Friday, December 9, 2016

FBCSO: 7 special needs children kept in horrific conditions

RICHMOND, TEXAS - A Richmond couple has been charged with keeping seven special needs children locked up in a filthy bedroom of their home for more than a decade.

Paula Sinclair, 54, and Allen Richardson, 78, were arrested Saturday by Fort Bend County deputies. Both are charged with aggravated kidnapping and injury to a child.

The children, ages 13 to 16, are being treated for malnourishment, dehydration, bed bug bites and other issues. Investigators say they were fed only rice and beans twice a day since they were babies.

One of the children suffers from Down Syndrome and was wearing a dirty diaper when he was removed from the home.

The children were rescued from the home in the Long Meadow Farm subdivision two days before Thanksgiving. All seven were found locked in a room on the second-story of the large home.

“Smelled of feces and urine. The carpet was being pulled up in some places exposing sharp metal tacks,” said Fort Bend County Detective Julie Johnson.

The children weren't allowed to leave the house, had never been treated by doctors or allowed to go to school, according to Fort Bend County investigators.

If Sinclair left the home, the children were locked in a closet, roughly five feet by eight feet. The closet already had clothes and boxes inside, so space was even smaller, and quite often the adults were gone so long that the children would urinate on themselves, the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office said.

“They were told that if they came out of the room or out of the locked closet, they would be physically abused,” Detective Johnson said.  (Click to Continue)

Full Article & Source:
FBCSO: 7 special needs children kept in horrific conditions

Suspended Boston lawyer to be arraigned on 26-count indictment

A Boston lawyer allegedly bilked friends, clients, and others out of nearly $250,000 in a series of schemes “fueled by drugs, gambling, and a penchant for the high life,” prosecutors said Tuesday.

Wassem M. Amin, 31, was ordered held on $1 million bail after being indicted on 26 charges, including fraud and larceny. His alleged victims included two young immigrants who had asked for his help starting companies, along with a former girlfriend he had hired.

Over time, the spoils of his deeds included a Mercedes-Benz S-class sedan and a Canal Street penthouse that cost close to $11,000 a month, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

But Amin was suspended from law practice this year and arrested over the summer. When he found out that one of his victims had lodged a complaint with the state Board of Bar Overseers and Boston Police, Amin sent a threatening text message, prosecutors said.

Full Article & Source:
Suspended Boston lawyer to be arraigned on 26-count indictment

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Is An Assisted Living Facility Responsible When Employees Coerce Residents Into Making “Gifts”?

Managing Attorney
Jeffrey Skatoff
Written by Brian Spiro • December 6th, 2016

Probate Litigation,  Guardianship Litigation,

Elderly individuals move to Florida at a higher rate than anywhere else.  As a result, predatory individuals such as caregivers, aids, and others prey on the elderly or infirmed.  The predatory actions frequently result in changes to the elderly individual’s estate plan including procuring lucrative gifts, obtaining deeds to their benefit, beneficiary designation changes on life insurance policies, transfer or pay on death accounts, among others.

Scenarios where this type of procurement occurs may be at an assisted living facility, independent living facility, continuing care facility, home health aides, long term health care providers, hospitals, outpatient and other rehab centers.

In the recent decision of ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, Inc. v. Estate of Zimmer, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 17715 (Fla. Nov. 30, 2016), an elderly resident (“Decedent”)—during the waning years of his life—resided at a facility at an independent and continuing care facility.  Decedent continued to reside there following the death of his wife when he was “befriended” by multiple employees.

In short order, Decedent gave—among other gifts—at least $30,000 and a $42,000 Mercedes to one such predatory employee.  Based on the Court’s opinion, it appears that this employee was not the only one on the receiving end of Decedent’s gratuitous behavior.

Decedent’s son got wind of the lavish gifts his father was doling out and the employee was terminated from the facility because accepting gifts from residents was against the facility’s policy.

After termination, other facility employees would drive Decedent to the terminated employee’s home where the terminated employee continued to receive gifts.  The terminated employee would even pick up Decedent from the facility directly.

After Decedent’s death, litigation was commenced against the terminated employee and the facility by Decedent’s estate. The terminated employee settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. A verdict was entered against the independent and continuing care facility at trial for negligent supervision. On appeal the facility ultimately escaped liability for negligent supervision because the actions of the non-terminated employees—such as driving the Decedent to and from the terminated employee’s home—were not underlying torts themselves.

Notwithstanding the reversal on appeal, predatory employees are taking advantage of the elderly and infirmed at an alarming rate.  Day in and day out Clark Skatoff receives calls from individuals whose loved ones are being exploited by their caretakers, like the predatory employees involved in this case.

Recently Clark Skatoff resolved an action filed by a deceased individual’s daughter whose father was exploited by a caretaker who paraded around as the individual’s girlfriend, procuring lavish gifts and hijacking the individual’s estate plan.

These cases are not outliers here in Florida like they may be elsewhere.

If your parent, grandparent, or loved one was exploited by a healthcare provider resulting in the procurement of the gratuities discussed above, or outright theft, please call the attorneys at Clark Skatoff for a consultation.

Brian M. Spiro and the attorneys at Clark Skatoff practice in contested probate, trust, and inheritance disputes throughout Florida.  Mr. Spiro may be reached for a free consultation at (561) 842-4868.

Full Article & Source:
Is An Assisted Living Facility Responsible When Employees Coerce Residents Into Making “Gifts”?

22 witnesses poised to testify in ex-judge's misconduct trial

David Tidd
The Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board plans to call Northampton County's president judge and one of its former president judges to testify in an upcoming misconduct trial.

A memo filed Dec. 5 lists President Judge Stephen Baratta and former President Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden among the 22 witnesses to be called to testify against former District Judge David Tidd.

The Hellertown area district judge stands accused of running a "fast food court" where he brokered settlements at his counter without all parties present. He's accused of using profanity, bullying employees, throwing tantrums and using his judicial robes as a pillow while sleeping in his office.

Tidd attorney Samuel C. Stretton maintains Tidd was set up by his spy employees and was subject to illegal wiretaps in his office.

Deputy Court Administrator Debra French said Tidd specifically asked for audio recording devices when security upgrades were approved for his office. French is among the witnesses on the trial list.

Among the more than 100 exhibits on the judicial conduct board's list are at least four anonymous complaints filed against Tidd. The complaints themselves have not been made public.

Baratta said Monday he's not sure why he would be called as a witness. The document posted Dec. 5 says Baratta will be called to verify allegations of improper demeanor by Tidd and about retaliation Tidd threatened against his employees.

"This is the first I've heard that there's going to be a trial," Baratta said Monday. "If they subpoena me to be a witness, I'll be a witness. No one has contacted me since Judge Tidd's retirement."

French and McFadden didn't immediately respond to messages.

Tidd resigned July 25, less than a year into his second six-year term. The complaint was filed against him Aug. 26.

The witness list includes employees from Tidd's former office, district court in Lehigh Township, the Northampton County 911 center and for police from Lower Saucon Township, Hellertown and the Slate Belt Regional Police Department.

The complete list is on the website of the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline.

A trial date has yet to be set. 

Full Article & Source:
22 witnesses poised to testify in ex-judge's misconduct trial

Elder abuse – Often the kin did it: Feds to collect data.

What kind of people cheat and financially abuse incapacitated older folks?

Sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and lawyers – people who act as guardians for their relatives and clients.

What can the federal government do about it?

Currently not much, because elder abuse generally is considered a state and local problem. But at least the federal government can help with the important step of defining the problem. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to soon launch a data collection program that will assist experts combating elderly exploitation.

“Unfortunately, the extent of elder abuse by guardians is relatively unknown to us due to the limited data that we have available,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing last week.

The title of the hearing gets to the point — “Trust Betrayed: Financial Abuse of Older Americans by Guardians and Others in Power.”

“The amount of money lost through exploitation of elders is staggering and growing,” said Cathy “Cate” Boyko, Minnesota judicial branch conservator account auditing program manager. She cited a 2015 study indicating the estimated national annual financial loss at $36.5 billion. “There is no question these losses are increasing at an alarming rate.”

Early next year, HHS will begin the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS), which the department describes as “the first comprehensive national reporting system” for Adult Protective Service (APS) programs. The data collection will include information from investigations into the mistreatment of older adults and adults with disabilities. “The absence of data for research and best practice development has been cited by numerous entities, including the Government Accountability Office (GAO), as a significant barrier to improving APS programs,” says the HHS Administration for Community Living.

Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) agrees. “There is no doubt financial abuse against our seniors is a problem—and a very serious one made even more difficult by a lack of data that makes it difficult to quantify,” she told The Washington Post. “But I think this is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Data collection is key, yet it seems far removed from the day-to-day suffering of seniors who can’t help themselves. Consider these stories from hearing testimony:
  • “An 82-year-old WW II veteran had suffered two strokes and was confined to a wheelchair and homebound. After his wife passed away, he needed help so he bought a mobile home and asked his daughter to move in with him. He also named his daughter agent under a POA [power of attorney] and added her to the title of the home and his bank accounts. The daughter systematically isolated her father and took complete control over his money …” said Jaye Martin, executive director of Maine’s Legal Services for the Elderly. “When he sought help he believed he had $20,000 in savings, but only $15 remained in his accounts. Bank records revealed that his daughter had taken his money for her personal use, opened and charged thousands on credit cards in his name, and purchased a new car using her POA authority to add him as a co-signer.”
  • A niece caring for her 83-year-old aunt in Virginia used the elderly woman’s money for the younger woman’s personal expenses, “including an $11,645 pickup truck for a friend and $360 at a sunglasses retailer in Tennessee,” said Kathryn A. Larin, GAO’s forensic audits and investigative service acting director. The niece was ordered to pay more than $32,000 in restitution and sentenced to 12 months in prison.
  • Citing another criminal complaint in Virginia, Larin said a legal assistant to a lawyer acting as a professional guardian stole more than $100,000 from an elder’s bank account to support a drug habit. The lawyer discovered the thefts, but allowed it to continue because he had a “personal relationship” with his assistant. After the thefts were discovered, the lawyer “pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, agreed to repay the stolen funds, and in 2015 consented to the revocation of his law license,” according to Larin.
In the past year, Martin said 48 percent of the elder-abuse cases handled by her organization involved financial exploitation, “with 75 percent of those involving family members as the perpetrators. This is consistent with national research, which found that in 90 percent of reported elder-abuse cases with a known perpetrator, the perpetrator is a family member.”

It’s a shame – and too often a crime – when elders can’t trust their kin.

Full Article & Source:
Elder abuse – Often the kin did it: Feds to collect data.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Who guards the guardians: Series shows caregivers need our assistance

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Diane Dimond’s series on court-appointed guardians is horrifying for any of us who are concerned about protecting our loved ones’ rights and independence as they get older.

Her series has served as a reminder that we must strengthen our long-term care system and support the 40 million people in our country who are family caregivers for seniors and people with disabilities who need assistance to live as independently as possible in their homes and communities.

Family caregivers work hard every day balancing caregiving with their personal and professional lives. But they need more than our acknowledgment; they need our support.

Every year family caregivers provide $470 billion worth of unpaid care, surpassing our nation’s total Medicaid funding for both health care and long-term care services.

Families want to provide that care, but they also do it because it is necessary.

Many people who need care cannot afford to pay for services that would help them remain independent, but they have just enough money to be ineligible for Medicaid and the support services it would provide. So their families fill in the gaps where they can, keeping their family member out of a high-cost nursing home.

I share that experience as a caregiver to my mom. I know the value of what family caregivers do, how they manage their daily responsibilities with the medical, emotional, physical and financial needs of their loved one. I also know there aren’t enough of us; we have a critical, growing shortage of family and paid caregivers in our country.

In 2010, there were seven potential caregivers for every person older than 80. By 2030 — when one in five Americans will be 65 or older – that ratio is projected to drop by almost half, to four to one. In New Mexico, the fastest growing segment of our population is people older than 65.

We must make a national investment in long-term care. And we need to grow a workforce that will help meet the needs of our population.

I have introduced the National Care Corps Act, which is one tool to shore up the system and our caregivers.

The National Care Corps Act would place trained volunteers in communities to provide non-medical care that supports family caregivers and those receiving care.

Creating a national service program is one strategy for enabling people to live as independently as possible while also supporting the millions who provide care on their own. This legislation will also provide volunteers with benefits, including educational awards, so they can further their careers and spur growth in a health care workforce that is in dire need of expansion. Through Care Corps, we will promote volunteerism and supplement the hard work of paid caregivers.

I can imagine the relief I would feel if someone visited my mom every day, drove her to medical appointments, read to her and listened to her stories. That kind of relationship – independent from the people she pays to perform tasks and the daughter who cares for her – could be incredibly meaningful for all of us.

I can envision volunteers gaining insight into the lives of seniors and people whose lives have been shaped by disabilities. Care Corps would give people an opportunity to build intergenerational relationships, creating space for a level of understanding and connection that is rare today.

This volunteer-caregiving concept is gaining support across the country; a broad range of organizations focused on the needs of caregivers, seniors and individuals with disabilities have endorsed Care Corps. More than 50 congressional members are serving on a new bicameral, bipartisan caucus that I co-founded to raise awareness about the need to support caregivers, create an environment conducive to reaching bipartisan solutions and build a sense of urgency to act.

I am eager to work with my colleagues in the next Congress so we can support our caregivers who give of themselves to protect and care for their loved ones.

Full Article & Source:
Who guards the guardians: Series shows caregivers need our assistance

See Also:
Read Diane Dimond's Five-Part Series:  Who Guards the Guardfians?

Charges dropped against Miami-Dade judge

TALLAHASSEE -- The Miami-Dade judge set to face a criminal mischief trial for destroying a pickup truck using a metal pipe in June escaped prosecution after the charges were dropped.

Victoria Brennan, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge, was not charged for any criminal liability by the 20th Judicial Circuit. The decision came after the matter was initially placed in limbo when then Keys state attorney Catherine Vogel removed her office from the case. Due to her decision to recuse, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Florida State Attorney Stephen Russell, the chief of the prosecutors in the 20th Judicial Circuit, to handle the case.

In the explanation she provided for her recusal, Vogel shared that she had a close relationship with Brennan in the past. According to the Keys state attorney, she and Brennan had worked together in the 1990s as Miami Dade County prosecutors. In addition, the defendant allegedly once dated one of the prosecutors in Vogel’s office.

Records show that no charges have been officially filed against Brennan. While the Monroe County deputies signed an arrest warrant against the judge, the pickup truck’s owner, Victor Garcia of Homestead, was convinced by Daniel Lurvey, the defendant’s lawyer, to not file charges anymore.

According to the agreement with Garcia, Brennan then paid for the damages caused to the vehicle.

“After a thorough investigation, Judge Brennan has been exonerated of any wrongdoing,” shared Lurvey in a statement via the Florida Keys News. “She was never arrested or charged and this matter is concluded.”

As for Garcia, the petitioner appears to be eager to put the incident behind him.

“It was random. She’s a judge. She took care of what she did. They paid more – more than what it was worth. I don’t really want to talk about it," Lurvey told the Miami Herald.

The matter started on June 28 when Brennan purportedly found “three drunk males” in her Key Largo home. They were later identified as the same people partying with her 17-year-old son, police reports state, who had been arrested for a hit-and-run incident and was detained at a Plantation Key jail.

When she asked the males to vacate the premises, they allegedly cursed at her and threatened her.

Garcia and his companions later on claimed that Brennan proceeded to smash the pickup truck parked outside using a metal pipe.

Despite the fact that the criminal charges have been dropped, Brennan remains in danger of facing potential breach of Florida judicial ethics procedure. Since a warrant had been signed for her arrest or surrender, the rules dictate that the judge should have properly informed her superiors and the defendants in her court about the criminal case she was involved with.

“Generally speaking, a judge who has an arrest warrant out there has no business on the criminal bench. The judge should have asked to be reassigned so there wasn’t even the appearance of impropriety,” explained Miami lawyer Michael Catalano.

Full Article & Source:
Charges dropped against Miami-Dade judge

FSU criminology team tackles elder fraud issues

Dean Thomas Blomberg
Around the holidays people tend to be in the giving spirit, but there are also scammers well aware of such generosity. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that although fraud targeting seniors happens every day, scammers often increase their efforts during the holiday season.
Enter Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Researchers, including Dean Thomas Blomberg, doctoral student Julie Mestre Brancale and George Pesta, director of the Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research, recently completed a full report on elder fraud and how to combat it. 

“We needed to have better firsthand knowledge of how extensive the problem of elder financial fraud is in order to develop needed policies and practices that can effectively reduce this growing problem,” Blomberg said.

In 2011, the MetLife Market Institute reported that $2.9 billion was exploited from elderly victims — a 12 percent increase from 2008. The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population is 65 and older, so the occurrence and impact of elder financial fraud will likely continue to escalate.

Despite these alarming trends, there was little research on the facts, prevention and policies related to elder financial fraud. This lack of information led the College, in partnership with Merrill Lynch and Seniors vs. Crime, to begin a study on elder financial fraud in The Villages, one of the largest retirement communities in the nation.

The team addressed four questions through their research: One, what are the most common types of financial fraud perpetrated against the elderly? Two, what role do salient life events, such as retirement, death of a spouse and declining health have on the risk of elder financial fraud? Three, what are protective factors against elder financial exploitation? Four, what are the consequences of elder fraud victimization?

Combing through diverse data — including reported incident data, arrest statistics, national surveys, focus groups and interviews — researchers found that in The Villages between January 2010 and May 2015, there were 3,735 complaints of elder fraud victimization, but only 265 arrests. The average age of fraud victims was 72, and the average lost among the victims was $2,000 per claim. They also found the most common source of fraud was in home services, particularly unnecessary repairs. 

The researchers also examined other types of fraud The Villages residents were exposed to, including misleading sales and advertisements, investment fraud, embezzlement, sweepstakes scams, fraud by health professionals, identity theft and forgery crimes. The report also addresses the methods used to exploit elderly victims and what made them particularly vulnerable to each type of fraud.

 Doctoral student Julie Mestre Brancale presents report recommendations to senior residents at Westminster Oaks Retirement Community.
Doctoral student Julie Mestre Brancale presents report recommendation 
to senior residents at Westminster Oaks Retirement Community.

Salient life events, or “turning points,” such as death or incapacitation of a spouse, a significant health diagnosis, moving and changing social support networks proved to be the most common precursors for financial exploitation. As a result of victimization, residents of The Villages suffered psychological and emotional distress, impact on their quality of life and health, and devastating consequences for their financial security.

“I was surprised at how prevalent this problem is and how deeply affected residents were,” Mestre Brancale said. “No matter if they lost $50 or they lost $100,000, this victimization changed their lives and they were drastically impacted.”

Researchers also discovered that retirement communities provided a false sense of security to residents, raising the likelihood of exploitation among residents. Further, they determined that elder fraud is significantly underreported because victims are embarrassed and/or unaware how to report victimization.

In the report, Blomberg, Mestre Brancale, and Pesta give recommendations to help reduce vulnerability when it comes to elder fraud. They note that protective factors, such as education, skepticism and strong support networks help to reduce incidents of fraud.

The researchers also recommended that community service centers providing comprehensive services at a single location for seniors could help reduce elderly victimization. Effective services within the community service centers would be hotlines, list of “endorsed” services, classroom education, media outreach, “shopping buddy” programs, support groups and referral services. 

Accordingly, community service centers that provide such services can act as a surrogate family or trusted friend, educating seniors to avoid exploitation and guiding them through the recovery process. The research team anticipates the recommendations, if applied and fostered, will reduce the prevalence of financial fraud. 

“This is just another example of how the college is working to bring research to life,” Blomberg said.

“Here, the college’s research provides real insight into problems confronting some of Florida’s most vulnerable citizens, the elderly, as well as recommendations for the prevention of elder financial exploitation.” 

Researchers said there is more they hope to learn in order to help combat the crime.

“We really want to go out to other retirement communities and see if what we found in The Villages, we find in other retirement communities,” Pesta said. “We ultimately want to pursue an institute for the study of elder fraud and abuse at Florida State University in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.”

Read the full report, “Elder Financial Exploitation in a Large Retirement Community,” here.

Full Article & Source:
FSU criminology team tackles elder fraud issues

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Who guards the guardians: Journal series distorts good work of guardians

In a recent series in the Albuquerque Journal, Diane Dimond has painted a remarkably unfair and distorted portrait of the guardianship profession, using a few cases out of thousands to make her biased case. Her case needlessly attacked good people doing good work, and even in her few examples, she got it completely wrong.

The Journal’s stories create both the need to respond to the inaccuracies, but also a chance for the public to understand how the guardianship process in this state works to the benefit of our most vulnerable citizens.

Guardians are charged with protecting our most vulnerable citizens. The Journal stories attempted to make a case that guardians and conservators are draining the bank accounts of protected people. It’s actually the other way around.

The guardians and conservators shore up the finances of the protected people and save their money to allow them to live decently by making sure they get proper medical care, housing and nutrition. All too often when conservators are called in the protected person’s way of life has been threatened, and their money is in danger of being lost completely.

In a few hundred cases per year, the courts step in to create a guardian for people who have some very serious conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Down Syndrome, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse problems. In most of these cases, the vulnerable adult involved needs a guardian to keep them from losing their homes, their money and their way of life.

In many cases, the family members cannot take care of the ailing person and the court intervenes in the best interest of the person. And in some cases, the family members cannot agree on the right course of action and the court must take over.

The vulnerable person who needs a guardian then enters into a system of qualified and dedicated professionals who are devoting their lives to the help and care of these people. These guardians aren’t getting rich.

The Journal stories inaccurately portray these hardworking individuals as taking advantage of the situation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These guardians and conservators step in in very difficult circumstances to protect people suffering from dementia and other ailments, to maintain their way of life, keep them in their homes if requested, and maintain finances. This is all done to honor the wishes of the protected person.

In the case of Blair Darnell, whose situation was vastly mischaracterized in the Journal story, a conservator and guardian were called in to protect her assets and ensure proper medical care so she could live out her life in her home according to her wishes. The system worked. She lived out her life at home with her family by her side.

The Journal stories also implied that the family members of the protected people are then banned from seeing their parents. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, there may be a few cases when the courts determine that some family members pose a danger to the protected person, but that’s rare, and in almost all cases the family has access and is encouraged to see the protected person.

The courts go out of their way to ensure that the family is completely involved, if they wish, in the process and get to state their case. It is unfortunate that the Journal stories have damaged the court’s reputation by implying that there is something unethical going on here.

In short, there is an honorable profession operating in a lawful and ethical manner. It protects vulnerable people who are in need of special care. The guardians rescue people who can be in unimaginably horrible circumstances, and when the protected person no longer needs a guardian and life is back together, the guardian steps aside. We operate by a strict code of ethical standards and the vast majority of our families are very satisfied with our results.

This recent five-part series failed to accurately report how the system actually works. This failure is a disservice to the vulnerable and their families looking for help.

Full Article & Source:
Who guards the guardians: Journal series distorts good work of guardians

See Also:
Diane Dimond's Five-Part Series:  Who Guards the Guardians?