Saturday, January 20, 2018

Bill aims to re-write state guardianship law



SANTA FE, N.M. -- A bill being proposed at the Roundhouse aims to protect the state's citizens placed under court-ordered guardianship.

Senate Bill 19 completely re-writes New Mexico's current guardianship law. It’s a long and complex bill coming in at 165 pages. State Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, said the state currently has a guardianship law in place, However, it needs to be improved.

"It hasn't worked real well," he said. "Although reports have been required and guardianships have got responsibilities, those folks have abused the process. They’ve found a way to make the situation ugly, taken some of the money that doesn’t belong to them and we’re trying to straighten that all out."

For example, the feds closed Albuquerque-based guardian firm Ayudando last year after its owners were charged with embezzling millions of dollars from their clients' trust accounts.

“The bill corrects a lot of the problems we’ve had," White said.

The bill essentially makes the court-appointed guardianship process more transparent by improving notification of guardianship court proceedings and making the records public. It also improves visitation rights and includes bonding requirements for guardianship agencies.

"So if there's a loss of funds the bonding agency will have to make up for that," White said.

 If passed the bill would apply to new guardianship cases starting in January 2019.

"There are two parts to the guardianship system," White said. "First is to take care of the individual to make sure they’re taken care of physically they’ve got places to live and they’re taken care of properly. But it’s also the finances part of it, so you might say it’s a two-pronged approach to make sure both of these things are taken care of."

Despite this short 30-day session, White said he's optimistic the bill can make it to the Gov. Susana Martinez's desk.

Full Article & Source:
Bill aims to re-write state guardianship law

More charges expected after surprise not guilty plea by Mahoning County judge

WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren OhioCLEVELAND, Ohio - A Mahoning County Area Court Judge who was expected to plead guilty to federal charges for allegedly stealing from a dead client scraps the deal at the last minute.

Judge Diane Vettori-Caraballo walked into a federal courtroom and said hello and then told 21 News "I did not do this."

Vettori-Caraballo is charged in a federal criminal information and accused of stealing cash from two shoeboxes from a dead client's home.

The FBI says the crime happened in early 2016 and Vettori-Caraballo allegedly stole between $96,200 and $328,000.

It's money the deceased woman intended for the charities Angels for Animals and Animal Charity.

Vettori-Caraballo who has reigned over the Sebring Court since 2002 was arraigned on the criminal charges today in Cleveland, and when Federal Judge Dan Aaron Polster asked her, "How does she plead?" There was a long pause.  Then after consulting with her attorneys in a surprise move Vettori-Caraballo said not guilty.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan McDonough told the judge, "The government had anticipated a guilty plea today.  So they'll be filing a superceding indictment with additional charges."

More charges Vettori-Caraballo will have to defend herself against at trial, now scheduled for March 26th.

The judge has told Vettori-Caraballo she has until March 5th if she decides she wants to change he plea.

She will be held on a $20,000 unsecured bond.

The Ohio Supreme Court has suspended her from hearing cases on the bench.

But the Judge has not resigned.

Vettori-Caraballo's attorneys J. Gerald Ingram and John Juhasz did not wish to comment on a pending case.

Full Article & Source:
More charges expected after surprise not guilty plea by Mahoning County judge

See Also:
UPDATE | Mahoning County judge charged with stealing

Mahoning County judge charged with stealing over $96K from client

Martha's Vineyard Woman Paid 'Psychic' $3.5M For Exorcisms: Feds

A Florida woman was sentenced to prison for bilking an elderly Martha's Vineyard woman out of $3.5 million for "repeated exorcisms."



BOSTON, MA — A Florida woman who claimed to be a psychic was sentenced to two years in prison on Wednesday after bilking an elderly Martha's Vineyard woman out of $3.5 million for repeated exorcisms. Sally Ann Johnson, 41, also agreed to repay the victim, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.

Johnson conducted the scheme from from 2007 to 2014, prosecutors said.

"Johnson was paid over $3.5 million by an elderly woman living on Martha's Vineyard to purportedly perform spiritual cleansing and healing services to rid the woman of demons through repeated exorcisms," Lelling said in a statement.

Johnson admitted to concealing the money from the Internal Revenue Service. In October, she pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to interfering with tax laws.

"Johnson used an alias and directed the woman to send payments to at least three different bank accounts with which Johnson was associated, including an account in another person's name," then-U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said in a statement in October. "Johnson then withdrew large portions of the woman's payments from the accounts in cash. In addition, Johnson accrued substantial charges on a credit card held in the name of the elderly woman, who ultimately paid the credit card bills, thereby concealing from the IRS the true extent of Johnson's income. Neither Johnson nor any of the businesses she operated filed a tax return or paid taxes on the income she received from the woman."

Johnson owned several businesses, including "Flatiron Psychic," "Psychic Match, Inc." and "Psychic Spiritual Salon, Inc." She offered "psychic readings," "spiritual cleansing & strengthening," and "meditation & healing. She had several aliases, including Angela Johnson, Angelia Johnson and Sally Reed, prosecutors said.

Full Article & Source:
Martha's Vineyard Woman Paid 'Psychic' $3.5M For Exorcisms: Feds

Friday, January 19, 2018

Lawyer sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing $400,000

BOWLING GREEN — A former lawyer who stole more than $400,000 from a client took a gamble and lost, a judge said Wednesday.

Robert Searfoss III, 40, of Perrysburg was sentenced by Wood County Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $400,718 in restitution to the victim, Eric Walker.

“I think the defendant gambled and lost in this case,” Judge Mayberry said. “Not only did he lose, but he took down his family with him, took down his parents with him, took down his in-laws with him, and certainly, terribly, tragically took down the Walker family with him.”

Although Searfoss had no prior criminal history, the judge noted he had not repaid a penny of restitution.

“For someone that's held to a higher standard, that's engaged in the practice of law, and that's sworn an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Ohio, it's beyond the pale that someone would be in a position of trust as a trustee, entrusted with someone's life finances in their hands, and would instead use it to their own advantage,” Judge Mayberry said.

Prosecutors said Searfoss was in serious personal financial straits when he dipped into Mr. Walker's trust to buy a house and pay off debt, including back taxes, child support, and a home-equity loan.

A jury found him guilty Nov. 29 of two counts of aggravated theft, four counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, four counts of money laundering, three counts of theft, and one count of grand theft.

In addition to restitution, Judge Mayberry ordered Searfoss to forfeit his interest in a Shawnee Drive home in Perrysburg, a Georgetown Drive property in Bowling Green, a 2013 Dodge Dart, and the Bowling Green firm where he once worked, Searfoss Law, LLC.

Shackled and wearing orange jail garb, Searfoss apologized to Mr. Walker and his family, saying that he considered Mr. Walker a friend and knows that he violated his trust.

“I'm just ashamed of what I did,” Searfoss said. “I'm usually a very intelligent person, also very stupid. I got lost somewhere along the way. I had all these elaborate rationalizations in my mind. I mean, all the way through the trial, I just couldn't see things clearly.”

He said he didn't own up to what he'd done until the morning after the jury found him guilty.

“I was an attorney in the community, and I did no service to the public opinion of attorneys and their trust in it,” he said. “I've done a lot of good in my life, and I've done a lot of bad here.”

Thomas Matuszak, chief assistant county prosecutor, asked for a 20-year sentence, saying repeatedly that Searfoss was figuratively playing poker — gambling with Mr. Walker's money and with his own future.

“The defendant now understands that the poker hand he played was a loser, and at the end of the day he went all-in and he took everything from Mr. Walker in the process,” Mr. Matuszak said. “As a result, he should be punished accordingly, not only to punish him but to deter others who might conceive of committing similar offenses.”

Mr. Matuszak read a letter from Mr. Walker to the court, in which the victim said the trust his grandmother had set up for him “should have been there for the rest of my life to pass on to my children after my death. I put my trust in someone that I would have never thought would do me wrong.”

Mr. Walker said that if Searfoss had begun paying the restitution, he would have asked for leniency, but that was not the case.

Defense attorney Rick Kerger pointed out that prior to trial, prosecutors offered Searfoss a plea agreement with a recommended sentence of three years. He asked for a sentence “as short as possible” for an otherwise law-abiding man.

Mr. Kerger said afterward that Searfoss was considering whether to appeal his 20-year sentence.

“It seems excessive for a first-time offender,” he said. “He's given up his law license. He's lost all his assets. The court is stressing the importance of making restitution and then sentences him to 20 years.”

Full Article & Source:
Lawyer sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing $400,000

How the Judicial System Becomes Involved in Aging Issues


On today’s show, we’re discussing how the judicial system becomes involved in aging issues, specifically probate, conservatorships and mediation. 

Full Article & Source:
How the Judicial System Becomes Involved in Aging Issues

Are You Old? Infirm? Then Kindly Disappear

Nancy Root
LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. — Nancy Root remembers when she vanished.

Not the exact date, but the occasion: She went shopping for a mattress. This was a few years ago. Because the mall was so big and her legs were so weak, she used a wheelchair, which was new to her, and had a friend push her.

Their wait for service was unusually long, and later, as she used the wheelchair more and more, she understood why. In the chair she became invisible. In the chair she turned radioactive. People looked over her, around her, through her. They withdrew. It was the craziest thing. She had the same keen mind, the same quick wit. But most new acquaintances didn’t notice, because most no longer bothered to.

She told me all of this recently not in anger but in bafflement. Could I explain why her infirmity and her age — she’s 82 — erase her? She has her own theories. Maybe strangers worry that she’ll need something from them. Maybe they see in her their worst fears about their own futures.

Probably they extrapolate from her physical diminishment. “They think I’m mentally incapacitated,” she said. “I’m sure of that. I’d stake my life on it.”

“Doctors’ offices are the worst,” she added, describing how receptionists address whoever’s pushing her. “I’m not acknowledged. ‘Does this lady have an appointment?’ ‘Does this lady have her medical card?’ They don’t allow this lady to have a brain.”

But it’s not just receptionists. It’s flight attendants. Movie-theater employees. They make dismissive assumptions about people above a certain age or below a certain level of physical competence. Or they simply edit those people out of the frame.

I met Nancy on a Baltic cruise in September, and I couldn’t edit her out of the frame because she was smack in the middle of it, right in front of me, asking smart questions and making even smarter observations. I was one of five speakers giving lectures to a group of about 60 passengers, including her, who’d signed up for them. She traveled with two younger friends who helped her negotiate the ship’s narrow corridors.

But after chatting extensively with the three of them at an initial cocktail-hour reception in one of the lounges, I didn’t spot them at our group’s subsequent social gatherings there. An email that she sent me the following month solved that mystery. “On our cruise,” she wrote, “I again experienced the uneasiness of people toward us ‘physically challenged’ types. Even among our educated group, people ignored me.” So she parceled out her exposure to them. She and her companions did their own thing.

The more I thought about her experience, the more I realized how widespread it undoubtedly is, and how cruel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than two million Americans use wheelchairs for their daily activities and 6.5 million depend on canes, crutches or walkers.

And the country is getting grayer and grayer. There are roughly 50 million Americans age 65 and older, representing about 15 percent of the population. According to projections, there will be 98 million by 2060, representing nearly 25 percent.

Nancy’s infirmity is unusual and goes back to when she was a 2-year-old in the Pittsburgh area in the late 1930s. She had polio, though her parents, knowing how ostracized children with the virus could be, kept that a secret.

“They destroyed all the evidence,” she said, “and they never told me.” Only many decades after the fact did she figure out the truth, and only in recent years did post-polio syndrome — a condition that afflicts many childhood survivors of the disease — degrade her muscles to a point where she was forced to use a cane, then a wheelchair.

Her health was good for most of her life, as she attended Oberlin College, married, had a daughter and went to work for the National Science Foundation and then the Department of Agriculture, where she was an analyst. Her career, she said, made her as conspicuous in her suburban Washington neighborhood as she is invisible in other settings now. “It was frowned upon,” she told me, noting that most of the other mothers back then stayed home. “But I loved it.”

She and her husband retired to the Phoenix suburb of Litchfield Park, where she now lives alone in their three-bedroom apartment. About five years ago, he felt a twinge on the treadmill and was found to have pancreatic cancer. Three months later, he was dead.

That sped her decline. Her arms grew feebler, her legs wobblier. Her pain intensified. Vanity be damned, she wore one of those pendants to be pressed if she fell. But she once forgot to put it on, tripped and lay on the living-room floor from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., when a housekeeper happened to arrive. She recounted the episode to me in a tone of wonder at life’s freaky occurrences and at our ability to get through them. There wasn’t a scintilla of self-pity in her voice.

She considers herself lucky because her daughter is nearby. She has all the money that she needs. “I have my mind,” she said, “and I see where others are losing theirs.” She reads for many hours every day.

Books were a big topic for us when I visited her a few weeks ago. It frustrates her that she has never finished “Ulysses” or “Finnegans Wake.” We talked about politics, too. About Singapore, where she traveled — with a wheelchair and helpers — about two years ago. About her job with the Agriculture Department and how ethical and underappreciated she always found farmers to be.

Two nights in a row we went out for Italian food, and she insisted on using her cane instead of her chair. She can do that if she takes a Percocet just beforehand and reconciles herself to a snail’s pace. Toward the end of the second night, after two glasses of wine apiece, we mulled the vocabulary of her lot. I confessed that I cringed whenever she called herself “crippled,” which she does, because she values directness and has a streak of mischief in her.

“Well, ‘handicapped’ isn’t supposed to be O.K., and I’m not going to call myself ‘differently abled,’ ” she said. “You’re a writer. Give me a word.”

“What about ‘limited’?” I said. “We’re all limited in ways. You’re limited in a particular way.”

I noticed that our server would stand closer to me than to Nancy and was more voluble with me, even though she could see, if she looked, how vibrant Nancy was.

Nancy increasingly makes peace with such neglect but told me that an elderly, infirm friend of hers has another approach. “She tells people to go to hell,” Nancy said. “I need to take a course from her.”

I don’t know about that. But the rest of us have a lot to learn.

Full Article & Source:
Are You Old? Infirm? Then Kindly Disappear

Thursday, January 18, 2018

New Documentary: "The Guardians"

Billie Mintz is a social documentary maker who first contacted NASGA years ago, after one of our Members had told him the horrible story of what happened to his Mother, a victim in New York State.

Billie was haunted by that story and a few years later when the spotlight was all over Las Vegas, Billie decided to concentrate on those cases in a film which he finished last year. "The Guardians" will soon premier on The Documentary Channel.

Here's a trailer for the film:


The Guardians - Trailer from Imagin8r on Vimeo.

Berkeley County nurse charged for alleged role in Georgia elder abuse scheme

Cynthia Riley
A Berkeley County nurse practitioner faces a slew of charges in Georgia for her alleged role in a Medicaid fraud scheme that authorities described as "an organized web of abuse" of elderly and disabled adults.

Cynthia Riley, 51, is charged in a 17-count indictment announced Tuesday by the Georgia Attorney General's Office. She was arrested Thursday and remained in the Berkeley County jail as of Tuesday night. Address records indicate she lives in Moncks Corner.

Riley and two co-defendants — Michelle Oliver, 39, and Harold Hunt, 56 — are charged with racketeering, neglect of a disabled adult or elderly person, and exploitation.

Riley had worked at the Berkeley Community Mental Health Center on a contractual basis from October 2016 until her arrest Thursday, according to Tracy LaPointe, spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Mental Health. LaPointe said DMH ran a licensing and background check before contracting with Riley, who does not have a prior criminal history in South Carolina.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said Riley allegedly gave psychotropic medications and other prescriptions to patients transported to her by Oliver, who is accused of running an unlicensed personal care home called Miracle One Care Center in Albany, Georgia.

"The residents reported they did not receive any other psychological or medical care," a news release from Carr's office said.

Authorities have also accused Riley of providing Oliver and Hunt with medical forms to sign the care center's residents up for government benefits. Oliver and Hunt allegedly pocketed the funds.

Carr said Hunt acted as the social security payee, in which he helped residents obtain Social Security benefits but sent the money to Oliver and kept some for himself.

Authorities launched a multi-agency investigation into the trio after residents reported that people living in Oliver's apartments were "begging for food." 

Full Article & Source:
Berkeley County nurse charged for alleged role in Georgia elder abuse scheme

See Also: 
Moncks Corner woman arrested in 'horrific elder abuse scheme'  

Pipeline protester's elderly exploitation case dismissed

Authorities have dropped a second charge against a Bismarck woman accused of abusing and exploiting her elderly mother during protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota.

Authorities last week dismissed a charge of felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult against Kathleen Bennett, saying the case had become too difficult to prove, The Bismarck Tribune reported . A defense attorney said Bennett's mother died a few months ago.

Bennett, 59, was accused of leaving her 82-year-old mother with dementia tied to a chair in a protest camp in North Dakota while she attended demonstrations in December 2016. Protesters were trying to block construction of the oil pipeline, which is operated by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners.
Bennett's mother was taken to a hospital during a blizzard. Hospital staff said she was frail and malnourished.

The exploitation charge resulted from Bennett allegedly using $1,200 of her mother's money without consent to rent hotel rooms, buy meals and pay legal fees while her mother was hospitalized.
Bennett had also been charged in Morton County with endangering a vulnerable adult, but the defense and prosecution agreed in November to dismiss that case with $2,050 in fines forfeited from Bennett's bond.

"The victim is deceased and the case became difficult to prove once the Morton County companion case was dismissed," Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Marina Spahr said in court documents.

It's not clear when her mother, Mary Trujillo, died. She had been living with family in Nevada. Defense attorney William Kirschner said Trujillo's death happened a few months ago, but he did not have an exact date.

Full Article & Source:
Pipeline protester's elderly exploitation case dismissed

Strengthening the Structure of Justice to Prevent Elder Abuse (Long)



Elder abuse is an injustice with practical solutions. Check out this video and our websites, ncea.acl.gov and eldermistreatment.usc.edu to learn more about what we all can do to prevent and address abuse as we age.

This video was completed for the National Center on Elder Abuse situated at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California by the FrameWorks Institute and is supported in part by a grant (No. 90ABRC000101-02) from the Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Grantees carrying out projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Therefore, points of view or opinions do not necessarily represent official ACL or DHHS policy.

Source:
Strengthening the Structure of Justice to Prevent Elder Abuse (Long)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Widow, the Bank, and the $8 Billion Verdict

 After her husband died, Jo Hopper spent eight years fighting the bank administering the estate. She won a record-setting judgment. But will JPMorgan Chase ever pay up?

Jo Hopper is sitting in her lawyer’s office in North Dallas, slowly, calmly telling the story of how she believes the nation’s largest bank tried to take away her home and her possessions, and destroy the relationship she had with her stepchildren. Her saga began eight years ago this month at Medical City Dallas. There, on January 25, 2010, Max Hopper, who had been a titan of early corporate information technology, a genius who had led the development of American Airlines’ AAdvantage program and its SABRE reservation system, died. Max had been in good health but suffered a stroke the day before. He was 75.

“I remember at the hospital,” Jo says, “I kept saying to the doctor, ‘What else are you going to do? You do not understand. This is Max Hopper. He cannot die.’ I would not accept it. Even today, it is hard to fathom.”
Spread his wings: Max and Jo had lifetime passes to claim available seats on American flights, but his son thought Jo might be using his Max’s AAdvantage miles.
Jo was 62 when the man she’d been married to for 28 years died. She has spent much of the ensuing eight years locked in a legal battle over $19 million in assets she and Max jointly owned. Her opponent: Manhattan-based JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the country, with $2.6 trillion in assets under management. Jo and her stepchildren hired the bank to administer Max’s estate in 2010, after Max died without a will, leaving his assets in financial limbo. But soon after JPMorgan had collected its $230,000 fee for the estate administration, something went horribly wrong between the bank and the beneficiaries. Lawsuits ensued. Jo sued the bank. The bank sued Jo. Jo sued her stepchildren. The stepchildren sued Jo. The stepchildren sued the bank. And so on.

In September of last year, a jury finally heard the case. It ruled in favor of the family with a historic and headline-grabbing $8 billion award against JPMorgan. That was the largest punitive award ever in Texas. The jury’s ruling was so abnormally large that attorneys representing the plaintiffs weren’t even sure how to calculate it—the initial guess of $4 billion eventually gave way to the higher $8 billion estimate.

Jo has claimed in her court filings to be a widow wronged by the bank, but she is no frail, little old lady. In 2007, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma and given six months to live. She has been in remission for almost eight years and today stands steady at 5 feet 4 inches. On the day we meet, she’s wearing a flowing white top and black pants. Silver bracelets adorn her wrists. Her gray hair is pulled back tightly into a bun. Her attorney, Alan Loewinsohn, is here sitting beside her. But Jo leads the conversation.

As she weaves this narrative of endless court fights, Jo hands over pages of documents. There’s a pamphlet produced by JPMorgan called “The Well-Prepared Family” that explains how to choose an executor. She has highlighted the part that says an executor “is legally responsible for preserving the value of the estate until it is distributed” and another passage that says, “An executor is obligated to act in the best interest of the estate’s beneficiaries.”

Next comes a printout of a job listing at JPMorgan in Dallas. They’re hiring someone in asset management to oversee trusts and estates. “I’m looking for a job,” Jo says. Her attorney laughs. “No, really,” says the Nashville native, née Jo McClendon.

Finally, she hands me a paper written by a professor at Ohio State University called “The Stepmother’s Role in a Blended Family.” Jo has highlighted a paragraph noting that “there have been more than 900 stories written about evil or wicked stepmothers.” Cinderella and Snow White are just two among them.

Better days: Max and Jo were married for 28 years.
The family feud between Jo Hopper and her stepchildren—61-year-old Oklahoma City physician Stephen Hopper and Laura Hopper Wassmer, the 55-year-old mayor of Prairie Village, Kansas—is a big part of this story. But Jo’s version is different from the bank’s. The bank has based its legal defense on the toxic relationship between Jo and Max’s children. It claims the family would have had no complaints about its services had the three of them just found a way to get along. The three heirs, in turn, allege the bank botched Max’s estate—committing fraud and possibly a felony in the process, as well as driving a wedge between stepmother and stepchildren.

Fraud. Felony. How did a jury come to believe that a bank that has been part of the bedrock of the American financial system since 1871 might have done such things to a widow and her stepchildren? And what made that jury so angry—or so concerned that what happened to the Hoppers could happen to any of us—that it insisted on making an unprecedented statement with its verdict? To be sure, Jo Hopper’s story is a good one. But good enough to deserve $8 billion?



JPMorgan would never have been hired to manage Max Hopper’s estate, if Jo had her way. She would have done it herself.

All four wills that Max drafted before his death, but never signed, said Jo should serve that role. She’d handled the family finances for decades, and, like her husband, she’d worked as an executive at American Airlines, once managing a staff of five systems analysts, a personal assistant, and a multimillion-dollar budget.

Plus, the law, Jo figured, was easy to understand. When someone dies “intestate,” as a lack of a will is called, Texas law stipulates that the decedent’s share of the community property—anything Max and Jo owned jointly—will go half to the surviving spouse and half to the decedent’s children. Any property owned outside of the marriage should go two-thirds to the children and one-third to the surviving spouse. “So all we had to do,” Jo says, “was go through the assets, divide everything by two and then divide again by two. Then we’re out of here.”


Max didn’t grow up to become a cowboy, but he was a maverick in his industry. Before that, he spent time in the armed services.
 
Stephen and Laura didn’t see it that way. In March 2010, two months after Max died, the Hoppers met at the $2 million, 8,000-square-foot Preston Forest home on Robledo Drive that Jo and Max had bought in 1997. The children, as Jo calls them, even though they were both adults when she married Max, insisted on hiring JPMorgan as an independent administrator in part because they wanted someone impartial to handle any disputes that might arise. “That’s what the children wanted,” Jo says. “They wanted assurances. So I agreed.”

Days later, the family settled on JPMorgan for the job. The bank was charged with doing what Jo had proposed to do: find all the assets, add them up, divide by two, and divide by two again. But the Hoppers found the process to be too slow. They say the bank didn’t act quickly enough in executing stock options Max owned. They allege taxes were improperly filed. And they say the bank was tardy in responding to other requests to make financial transactions. All of that cost the children and Jo tens of thousands or possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income, attorneys for both parties have claimed.

Jo and the children placed much of the blame for that on Susan Novak, a 66-year-old JPMorgan executive who had worked on estate cases for nearly 20 years both at JPMorgan and at Bank of America and was the person in charge of the Hopper estate. The family painted Novak as inexperienced, noting that she had worked on only one intestate case before in her career. The bank has said Novak did her job flawlessly. Novak, in court, said that although she had 25 to 30 other estate cases to manage, she spent 70 percent of her time—about 1,800 hours per year—working on the Hopper estate.

In many of those hours, court records indicate, she was trying not to get involved in the mistrust between Jo and her stepchildren. To cite just one example out of many: early on in the bank’s administration of the estate, Stephen contacted the bank to complain that he believed his stepmother might have been using Max’s share of American Airlines AAdvantage miles—a share that, legally, would belong to the children.

In fact, there were no miles needed. Jo and Max were R-class flyers on American, meaning they both had a lifetime pass to claim available seats on flights. That was thanks to Max’s long tenure as a top executive at the airline. The children claim that Novak never told them about the R-class status, never cleared up the issue of potentially missing AAdvantage miles. Without information to the contrary, the children continued to believe—until the facts came out in court filings—that their stepmother was taking trips using miles that belonged to them.

(Novak retired from JPMorgan in the spring of 2017, but she represented the bank in an official capacity during the jury trial. JPMorgan declined to make any individuals involved in the case available for comment for this story.)

The children allege that there were other imbalances that also put them off. For one, the bank flew Jo to New York and sent her, gratis, to The Phantom of the Opera, trying to woo her to open a wealth management account. She did, and as assets were divided and released to Jo, her share was transferred to a JPMorgan investment account. Over time, that money accumulated to more than $4 million. The children were never told about the New York trip. They also alleged that they weren’t told that Jo wasn’t asked to pay any of the $230,000 fee JPMorgan charged to administer the estate.

In January 2011, Jo says that Mike Graham, her probate attorney at the time, sent an offer to Novak saying Jo wanted to buy all of the personal property that had not yet been distributed by the bank. That included Max’s collection of 6,700 putters, 900 bottles of wine, the furnishings in her Preston Forest home, jewelry, and more. Basically, everything except the house.

Novak replied to Graham but never notified the children of the offer, Jo says. Two more emails from Graham followed. No counteroffers came back. “We assumed the children had rejected the offer,” Jo says.

This pattern continued. Family members mistrusted each other. Family members contacted the bank with various allegations. The bank didn’t share those allegations with both sides. Mistrust festered.



By the summer of 2011, Jo’s attorneys had become so concerned with the bank’s lack of communication that they advised her to close her wealth management account. The $4 million she had invested with JPMorgan promised to eventually bring a nice return to the bank. Financial institutions typically charge a fee of just under 1 percent of the total assets in accounts worth more than $1 million. Meaning that JPMorgan, in less than five years, could have made more off of Jo’s wealth management account than it would make administrating Max’s estate. (The bank says it never collected more than $5,000 in fees from Jo’s account in that first year.)

As soon as the account was closed, Jo says, the bank turned against her. “The relationship became adversarial,” she says. “Suddenly, if the children objected to something I wanted, the bank sided with the children.”

That’s what seemed to happen when a dispute arose over Jo’s Preston Forest house. The same summer that Jo closed her wealth management account, she asked the bank to divide the ownership of the house evenly between her and the children. Jo had already exercised her homestead rights on the property, meaning that as long as she could make the payments on the house, she would have the exclusive right to live there. Now she wanted the home divided into equal ownership. The children, though, wanted cash for their half—Max’s half—of the home.

Max and Jo’s $2 million, 8,000-square-foot Preston Forest home.
The way the children, and their then attorney, Gary Stolbach, figured things, dividing ownership in a home they could not use and could not sell so long as Jo lived there (which was her guarantee under the homestead rules) was not a fair division of the estate. The children wanted the property “partitioned,” meaning they would get compensated for their half of the home and Jo would then own it outright.

There’s a lot more brain-rattling legal nuance involved from there, but the important thing to know is that this “partition” was a novel legal theory Stolbach had floated. Jo says such a thing had never been done before to a widow or widower in Texas, and the bank had no obligation to go along with it. JPMorgan, in fact, had the right to simply declare the home equally divided, which is what Jo wanted and what the bank also initially said it wanted.

“The bank was appointed as the independent administrator,” says James Bell of James S. Bell PC in Dallas, who represented the children during the jury trial but is no longer an attorney on the case. “In an independent administration, it means the bank can do whatever, whenever, however it wants to do. It can split the assets how it wants as long as it is not violating the statutory guidelines. And for over a year the bank could have divided that house how they saw fit in accordance with the law. But they just didn’t do it until there was litigation.”

The litigation was initiated by Jo. She filed a lawsuit against both the children and the bank in late September 2011. From the children, she sought a court declaration that a partition was not legal. From the bank, she sought a declaration that the bank had breached its contract with her, that it had committed fraud and breach of fiduciary duty by misrepresenting its expertise in handling cases like hers and by failing to properly communicate with her and the children. Further, she sought the bank’s removal as independent administrator.


The Collector:Max and Jo’s home held Max’s collection of 900 bottles of wine and 6,700 putters, which Jo tried to buy from the estate.
 
After it was sued, the bank asked the probate court to declare that it had the right to do what the children had asked, even though it had previously told Stephen and Laura that it preferred to do what Jo wanted—divide ownership equally. From there, JPMorgan doubled down. The bank also asked the court to affirm that it not only could “partition” the house—forcing Jo to compensate the children for their one-half interest in the house—but it could force Jo to sell her house to a third party, at a price she could not negotiate.

The bank acknowledged that because Jo had exercised her homestead rights, it could not kick her out of the house. But it maintained that it still had the right to make her a tenant in her home, which someone else might own. The bank further said that it had the right to take back some of the assets it had already distributed to Jo and make her use those assets to buy out the children’s interest in the Robledo home.

Here’s how the $8 billion jury seems to have heard those facts: the largest bank in America told a court that it would consider forcing the sale of a widow’s home over the widow’s objections.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Jo says, speaking in Loewinsohn’s office. “Max and I owned that house. The probate code doesn’t allow for a partition.”

There’s a book on the table beside her—Johanson’s Texas Estates Code Annotated. It’s a 1,661-page reference book on probate law in Texas that Jo bought in 2011. That year she spent Thanksgiving reading it. All of it. Every page.

Jo picks up the bulky book with one hand and flips it open to a page she has marked. It shows the probate code’s stance against partitioning a home after the death of a spouse. “It’s right here. It’s the law,” she says. “The bank knew that. But the bank was bullying me, trying to emotionally break me. This tactic was unbelievable and unprecedented as far as I could find. They were going to sell a widow’s home.”

Initially, the bank’s stance was upheld, in part, by the probate court. But eventually, the probate court modified its ruling, and the litigation over the house concluded in two ways. In June 2012, the bank decided to divide the house ownership in equal interests, as Jo had wanted all along. Then, on December 3, 2014, the three justices who preside over the Eighth District Court of Appeals issued a 26-page ruling that chided the earlier probate court and declared the novel partition theory unlawful. Jo had her house; the children had half a mortgage.



JPMorgan is not wrong about the family’s blood feud. The bank says it tried to get the sides to come to terms before the issues about the house ended up in court. “We continually urged the family to reach an agreement on the division of the home and personal property,” says Greg Hassell, a spokesman for JPMorgan. The children declined to comment on specific questions regarding their stepmother. But attorneys who have represented both Jo and the children say neither side is speaking to the other, except through their lawyers. That might have something to do with a handful of nasty court filings that came out after Jo sued JPMorgan and the children in September 2011.

In one such filing, from 2016, the children said that they “have been antagonistic to Mrs. Hopper (personally, legally, or in both contexts) for nearly six years. Beginning with Max Hopper’s sudden death in 2010, distrust marred the relationship between the Heirs and Mrs. Hopper. This uneasy relationship is precisely what prompted the Heirs to insist Max Hopper’s estate be administered by a neutral, independent third party. That is what the Heirs believed the Bank to be when they engaged its services as independent administrator in 2010.”

In another filing, from 2014, Jo’s attorneys compiled a long list of things that they wanted to be sure would never be mentioned in front of jurors. Those included:

Jo’s “decision to pay for or not pay for any college related expenses, including tuition, for any grandchild of Max Hopper”; why Jo “did not sit on the front row of Laura Wassmer’s wedding in 1987”; that, when a “document production” on Jo’s behalf in this case was held in a garage in 2012 “it was cold outside, and/or the house was locked so if anyone needed to use the restroom, they had to go down the street to a public restroom”; “Any suggestion that Jo Hopper had any type of romantic relationship with Max Hopper prior to his divorce”; and any “reference to a book entitled How to Marry a Millionaire.”

Jo insists the bank exacerbated that infighting. “I’ll admit,” she says, “there was a crack in our relationship. Anybody who goes through the loss of a father with a stepmother, you’re going to have a crack. But what JPMorgan did was they took that crack and they made it into the Grand Canyon.” But since JPMorgan officials have said in court that the family dynamic was toxic and unsalvageable, and since both Jo and the children sued to have the bank removed as independent administrator, one wonders why the bank didn’t just resign.

The answer to that question, say attorneys for the children, ends with two words: “theft” and “felony.”

“That is the key question you have to ask yourself here,” says Bell, the attorney who represented the children during the jury trial. “Why did the bank not step down as the independent administrator? The reason is if they stepped down, there was a lawsuit naming them, so they would have had to pay the legal fees for that lawsuit out of their own pocket. But if they stayed in the case, they had a war chest to defend themselves with. And the war chest they had just so happened to be an account with my clients’ money in it.”

Independent administrators are allowed to hire attorneys and pay legal fees using assets of an estate so long as they are using those lawyers and fees to represent the interests of the estate. And when Jo sued the bank and the children in 2011, the bank decided to cover the legal costs of defending itself by withdrawing money from an estate account that had nearly $4 million in it. The children claim that money belonged entirely to them.

When the children in turn sued the bank, the bank used that same war chest—the money that would have gone to the children—to fight their claims.

Once the children discovered the estate’s money was being used to pay the bank’s lawyers in the legal fight, they asked for the bank to stop using the account. JPMorgan did not comply. Eventually, the account was drained of all but $100, just enough to keep the account open. Then JPMorgan made its own novel legal move. The estate, as administered by the bank, took out a loan, from JPMorgan, for more than $900,000. The bank, in other words, loaned itself money, indebting the estate in the process.

That was only revealed during the trial when Bell cross-examined the lead attorney for Hunton & Williams, which JPMorgan had retained. Just before closing arguments in the jury trial, JPMorgan decided to forgive the estate that loan amount and pay the $900,000-plus out of its own pocket. But it did not reimburse the estate for the nearly $4 million it had already spent on legal fees.

The six jurors found that JPMorgan had committed something called “conversion” when it took money out of the estate’s account to pay attorney’s fees against the will of the children. “Conversion” is a term of art that means taking something that doesn’t belong to you and exercising control over it even when the rightful owner demands that the something be returned to their control.

“Fiduciaries are entitled to hire counsel,” says Russell Fishkind, a partner with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in New York and the author of Probate Wars of the Rich & Famous: An Insider’s Guide to Estate Planning and Probate Litigation. “So long as the fiduciary’s goal is to further the interest of the estate and enhance the purpose of the estate, and their fees are reasonable, courts will typically allow the fiduciary to hire counsel and for the counsel fees to come out of the estate.

“The question in this case was, ‘Is that what JPMorgan was doing?’ Clearly the jury thought not. It thought the company was working in its own interests, not in the interests of the estate.”

The children’s attorneys, in an October filing with the probate court, also now say that the conversion they’ve alleged in this case qualifies as theft under the Texas Penal Code. They contend that the theft is a first-degree felony because the value of the property stolen is more than $300,000.

If the court agrees with the children’s attorneys, then the state’s caps on punitive damages—Texas generally limits such damages to two times the amount of actual economic damages—may no longer apply. JPMorgan could face a significant payout to the children and maybe to Jo as well.

Tom Fee, a partner with Dallas-based Fee, Smith, Sharp & Vitullo, told me by phone in early October, “We think we can bust the punitive damage caps in Texas. There is a provision that says if you’re a financial institution and you basically commit a crime, the caps don’t apply.”

Still, Fee and his partner Lenny Vitullo, who was on the trial team for the children, haven’t asked the court to uphold the jury’s huge award—whatever that award might be. Initially, the firm said Jo had been granted $2 billion and their clients had been granted $4 billion by the jury. It even issued press releases to that effect. But, looking more closely at the jurors’ paperwork, it became clear that the jurors had gone further. The six-person panel found that JPMorgan had made malicious breaches in its fiduciary duty to the estate—meaning Stephen and Laura collectively. It awarded the estate $2 billion for that. The jury also found that JPMorgan had committed fraud, for which it gave $1 billion each to Stephen and to Laura. It also awarded the same $1 billion amount to each of the children for negligence on the part of JPMorgan. That’s $6 billion total for the children and $2 billion for Jo.

The bank has suggested the jury award is out of line and will not stand up to judicial review. But, even though Fee believes the award is something more than jackpot justice from a runaway jury, they won’t ask the probate judge reviewing the jury award to uphold the unprecedented award. Instead, they’ve asked for about $75 million, or nine times the actual economic damages they say the children have suffered. “We realize we’re not going to collect the $2 billion,” Fee told me just two weeks before Stephen and Laura asked their attorneys to stop speaking with the media. “So we’re seeking the maximum that the law does allow us to recover. For our clients, this is about more than money. Our clients really wish Chase would take some responsibility here. So we want to back up the jury, back up those citizens who gave their time and attention to this. And to protect other consumers, we believe we need to make this stick.”



The jury verdict in the hopper case came after midnight on September 27. The jurors had deliberated for four hours. As soon as they were done, they sought out Jo, Stephen, Laura, and their attorneys. “They said they felt bad about what Jo had been through,” says Loewinsohn, Jo’s attorney. “One of them told me, ‘If the bank didn’t care about Jo Hopper and the money she had, why would they care about us when we don’t have that kind of money?’ ”

The jurors said the same thing to Stephen and Laura, who agreed to answer a few of my questions jointly, by email. “In talking with several of the jury members after the trial, they commented that they felt we had been bullied by JPMorgan, and that they awarded the huge verdict because they didn’t want other families to go through what we have had to go through,” the children wrote. “They were hoping that the verdict would change the way JPMorgan conducted business.”

Funny thing about that: on the trading day immediately following the early morning jury verdict, JPMorgan Chase stock opened at $93.70 per share and closed up, at $95.18. Either Wall Street figured a company with 243,000 employees and a net income of $24.7 billion could survive an $8 billion payout, or the verdict hadn’t registered at all with investors.

Still, the verdict did generate some bad publicity for the bank. On The Motley Fool Podcast, for instance, co-hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp bantered about it. “Anyone who reads about this case will be told it’s going to get knocked down in appeals,” Brokamp said. “They’re not going to get $4 billion to $8 billion. The lesson, here, is to get an estate plan. But if you don’t have one, hire JPMorgan. They’ll do a horrible job—”

“And,” Southwick said, “You get your payday.”

That remains to be seen. The probate court will have more hearings on the case early this month, but a final ruling on the historic jury award is likely months, if not years, away. The stepmother that neither Stephen and Laura are speaking to, the stepmother who is no longer in touch with her grandchildren because of this case, she will have to wait. “We fought,” Jo Hopper says. “But we haven’t effected change. Not yet.”

Full Article & Source:
The Widow, the Bank, and the $8 Billion Verdict

Mother calls hospital "callous and heartless" for leaving her daughter in the cold



The mother of a 22-year-old woman who was discharged from a Maryland hospital and left to fend for herself in freezing cold weather at a bus stop is speaking out to correct misconceptions about her daughter. The mother, who asked to be identified only as Cheryl, says she wants to "correct the misinformation that's out there" because her daughter, Rebecca, "was humiliated" by the incident.

"There are people who are saying that my daughter is a drug addict, my daughter's a prostitute, that she's deaf," Cheryl told CBS News. "She's not deaf, not a prostitute, not a drug addict. My daughter has mental illness."

The case gained national attention when a bystander captured cellphone video of hospital workers leaving Rebecca on a downtown Baltimore street wearing only her flimsy hospital gown and socks in 30-degree weather.

"My daughter was disposed of. She literally was disposed of. It's disgusting, heartbreaking, horrifying," Cheryl continued. "And if it's all of those things for me, I want people to know how does Rebecca feel? This was done to her. She was on the street with her body exposed. There was no human dignity at all." 

For the safety of her family, Cheryl chose not to disclose their last name to CBS News.

According to Cheryl, Rebecca was diagnosed with mental illness — bipolar schizoaffective disorder — when she was 16 years old, and also has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. Rebecca lived in a residential youth program called Pathways from the time she turned 18 until Christmas Eve, when she was discharged for not taking her medication.

"She has to be on meds, otherwise she has psychosis," Cheryl said. "She will have, uh, a manic episode."

Cheryl says she has been trying to get legal guardianship of her adult daughter to gain control of her medication, housing and Social Security. But because of HIPAA patient privacy laws, she says doctors will not speak with her.

"This is a byproduct of what the mental health system is," she said. "I cannot get any help for my daughter."  

Click to Watch Video
Last month, Rebecca stopped reaching out to her family members so Cheryl tried to file a missing persons report with police. During the process, authorities notified her that Rebecca had been admitted to a hospital in Baltimore.

Cheryl says she came across the disturbing video while scrolling through Facebook. At first, she didn't even realize that the woman in the clip was her daughter.

"I didn't even know that it was my daughter initially," she said. "As he got close enough, I saw it was her and I got hysterical because in that moment, it was sheer fear that my daughter was going to die. I still haven't watched all of the video."

Cheryl says she tried to contact the hospital and was told to reach out to their media relations department about the incident by email.

"The hospital wasn't being helpful. I called the security department (and) they laughed at me. When I told them, 'That's my daughter in the video and I just need to find out if she's in the hospital,' they laughed at me," Cheryl said. "Every person that I talked to at the hospital either hung up on me or told me to email the hospital, and that everyone was going to tell me the same thing." 

The video of Rebecca went viral earlier this week on social media. It shows four University of Maryland Medical Center security guards wheeling her to a bus stop in her hospital gown. She can be heard crying out after they walk away.

"It's obvious with looking at the video — even someone who doesn't know her, someone who doesn't know anything about mental illness — it was very apparent that she was having some sort of medical issue," Cheryl continued. "You could see she has a large lump on her forehead and her face was bloody. So, there was a medical issue. She was incoherent. A blind person, Hellen Keller, could see that my daughter was in need of medical attention."

Imamu Baraka, the man who recorded the video, called 911 and medics wound up taking Rebecca back to the same hospital. Cheryl says she has since been transferred to a different facility where she is receiving treatment.

"What was in that video was no empathy for a sick young woman, and, um, it was just so callous and heartless how they put her out there in the cold, exposed, and didn't know her history, didn't know her background," Cheryl said. "And I don't think they ever really cared because they weren't looking at her like a human being."

The University of Maryland Medical Center apologized Thursday and promised a thorough investigation. In a written statement, the hospital states that they "share the shock and disappointment of many who have viewed the video. In the end, we clearly failed to fulfill our mission with this patient."

"We feel comfortable in the statement that what you saw in that video is not a process that would occur with any frequency at all," said Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Cheryl told CBS News that Suntha claimed that he has tried to reach out to her but couldn't get in contact with her. As of Thursday night she said she had yet to hear anything from him.

"This was a hospital that has a psychiatric unit. They should know how to deal with mental health patients without dumping them out on the street in the cold, naked," she said. "They're supposed to be able to deal with mental health issues, and if they don't know how to deal with mental health issues, then they should close their doors."  

Full Article & Source:
Mother calls hospital "callous and heartless" for leaving her daughter in the cold

Aide stole $11,000 from elderly employer, Cary police charge

Jennifer Lynn Herrera
An aide to an elderly woman embezzled at least $11,000 from her, beginning before Christmas, according to charges on which she was arrested Thursday night.

Jennifer Lynn Herrera, 36, was charged with felony embezzlement and felony exploitation of the trust of a disabled or elderly person.

Police said in an arrest warrant Thursday that Herrera was the woman’s employee, but they did not specify her duties.

The warrant said the embezzlement began on Dec. 22 and ran through Wednesday.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/crime/article194371114.html#storylink=cpy

The embezzlement charge uses legal language, saying Herrera did “knowingly misapply and convert to her own use at least $11,000” belonging to the woman.

It was not immediately clear how police believe the embezzlement happened.

Police were alerted by a relative of the woman’s.

Herrera was convicted last October of misdemeanor fraud. She had been arrested in March 2016 on a charge of misrepresenting information so she could get unemployment benefits two years earlier.

A magistrate set Herrera’s bail at $30,000. The magistrate noted that Herrera has been arrested several times for not appearing in court when she was supposed to after previous arrests, including last May in the fraud case.

Authorities always urge family members to keep tabs on the finances of older relatives as a way to prevent their having resources stolen or misplaced.


Full Article & Source:
Aide stole $11,000 from elderly employer, Cary police charge

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tonight on T. S. Radio: "Exposing Medical Predators" with Carly Walden













5:00 pm PST … 6:00 pm MST … 7:00 pm CST … 8:00 pm EST

Hosted by Carly Walden

On tonight’s show we are going to have author and speaker Ms Lucy Karen Clay as our guest. Lucy is a graduate of Baylor University, an educator, mentor, and advocate for LIFE. She is the founder and owner of “Expressways To Learning-TN”, dedicated to the education of children and adults who learn differently. In addition, she founded the Simplicity Project Wellness Initiative, for the purpose of raising public awareness of the end-of-life issues.

As a Board Member of Hospice Patients Alliance, I read her book BETROTHED: Committed to Love, Light, & LIGHT! I was honored and moved to endorse her book. All of her books provide life-saving information. Lucy experienced the terrible horrors of the Culture of Death. She is going to share with our audience what happened Jack, the love of her life while under Hospice care.

Stealth Euthanasia is occurring in some hospices today and we are sharing the word to raise awareness so that you and your family do not go through the nightmares of what so many have experienced. Listen to learn how Lucy found redemption following these tragic events.

https://www.amazon.com/Lucy-Karen-Clay/e/B00S5CD6V0

The link above is where you can find all three of Lucy’s books.

LISTEN to the show live or listen to the archive later

Ron Panzer Talks About Hospice in America



Published on Aug 14, 2016
 
Ron Panzer of Hospice Patients Alliance provides a solution which could repair the damage done to health care and society in general. 
 
Ron Panzer, President of Hospice Patients Alliance, is a respected nurse and witness to criminal actions consistently performed within medical settings. He presents irrefutable information about how, why this behavior is condoned by government and a positive solution to this problem: but you all will have to participate to make it work quickly. 
 
Ron is going to clear up the misinformation spread by those who deny the harms occurring within our healthcare system and especially hospice settings. He reminds us to revere God, to develop an authentic relationship with Him, and to revere the lives of the patients we serve. 
 
Once we do this, we will know what to do, how to live and contribute in our own way to help restore the Culture of Life. 
 
Consider his words regarding why we are standing back and allowing ourselves to be mislead by people who should know better.

Source:
Ron Panzer Talks About Hospice in America

Wise County home health nurse convicted of stealing from elderly woman



WISE COUNTY, VA (WJHL) –  A home health nurse pleaded guilty to stealing from an elderly patient in southwest Virginia. Wendy Goad, 38 of Comfort, WV, pleaded guilty to charges Thursday in Wise County.

Those charges include grand larceny, credit card fraud, attempted credit card fraud, and credit card forgery.

Prosecutors say Goad was caring for an elderly woman back in July when she stole several items and used the victim’s bank card to purchase nearly $500 worth of merchandise for herself.

Goad is scheduled to be sentenced March 14.

The following is a new release  from Wise County Commonwealth Attorney Chuck Slemp:

Wendy Goad, age 38 of Comfort, West Virginia, pleaded guilty on Wednesday, January 10, 2018, in the Wise County Circuit Court, for Grand Larceny, Credit Card Fraud, Attempted Credit Card Fraud, and Credit Card Forgery. Her plea comes on the day she was scheduled to go to trial on the charges.

Goad pleaded guilty without a plea agreement from prosecutors, meaning a judge will determine her sentence after listening to the testimony of witnesses for prosecutors and the defendant at a hearing.

On or about July 20, 2017, Wendy Goad was working as a substitute home health care nurse in Wise County, Virginia. While working to care for an elderly woman, Goad took two bags of items belonging to the victim out of her house. Then she took the elderly victim to another location and came back while the victim was not at her residence to remove more items from the house.

The victim also gave Goad her bank card to buy six grocery items. However, Goad used the card at multiple locations. Specifically, Goad signed the victim’s name and got $495 of items at WalMart. Goad later returned and attempted to use the card at WalMart again, but this attempt failed.

This prosecution was successfully brought to a conclusion through the efforts of Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp and assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Ken Lammers.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said, “We continue our efforts to protect seniors from abuse and financial exploitation crimes. It is even more troubling in cases like this, when a nurse is being paid to provide medical care for someone and violates that trust by exploiting the vulnerability of an elderly victim.”

Full Article & Source:
Wise County home health nurse convicted of stealing from elderly woman

Aberdeen woman sentenced in elder abuse theft case

An Aberdeen woman was sentenced Thursday for stealing thousands of dollars from elderly people, the Attorney General's Office announced.

Amy Schmidt, 37, from Aberdeen, stole money from three elderly people she worked with while employed at a home health agency.

She was sentenced for one count of grand theft and was given five years in the state penitentiary and ordered to pay about $7,000 in restitution, along with court costs.

The case was investigated by the Aberdeen Police Department and the Brown County Sheriff's Office and prosecuted by the Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Subdivision of the Attorney General's Office.

Full Article & Source:
Aberdeen woman sentenced in elder abuse theft case

Monday, January 15, 2018

Reform could ensure family access to medical, financial info

By Colleen Heild

From across the country, Karla Holomon got the phone call that families dread – her older half-sister Cheryl had been hospitalized at a mental health facility in Albuquerque with a diagnosis of depression and dementia.

Now Cheryl has been placed in a court-appointed guardianship in New Mexico and may be moved away from her only friend, who lives in Santa Fe, by the professional guardianship firm.

And without action from the Legislature this year, there’s no guarantee that Holomon, who lives in North Carolina, will be allowed access to financial and other documents to ensure that her sister’s care is adequate and that her sister’s savings are being spent wisely.


During a break in a Dec. 22 Supreme Court guardianship commission meeting, state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, talks with fellow commission member, Emily Darnell-Nunez, whose mother was the subject of a contested guardianship-conservatorship. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

So far, Holomon told the Journal, her experience with New Mexico’s guardianship system has been rocky.

First, a social worker from Albuquerque called in December to insist that Holomon agree to petition the state district court to place Cheryl under a legal guardianship – the cost of which, the social worker said, would be paid from her sister’s assets.

In a letter to District Judge Alan Malott, who is presiding over the case, Holomon said she initially agreed to be the petitioner.

But in a follow-up conference call, her letter stated, an Albuquerque attorney involved in the matter wanted her to sign a fee agreement to retain the lawyer’s firm to handle the guardianship. Holomon said the attorney said the price tag for an uncontested guardianship case was $8,000.

When Holomon said she would sign an agreement with a $10,000 cap, the lawyer replied that was not acceptable, the letter stated.

According to the letter, Holomon, a retired corporate attorney, told the lawyer and other parties on the call that she felt she was being coerced to sign an open-ended fee agreement with a law firm she had no knowledge of – at which point Holomon said the Albuquerque lawyer ended the phone call.

The attorney, Marcy Baysinger, told the Journal on Friday she was aware of the letter to the judge.

“I can tell you that I did not coerce her (Holomon) into doing anything. We were having a general discussion about a potential engagement in an attorney-client fashion,” Baysinger said. “There’s not a lot more I can tell you because of the nature of guardianships and confidentiality.”

Baysinger was listed as the attorney for Central Desert Behavioral Health Center, of Albuquerque, which filed as the petitioner in Cheryl’s guardianship on Dec. 12, a court docket sheet shows. Asked who paid her costs, Baysinger told the Journal, “I can’t tell you that.”

Cheryl has since been moved to another facility after falling and breaking her hip at Central Desert, Holomon said in her letter.

Holomon said she was so troubled by the episode that she wrote to Malott and asked that her letter be included in the case file.

“I was told by an acquaintance that I need to be concerned about New Mexico guardianships,” states her letter, a copy of which she sent to the Journal. “Of course, she (her acquaintance) offered no particulars as to precisely what I need to be concerned about.”

Financial reports closed to family

Holomon, like other relatives of people placed under court-ordered guardianship or conservatorship with private firms, told the Journal of the emotions she faced upon learning her relative was in need and in the custody of strangers.

She wrote in her letter that she has tried to help her older sister many times over the years, and regrets that currently “I am neither physically nor emotionally able to care for Cheryl.”

“All I want is what any family would want, and that is fairness and transparency,” Holomon told the Journal last week.

Holomon asked Malott to provide her copies of the financial statements filed in the case that would show how her sister’s assets, estimated at about $100,000, are being spent by the professional guardian firm, the petitioner’s attorney, and other parties.

But under current New Mexico guardianship laws, only the judge is entitled to financial reports, which are required annually.

That could change if the Legislature enacts a new model uniform guardianship law that, among numerous reforms, gives family members the right to review financial and guardianship reports. Currently such records are considered confidential.

State Sen. James White, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring a 187-page version of the reform act, which was the product of two years of study by national experts.


Jack Burton
Santa Fe attorney Jack Burton, a member of the Chicago-based Uniform Law Commission that drafted the model law, told the Journal last week that Gov. Susana Martinez needs to give the green light before the Legislature can consider an overhaul of the law.
The 30-day legislative session, which generally focuses on budgetary issues, begins Tuesday.

Under the uniform law, Burton said, family members are “absolutely” entitled to reports filed with the court by guardians and conservators.

“I don’t know exactly how New Mexico got off on the wrong track (in crafting its guardianship laws) but it certainly did,” said Burton. He said he expects a “companion” bill to be introduced to provide money for the state’s courts to hire people to monitor and audit guardians and conservators.

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, served on the state Supreme Court guardianship commission that recently studied ways to improve New Mexico’s system.

“From the testimony we received, there was the strong belief that families are too frequently excluded from a meaningful role in this process,”Ortiz y Pino told the legislative health and human services commission in November.

The Supreme Court commission released its recommendations to the Supreme Court on Jan. 1 and endorsed the Uniform Act, with several minor amendments.

When such cases get into the court system, Ortiz y Pino said, “it’s almost like people feel like if you go to court then the family is ruled out, their input is discounted, they’re not solicited for suggestions and they’re not kept informed.”

‘Troubling’ conversation

Cheryl has been employed at various times as a legal secretary and a manager of a Santa Fe resort but has no other living relative with whom she has maintained contact, Holomon’s letter stated.

“At this point in my life, I am not capable of dealing with Cheryl’s current situation without support from other family members. Unfortunately, there are none. While I do not have the affection and regard for Cheryl that one would hope to have for a sibling, I do care what happens to her.”

Holomon said she understands the state “must be compensated for the manpower and services that it has dedicated to establishing and maintaining this guardianship” and is “very grateful” for the care and assistance already provided to Cheryl.

Holomon said she initially agreed to be the petitioner after being informed by a social worker that filing as the petitioner would cost her “nothing, with funds coming from Cheryl’s assets.”

New Mexico law states, “If not otherwise compensated for services rendered, any visitor, attorney, physician, conservator or special conservator appointed in a protective proceeding is entitled to reasonable compensation from the estate.”

Cheryl has an investment account, a bank account, social security, and long-term care insurance, Holomon said in her letter.

She told Malott that the subsequent conversation with Baysinger “was very troubling on a number of levels.”

Also troubling her is whether her sister will be moved to Las Cruces, where the court-appointed guardian, CNRAG Inc. is headquartered, she said in the letter.

“I am concerned that it is so remote, and particularly that Cheryl will not be able to have visits from … her one close friend, who resides in Santa Fe.”

Holomon, in her letter, told the judge she took care of their mother, who had Alzheimer’s, until her death.

“I know what lies ahead for Cheryl,” she added.

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Reform could ensure family access to medical, financial info