Wednesday, June 23, 2021

AG Nessel testifies in Lansing, challenging state's guardianship laws: 'We should be ashamed...'

The Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel testified Tuesday in front of a committee in Lansing telling legislators we should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in our state.
 
By: Heather Catallo
 
LANSING (WXYZ) — The Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel testified Tuesday in front of a committee in Lansing telling legislators we should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in our state.
 

Members of the Elder Abuse Task Force are trying to get the laws changed to improve Michigan’s flawed guardianship system, which the 7 Investigators have been reporting on for years.

“We should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in this state.”

“We should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in this state,” said Nessel during her testimony in front of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. The attorney general said adult guardianship reforms are not just a good idea – they’re a moral imperative.

“We must remember that guardianship and conservatorships can and do ruin lives,” Nessel added. “Even prisoners, convicted murderers retain more rights than someone under a guardianship.”

The 7 Investigators have been exposing problems in the state’s guardianship system for four years.

Nessel even cited the WXYZ story about Marcie Mitchell’s parents, who were separated from their loved ones by a professional guardian back in 2019.

“The legislation before you today addresses the problems we saw in this case,” Nessel said.

When you’re declared mentally incapacitated by the probate courts and placed under guardianship, you can no longer make your own medical, financial, or legal decisions.

“We do not serve to denigrate those who do the sometimes thankless job of serving as guardians. But we do want a more transparent guardianship system here in Michigan,” said Rep. Graham Filler (R-Dewitt), who is sponsoring some of the bills.

New legislation created by the attorney general’s Elder Abuse Task Force will make it harder for professional guardians to isolate vulnerable adults or cash in on their estates.


“Sometimes we see guardians who misuse resident funds or who won’t provide residents with the most basic things, like underwear or consent for medical treatment,” said State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Salli Pung about people under guardianship in nursing homes and long term care facilities.

The four new bills would change several things, including giving judges more rules to follow to make sure family members get to serve as a guardian, instead of a stranger. The bills would also require more medical documentation before declaring someone incapacitated.

“Under this bill, a court may dismiss a proceeding if it cannot be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the individual is an incapacitated individual,” said Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield), who is also sponsoring some of the legislation.

“They just improve transparency by making everyone knows what the rules are to be determined whether someone is unsuitable to serve,” said Christopher Smith from the State Bar Elder Law & Disability Rights Section.

The Michigan Probate Judges Association is not thrilled with all of the changes, but their president-elect testified that they’re working with the task force to keep tweaking the legislation.

“There are, however, some provisions that we see as problematic to the court process,” said Judge John Tomlinson.

Testimony for the bills was limited by time on Tuesday, but committee members say they will continue to hold hearings and work on these changes to the law over the summer.

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Jury selection begins in ethics trial of suspended Lee County DA Brandon Hughes


by: Elizabeth White

AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – The stage is set as suspended Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes prepares to defend himself against multiple felony ethics charges

Jury selection began Monday morning inside the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University.  The decision was made to hold the selection process at the venue because the pool of potential jurors is so large. After a jury is seated, the trial will shift to Lee County Justice Center. The selection process could last a few days.

Monday, several potential jurors had already disclosed either knowing or having a friendship with Hughes and/or his family members as both prosecutors with the Attorney General’s Office, Hughes’ defense team, and appointed Circuit Judge Pamela Baschab asked them if they could be fair and impartial after hearing the evidence in the case. 
 
Brandon Hughes sits with his defense attorney during jury selection

Hughes has pleaded not guilty to five ethics violations, conspiracy to commit theft, and perjury. Hughes was indicted in November and is accused of using public funds to pay attorneys to settle a private legal matter; testimony given during a pre-trial hearing suggested Hughes allegedly used public funds to litigate a settlement in a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee

Additionally, court documents accuse Hughes of illegally hiring his children and issuing a subpoena to a private business to gather evidence for his potential criminal defense. Hughes is also charged with conspiring to steal a pickup from a business in Chambers County by using a Lee County search warrant.

Hughes maintains his innocence on all counts. Hughes was elected as the Lee County District Attorney’s Officein 2016. He was suspended after his arrest. A judge appointed Jessica Ventiere as district attorney pro-tem to oversee the office.

It is not known if Hughes will take the stand in his defense. The trial could last at least two weeks.

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Former caregiver charged with stealing, withholding care from elderly in Junction City, Eugene and Salem

by Louis Krauss

Junction City police are seeking help identifying pieces of stolen jewelry.  Photos of the jewelry can be viewed online at tinyurl.com/junctioncityjewelry. Junction City Police Department

Eight months after her arrest, a former Junction City retirement home caregiver was arraigned on 21 charges, which include allegedly stealing money and intentionally withholding care and medical attention from elderly people in facilities in Junction City, Eugene and Salem.

Noelle Jendraszek pleaded not guilty to all charges on June 14.

Jendraszek, a Harrisburg resident, was arrested in October under suspicion by police of 99 felony charges and 11 misdemeanor charges, which included stealing jewelry, money and drugs from residents of the Junction City Retirement and Assisted Living Facility, according to a news release from Junction City police at the time. 

Jendraszek confessed in October to stealing in a notarized affidavit after being arrested, as well as to similar crimes at previous care facilities where she worked, according to police.

When investigators initially interviewed Jendraszek, within hours of the first interview, she gave up about 275 pieces of jewelry she had admitted to stealing from residents in care facilities where she was employed in the past five or six years, police said.

"Jendraszek has also admitted withholding vital and medically necessary medication from 44 vulnerable and elderly residents whom were (in) her care," police said after her arrest.

There is still an active page from Junction City police with hundreds of photos of stolen jewelry they are asking for help with identifying. The original owners' friends or relatives can file claims at tinyurl.com/junctioncityjewelry

Jendraszek wasn't formally charged until May 10, before being arraigned on June 14 on 21 charges she pleaded not guilty to. The charges filed in Lane County Circuit Court include six counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment, two counts each of second-degree and third-degree theft, six counts of tampering with drug records, and five counts of recklessly endangering another person.

Her next court date is Aug. 11. Lane County District Attorney Patricia Perlow declined to comment on why Jendraszek was not charged more immediately following her arrest in October. The case is now being handled by the Oregon Attorney General's office, Perlow said.

The office's communications director Kristina Edmunson also declined to comment on the matter.

"We are not able to comment on a pending case," she said.

Over the years, Jendraszek has worked at the Junction City facility, River Grove Memory Care in Eugene and six care facilities in Salem: Cedar Village Assisted Living Community, Capital Manor Retirement Community, Four Seasons Residential Care, Gibson Creek by Bonaventure, Prestige Senior Living Orchard Heights, and Redwood Heights Retirement and Assisted Living Community.

In her statement of guilt, Jendraszek said the following, according to police: “I am very apologetic for any harm I have done and/or any sadness I have caused. It is my intent to correct my wrongs and do the right thing by taking responsibility for my actions. I hope someday that all the families and persons I have harmed can find it within themselves to forgive me because I know what I have done is wrong and I am seeking the help I need to recover and become a better person.”

The release said police began investigating Sept. 10, when the son of a resident at Junction City Retirement and Assisted Living reported someone had stolen cash from his father.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

New Oregon law seeks to improve life for people with appointed guardians


By Kristian Foden-Vencil

A new law requires that guardianship explanations be understood by those they’re protecting.

People in Oregon can be appointed guardians for all kinds of reasons. They may be too young to look after their own affairs. They may be incapacitated after an accident or have a disability.

Two years ago, the Oregon Legislature handed people under guardianship a major victory. It passed a law requiring people with guardians be properly notified when a court appoints someone to oversee their daily activities, such as banking or renting an apartment.

In June, Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 190 to update that law, ensuring that notification of guardianship is actually understandable to people receiving the care.

“That means, often times, orally describing the guardianship and also using language that most people understand, not legal jargon,” said Jake Cornett with Disability Rights Oregon, which advocated for the change.

The new law might also mean the paperwork for guardianship be provided in large print, for example, to someone who has low vision.

“The core of this is all about a guardian working with the person they’ve been appointed guardianship over, to help them understand what’s going on,” Cornett said. “That’s the most important thing and the whole thrust behind this bill.”

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Michigan Attorney Overturns Disbarment Tied to Use of Client Fee


by Maeve Allsup

A criminal defense attorney who allegedly misspent a client’s advance fee and failed to repay it deserves to have his license suspended but not revoked altogether, the Michigan Supreme Court said in reversing a decision from a state discipline board.

James Sterling Lawrence, who has argued litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court, was ordered disbarred by the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board in September over allegations he misused client fees.

Lawrence, a criminal defense attorney, allegedly requested an advance fee to conduct preliminary research and file a motion seeking reversal of a 1981 first-degree murder case. Lawrence deposited the fee into his business checking account, which had a negative balance at the time of deposit, and made withdrawals from that account for personal expenses.

The client, who was serving life in prison for the murder charge, later decided not to proceed with the motion to reverse the judgment and requested the return of his advance. Lawrence, who said most of the personal debits to the account were made by his wife, was unable to pay back the advance in full and set up a payment plan to the client. But he didn’t reimburse according to the plan.

Lawrence told the state discipline board he “forgot” to make payments until reminded to do so by the client.

A hearing panel of the board found Lawrence didn’t act with fraudulent or larcenous intent and concluded his misconduct occurred as a result of gross mismanagement and ignorance. The panel suspended him for 100 days, but the board increased the penalty to disbarment in September of last year.

The Michigan Supreme Court reversed that decision June 18, finding disbarment too extreme given the facts and circumstances of Lawrence’s conduct.

Reasonable minds could disagree over whether Lawrence moved quickly enough to make his client whole, but the presence of several mitigating factors makes suspension a more appropriate sanction, the court said.

And while the board was rightly concerned by the “mere” 100-day suspension, Lawrence has now effectively been suspended for over a year, the court said.

Lawrence’s career has included a case that went to the nation’s top court. In 2010, Lawrence failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Michigan top court’s rejection of his argument that Black jurors were systematically excluded from jury pools in Grand Rapids.

Justices Bridget Mary McCormack, Brian K. Zahra, David F. Viviano, Richard Bernstein, Elizabeth T. Clement, and Elizabeth M. Welch joined the opinion. Justice Megan K. Cavanagh didn’t participate because of her prior service as a member of the Attorney Grievance Commission.

The case is Grievance Admin. v. Lawrence, 2021 BL 228982, Mich., No. 162155, 6/18/21.

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Volusia Count judge upholds law that keeps court-appointed attorneys from collecting fees from people who aren’t under legal guardianships

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — After more than a year fight to keep them out of the guardianship system, a tearful Maria Enzor was overwhelmed to hear the estate of her parents, Joe and Patricia Smith, won’t have to pay more than $22,000 in fees to a court-appointed attorney who filed for payment after they died earlier this year.

“I feel people watching and paying attention made a big difference, but I’m ecstatic,” Enzor said.

As advocates hoped, Judge Margaret Hudson expressed her opinion that it was time for the case to end.

She also noted Florida law that denies payment when no legal guardianship was established, which was exactly the case for the 87- and 88-year-olds.

That’s despite a court record of multiple attempts by opposing counsel to prove them incapacitated.

All parties agreed that a $400 portion was justified for court-appointed attorney Sherrille Akin, but not from the Smiths’ estate.

The judge will seek state funds to cover it.

Today the court-appointed attorney in this case said she never anticipated getting those feeds paid.

Akin told Channel 9 she wanted her petition put on the record in case of future reviews to compensate court-appointed attorneys in these complicated cases.

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Monday, June 21, 2021

Catfishing, financial exploitation and other elder abuse impacts one in 10 seniors

by Sierra Rains

In a recent investigation, local law enforcement found that a disabled veteran reportedly had been exploited out of almost $90,000 during a two-year span.  

Sadly, the exploitation of vulnerable adults is all too common, Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office Investigator Michael Kruger said. 

In this instance, the victim’s only source of income was a monthly Veterans Affairs Disability payment, ranging from $2,973.86 to $3,106.04, according to an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office report

The payments were deposited into a bank account he shared with a court-appointed guardian, and by November 2020 the account was depleted to a balance of only $55.44. 

Kruger, who specializes in investigating economic crimes, said a majority of financial crimes are directed at the elderly. 


Financial exploitation is considered a form of elder abuse, a term that also encompasses physical and sexual abuse, as well as confinement and willful deprivation. The National Council on Aging estimates one in 10 adults aged 60 and older have experienced elder abuse in some form. 

The annual loss by elderly victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion, according to NCOA. Whether they fall victim to a scam or are exploited financially by a family member or guardian, Kruger said the effects can be devastating. 

In many cases, once the money is gone, victims never see it again. Even when victims are able to claim restitution, it can be a long time before they ever see the money because it often already has been spent. 

“They’ve earned throughout their whole life and then it’s gone,” Kruger said. “If you’re talking about an elderly person who may be at the end of their lifespan, they won’t see that money by the time they pass away. That part is very sad.”

Kruger said the perpetrator in most financial exploitation cases is a family member, a guardian or someone close to the family. According to NCOA, that is the case in almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents nationwide. 

The staff at nursing facilities and care centers are often some of the first to spot and report sudden or suspicious changes in financial situations or signs of abuse. Reports are made through the Department of Children and Families abuse hotline and directly to local law enforcement. 

“The people that work at these care centers, they care a lot about the people they are taking care of. That’s usually how we find out about it,” Kruger said. “They’ll call the hotline and .. say ‘Something's going on. I really want you guys to know about this.’ ”

Investigators spend weeks going through financial records to determine if there is any criminal activity involved. Kruger said two out of three cases typically end up being criminal. 

“We see a little bit of everything,” he said. “I’ve had some cases where on the face of it, it looks like exploitation, but when you look at it financially it turns out that they were just in a poor financial situation to begin with.” 

In most criminal cases, investigators will find instances in which money directed to go toward the needs of an elderly person is being used for unnecessary expenses such as a new sports car. 

“Unless that car is used to transport them around,” Kruger said. “But if you’re going and buying a brand new car, a sports car, and you’re saying that’s what you’re going to drive your mom around in, that’s not going to really go over very well.”

Kruger said it’s also common to see the staff at care centers dip into their own pockets to help victims obtain everything from socks to blankets — simple things that should be provided for them but are not. 

Adults older than 60 can become vulnerable to scams and exploitation for a variety of reasons. Some face illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or don’t have a firm grasp of technology. But the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic also created a vulnerable group longing for socialization. 

“The romance schemes against the elderly, that went through the roof. And that just had to do with them being lonely and reaching out online,” Kruger said. “So my job, part of it is to go and prove to the person being exploited that this romance is false. You’ve been catfished. This person is not that person.” 

In romance schemes, victims often end up giving large amounts of money to people posing as romantic interests, and Kruger said some facing isolation would rather give away their life savings than not have someone to talk to. 

“That’s the saddest part, is a lot of the elderly that I dealt with, this person is the one person they talk to all the time,” Kruger said. “So when I tell them they have to change their phone number, this person is bad. Then they’re like ‘But I won’t get any phone calls. I like to talk to them.' "

When older adults become victims of fraud it can be difficult for them to share with their family or loved ones, Kruger said. Some fear that they might lose their independence or respect. As a result, a number of cases go unreported. 

“That’s the other side of it," Kruger said. "With the elderly being exploited by people outside of their family, it’s hard for them to tell their kids or their family members because there’s that fear that once they see that, they’re going to take away their freedom. It’s like a double-edged sword.”

Kruger said older adults who are victims of exploitation should never feel ashamed, and hopes that by shedding some light on the issue more people might feel comfortable to come forward and learn how to avoid fraud schemes. 

“Other people are probably also victims, and by you talking about it you can shed light and make people aware of it,” Kruger said. “There shouldn’t be any type of negative thing against the person, because I can tell you that these types of people that are scamming them are professionals. They are good.”

Fraud, financial exploitation or other forms of elder abuse should be reported to local law enforcement or the Florida Abuse Hotline at 800-962-2873.

Kruger also suggested reporting fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, and advised that one of the key ways people can avoid becoming a victim is by not answering calls from unfamiliar numbers. 

More information on the latest scams and resources for people to protect themselves can be found online at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts

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Twin Cities Couple Bilked $200,000 From Elderly Mother

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Prosecutors have charged a Roseville man and his wife with bilking his elderly mother out of almost $200,000.

Gregory and Kelly Harrington were both charged Thursday with felony financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

According to the criminal complaint, Gregory’s 94-year-old mother gave the couple power of attorney in 2015 before she moved into a senior living development. The woman had $380,000 in savings then.

Investigators determined the couple spent about $197,000 of that on expenses that didn’t benefit her. They depleted her savings so much that she couldn’t pay her living expenses. The couple moved her into an 8-foot-by-10-foot room in their basement that was just big enough for a bed, chair and television, the complaint said.

The couple maintained that they reached a family agreement that they could spend the woman’s money.

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Ohio’s COVID-19 health orders lifted, but some upset nursing homes still face restrictions

By Sara Goldenberg

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - This Wednesday it’s “back to normal” for many Ohioans as the state’s Covid-19 health orders expired.

But some families with loved ones in nursing homes feel like they’re being left behind again.

Some restrictions have been left in place for group settings in Ohio.

19 Investigates spoke with one woman calling for changes.

One year ago, we spoke with Vicki Krafthefer.

The only way she could see her sister Christy was through a window at her Westerville nursing home.

It was a painful time for many families who could not visit their loved ones in person during most of the coronavirus pandemic.

Christy caught Covid-19, but was asymptomatic.

She is vaccinated now.

Krafthefer said her request for compassionate care visits at the time were denied.

“My sister got an infection in her eye, they let it go. And this went on for like three months. And my sister had to end up having surgery on her eye,” she said.

Krafthefer believes if she had been let into her sister’s nursing home, this would not have happened.

Many restrictions have lifted since then, including visitation.

According to this map on the Ohio Department of Health’s website, 86 percent of facilities are allowing indoor visits right now, 56 percent are allowing outdoor visits and just three percent are not allowing visits at all.

But there still are struggles.

Krafthefer has to make appointments to see her sister Christy.

She can go into her room, but only for one hour. No children are allowed.

ODH orders allow only two people per visit, face masks are required and so is social distancing.

The restrictions vary by facility and by any Covid-19 outbreaks they may have.

Krafthefer wonders when the restrictions will go away.

“They keep the restrictions and everything, but it’s like, okay you’re not going to make people get vaccinated who don’t want to get vaccinated,” she said.

She thinks some, like appointments for visits, are unnecessary.

“Everything’s 50/50 now, you have people vaccinated, people not vaccinated. And everything’s being lifted and opened up out here. So why can’t we give the residents the same respect?” she said.

Krafthefer said some normalcy for nursing home residents will really help their mental health.

Ohio Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff addressed nursing homes and Covid-19 restrictions in a press conference Wednesday.

He said they’re not lifting restrictions in nursing homes because of the environment, citing vulnerable Ohioans are receiving health care.

He pointed out this population was most impacted by Covid-19.

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