Monday, June 12, 2017

Loss of trust account devastates family

SANTA TERESA – Juanita Ramirez doesn’t speak English, but no matter. The despair shows in her eyes.

She sits close to her 35-year-old son, Omar, to whom she has devoted the last 16 years.

She watched him struggle after three brain surgeries. She was there during the long recovery from the horrific 2001 New Year’s Eve accident in which he hit a cow that wandered onto State Road 28 in southern New Mexico. The cow’s horn went through the windshield upon impact, leaving Omar with brain trauma that the family says requires 24/7 care.

Omar Ramirez is able to walk and talk but cannot take care of himself or his finances. 
His mother is his legal guardian. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

At 54, Ramirez figured her eldest son, who was 20 years old at the time, would be taken care of into his old age with a court settlement of about $1.2 million, after attorney fees, reached in 2005 with the rancher who owned the cow.

But the family’s bad luck has returned.

A woman from the state Adult Protective Services Division showed up at Juanita Ramirez’s door in April with unbelievable news: Omar’s settlement money is gone – even though the family provided his care and drew sparingly over the years from the trust account that should have grown with prudent investments.

Meanwhile, the court-appointed trust company managing his settlement, Desert State Life Management of Albuquerque, is under investigation by state and federal agencies. Up to $4 million appears to have been diverted from the nonprofit trust company’s client asset accounts and into business accounts controlled by CEO Paul Donisthorpe.

Criminal theft is alleged, but no one has been charged.

Meanwhile, Donisthorpe reportedly has suffered brain damage from either a stroke or a botched suicide attempt in February – although his signature appears on court divorce papers in March.

Ramirez and her family don’t know where to turn.

“I just felt so bad,” she said in Spanish, with her son Armando translating during a Journal interview last week in their home near the New Mexico-Texas border. “I had so much confidence in them (Desert State). We depended on that money for his future.”

The state Financial Institutions Division filed a petition May 31 seeking a court order to place Desert State in receivership. The state has set up a hot-line for clients and their families to call, and has asked for an expedited court hearing to try to help the estimated 70 or so vulnerable people, like Omar, who relied on Desert State to pay their living expenses and manage their assets.

The case is assigned to Chief District Judge Nan Nash in Albuquerque, but no hearing had been set as of Friday.

Mike Unthank, superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department, told the Journal his agency will help as much as possible but chances of recovering all the missing money for clients are “slim.” Legal “clawback” efforts could end up in lengthy court battles, he added.

“I feel awful about it,” Unthank said. “It’s a terrible situation.”  (Click to Continue)

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Loss of trust account devastates family

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