Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Jason Hanson Goes To Court

Federal Court Judge Rules In Favor Of Guardianship Abuse Victim

Overrules defendants 15 times, and remands case back to state court for an expedited trial

"You could feel the oxygen leave the room the moment Hanson rolled into court to take his place at the plaintiff's table."

Inside Vegas by Steve Miller
September 18, 2017

LAS VEGAS - On Friday morning, September 15, 2017, Jason Hanson made his first court appearance in an emotion charged exploitation lawsuit involving prominent Las Vegas attorneys, a disgraced private guardian, a defrocked judge, and the Clark County Public Administrator, all of whom are accused of conspiring to steal Hanson's inheritance and estate with the full cooperation of several Family Court judges.

Because of the logistics involved in transporting the 27 year old cerebral palsy victim to the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, Hanson arrived at his hearing fifteen minutes late.  When Hanson arrived in court, you could hear a pin drop while two court bailiffs helped him make his way to his lawyer's side. When United States Federal Court Judge Jennifer A. Dorsey resumed hearing the arguments of the five attorneys representing defendants Francis Fine, Elyse Tyrell, Dara Goldsmith, Jared Shafer, and John Cahill, all eyes were focused on Hanson instead of paying attention to the jurist's pleas to keep the case in Federal Court, and dismiss all claims against each of their clients.

Hanson arrived several minutes after his attorney Jacob Hafter had finished his opening statement telling the court why he believed his client would be better served in state court.  Hafter explained that he originally filed the case in the lower court because matters move at a much faster pace there, and that juries need only to reach a majority decision in state court rather than being required to reach a unanimous verdict in the federal court system.

With his client now by his side, Hafter successfully argued that one of the defendants, Clark County Public Administrator John Cahill, purposefully filed a motion to move the case from state to federal court jurisdiction for the sole purpose of stalling the case to give advantages to the defense, and that his client Hanson seeks swifter justice based on his physical condition.

Defendant's attorneys Robert Hernquist, Thomas Dillard, Jason Smith, Terry Brian, and Steven Parsons each argued unsuccessfully to have the case remain in federal court, and that Hanson's initial complaint filed in July 2017 was time barred because he became of legal age in 2007, and should have filed his lawsuit then.

Hafter told the court that in 2007, Hanson twice asked Family Court Hearing Master Jon Norheim to appoint him an attorney, and was refused.  Hafter explained that Norheim twice told Hanson to file his request for an attorney in writing, but Hanson's physical limitations prohibited him from doing so. Hafter also told the court that Hanson was not aware his inheritance was being stolen until 2016 when he confronted Elyse Tyrell, one of his court appointed trustees, at a Nevada Supreme Court Guardianship Commission hearing, only then learning she had been holding a check for him for over nine years without his knowledge.  Attorney Hafter plead that the statute of limitations began running in 2016 when Hanson first learned of the fraud, not 2007 when Hanson turned 18 and had no idea he was being robbed.

Several days after the 2016 Guardianship Commission hearing where Hanson appeared on local TV news demanding to know what happened to his inheritance,  a mysterious check for $5,530.74 was delivered to Hanson's group home.  Tyrell told reporters that it represented the entire remaining proceeds from the sale of Hanson's late father's ADA equipped condominium in a Las Vegas gated community that Jared Shafer sold for only $47,000.  Tyrell tried to explain that over $40,000 was used to pay "fees" generated by Shafer and his attorneys to facilitate the condo's sale.

Prior to what was called a "fire sale," Clark County Public Administrator John Cahill appraised the
1,200 square foot unit for $170,000 and charged his fee accordingly, then Cahill obediently transferred the title to his colleague Jared Shafer who purportedly sold the unit for much less, hence Cahill's inclusion in Hanson's lawsuit.  Prior to Cahill's election, Shafer held the same Public Administrator position, and helped Cahill win election to succeed him.  Shafer owns Signs of Nevada, the outdoor advertising company used by most Nevada politicians - including family court judges - and is the man to see for inexpensive political signs around election time. 

Jared Shafer has been referred to as the "Mastermind" in other guardianship fraud cases based on his ability to help certain politicians and judges get elected and re-elected, the same judges who have consistently appointed him legal guardian over wealthy wards of the court.

In court, Jacob Hafter told the judge, "Since I became Mr. Hanson's attorney, I get calls all the time from other guardianship victims seeking my help. They say they were all abused or exploited by the same group of players and judges," as he peered at the cadre of five discouraged looking defense lawyers sitting to his left with two of their clients, Francis Fine and Dara Goldsmith (Tyrell, Shafer, and Cahill were not present).  Hafter then said he will only represent Jason Hanson, and his client could easily win a unanimous verdict today if he were called as a witness and personally allowed to tell his story to any jury.

Attorney Jacob Hafter

          Defendants: Francis Fine, Dara Goldsmith, Elyse Tyrell, Jared Shafer, John Cahill
                     (Click on image of Jared Shafer to view KTNV TV News video)

                         Click on image to view KTNV News video

Hearing all she needed to hear, Judge Dorsey ruled in favor of Hanson thereby fulfilling his request to remand his case back to state court and not honor the defendant's motions to dismiss their clients, or time bar the case.

After the hearing, a court observer told Inside Vegas, "Mr. Hanson attending the hearing made all the difference in the world.
You could feel the oxygen leave the room the moment Hanson rolled into court to take his place at the plaintiff's table."



Full Article & Source:
Jason Hanson Goes To Court

See Also:
Steve Miller: Jason Hanson's Case May Have Been Compromised

Steve Miller: Jason Hanson Sues Jared Shafer And Others For Civil Racketeering, Fraud, And Embezzlement

Judges Don’t Have To Snitch On Their Boyfriends To Avoid Official Misconduct Charges

Carlia Brady
Good news for all jurists and prospective jurists out there — you can now date wanted criminals without having to drop a dime on them! Or at the very least, you can avoid official misconduct charges.

Have you heard about the curious case of New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carlia Brady? She was dating Jason Prontnicki, who just so happened to be wanted by authorities for armed robbery. Once Brady was informed the po po were after her BF, he visited her house twice. And Brady, well, she did nothing to inform police.

Judge Brady was indicted on official misconduct and hindering charges, and subsequently suspended from active duty. The trial court tossed the official misconduct charge, and now a New Jersey appellate court has agreed, as reported by
The prosecution cited no authority to support “the contention that a judge has a nondiscretionary duty to enforce the order of another court, and it certainly has failed to demonstrate such a duty is ever present, obligating the judge to perform the duty wherever he or she may be, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year,” Judges Carmen Messano, Marianne Espinosa and Karen Suter ruled. Instead, the prosecution invited the grand jury to decide whether a Superior Court judge’s duties include enforcing an arrest warrant, the appeals court said. But the grand jury is “an accusatory and not an adjudicative body,” the panel said, and “the prosecutor must clearly and accurately explain the law to the grand jurors and not leave purely legal issues open to speculation by lay people who are simply performing their civic duty.”
So that’s the difference between Biglaw and being a judge. Biglaw expects you to be on the clock 24/7.

Unfortunately for Brady, she still has to face the hindering charges. The appellate panel believed letting Prontnicki into her home for multiple hours and providing him with a bag of clothes was enough to let those charges stand.

 Maybe this is really good news for the dating lives of judges. I mean, given their profession they pretty much hang around criminals and lawyers all day, and the latter option is too gnarly to contemplate.

Full Article & Source:
Judges Don’t Have To Snitch On Their Boyfriends To Avoid Official Misconduct Charges

Cockroaches caught on video at Pinellas County Assisted Living Facility

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla - Dozens of cockroaches where caught on camera creeping and crawling in a patient's room at a local assisted living facility, and it's not the first time the ALF has had problems with infestations.

“They're crawling up the wall, crawling up on me,” said Geri Cataraso, as she narrates video she shot inside a patient’s room at Bristol Court Assisted Living Facility in St. Petersburg. “We saw them all the time. There's just holes in the wall, where the roaches go through.”

She was visiting her friend John Maddox, a Navy veteran referred there by the VA, after he had a stroke.

“Look at the cockroach walking on the wall right behind where he's sleeping,” she said in one video clip. “25 years in the military, this is where you put him in?”

Maddox also lost 30 pounds in 90 days, she said.

The administrator didn't want to do an on camera interview, but she said that the ALF serves a unique population, including homeless people, who sometimes bring in pests like bedbugs and cockroaches on their shoes.

“That doesn't occur in an hour,” said attorney Jim Wilkes who reviewed the video.

He has sued hundreds of ALFs, including Bristol Court.

“If it's allowed to happen over and over again, the law says it's abuse. If it goes on for weeks and months, it's abuse,” said Wilkes.

Bristol Court claims an exterminator treats the home monthly, but state records say that wasn't always the case.

In 2015, the ALF was fined for failing to professionally treat a "known infestation of bedbugs” which sent residents to the hospital. That same year, an employee shaved seven residents' heads, including four women without proper consent, during a lice outbreak.

“If the person is being treated that way at home, protective services would come out, take them away and arrest the family,” said Wilkes.

There was an arrest of an employee at Bristol Court earlier this year. 20-year-old Alexis Williams was charged with two counts of video voyeurism. She was arrested for posting secretly-filmed videos of two residents having sex on Snapchat.

Maddox recently left Bristol Court, with help from Cataraso, his attorney and a professional guardian. He is now recovering at another facility.

Cataraso shared her videos with state investigators, hoping they'll force Bristol Court to take care of its problems.

“If more people would open their mouth to what they see, we could stop it,” she said.

Full Article & Source:
Cockroaches caught on video at Pinellas County Assisted Living Facility

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Former Guardian Jailed After Missing Report Deadline

The former guardian of a Jefferson County widow is being held without bail until she accounts for hundreds of thousands of dollars advocates say is missing.

Laura Cooper, the former guardian of a Jefferson County widow, is in the Leon County Jail on contempt charges until she files a report for the judge.
Credit Leon County Jail
According to court documents, 43-year-old Laura Cooper of Clinton, Arkansas appeared in a Tallahassee courtroom on Tuesday to plead for more time to produce a guardianship report. 
But Leon Circuit Judge Robert Long ordered Cooper held without bond until she produces a report the court first demanded May 24th.

Advocates for Delores Caracci contend more than $400,000 in cash, real estate, and vehicles is missing from her estate.

Full Article & Source:
Former Guardian Jailed After Missing Report Deadline

TGA’s Response to Governor Abbott’s Veto of SB667

“The Texas Guardianship Association has advocated for more than twenty years for a caring, responsible, and comprehensive system to care for vulnerable adults by protecting them from abuse, neglect, and exploitation when court-imposed guardianship is necessary. The guardianship community and other advocates came together to unanimously support Senate Bill 667, sponsored by Senator Judith Zaffirini, which would have provided the Texas Office of Court Administration with funding to independently audit guardianship cases in Texas courts to ensure that court-appointed guardians are in compliance with the Texas Estates Code. The veto of this bill by Governor Abbott was not only surprising but also highlights the need for enhanced understanding of the need for protection of adults with diminished capacity at the highest levels of our state government.

While it is true that the Governor has signed into law a number of guardianship reform bills over the past two legislative sessions, these bills were primarily designed to impose additional responsibilities on guardians, who are most often family members who may not know or fully understand their duties as guardians. Lacking in the reforms to date have been provisions that would assist the courts in ensuring that court-appointed guardians are in compliance with these progressive statutes.

The Governor’s veto of funding for Senate Bill 667 prevents the Office of Court Administration from having the funds and staff necessary to ensure that every guardian in every case is in compliance with State law. This bill was the first step in a process that would have assisted Texas courts in becoming more proactive and responsible in ensuring guardians are properly managing the personal and financial affairs of vulnerable Texans.

The Texas Guardianship Association will move forward with a renewed commitment to educate public officials and the private community in Texas regarding additional reforms needed to protect adults in Texas. In this regard, the first order of business is to analyze the challenges faced by general jurisdiction courts in Texas that generally have thousands of active cases without specialized staff to monitor and audit activities by guardians. With more than 50,000 adults and in excess of five billion dollars under management by Texas guardians, this should be the first order of business by elected officials in Texas.”

Terry W Hammond, President of the TGA Board of Directors

Full Article & Source:
TGA’s Response to Governor Abbott’s Veto of SB667

See Also:
Read SB 667

94-year-old sues Florida nursing home where 8 residents died in wake of Hurricane Irma

A 94-year-old woman living at the Florida nursing home where eight residents died after an air conditioning system failed in the wake of Hurricane Irma is now suing the rehabilitation center, claiming it showed "negligence and reckless indifference" toward its elderly residents.

Rosa Cabrera's legal guardian filed the lawsuit in a Broward County state court on Friday on her behalf against the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida. 

Eight of the nursing home's residents died last week after the facility's electrical system for its air conditioning stopped working in the aftermath of the hurricane that hit Florida on September 10.
Cabrera is a double amputee "without the ability to walk or live independently," the complaint says. She sustained heat-related injuries and had to be hospitalized as a result of the days-long failure of the nursing home's air conditioning system, the complaint alleges. 

"As the hurricane approached, Ms. Cabrera was told by the Rehab Center that she would not be evacuated, but would be safe and cared for" at the nursing home, the complaint says. She did not know that the nursing home lacked a generator to power its air conditioning system in the event of a power failure, the lawsuit alleges. 

The complaint further contends that the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills should have known that the storm would cause a power outage, and that if that happened "the temperature inside the facility would be unsafe and dangerous" for its more than 150 residents. 

"Notwithstanding these foreseeable, dangerous, and life-threatening conditions, the defendant made no effort to relocate the elderly and vulnerable residents or to secure an adequate cooling system for the center," the complaint says. 

The lawsuit alleges that the Rehabilitation Center failed to adequately prepare for Irma after hurricane and storm-surge warnings were first issued for Broward County on Sept. 7. 

Hill and Knowlton Strategies, a public relations firm representing the nursing home told ABC News, "It would be inappropriate to discuss a pending suit. However, counsel will be reviewing the filing." 

Most of the eight residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills who died had been treated for respiratory distress, dehydration, and heat-related issues, officials said. Some of the patients admitted to nearby Memorial Regional Hospital felt temperatures of up to 106 degrees, hospital officials said Thursday. 

A timeline released by the public relations firm for the nursing home says that the center's staff reached out repeatedly to emergency hotlines and the local power utility in the days after the air conditioning system failed on Sept. 10. 

Nursing home officials also called the personal cell phone of Florida Gov. Rick Scott seeking help, the governor's office confirmed to ABC News on Saturday. 

Scott's office said the messages left on his cell phone were referred to two other agencies.

“Every call made to the governor from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health, and quickly returned,” John Tupps, Scott's communications director, said Friday, 

In a statement, the Florida Department of Health said, “It is 100 percent the responsibility of health care professionals to preserve life by acting in the best interest of the health and well-being of their patients. Let’s be clear -- this facility is located across the street from one of Florida’s largest hospitals, which never lost power and had fully operating facilities. The tragic and senseless loss at Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center is the subject of a criminal homicide investigation by law enforcement.”

Full Article & Source;
94-year-old sues Florida nursing home where 8 residents died in wake of Hurricane Irma

Monday, September 18, 2017

Former Probate Judge Nadeau suspended

Robert M.A. Nadeau
ALFRED — The two year suspension of the Maine law license of former York County Judge of Probate Robert M.A. Nadeau will go into effect Oct. 1.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday rejected Nadeau’s request for a reconsideration of the decision they made in June to suspend him for violating judicial canons during during his last term as York County Judge of Probate.

“The sanctions we impose here rest on our consideration of all of Nadeau’s history of professional misconduct, as both an attorney and a judge,” the justices wrote in a 10-page response to his request for reconsideration.

“As we stated in the opinion that is the subject of this motion, this is now the fourth time that Judge Nadeau has appeared before us for ethical violations, and the third time for conduct that occurred while serving in a judicial capacity. Here, his actions were often carried out in an intemperate and vindictive fashion against former colleagues of his law practice and their associates. Attorneys’ reputations were harmed, and litigants before him were pressured to support his efforts to increase court resources and his compensation. Judge Nadeau has not fully acknowledged the intemperate nature of his decisions.“

The justices wrote that prior corrective actions had not been effective.

“This time, therefore, more severe sanctions are warranted,” they said.

Following complaints filed by the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability, the justices in June found Nadeau violated judicial canons when he directed probate court staff not to make court appointments to seven attorneys; regarding his removal of a previously appointed attorney from pending cases; his issuance of orders urging litigants appearing before him to lobby for increased court time, and his personal solicitation of campaign contributions for his 2016 election campaign, according to the court document.

In his motion for reconsideration, Nadeau pointed out that the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability had asked for a suspension of his license to practice law only if he were to again run for probate judge.

Nadeau also raised questions about due process, the burden of proof and what he described as the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s commentary regarding whether he "fully acknowledged the intemperate nature of his decisions.”

“Regardless of the circumstances and my efforts to quickly right any wrongs when I made them, and regardless of the applicable canons, my goal was always to avoid errors of any sort, and to do what was best and most supportive for the users of the probate court,” he wrote. “I apologize for not having done better, and I blame only myself."

The justices found that Nadeau’s order to staff to reschedule all pending court cases in the hours after his bid for more court time and a larger salary was rejected by York County Commissioners in 2015, did not constitute a violation of judicial canons.

“With this history, Nadeau was certainly on notice regarding the sanctions he could face; he has not been denied due process in this proceeding; and he has failed to demonstrate that he has been sanctioned more harshly than others similarly situated, having identified no Maine attorney with a history of professional misconduct violations as extensive as his own,” the justices concluded.

Nadeau served several terms as York County Judge of Probate. He was first elected in 1996 and again in 2002 and 2004. He lost the 2008 election but was returned to the bench in 2012. He lost in a three-way race to Sanford Attorney Bryan Chabot in November 2016; Chabot took office in January.

Full Article & Source:
Former Probate Judge Nadeau suspended

New law protects vulnerable citizens from financial exploitation and other abuse

SAN ANTONIO — A new state law seeks to protect our most vulnerable citizens from financial exploitation.

House Bill 3921 went into effect Sept. 1 and is already helping banks and credit unions stop financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse.

"It's sad," said Rhonda Valdez. "It's hard to get to the bottom of it."

 Valdez is worried sick. She believes her 85-year old mother is a victim of elder abuse and she's not sure what to do about it.

"Some people can't afford an attorney," Valdez said. "It's expensive. What are you supposed to do?"

Bexar County has the second-highest number of suspected abuse cases in the state according to adult protective services.

Last year nearly 10,000 cases were reported, including instances of suspected abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

"It could be your brother," Valdez said. "It could be your sister."

"We work closely with financial institutions to be able to provide us some of that background information so we can explore it further," said Ann Cortez, district director of adult protective services.

A new state law requires financial institutions to report suspected financial exploitation within five business days.

"Well I think that's great it's about time somebody's got to stand up for them," Valdez said.

"One of the red flags is the customer looks as though they're frightened, or they look as though they're being coerced to pull money out," said Estrellita Garcia-Diaz of Jefferson Bank.

Jefferson Bank already reported suspicious activity internally.

"Changes in their spending habits," Garcia-Diaz said. "You can see that they're drawing more cash out on a more frequent basis or sometimes the checks presented for payment show a different signature."

The new law provides oversight from the state and allows financial institutions to help launch investigations into suspected abuse at home.

"Just those things are a hint as to what could be going on behind closed doors," Garcia-Diaz said.
If you suspect a loved one has become a victim of abuse exploitation or neglect you can connect with Adult Protective Services using their 24-hour hotline, 1 (800) 252-5400.

Full Article & Source:
New law protects vulnerable citizens from financial exploitation and other abuse

ACL Awards Grants to Help States Support Caregivers, Strengthen Lifespan Respite Systems

September 12, 2017
ACL recently awarded grants totaling nearly $3 million to 14 states to support caregivers by strengthening lifespan respite care programs. These programs seek to improve the well-being of families by coordinating existing respite systems, providing education and training opportunities, and expanding respite services.

North Dakota and South Dakota were awarded new state grants totaling $400,000 for three-year projects. The funding will be used to plan, establish, and expand lifespan respite care systems that provide new and planned emergency respite services, train and recruit respite workers and volunteers, and assist caregivers with accessing needed services.

Twelve states have been awarded three-year Advancing State Lifespan Respite Systems grants totaling more than $2.5 million to build on progress made under previous Lifespan Respite Care Program grants. Projects will focus on developing and strengthening the components of a lifespan respite care System deemed necessary for improving access, consistency, quality, sustainability; and reducing duplication in respite service delivery.

The 12 states are:
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • North Carolina
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Washington 
Caregivers are often referred to as the backbone of America’s long-term care system. A 2009 study estimated that 65.7 million people in nearly 32% of U.S. household acted as unpaid family caregivers.

Respite care offers individuals or family members temporary relief from the daily routine and stress that can come with providing care. Respite can play a critical role in strengthening family stability and maintaining the health of the family caregiver.

Since 2009, ACL has awarded competitive lifespan respite grants to 37 states and the District of Columbia. Each state collaborates with an Aging and Disability Resource Center/No Wrong Door system, as well as a public or private non-profit statewide respite care coalition or organization.

Full Article & Source:
ACL Awards Grants to Help States Support Caregivers, Strengthen Lifespan Respite Systems

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Tonight on T.S. Radio with Marti Oakley: Genevieve's Nightmare, Part 2, & Another Carol Hershey Victim

Mary Bush returns for part 2 of her mothers guardianship case. Geneveive is still being isolated and held prisoner for-profit. Mary who lives about 15 miles from the locked in facility where her mother is, has not seen her mother since January 2016. Mary has since discovered and reported to Chester County Adult Protective Services that her mother again has not seen her cardiologist for a year and a half.

After filing another petition to the court to get her mother to her doctor, the court issued an order stating "I will not micromanage (Guardianship Services of Pennsylvania) care decisions absent compelling reasons". The court also ordered that Mary who is her mother's legal health care agent is to " cease and desist" "scheduling appointments for her mother". If guardianship is about protecting vulnerable older adults, then who is the Court really protecting?

Hour 2:
Jeffrey Hennell joins the show to talk about yet another victim of Chester County, Pennsylvania probate, his mother. Jeffrey's mother was another victim of Carol Hershey. The house sold, personal items sold and family memorabilia left in a dumpster...including his father's ashes.

LISTEN to the show live or listen to the archive later

Shenanigans in the Montgomery County, PA, Courthouse - Florence's Story

Are you safe from abuse if your paperwork is in order, i.e. a trust? Decide for yourself. This video features Judge Lois Murphy, attorney Robert Slutsky, professional guardian Louis Horvath and his company Intervention Associates.

Source: Shenanigans in the Montgomery County, PA, Courthouse - Florence's Story

Union Co. Judge Executive Indicted on Public Corruption Charges

Click to Watch Video
Jody Jenkins earns a yearly salary of more than $80,000 as the elected judge executive of Union County. Now, he's alleged to have defrauded the very people who put him into office. A federal grand jury in Bowling Green indicted Jenkins Wednesday morning on four counts of honest services fraud, a statute that is typically applied to those accused of public corruption.

The four count indictment alleges Jenkins devised a scheme to deprive the citizens of the county of their right to honest and faithful services of the office of judge executive. Federal prosecutors allege Jenkins solicited and received approximately $20,000 in kickbacks during the purchase of several pieces of heavy equipment that was later tied to an elaborate theft ring.

The theft ring targeted heavy equipment like skid steers and mini-excavators across three states. Four men, Thomas Elpers, Andrew Elpers, Jordan Wedel and Jason Habermel, were all all federally indicted for their roles in the theft ring. All four men have pleaded guilty and are currently serving their sentences.

According to the now-public indictment, Jenkins took steps to hide, conceal and cover-up his actions, including directing that false and fraudulent invoices be submitted.

Eyewitness News has been investigating the county's purchase of the stolen equipment since early 2015.

According to purchasing records obtained by Eyewitness News, the Union County Fiscal Court purchased several pieces of equipment later tied to the theft ring, totaling more than $100,000. That equipment was seized by the FBI in late 2014.

As Eyewitness News has previously reported, the equipment the county purchased had numerous red flags including altered serial numbers. The equipment was also purchased for significantly below market value, sometimes more than $40,000 less than it would normally sell for.

Judge Jenkins previously told Eyewitness News that the equipment was purchased in good faith.

One of the four men indicted as part of the theft ring, 45-year-old Jason Habermel, made damaging statements against Judge Jenkins during his sentencing hearing earlier this year.

Under oath, Habermel stated Andrew Elpers set a price on the stolen equipment that was to be bought by the Union County Fiscal Court. The price was set at just below $20,000 at Judge Jenkins' direction, Habermel said. This was done to avoid triggering the state's model procurement law which requires government agencies to publicly bid out purchases that exceed $20,000, according to Habermel's testimony.

The county's business transactions with Habermel began in early 2014 and abruptly stopped six months later.

Habermel stated that he would take the checks signed by Judge Jenkins and cash them at a Planters Bank location in Union County. From there, Habermel stated he would take anywhere from $500 to $1500 from the proceeds as a 'brokerage fee.'

Habermel wasn't the only person taking a cut of the proceeds, according to his testimony.

While under oath, Habermel told the court that Judge Jenkins would ask for a 'cost of doing business' in Union County that would be anywhere from $2000 to $2500. Habermel's attorney later characterized these transactions as 'kick backs' for Judge Jenkins. Habermel would also implicate Union County Clerk Trey Peak and local businessman Steve Eckels. As Eyewitness News has previously reported, Eckels has often received preferential treatment in terms of being awarded county contracts.

"I would pay Mr. Eckels, Jody Jenkins' friend," Habermel testified. "He would also receive monetary compensation for doing business in Union County as well as Trey Peak who is a county official as well. That was brought forth to me by them, saying that, 'if we're going to do business with you (Habermel), this is just the cost of business."

Jenkins was not at his office when Eyewitness News tried to reach him for comment. A fiscal court staff member told Eyewitness News that Jenkins had not returned from an early morning appointment. Additionally, Jenkins did not return calls requesting comment.

Law enforcement sources said Jenkins has retained an attorney. However, the identity of Jenkins' attorney is unknown.

Jenkins will make his initial appearance in federal court later this month. If convicted, Jenkins could be sentenced to no less than 20 years in prison for each count, fined $1 million and serve a three year period of supervised release. Jenkins can remain as judge executive through the duration of his criminal case, according to state law. Jenkins can only be removed from office if he's convicted of a felony.

Click here for the official release from the US Attorney's Office.

Click here to read the indictment.

Full Article & Source:
Union Co. Judge Executive Indicted on Public Corruption Charges

Ponca Tribe Gets Grant To Battle Elder Abuse

NIOBRARA, Neb. — Andrea Rodriguez has seen tribal elders, held in great respect by the Native American culture, also subjected to abuse.

In that respect, elder abuse cuts across racial lines and knows no color.

Rodriguez has worked with a variety of cases as the domestic violence program coordinator for the Ponca Tribe. The tribe doesn’t have a reservation, but its service area includes Knox County, Nebraska.

“We’ve been seeing an average of about six cases of elder abuse a year, most of it for financial exploitation,” Rodriguez said.

“We’ve also seen emotional, physical, sexual and even spiritual abuse. The elders are a vulnerable population.”

The Ponca Tribe recently received a $17,148 Elder Abuse Innovation Grant Award. The non-renewable grant allows the tribe to address elder abuse throughout its 15-county service area in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

“The grant allows us to serve Knox County and do more in the Niobrara area,” Rodriguez said. “This will be an expansion of our current services here (in Niobrara), and we have staff members based in Sioux City who are able to make visits.”

The Ponca Tribe’s grant is awarded through the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI) Innovation program. Tribes from around the United States submitted proposals.

NIEJI Innovation awarded funding to eight tribes from eight states to help them develop programs for their communities.

The tribal efforts will focus on two different areas of need, she said.

“It allows us to offer outreach and prevention work on elder abuse,” she said. “We can also develop a section of the Ponca tribal code that will better serve Native American elders. We hope to reach the under-served.”

The tribe intends to create greater awareness of abuse and neglect cases involving Native American elders, Rodriguez said. The tribe can also develop policy and a structure for reporting, investigating and intervening in those cases.

Elder abuse is just part of a wider problem, Rodriguez said. The grant will supplement work already under way with tribal domestic violence programs, she said.

“In 2016, our Domestic Violence Program served 262 Native American victims of abuse,” she said. “Of those, eight were elders.”

The awareness and outreach effort could discover undetected or unserved cases because of a lack of resources.

Rodriguez pointed to various types of abuse:

• Financial exploitation could consist of a family member or other person either directly taking or talking the elderly person into signing over resources. Those funds could include disability or retirement checks, savings or government funds such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

 “The persons might tell the elder that they’re going to deposit the check in the bank and will instead cash it and keep the money for themselves,” Rodriguez said.

• Emotional abuse may not show physical scars but can also inflict damage, Rodriguez said.

“Emotional abuse can consist of name calling or putting down someone or isolating them,” she said. “Isolation can mean family members or others are kept from coming to the elder’s home, or the elder is kept from making contact with others.”

Law enforcement or other authorities may be contacted to conduct a welfare check on the elderly person, she said. The police and courts may also be contacted in cases of stalking and harassment.

• In physical and sexual abuse cases, the criminal justice system can become involved and receive a victim impact statement. Two sexual abuse cases last year involved elderly victims, she said.

• Spiritual abuse may include the prevention of elderly persons from practicing their religious faith, Rodriguez said.

“We have Native Americans who are not allowed or who are prevented from attending powwows and other spiritual events,” she said. “There might be instances where someone has refused to let anybody talk to an elder about spiritual matters.”

The Ponca Tribe domestic violence programs offer services ranging from advocacy, transportation and legal action to counseling, medical care and other resources, Rodriguez said.

Sometimes, family members contact authorities with concerns about an elder’s well-being, Rodriguez said. In some cases, law enforcement or social workers are brought into the setting. Other times, the victim may need to relocate for safety reasons.

“We advise victims who are ready to leave, so they know the safe time to leave and what to take with them,” she said. “Also, we advise them who to contact and who not to contact.”

Under the NIEJI grant, the Ponca Tribe’s domestic violence program plans to expand its elderly outreach, Rodriguez said. Staff will make presentations at weekly congregate elder lunches, Circle of Elders monthly meetings and Northern Ponca Elders Council quarterly meetings.

In addition, the staff will host informational booths at tribal community dinners and create newsletter articles mailed to all Ponca elders.

The staff will also involve elders on what to include with the Tribal Elder Code. A code will be established to protect elders within the jurisdiction of the Ponca Tribe from abuse, exploitation and neglect.

Currently, the Community Response Teams meet monthly to discuss effective and accountable services for perpetrators and enhanced support for victims.

The newly-awarded grant will provide greatly-needed funds, Rodriguez said. The grant is administered through the University of North Dakota’s Center for Rural Health.

“The biggest challenge is funding for our programs and affordable housing for our victims,” she said.

The Ponca Tribe’s domestic violence program recently won the Nebraska State Advocate of the Year award, Rodriguez said. The staff will be recognized at a Sept. 20 ceremony in Lincoln.

“We are promoting our domestic violence program,” she said. “We take this (problem) seriously.”

Full Article & Source:
Ponca Tribe Gets Grant To Battle Elder Abuse

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Lawsuit alleges fraud, elder financial abuse at Oakmont Senior Living

Oakmont of Villa Capri
Four senior citizens, including an 82-year-old Santa Rosa man, are suing a chain of residential care facilities founded by Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher, accusing his company of fraudulent practices that allegedly deprived them of needed care and exposed them to risk of injury.

The lawsuit, filed this week against Oakmont Senior Living in Alameda County Superior Court, alleged residents were found on the ground, left to sit in their own waste and at least one suffered an unexplained injury at the company’s assisted living facilities.

Fees at the facilities — which ran as high as $10,000 a month per resident — were based on “budgets driven primarily by desired profit margins” rather than assessments of its residents’ individual needs, the suit claimed.

As a result, the suit said, Oakmont Senior Living facilities were understaffed and residents age 65 and older “run the continuing risk of not having their care needs met and of suffering frustration, pain, discomfort, humiliation and/or injury from inadequate care and supervision.”

Gallaher did not return telephone calls and emails over two days requesting comment through his company and his attorneys.

A spokeswoman said in an email sent Thursday night that Oakmont learned Wednesday the suit had been filed and the company had not been served with a copy.

“We understand similar lawsuits have been filed by the same law firm against other large California assisted living providers, including Brookdale Senior Living, Atria Senior Living and Aegis Living,” said Honey Lopez, spokeswoman for Oakmont Senior Living. “Once we have the opportunity to review the allegations, we will respond accordingly.”

The 43-page complaint did not specify the amount of financial damages it was seeking. If a judge certifies it as a class action case, the number of plaintiffs could expand to thousands and the potential penalties against Oakmont could be in millions of dollars, said Kathryn Stebner, a San Francisco attorney who filed the lawsuit with nine other attorneys.

Oakmont Senior Living, a privately held company based in Windsor and founded by Gallaher in 1997, operates 23 senior living facilities in California from Redding to San Diego, including four in Santa Rosa: Fountaingrove Lodge and Oakmont of The Terraces on Thomas Lake Harris Drive and Oakmont of Villa Capri and Oakmont of Varenna on Fountaingrove Parkway.

The lawsuit alleged that Oakmont violated the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, committed elder financial abuse and engaged in “unlawful, unfair and fraudulent” business practices.

Oakmont had a duty to disclose that resident care assessments were not used to set staffing budgets, creating safety risks for current and future residents who were described as “a vulnerable population,” the suit said.

The company “actively conceals from residents, prospective residents, and their family members the true facts about its corporate policy and practice of prioritizing profit over resident care,” it said.

Stebner said the lawsuit seeks to represent current and former residents of Oakmont facilities in California during the last four years, a class that may number as many as 4,000 people.

Gallaher, who started out as a custom home builder in the 1970s and built more than 480 homes in the Oakmont retirement community, has also constructed apartment complexes, office buildings and shopping centers, according to Oakmont Senior Living’s website.

Gallaher, 66, is also founder and board chairman of First Community Bank, a key early lender to Sonoma Clean Power, the county’s public power supplier.

In July, county supervisors approved the sale of 82 acres on Chanate Road to Gallaher, who plans to build housing on the site and pay up to $11.5 million for the land. A citizens’ group filed a lawsuit in August challenging the deal.

Gallaher and his son-in-law, Scott Flater, filed a libel lawsuit against The Press Democrat in January, alleging they were defamed in a series of stories about unprecedented campaign spending in last year’s Santa Rosa City Council election

Oakmont Senior Living was founded by Gallaher in 1997 and is owned and operated by his family, according to the company’s website. It has planned and developed more than 40 retirement communities in the western United States, including assisted living facilities that provide daily assistance to people who are unable to care for themselves. Unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities do not provide medical care.

Donald Lollock of Santa Rosa, who has Parkinson’s disease and dementia, is one of four living plaintiffs who filed the suit against Oakmont. He resided at Oakmont of Villa Capri for three years and paid fees that reached an average of about $10,800 a month, the suit said.

In January 2016, only one caregiver was available in his unit for more than a dozen residents with dementia who needed assistance with feeding, walking, showering, using the toilet and other daily activities, the suit said.

Lollock’s wife, Kathy, frequently found her husband in “urine soaked pants” because he had not been taken to the toilet every two hours, as he needed, and sometimes found him with “feces crusted around his groin,” the suit said.

Lollock, who had trouble using a device to alert staff, was left alone and unsupervised for long periods of time, and his wife once found him on the floor, it said. In May 2016, he “had a broken rib that Oakmont could not explain,” the suit said.

In September 2016, his wife moved him to another facility.

Two of the other plaintiffs — Frank Pearson, 89, and Jo Ella Nashadka, 88 — are residents at Oakmont of Mariner Point in Alameda, and Jane Burton-Whitaker, 74, is a former resident of that facility. A fifth person, Abdulwafi Kahn, also a former resident of the Alameda facility, died at age 75 and is represented in the lawsuit by his daughter.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday. Stebner said she and other lawyers handling the complaint will gather information and seek class action certification in a matter of months or possibly a year. 

Full Article & Source:
Lawsuit alleges fraud, elder financial abuse at Oakmont Senior Living


A new University of Michigan study suggests that tired family caregivers are associated with more frequent ER visits and higher overall health care costs for the person they care for. 

Emergency room staff call this 'Pop drop' - when medical staff sense that the real reason for the hospital visit is hope for an in-patient stay and respite for the family. 

That's a harsh and unfair judgement on caregivers. And to me, it's one that reveals the disconnect between health care systems and families. Caregivers are working way too many hours without oversight or relief and often, we are dangerously exhausted. 

There are laws against excessive overtime hours for truck drivers and health care workers. And those laws exist to protect employees as well as their potential victims should functional capacities on the job be compromised by severe exhaustion. But there are no laws against exceeding maximum overtime hours worked by family caregivers. So when we need a break because we know that errors will occur in our caring or we will suffer illness from fatigue, we take the only responsible action available: we bring our loved one to the ER.

It amazes me how little health care providers know about the daily life of caring, the tasks we perform and the daily waking hours that are required to do our job well. But the costs of sleep deprivation are high. In my family, our son requires frequent repositioning for pain, nighttime tube feeds and medications as well as seizure and apnea monitoring and management. In the 23 years we cared for him at home, we had a monitor which beeped if our son momentarily stopped breathing - that sound cue sent us running to his room to rub his cheek or tilt his chin down to reset respiration. 

The cost of so many sleepless nights in our family: many minor car accidents with dented fenders, medication errors, frequent bouts of crying, a short temper with my husband and daughter, diminished awareness of the world around me and other peoples' feelings, and almost worst of all - no laughter. Nothing is funny without sleep. 

This University of Michigan study found that the measurement of fatigue, which can result from both the strain of caregiving and poor sleep, was clearly associated with both higher rates of emergency department visits and higher overall health care costs. That's a very good reason to use this evidence to better support exhausted caregivers in the community.

Full Article & Source:

Discover How to Reduce Your Risk, Restore Your Health, and Reverse the Effects of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Imagine a world where Alzheimer’s is no longer a death sentence. That world is here now.

You’re invited …

Mark your calendar for September 21st, World Alzheimer’s Day, as your host Peggy Sarlin interviews 14 of the world’s leading experts in Alzheimer’s and dementia. Over the course of 12 days, you’ll meet all of them, AND they’ll tell you their most effective breakthroughs and discoveries during the groundbreaking FREE video event, Awakening from Alzheimer’s.

The same courageous dedication to science that wiped so many diseases from the face of the earth is finally putting an end to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Today, you have the opportunity to learn from the brilliant doctors listed on this page below, who will teach you and your family how to avoid the nightmare of facing down this disease.

This is something everyone needs to see. Our loved ones are dying because the majority of the medical establishment are misinformed. Tragically, they simply haven’t heard about all of the new and effective Alzheimer’s therapies – therapies shared in one place for the first time in the landmark video series, Awakening from Alzheimer’s.

Full Article, Video & Source:
Discover How to Reduce Your Risk, Restore Your Health, and Reverse the Effects of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Friday, September 15, 2017

Documentary: Let Them Out! Episode 2

Let Them Out, Episode 2

See Also:
NASGA:  Documentaries

Victims want tough sentence for Las Vegas lawyer who stole millions

By Jeff German
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Former clients of longtime estate lawyer Robert Graham say they hope he gets stiff punishment for stealing millions of dollars from trust funds he oversaw.

“I feel that he should spend the maximum time possible in prison,” said Sharona Dagani , a wheelchair-bound former Las Vegas woman who prosecutors say lost more than $513,000 in special needs funds Graham had managed.

Graham pleaded guilty Thursday to five felony counts, including theft and exploitation of vulnerable people, while admitting he stole more than $16 million from his clients over the years. He faces a prison term of 16 to 40 years and will be sentenced Jan. 11.

District Attorney Steve Wolfson described Graham, who once regularly promoted his law practice on television, as a “despicable, predatory thief, plain and simple.”

Dagani, 29, who was born with cerebral palsy, said she is having trouble paying for her caregivers and other necessities, including utilities, car insurance and repairs.

“There’s just not enough money to meet her special needs,” her mother, Joan Albstein, said. “We’re doing the best that we can, but it’s just scary that her future is unknown.”

Dagani, who lives in San Antonio, said she is desperately looking for donations to her online GoFundMe account. Since March, the fund has raised only about $3,000, and she has been forced to spend most of the money to cover her daily needs.

Victoria Pappalardo said Graham deserves to be behind bars for a long time.

Graham stole nearly $942,000 from a trust fund set up for Pappalardo’s grandchildren after their parents, Kenneth and Sheila Miller, died in a car crash outside Las Vegas. The fund was established with insurance money from the accident seven years ago.

Pappalardo and her husband, Tony, now have custody of the children — Micaela, 16, Noah , 12, and Madison, 8 — who live with them in Ontario, California. Their GoFundMe account has raised $6,600.

“We’re devastated,” Pappalardo said. “This money would have made all the difference in the world. They would have had the kind of life their parents would have given them.”

She said a 40-year prison sentence for Graham would send a strong message to other attorneys who might prey on their clients.

Left with nothing

Victims said they were disappointed to hear that they are are not likely to get much restitution.

Prosecutors hope to recover $16 million from Graham, but they said most of his assets are gone. Several victims also are pursuing money from Graham in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where he has acknowledged having $8.7 million in liabilities but only $438,000 in assets.

Las Vegas lawyer Bruce Gale, who lost more than $522,000 from the special needs trust of his late brother Matthew, said Graham’s crimes warrant the maximum sentence.

“That’s what he deserves at best,” Gale said. “He’s wreaked havoc with so many people’s lives.”

Valerie Weinberg agreed.

“It’s appalling what he did to people,” said Weinberg, who no longer can count on her share of the $575,000 estate of her stepmother, Lois Lee, as she heads into retirement. That money is gone.

Weinberg, a jazz singer who lives in Sacramento, said she’s glad that Graham admitted stealing the estate funds and will be punished for it. But she also thinks it might have been more satisfying to watch him “squirm in his seat” at trial.

“I don’t believe he has a conscience or soul,” she said. “I just wish him to suffer the way he made us suffer.”

Her sister, Caralinda Lee, a college professor who lives in San Francisco, added: “It’s just egregious what’s he’s done. It makes you lose faith in humanity. He’s a despicable human being.”

Graham’s guilty plea last week capped a dramatic legal saga that began when he abandoned his clients and shut down his Lawyers West office in Summerlin on Dec. 2.

In interviews with the Las Vegas Review-Journal after his indictment earlier this year, Dagani, Pappalardo, Weinberg and Lee described their frustration with Graham as they fought, sometimes desperately, to get him to turn over their funds in the years and final months before he closed his law practice.

Graham, who is at the Clark County Detention Center on $5 million bail, secretly funneled an average of $187,000 a month in client funds over the years to a special bank account to run his law practice and pay personal bills, grand jury transcripts show.

He used client funds to pay $244,000 in taxes and $700,000 a year in advertising. He also used the money to make thousands of dollars more in charitable donations to numerous organizations, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Boys Town of Nevada, the testimony shows.

Full Article & Source:
Victims want tough sentence for Las Vegas lawyer who stole millions

See Also:
Victims of indicted attorney Robert Graham suffer hardship

Las Vegas lawyer accused of stealing millions from clients arrested

Several Tampa Bay nursing homes without power after Hurricane Irma

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - A breaking situation in South Florida tonight is raising new concerns for people living in nursing homes.

Eight people are dead and dozens of others are still evacuating a Hollywood, Florida nursing home that lost power in the storm and struggled to have air conditioning for the last few days.

A tragic scene is what everyone wants to avoid. Patients had to be pulled out of a hot nursing home after others there died.

Unfortunately, there are still some nursing homes that don't have power in Tampa Bay and while all are required to have generators, they don't have to be able to provide air conditioning when the power is out.

It was a chaotic scene at a Hollywood nursing home this morning, as rescue workers weary from the hurricane scrambled to save 115 seniors from the heat.

Eight patients died of heat-related illnesses because their air conditioning never came back on after Hurricane Irma. They perished in the heat, even though there's a hospital just yards away.

“We're conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths that occurred,” said Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez.

In Tampa Bay, other nursing home residents baked in the heat.

Baytree Center in Palm Harbor lost power Sunday. The facility’s generator failed multiple times Monday, after the home plugged in small air conditioning units to try to cool it down.

The Palm Harbor Fire Department brought in portable air conditioners to cool patients until Duke Energy crews can restore power. The department said paramedics made four runs to the nursing home and transported multiple patients to local hospitals.

“Phone call after phone call of people wanting to come and help,” said volunteer Chris Thompson, who lives near the Bayshore Pointe Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Tampa.

Full Article & Source:
Several Tampa Bay nursing homes without power after Hurricane Irma

Editorial: Better care for the vulnerable

When it comes to caring for the most vulnerable elderly and mentally ill, Franklin County can take pride in the Guardianship Service Board. It has helped remake a system that once permitted shameful exploitation of wards into one of the state’s best.

A new agreement between the board and Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center demonstrates how its impact can grow even more.

The hospital plans to pay the board $65,000 to help secure guardians for patients who, because of dementia or mental illness, aren’t competent to make decisions about their care and have no one else to do so. Such patients — between 15 and 20 per year at OSU — have been stuck in the hospital for months.

The guardianship board was formed a few years ago through state law to serve as a “guardian of last resort.” The move came after a Dispatch series, “Unguarded,” revealed that several lawyers appointed as guardians had failed to provide proper care while charging exorbitant fees. Wards were robbed of their property, dignity and even their freedom.

Among the board’s first tasks was taking over guardianship of some of 400 wards assigned to lawyer Paul Kormanik. He’d pleaded guilty in August 2015 to four counts of stealing from wards, plus charges relating to taking taxpayers’ money and falsifying records; he committed suicide less than a month before he was to be sentenced.

Since the reforms began, the board has accepted a $25,000 gift from the Columbus Foundation to further its work. It also sought help from the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection, and it won more than $200,000 in restitution for 35 of Kormanik’s swindled wards.

The newest partnership with the Wexner Medical Center could lead to similar arrangements with other hospitals. Most important, it means fewer central Ohioans will be left alone and confused in a strange place with no one assigned and specially trained to look out for them.

Full Article & Source:
Editorial: Better care for the vulnerable

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Nassau judge denies request to seal sensitive guardianship case

Judge Gary F. Knobel
Faced with more frequent requests to seal guardianship files, a Nassau County judge has ruled to keep open a case that involved the potential “financial exploitation” and “Svengali-like manipulation” of a wealthy elderly woman.

In denying a request to seal, Judge Gary F. Knobel on Thursday ruled that doing so “would have the effect of burying secrets, hiding the truth and thwarting the best interests of the incapacitated person to be protected from unscrupulous behavior.”

The decision follows a series of stories Newsday published last year that examined the improper sealing of civil cases by Long Island state court judges. The stories also looked at the widespread sealing of guardianship cases, which involve the appointment of legal caretakers for those unable to manage their own affairs.

In his ruling, Knobel detailed the complexities of guardianships. Sensitive medical and financial records are involved and judges need to weigh the privacy right of often cognitively impaired people against the societal need for open courts and the protection that transparency can offer these highly vulnerable individuals.

Michael Chetkof, an attorney for the woman at the center of the proceeding Knobel ruled on, praised the decision, but declined to discuss details of the case. He said there had been a settlement and that his client, a woman named Amelia Gould, passed away last week, a day after Knobel made his ruling.

Knobel’s 12-page decision noted that “many” of those in the legal community whose business is guardianships are unfamiliar with the state law that governs the sealing of files in such cases.

The law allows sealing only when “good cause” has been shown and directs judges to consider the array of interest at play when making a determination.

Citing a recent American Bar Association survey, Knobel wrote that in nine states portions of guardianship cases are automatically sealed and in 13 states the entire record is presumptively confidential. In contrast, Knobel wrote that in the majority of states, including New York, guardianship files are presumptively open.

Knobel attributed the increased number of requests to seal to Newsday’s stories, which he said brought the issue of sealing guardianships “to the forefront.”

The newspaper identified more than 200 guardianship cases that Long Island judges sealed over a roughly 10-year period. Most were in Suffolk County. Newsday found that overwhelmingly, judges were using stock, generic phrases in their sealing orders, rather than tailoring them to the facts of each case.

One of the improperly sealed guardianships Newsday identified involved State Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville), who a court evaluator found had “taken advantage” of an elderly aunt for his own financial benefit. Croci has denied any impropriety.

Full Article & Source:
Nassau judge denies request to seal sensitive guardianship case

Lawyer accused of stealing from special-needs trusts

Kenneth S. Service
An Indianapolis lawyer suspended after police say he stole more than $85,000 from two Lawrence County residents’ special-needs trusts faces a second attorney discipline complaint, and that may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Indiana State Police Detective Stacy Brown said in an interview that authorities are investigating the possibility of “numerous victims in multiple states” involving Kenneth S. Service. Brown said he’s been made aware of as many as 17 potential cases where money may be missing from special-needs trusts Service opened in Indiana, Florida and West Virginia, but there may be even more.

Brown said the Service case grew too large in scope for a single detective and was referred to ISP’s Special Investigation Section and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mary F. Higdon, a Bloomington defense attorney representing Service in his Lawrence County criminal case, said the FBI informed her it declined to take the case, and that her client intends to defend himself.

“Mr. Service believes he never violated the Trust Code,” Higdon said. “He believes he was fully compliant with the Trust Code. That’s our defense.”

Higdon declined to answer questions about whether money was missing from the Lawrence County trusts but said Service had not made any reimbursement to the trusts of the funds police say he stole.

“Just because there are so many allegations out there doesn’t mean he’s guilty of anything,” Higdon said. “I don’t think there should be a rush to judgment as far as his guilt whatsoever.”

Service could not be reached for comment. The telephone number listed for him on the Indiana Roll of Attorneys played a recording saying the number was no longer accepting calls.

Investigators and attorneys who’ve intervened in multiple cases to remove Service from trusts he established and administered say the total amount missing is likely to run to at least several hundred thousand dollars.

The Indiana Supreme Court suspended Service from the practice of law in June for failure to cooperate with a Disciplinary Commission investigation launched in March, three months after he was charged in Lawrence County with Level 5 felony theft.

Brown wrote in a probable cause affidavit that Service stole from the accounts of two people in the Bedford area whose special-needs trusts the lawyer established and administered. “The two Lawrence County victims have suffered a combined loss of over $85,522.29,” the affidavit says. The charging information claims Service used money from clients’ special-needs trusts to pay for personal expenses from casino trips to his dry cleaning.


After Service’s first discipline matter was filed after he was charged in the two Lawrence County cases, court records show attorneys intervened to remove him from cases around Indiana where he had established special-needs trusts and designated himself trustee. In many of those cases, his removal appears to have come after the financial damage was done.

“It was devastating,” Brown said of the impact Service’s action had on his clients. The detective noted one victim was a mother with terminal cancer. She was counting on money in a special-needs trust Service opened to be a nest egg to provide care after she dies for a child with significant disabilities.

“Unfortunately, she thought she had six figures in an account, and it had nothing,” Brown said.

In some cases, Brown was breaking the news to Service’s victims that their money was missing — including this mother. “To hear her scream and cry, it’s terrible,” he said. “When I talked to the victims, that was the worst part of the case.”

Fort Wayne attorney Kristin Bilinski was called upon to intervene in five cases where Service was supposed to establish special-needs trusts for clients who received settlements in personal injury cases. She said the clients were either disabled from birth or as a result of an accident or injury.

“I would say well over $200,000 is missing so far,” Bilinski said of the five cases where she appeared and removed Service as trustee. She said clients in those cases are spread across northern Indiana — in Allen, LaPorte, St. Joseph and Wabash counties.

The clients had been referred to Service by law firms that won settlements for them. Court records show that when Service established special-needs trusts for clients, he typically also appointed himself trustee. Special-needs trusts serve two purposes: the money can be used to pay for the injured person’s short-term or long-term care and other needs, and they preserve the disabled person’s ability to continue to qualify for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income benefits from Social Security.

Bilinski said there’s nothing inherently wrong with attorneys serving as trustees, but it’s becoming less common because of potential liability. She said some legal malpractice insurance carriers no longer even cover lawyers who serve as a trustee for clients.

When Bilinski began seeing money missing from these trusts, she said her reaction was, “honestly, just dismay. Because these people, first of all, had obviously had a terrible accident to have received a settlement, and they’re living with some kind of disability. … For this to come along and delay or completely hinder access to money that’s rightfully theirs, it’s just horrible. I don’t know what else to say.”

Bilinski is hopeful some of the money might be recoverable. She said she’s preparing applications to the Indiana State Bar Association for possible relief from the Clients’ Financial Assistance Fund that serves victims of attorney theft. However, she said that fund’s limited resources can’t possibly make her clients whole without other recovery of the missing money.

“The fact that we can’t find the funds and can’t get any information about them is very concerning,” she said. “In some cases, the trust account wasn’t even set up.”

‘Knew something was wrong’

Marion attorney Josef D. Musser intervened in a case where Service had established a special-needs trust for a man disabled since childhood. He’d been cared for by his mother until she died, and a prior guardianship had been established to provide for his care.

Service established the trust for the man with the settlement proceeds the client received after he was injured in a crash while a passenger in a van. Musser said when the guardian submitted requests for reimbursement from the trust Service set up to repay the guardian’s legitimate out-of-pocket expenses, red flags started going up.

Service “continued to delay, delay, delay on paying those,” Musser said. “I knew something was wrong there with his operation, and he would continue to tell me the delay was caused by the fact he didn’t have staff hired and was overwhelmed with his workload. … He didn’t pay and kind of changed his reasons why he didn’t pay, and he wouldn’t respond to phone calls and communications. We got very concerned.”

Musser said the guardian ultimately was reimbursed, and the client in this case suffered no financial harm. Another attorney intervened in this case and removed Service as trustee in March, after the first attorney discipline case began.

“I’m just glad we weren’t one of the clients that actually lost money,” Musser said.

‘Stop talking to the bank’

Brown, who investigated the Lawrence County thefts, alleged Service wrote checks for cash to himself from his clients’ special-needs trust accounts. In at least one of those cases, he also had a debit card for the special-needs trust account that the client in Bedford told police he didn’t know about.

That client also told police that Service had refused the client’s multiple requests to access money from his trust to make needed repairs to his home and to buy a car. Brown wrote that after the client was contacted by his bank about money missing from his trust account, the client “called (Service) who informed him that he would be down to Bloomington to buy him a new car if he would stop talking to the bank employees.”

The Bedford client said Service made good on the promise and wrote a check for a new Toyota, but the check didn’t come from the client’s trust account. Similarly, the charge against Service alleges he used the Bedford client’s trust account to pay for a root canal and crown procedure for client in another county who had a special-needs trust Service managed.

“I feel that Mr. Service is using other trust funds in his control to pay for expenses on other trust funds and then claiming he is using his own money,” the detective wrote in the probable cause affidavit. “Mr. Service will then withdraw funds from the trust fund that he claims is owed repayment … and keep the money for his personal use.”

Service used money he took from the Lawrence County trusts to pay for a stay and room service at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, and to pay for at least 35 nights’ stays at an Indianapolis Marriott hotel from March 1-April 10, 2016, the charging document alleges.

One of the Lawrence County cases involved a woman for whom Service opened a special-needs trust in June 2015. The woman died that November, and her sister was tasked with closing the woman’s estate. Brown wrote that he asked the sister if she knew “any reason (Service) would make repeated trip(s) to the teller window at PNC Bank and withdraw thousands of dollars in cash from the trust fund” in late 2015 and early 2016. Brown said the sister replied, “there would be no reason at all for that to have been done.”

Authorities allege Service stole more than $43,000 from that victim’s account.

“It’s scary to think how many more might be out there that you don’t know about,” Brown said.

Full Article & Source:
Lawyer accused of stealing from special-needs trusts