employees and set up the procedure for new hires. The registry will be created immediately using a federal grant.
Advocates for the aged have long wanted to create a registry to prevent the hiring of caretakers with a known history of abusing vulnerable adults.
“There’s certainly room to improve it after it’s in place, but it’s a great start just getting the comprehensive background checks,” said Kathy Floyd, executive director of theGeorgia Council on Aging.
Currently, licensed care facilities are required to conduct a limited one-state and one-name background check on employees. The tighter scrutiny would close loopholes and catch offenders from other states or those who may have changed their name.
Georgia is one of only a few states that doesn’t already mandate fingerprinting, said Heather Strickland, assistant special agent for at-risk adults for theGeorgia Bureau of Investigation.
“This will certainly help and make sure those working with the elderly don’t have a past history of abuse,” Strickland said.
Advocates for the aged made elder abuse and the registry top legislative priorities this year. Vicki Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Aging, called the outcome “a great victory for seniors.”
“Both the council and CO-AGE have worked over the years to ensure that older adults, disabled persons and other vulnerable populations are safe and protected from exploitation,” Johnson said.
Since 2010, reports of elder abuse have increased 550 percent, according to the Georgia Council on Aging. Yet only a small portion of these crimes are ever reported, said GBI Director Vernon Keenan.
Nationwide, it’s estimated that one in 10 older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, and that for every case of elder abuse, 23.5 cases go unreported, according to theNational Center on Elder Abuse.
For the past five years, state legislators have increased funding for Adult Protective Services caseworkers, hired additional GBI agents to focus on elder-abuse crimes, and set aside funds for an elder-abuse attorney to prosecute cases. Lawmakers have also increased training for law enforcement through the Division of Aging and stiffened penalties on unlicensed personal care homes.
Two other bills to combat elder abuse were also passed by lawmakers this year. One is a trafficking bill that will crack down on personal care home operators who prey on elderly and at-risk adults in need of housing. In many cases, these adults are forced to live in substandard housing in exchange for turning over all of their Social Security benefits or other financial allowances, Floyd said.
Another bill passed will allow for better coordination and communication between law enforcement and Adult Protective Services on sensitive abuse cases. The goal is to have multidisciplinary teams working together to form an elder-abuse task force in each judicial district.
ENGAGE with CO-AGE
Georgia Council on Aging volunteers will host meetings in communities across the state April 16-20 to share updates from the legislative session and discuss upcoming senior issues.
Meetings in metro Atlanta include:
• Wesley Woods Towers; Monday, April 16, 10-11 a.m., Wesley Woods Towers, 1825 Clifton Road, Atlanta.
• Clairmont Oaks; Monday, April 16, 2-3 p.m., Clairmont Oaks, 441 Clairemont Ave., Decatur.
• Forsyth County Senior Services, Thursday, April 19, 2-3 p.m., Forsyth County Senior Services, 595 Dahlonega St., Cumming.
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Stopping elder abuse is the goal of Georgia legislative measures
|MARK C. PSORAS / For The Inquirer|
Around that time, Marie Frisby began questioning the guardian appointed to help her husband, Hank. They contend that his bills weren’t being paid and, as a result, they had to sell their home in Wyncote, Montgomery County.
Meanwhile, Nu Vuong, a naturalized U.S. citizen who doesn’t speak English, had been moved by her guardian from her Kensington home to a Delaware County nursing facility where no one spoke her language.
Questions about Byars’ financial management led judges to remove Byars last year as guardian of the Bergs and Hank Frisby. She has since been removed from about 100 cases in Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties.
The experiences of the Bergs, Frisby, and Vuong demonstrate how well-meaning relatives can be swept away by a guardian who may not be acting in a person’s best interests. And Byars’ criminal record underscores what some advocates say is a broader issue: a lack of oversight in a beleaguered system responsible for caring for thousands of often elderly Pennsylvanians.
“We do have a crisis with professional guardians,” Philadelphia Orphans’ Court Administrative Judge Matthew Carrafiello said at a February hearing at which he ordered Byars removed from all her remaining guardianships. “We just don’t have enough.”
Nationwide, guardians oversee an estimated 1.3 million adults and $50 billion of their assets, said Brenda Uekert, principal court research consultant at the National Center for State Courts. And as the population ages, the demand for them is likely to grow.
In Philadelphia, about 6,800 adults are under guardianship care, many of whom are overseen by family members. Five lawyers also regularly serve as guardians, and others on an occasional basis, as well as about 17 non-attorney professional guardians, like Byars.
Any interested person or agency may petition a court to appoint a guardian. A judge then holds a hearing to determine if the person is “incapacitated” — unable to manage his or her own personal or financial affairs. Once appointed, a guardian is paid through that person’s assets or income. Their fees vary: Some could charge $100 an hour, observers say, but they also could make much less overseeing a poor client’s finances.
Guardians must file with the court regular reports of the assets, income, and expenditures they manage. But otherwise, they are generally left alone.
The only legal requirement to become a guardian in Pennsylvania is the ability to read and write in English. And that in turn opened the door to applicants like Byars.
Philadelphia judges appointed her to 93 cases from 2015 until last summer, in most cases based on a recommendation by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. The nonprofit, which provides home care to more than 21,000 and helps thousands more through its tip line, is supposed to act as a watchdog for the city’s most vulnerable citizens.
But an attorney for the agency told a judge at a hearing last year that PCA did not know about Byars’ convictions for fraud and bad checks — a past that a simple Google search would have uncovered.
Abbey Porter, an agency spokeswoman, declined to discuss why PCA had recommended Byars and whether the agency had conducted a background check. She wrote by email that PCA is “aware of the complexities and challenges of the guardianship system, including the ‘vetting’ of guardians.”
Byars, 57, has not been charged for her role in any guardianship cases. She repeatedly has declined to speak to the Inquirer and Daily News, when approached in person or through phone calls and letters left at her office and home. Lawyers representing her also have declined to comment.
Diane Menio, executive director of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), in Philadelphia, said Byars’ record shows agencies and courts need more due diligence in choosing guardians.
“Someone convicted of financial crimes is certainly not someone who you want managing an incapacitated person’s finances,” said Menio. “This whole thing is based on trust.”
‘Unbelievable’Court records show that in 2005, Byars was charged in Virginia with defrauding several people by using their discarded credit-card convenience checks, fished out from post-office trash cans. She pleaded guilty that October and was later sentenced to 37 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $29,503 in restitution.
After completing her term in December 2007, which included stints in a halfway house and on home confinement, Byars, who had once lived in Camden, moved to Delaware County. Her supervised release, which ended in December 2010, barred her from working in a job that required her to handle money or have access to financial accounts.
At some point, she began working for Robert Stump, a guardian and owner of RES Consulting in Havertown. According to one LinkedIn account, she worked there from 2008 to 2016. Stump did not return calls seeking comment.
The same LinkedIn account says Byars received an associate of arts degree in business administration from Kaplan University in 1981. A spokeswoman for Kaplan, headquartered in Chicago, said the university, which offers online courses, has no record of Byars’ taking classes.
In 2016, Byars branched out on her own, opening Global Guardian Services in Lansdowne, Delaware County.
That Dec. 6, Byars was appointed guardian for the Bergs, upon PCA’s recommendation. The couple, both in their 80s, didn’t want to leave their house on Borbeck Avenue, which they bought in 1961, relatives said.
But in late December, Margareta Berg was discharged from a hospital and — without the knowledge of her brother, Josef Wituschek — moved to a Montgomery County rehab facility. A panicked Wituschek and his daughter, Heidi Austin, then tried to call Byars, only to learn that she was in Spain, they said.
Austin grew suspicious. A Google search led her to a 2005 Virginia newspaper article about Byars’ most recent arrest. Soon afterward, Austin discovered Byars’ criminal history through an online background check.
That January, Byars moved the Bergs into a Montgomery County nursing home, then in February 2017 had their Fox Chase house cleaned out to sell it.
An accounting filed by Byars last year said she collected $4,487.50 in guardianship fees from the Bergs from January to July, a sum that consisted of monthly fees of $100 or $200, plus $2,000 for her to oversee the two-day cleanout of their house. (It’s unclear how much she made from all of her guardian cases, but court records show that she finally paid off her restitution in the federal fraud case by February 2017.)
After Byars sought court approval to sell the house, Wituschek hired a lawyer. Attorney Daniel McElhatton learned that the company Byars had hired to clean the house, DEPCO LLC, was owned by Byars’ husband, Leon DeShields.
The lawyer says he found it “unbelievable” that Byars didn’t disclose the conflict of interest. He opposed the sale of the house and an $11,000 payment to DEPCO, alerted Orphans’ Court Judge John Herron to Byars’ criminal convictions, and asked the judge to remove her as guardian.
At a hearing in July 2017, Herron scolded Byars for failing to disclose the conflict and for not getting his approval to pay DEPCO. “It was self-dealing and should not have happened, and it should be refunded immediately,” the judge said.
McElhatton also questioned thousands of dollars in other withdrawals Byars had made from the Bergs’ accounts. Byars said she paid $5,000 in cash to the Bergs’ nursing home, but didn’t get a receipt – a step Herron called “negligent” and “reckless.”
Herron ordered Byars removed as the Bergs’ guardian and as guardian of 31 other active cases. He appointed Wituschek as successor guardian for the Bergs. Wituschek had previously not been able to serve because he was mourning the death of his wife.
Byars has since reimbursed the Bergs the $11,000 paid to her husband’s cleaning company, $5,200 for an unexplained cashier’s check she wrote from their account, and an additional $900 she collected from an auction of valuables from the cleanout of the Bergs’ house. The family is still questioning other expenses and items they suspect are missing.
At the July hearing, Byars’ then-attorney Robert Feliciani III, said she had 113 active guardianships, mostly in Philadelphia and Montgomery County.
Sam Brooks, an elder law attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, said other professional guardians at times carry caseloads as large or larger. A manageable caseload is closer to 40, he said, but to make a profit, guardians deal in volume, he said.
“There’s no money in it, for the most part, unless you have a person who’s incapacitated who has a substantial estate,” said Menio, the advocacy center director.
Guardians can still make money from low-income clients. They are assured $100 a month if the person is in a nursing home and receives medical assistance. They also can petition the court to sell a person’s house, then request compensation from the sale.
Billed for a birthday partyHank Frisby was a Philadelphia police officer from 1960 to 1980, rising to the rank of sergeant. He then served full time in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and later in Montgomery County’s human resources department.
In early 2016, though, he was separated from his wife, Marie. After a nurse who was taking care of him at his Wyncote home suspected he was being abused by a relative, the nurse contacted the Montgomery County Office of Aging and Adult Services.
That March, Montgomery County Senior Judge Stanley Ott deemed Hank Frisby incapacitated after finding that he suffered from dementia and had problems paying his bills. The Office of Aging had recommended Stump’s company, RES Consulting, and Byars, who at the time was still working for Stump, was appointed his guardian, court records show.
While the Frisbys agree that his finances weren’t in the best of shape, they say that in the ensuing months, Byars didn’t pay his mortgage, real-estate taxes, or income taxes.
But she threw him a birthday party. In June 2016, he was invited to a party that Byars threw for him and other clients at her home. The party included an ice cream truck, a live band, food, alcohol, and boxes of sheet cake, including one for him, Hank Frisby said.
“I didn’t know anybody there,” Hank Frisby, now 79, said in an interview. “I stayed a couple of hours and left.”
He thought it was nice, he said, until he later saw a $750 charge on his account for being at the party for six hours.
Later that year, the Frisbys reunited, and Marie Frisby realized the state of his finances. In December 2016, their house was targeted for foreclosure.
They sold the house in May, then moved to the River Park section of Philadelphia.
Marie Frisby, 70, said she has seen no indication of how Byars spent her husband’s pension checks, totaling $80,000 a year, to his benefit — except once, when she bought a stair lift for him at the Wyncote house.
She also said Byars wouldn’t let her see her husband’s bank statements.
“We had no charges about how much she paid anybody, just her fees on what she charged us to do for us,” she said.
Concerned, she had filed a petition in court to have Byars removed as guardian, contending Byars was failing to pay her husband’s bills. With the help of a lawyer, Diane Zabowski, the Frisbys got Byars replaced as guardian in June.
State Sen. Art Haywood, the Democratic minority chair of the Aging and Youth committee, said Thursday that Marie Frisby will be meeting April 5 with a staffer in his office to see if there is any recourse for her husband. Haywood, a former Wyncote neighbor of the Frisbys, said he found it “outrageous” that they had to sell their home.
Haywood, who represents parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia, said his staff is looking into the process of how guardians are appointed and removed.
‘My mom is not a prisoner’Vuong’s son, Hue Quach, experienced similar outrage. On May 26, 2016, Byars was appointed Vuong’s guardian. A week later, she transferred Vuong, then 73, to a Delaware County nursing home without telling her son.
“Not only did she put my mom in this [nursing home] without telling me, she prohibited me from going in and seeing my mom” without Byars’ permission, he said in an interview.
Quach said his mother cried when he was allowed to visit her because no one in the nursing home could understand her — she speaks Vietnamese and Chinese.
He said he told Byars: “‘My mom is not a prisoner. She did nothing wrong.'”
Quach then petitioned the court to be his mother’s guardian. At a July 2016 hearing, Judge George Overton appointed Quach co-guardian. Quach then moved his mother to a South Jersey nursing home that has staff and residents who speak Chinese.
Byars has since been removed from that case — and the others in surrounding counties.
The final two removals came March 20 in Delaware County. The Orphans’ Court clerk there, Mary Walk, said the office began reviewing Byars’ cases after learning about her removals in other counties, but found no evidence of malfeasance in the two cases.
At the February hearing, Carrafiello, the Philadelphia Orphans’ Court administrative judge, had said he was unaware of any malfeasance in Byars’ caseload in his court. But he stripped her from the cases because he concluded she was no longer up to the task of being a guardian.
Montgomery County officials declined to discuss why she was removed from cases there.
Calls for improvementUnlike 18 other states, Pennsylvania does not require professional guardians to undergo criminal background checks.
A state Supreme Court Elder Law Task Force had in November 2014 recommended that all guardians be required to undergo criminal background checks in a wide-ranging report that examined problems in the guardianship system, issues of elder abuse and neglect, and access to the justice system for elders.
That decision would fall to the state’s Supreme Court justices. The court’s Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee at an April 20 meeting will be considering the issue of instituting background checks, said Northampton County Orphans’ Court Judge Emil Giordano, a committee member. His county already bars felons from serving as professional guardians.
State Rep. Mark Gillen (R., Berks) said in a March 23 interview that he soon would introduce a bill requiring criminal background checks for prospective guardians and prohibiting felons from serving.
Other legislators also have been trying to improve the system. State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, last year reintroduced a bill that would, among other things, require court approval for any guardian fees.
Keelin S. Barry, a Philadelphia lawyer who served on the task force and whose office provides guardianship and elder law services, said “there is a huge shortage” of people willing to serve as guardians, but a great need.
“The elderly population has exploded,” said Barry, who was appointed to replace Byars as guardian for Hank Frisby. “And people who in the past would have taken care of their older family member, now have moved across the city or across the country and are not able to take care of that person anymore.”
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She went to prison for fraud and bad checks. Then courts around Philly let her manage the finances for elderly residents
INDIANAPOLIS— A new online registry that aims to protect elderly people and others in Indiana from being financially exploited by their court-appointed guardians is now being used by courts in more than half of the state's counties.
The registry helps courts monitor guardianship cases, while providing limited public access to further help protect people who are unable to manage their personal and/or financial affairs, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.
"There's a lot of positive benefits for something like this," said Lake County Superior Court Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider.
Porter County Superior Court Magistrate Mary DeBoer said court reviews of guardianship cases ensure that a protected person's funds are being used appropriately.
"These protected persons are vulnerable to physical and financial exploitation, so it is particularly important to protect these protected persons and their assets from harm," DeBoer said.
She said the registry also helps the courts keep track of statistics related to their guardianship cases. DeBoer estimated that the number of cases will increase as baby boomers age.
She said the idea for the registry was created by herself and the other members of the Indiana Adult Guardianship State Task Force several years ago.
Erica Costello, a staff attorney at the Adult Guardianship Office at the Indiana Office of Court Services, said 56 of Indiana's 92 counties are currently taking part in the voluntary registry.
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Indiana guardianship registry prevents exploitation
INDIAN RIVER SHORES, Fla. - Two Vero Beach women, who are former certified nursing assistants, are in jail for stealing more than $500,000 from elderly people they cared for in Indian River Shores.
“Here locally, this is probably one of this biggest ones that we’ve seen. That’s a lot of money,” said Indian River Shores Police Officer Albert Iovino.
Chiquita McGee and Sophia Shephard (AKA Sophia Brown) were arrested Tuesday on charges for exploitation of the elderly, organized fraud and scheme to defraud a financial institution.
Indian River Shores police say the duo convinced two elderly patients to open credit cards under McGee and Shephard’s name, linked to the victims' accounts, with an unlimited credit line.
Police said the pair purchased personal items, such as cosmetic dental work, plastic surgery, cruises, expensive jewelry, clothing, an engine for one of their cars, exotic car rental (a Rolls-Royce Ghost for five days at $995.00 per day), hotels in various Florida cities, and they paid a fine out of St. Lucie County.
Police said the total amount for all fraud related to the case is at least $543,973. The pair also fraudulently obtained checks from the victims, police say.
The women were self-employed, and contracted by Indian River Home Care Plus, according to the home health care company’s owner, Margot Kornicks, RN.
Kornicks released the following statement to WPTV:
The charges against Chiquita McGee and Sophia Shepherd are incontestably serious, and elderly exploitation is both deplorable and intolerable. Indian River Home Care (agency) and Indian River Home Care Plus (nurse registry) stand behind this statement, and we will and always have vetted both our employees and our contractors to the upmost degree, according to Florida state statute.
The contract with McGee and Shepherd was terminated on Nov. 16, 2017, due to unprofessional behavior including using abusive language toward staff members and forging hours. At that time, we did not know about the fraud.
We learned of the fraudulent actions from the family at the end of November, and immediately reported the illegal activity to the authorities. Our commitment to our clients is steadfast, and we unwaveringly support our patients, their families and this community.Lovino offered advice for anyone needing home health care for a loved one.
“You have to advocate for your loved ones. Follow up with these people. Find out as much as you can about the home health agency that’s providing the care. Spend the first three or four visits with the healthcare individual,” Lovino said.
He also said you can talk to your loved one about obtaining power of attorney to help track your loved ones expenses, and credit accounts.
McGee and Shepherd are being held in jail without bond and have a court appearance Wednesday.
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Two former certified nursing assistants charged with stealing more than $500K from elderly patients
Lewis' order says he will replace Paul with a "neutral third party" who will serve as financial guardian. The order doesn't accuse Paul of theft, but the judge made it clear that the "sloppy or incomplete" financial records Paul filed for Miriam's estate made it impossible to figure out what he was doing with her money.
Although Bruce and his two siblings ultimately got what they were asking for, Bruce said their long fight illustrates Vermont's weak oversight of guardians. He is seeking action by the state legislature to toughen relevant laws.
Attempts to contact Paul for this story were unsuccessful. His attorney, Frank Olmstead, declined an interview but suggested in an email to Seven Days that there was more to the story.
"Neither the guardian nor I will address the likely incorrect, exaggerated and misleading statements about our conduct involving Jane Doe that have been made by some of her adult children," he wrote, making a point of not using Miriam's name. He also wrote, "The Probate Court has not concluded that there has been any abuse or exploitation of Jane Doe despite years of urging by several of her adult children."
The seeds of the Thomas family dispute were sown more than 10 years ago. As Miriam's husband's health declined before his death in 2007, her mental facilities also began to falter, and she granted Paul power of attorney — legal authority that allows a person to manage finances on someone's behalf. Power of attorney can be granted without a judge's approval.
In 2009, Miriam, who had developed dementia and could no longer tend to her own affairs, moved to the Valley Terrace nursing home in Wilder. Since then, court records say, Paul has paid himself tens of thousands of dollars for fulfilling his duties as guardian. Still, he kept shoddy records and filed them after legal deadlines, Judge Lewis ruled.
When Bruce and his siblings began to suspect in 2010 that Paul was mismanaging their mother's estate, they went to Orange County Probate Court to ask Lewis to install Bruce, who lives in Trumbull, Conn., as their mother's guardian. A guardianship carries authority similar to a power of attorney, often has broader authority and is assigned by a judge.
Instead, the judge appointed Paul, who still lived in the family's Newbury home. From then until his March decision, Lewis presided over a long and contentious dispute that he characterized in a ruling as a "family feud," noting that yet another sibling sided with Paul.
Even Paul's handling of his parents' tree farm became a point of dispute. "Guardian's actions are in violation of the Court's December 12, 2013 order," Lewis wrote in the March decision. "For 2014 and 2015, Guardian spent $72,000 of estate funds to generate timber proceeds of $42,000, creating a loss of $29,000. Guardian paid himself $71,000 for this work."
Bruce said that while Vermont laws to protect elders look good on paper — requiring guardians to report their activities to the court for review and giving judges power to remove guardians who don't comply — more rigorous oversight is needed.
Attorneys and state officials say disputes such as the Thomases' are increasingly common as Vermont's population ages.
"We have counties in Vermont that are reaching over 20 percent of population above the age of 60 as the baby boomers are aging and dying," said Paula McCann, who practices elder law in Rutland. "Our probate courts are now part time because of budget issues, and they only have a certain number of staff."
McCann said that situation limits oversight of guardians. The courts don't always detect the sometimes-complex schemes that defraud older Vermonters, she said.
The state's other efforts are similarly limited. Adult Protective Services, the state agency responsible for investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults, has 11 investigators. APS Director Joe Nusbaum said his staff's main job is maintaining and updating a statewide registry of people against whom others have made substantiated allegations of abuse. Employers such as hospitals and nursing homes use it to vet potential hires.
Nusbaum said his investigators stay busy.
"We receive about 3,000 to 4,000 reports to Vermont APS a year," he said. "And from those reports, we open about 1,000 to 2,000 investigations."
Many involve allegations of mishandled money.
"Financial exploitation is the largest percentage of cases that we deal with, and it is also the fastest growing," he said. "It's only getting larger."
Seniors in nursing homes and other group settings have the protection of the Vermont Attorney General's Office's federally funded Medicaid Fraud and Residential Abuse Unit. Its prosecutors regularly get cases alleging theft by a guardian or a family member with power of attorney.
Steve Monde, an assistant attorney general in the unit, said it handles about 12 cases of financial exploitation every year, though not all end up in court. Part of the difficulty in working these cases, Monde said, is the close relationship between the victim and the accused thief.
"There's a lot of gray areas in these [power of attorney] agreements, and an individual's often given a great deal of latitude over making judgments about finances, so it's very hard to say, 'OK, where's the line and when was it stepped over?'"
Sometimes it's pretty obvious when the line has been crossed, as in a case involving a client of Rutland attorney McCann. She recounted walking into her office one Monday morning after a ski vacation.
"And I get a phone call from this client, and he's a wreck — just yelling at me that all of his money's gone," she said.
It was. The client had been working with Donah Smith, an employee at ARC (Advocacy, Resources, Community), a Rutland community organization that helps manage seniors' government benefits. Smith handled a number of clients' bank accounts, and McCann, acting on behalf of her client, gave Smith power of attorney so she could do the same for him.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, between 2008 and 2010 Smith drained thousands of dollars from the accounts she managed to pay her personal expenses. Smith was sentenced in 2011 to two years in prison for federal mail and wire fraud.
"I thought I had vetted her," McCann said.
Since then, McCann has made it a personal mission to prevent her clients and other elderly Vermonters from having their money or credit stolen by people in positions of trust. More than once, McCann has investigated cases and brought findings to the FBI. She doesn't bother going to probate court or to local law enforcement.
"I'd love to tell you that this is a civil matter, in civil court — that we can take care of things. We can't," she said. "If cash has been stolen, you need to get the case criminal as fast as you can. And it frankly needs to go to the FBI because the feds are the only ones who can quickly freeze and then seize assets."
McCann said she works quickly to find a "federal hook" in elder exploitation cases. Sometimes the stolen funds are federal benefits, which puts a case in the feds' jurisdiction, she said.
McCann said many cases are a straightforward matter of stolen money, but others are more creative. In one instance, she said, a man got elderly Vermonters — including a client of hers — to co-sign for more than $105,000 in student loans. He had no plans to pay back the loans, though, and left the elderly Vermonters holding the bag.
"It was a mess," McCann said.
McCann's approach to preventing situations like the Thomases' is to encourage transparency. Often, she said, that's as simple as crafting the right legal documents and then holding a family meeting to explain what will happen when the client dies or becomes unable to care for himself or herself.
"That way the elder has, at one time, with all of their people present, expressed their wishes," she said. "And if we can do that ... then chances are we're not going to have any disputes. Because everybody heard Mom or Dad say, 'This is the way it's going to be.'"
Bruce and the siblings who sided with him want Vermont to make situations such as theirs easier to address once suspicions arise. They thought they had all the proof they needed and that their brother's missed filings and alleged self-dealing should have led to his removal as guardian, Bruce said. Despite their multiple filings, Judge Lewis declined to do so until last month.
The judge blamed their side for some of the legal delay — and in 2017 ordered the matter to mediation, which failed.
Bruce and two siblings made repeated requests before Lewis allowed them to look through the estate's records. Bruce said they could have saved some of their mother's money if they'd had access sooner and that the case shouldn't have taken years to resolve.
"Vermont has many laws that are designed to protect wards in a guardianship situation," Bruce said, "but it gives probate courts far too much discretion in whether or not to enforce the laws."
Lewis did not respond to requests for comment for this story. A voicemail message at his office said he is on medical leave.
Bruce and his siblings who joined him in the court case have already spoken to Rep. James Masland (D-Thetford), who represents Miriam's district. Masland told Seven Days he hopes to introduce legislation next year to address their concerns.
Masland would like to give family members the legal authority to view an estate's financial records and to mandate that guardianship records be kept for 10 years to provide a clear picture of an estate's management.
Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown) chair the Senate and House Judiciary committees, respectively — key panels for any reform to Vermont's guardianship laws. Both told Seven Days that they're willing to have a discussion about guardianship reform in their committees.
Bruce hopes for action. "When you recognize that there's a problem and that the current laws aren't sufficient to deal with it, you have to do something," he said.
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Who Is Watching Vermont's Legal Guardians?
The judge also ordered that the matter be sealed on the basis that there was too much negative publicity over the matter in T&T.
Dillon, who left for the US on Monday, made his final appearance yesterday in a New York courtroom before Justice Laura Vistacion-Lewis.
Dillon was named in article 81 Guardianship proceedings related to someone he described as a longtime friend, eighty-eight year old Neville Piper. Dillon was accused of fraud, exploitation and elder financial abuse.
The issue in question is a valuable downtown Manhattan condominium which Dillon claimed was gifted to him from Piper. Issues were also raised about the authenticity of the signatures on the transfer documents.
When the matter was called yesterday, Justice Vistacion-Lewis ordered that the matter be held in chambers, a request that was agreed to by both sides.
She also ordered that the records be sealed.
During the two hour long discussions in chambers, Vistacion-Lewis indicated she was aware of the reporting in this country.
Previously, she had also written to the legal teams involved expressing annoyance that details of a private matter were leaked to the press.
Although the matter was held privately, Justice Vistacion-Lewis authorised the release of one statement as it relates to the proceedings…that there was no finding of wrongdoing against Dillon. No further details were authorised to be released about what that means or the resolution in the matter.
As of today, there will be no more proceedings related, and as such, Dillon is no longer required to travel to the US for this matter.
In a release issued by the Ministry of National Security yesterday afternoon, Dillon said he was pleased to report that the court proceedings in the United States, “with respect to his friend Neville Piper, has been fully and effectively resolved.”
“The Honourable Judge, ordered that the record of the proceeding be sealed and restricted, all parties interested in the proceeding from making any public statements, save and except, that there has been no finding of wrongdoing against Minister Dillon,” the release stated.
In a previous interview, Dillon said he didn’t see it fit for him to step down as National Security Minister and made it clear that values his integrity.
Efforts to reach Dillon for comment proved futile as calls went unanswered and messages went without any response.
Eighty-eight-year-old Neville Piper’s niece, Esther Nicholls made an application for the appointment of a Guardian for the property in which it is alleged that based on a power of attorney “on August 21 2017, a purported transfer of an undivided 50 per cent interest in the Alleged Incapacitated Person (AIP), Piper’s, condominium was made by Piper to Dillon and that Piper lacked the capacity to make such transfer validity, that the purported signature of the AIP on the deed and transfer documents does not appear to be Piper’s signature; that the AIP denied ever executing said documents, denied recollection of said transaction and has stated that he would never have made such a transfer and that the AIP had no attorney and no guardian for said transaction; that there were several large transfers and withdrawals from the AIP’s account which is inconsistent, uncharacteristic and contrary to the AIP’s history, practice and norm and that the AIP may have been the victim of elder financial abuse, exploitation and fraud.”
The Court Evaluator’s report states that Piper, who is now at the New Jewish Home in semi-private room on the second floor, did not recall any visits by his family members and stated that he hadn’t seen his niece in years and would not know them if he had seen them.
Consequently on February 15, the court ordered that during the turnover proceedings and until further order of the court Dillon is enjoined, prohibited and restrained from transferring any interest in the condominium unit located at 301 Cathedral Parkway, Unit 8L, New York, NY, 10026, including any interest which Dillon may claim pursuant to the Deed dated August 21, 2017, related to said property.
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