Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Betrayal of trust: Part Three

Shannon Mullen, @MullenAPP 

Elder abuse cases like Barbara J. Lieberman's aren't supposed to happen in New Jersey.

The state has one of the strongest guardianship laws in the U.S.

On paper, that is.

New Jersey toughened the rules in 2006 after a scandal involving an Ocean County attorney, Gary S. Beninson.

A Toms River resident with a law practice in Lakewood, Beninson, like Lieberman, was a trusted attorney who regularly received guardianship appointments from the court.

Secretly, though, he was stealing millions from dozens of incapacitated wards, authorities said.

Beninson later admitted to taking $1.7 million and was sentenced to seven years in state prison. He was released in 2005 after serving just over 10 months at a state work farm.

As a result of his case, New Jersey guardians aren't allowed to manage the affairs of more than five wards at one time.

In addition, third-party guardians like Beninson are no longer common, as they are in other states. Typically now, if there is no family member able and willing to take on the responsibility of being the guardian, judges will make the incapacitated person a ward of the state.

That change has placed the agency responsible for their care, the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian for Elderly Adults, under increasing strain.

In just the past two years, its caseload has soared 40 percent, to about 1,550 wards. Meanwhile, the agency's annual budget hasn't increased. It's remained at $1.3 million for nearly five years.

A 2013 state audit faulted the agency for its "archaic" accounting system and sloppy record keeping.

Among other problems, a storage room where clients' coins, jewelry and other valuables were kept was in disarray, confidential files were stacked in the hallways, and the estates of two clients who had died in 2007 and 2008, totaling $130,000 in assets, had yet to be dispersed to heirs.

State Auditor Stephen M. Eells referred one unspecified finding, related to "questionable" professional services, to the state Division of Criminal Justice for further investigation. No further information is available on that issue, Eells says.

The agency told the auditor that it has corrected these problems.

Acting Public Guardian Helen C. Dodick declined, through a spokeswoman, an interview request from the Asbury Park Press.

(Continue to Section 2)

Full Article & Source:
Betrayal of trust: Part Three


StandUp said...

Attorneys and judges often look to the statutes and claim what families are complaining about isn't happening because the state has strict statutes. The law is as good as enforcement.

Laura said...

I continue to marvel how great of a series this is. Thank you investigative reporter Shannon Mullen!