Saturday, September 25, 2021

More than $150K awarded to victims of former local attorney accused of stealing $2M

by Parker Perry

Sep. 22—Clients of a former local lawyer received compensation from a fund that helps victims of attorney thefts after their lawyer pleaded guilty in a case accusing him of stealing about $2 million.

"Former clients of former attorney Brian M. Wiggins were reimbursed a total of $154,175 as a result of Wiggins' theft of client funds. Wiggins resigned from the practice of law in Ohio, with discipline pending, in April 2021," an article on Court News Ohio says. Court News Ohio is a service of the Office of Public Information of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The Board of Commissioners of the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection voted to award the money earlier this month, according to the website. The money is from registration fees paid by Ohio lawyers.

Wiggins was sentenced to serve five years in prison earlier this year after pleading guilty in Greene County Common Pleas Court. He was also ordered to pay back about $1.9 million in restitution.

He is currently incarcerated with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Wiggins allegedly mishandled several estates or trusts he represented and spent the money on cosmetic surgeries, child support, gambling, property, a boat and jewelry.

"The bulk of the charges in the indictment allege fraudulent activity related to transfer of estate and/or trust funds from the estate of a man named Ronald Lentz," Greene County prosecutor David Hayes said during a March 2020 media briefing.

Lentz, of Beavercreek, died in August 2018. Wiggins was the attorney of the estate as well as the trustee of the trust, which were valued at more than $3 million, Hayes said. The majority of the estate was to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Smile Train, a nonprofit for children with cleft lips and palates.

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Romance Scams Surged For Seniors During Pandemic

by Ted Knutson

Romance scams surged for seniors during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Senate Aging Committee was told today.

Losses reported to the Federal Trade Commission alone by the elderly from phony suitors rose to $139 million last year from $84 million in 2019.

The loneliness and isolation during the pandemic made the elderly particularly vulnerable because they were longing for human contact and a friendly voice on the phone or a beckoning message on Facebook became harder to turn away from, said Aging Committee Chair Bob Casey (D-PA).

“Social isolation isn’t new for seniors, but the pandemic made it that much worse. Fraudsters saw an opportunity and pounced.,” the Senator said.

He added decrease in contact from family and friends made it easier for small scams even now to balloon into big scams including peddling fake cures and stealing funds.

Speaking to the large increase in romance scam perpetrators targeting the elderly, the Ranking Republican on the Committee, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina noted seniors are isolated and lonely and may be more susceptible to this type of fraud and this type of scam.

Romance scams were the biggest source of fraud reported to the FTC by the elderly in the 60-69 and 70-79 age groups.

The frauds were an important driver of the doubling of bank transfers and payments by older adults in 2020, and reports of cryptocurrency payments more than tripling,

FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Associate Director Lois Greisman told the Aging Committee hearing.

The FTC official added many people reported that romance scammers used the pandemic to explain requests for money or their inability to meet in person.

She explained in romance scams fraudsters create fake profiles, establish trusting relationships, and then trick consumers into giving or loaning them money.

Romance scams were among the frauds causing the highest losses for seniors, National Consumer Law Center Attorney Odette Williamson said:

“Widespread illness and death combined with the social isolation and distancing measures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic created fertile ground for the proliferation of certain scams primarily aimed at older adults.”

The Better Business Bureau Institute for Marketplace Trust found romance scams romance scams were the riskiest types of fraud during the pandemic for people 55 through 64.

Making romance scams particularly difficult, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) said it’s difficult for law enforcement to find the perpetrators.

Kate Kleinert, a victim who testified at the hearing, claimed she reported the fraud to police but they wouldn’t listen to her.

The widow told the Committee she was frustrated by the lack of options she had to recover the $39,000 she gave the suitor imposter or the ability to hold him responsible.

“$39,000 to some people is not much, but for someone in my position it’s a great deal. I am still paying for that today because I can’t get things repaired at the house. I’ve had no air conditioning this summer, my refrigerator is off, and my stove is off, the victim relayed.

She said the loss that hurt her most wasn’t the money, but “losing his love and losing the family I thought I was going to have and what my new future was going to be.”

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Casey pushes bill to have banks, businesses aid seniors in detecting scams

by Julian Routh

Americans age 60 years and older have lost more than $141 million since the beginning of last year in pandemic-related scams, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s aging committee revealed Thursday, as they highlighted the case of a Pennsylvania senior who was tricked into wiring money to a man because she believed he was a suitable romantic partner.

In a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Mr. Casey, the chairman, said seniors have been especially vulnerable to scams since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic because many have isolated, been cut off from family and friends and have longed for human contact — making it harder to turn away from potential scammers.

“Fraudsters saw an opportunity and they pounced,” Mr. Casey said. “They preyed on the fear and the uncertainty surrounding the disease as well as the loneliness and isolation that resulted from the pandemic.”

America’s seniors reported nearly 26,000 pandemic-related scams since Jan. 2020, Mr. Casey’s office said, and the senator noted that the pandemic allowed small scams to balloon into big ones. Eighteen months later, the federal government is still warning of con artists peddling fake cures for the virus, charging lofty sums for protective equipment and trying to steal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.

Older adults reported much higher individual median dollar losses than those aged 20 to 59, according to the testimony by an official with the Federal Trade Commission, and those 80 years or older reported the largest median losses of $1,300.

Mr. Casey used the hearing to advocate for passage of the Stop Senior Scams Act, a bill he’s helped introduce to create a federal advisory group that will give information and tools to banks and other businesses on how to spot and prevent scams.

The aging committee released a new report on Thursday on fraud, claiming — among other statistics — that “romance scams” have been on the rise in recent years and have accelerated during the pandemic. These involve scammers using fake dating profiles to convince “love interests” to send them money, the report says — and was the result of $139 million lost in 2020.

The committee heard testimony from a victim of a romance scam, a Glenolden, Delaware County, resident who was a widow of 12 years before finding love on Facebook last year — or so she thought.

Kate Kleinert told the committee she messaged for awhile with a man who said he was a surgeon working in Iraq. He eventually convinced her to send gift cards and money, that culminated with at $20,000 request.

Ms. Kleinert said she sent the man a total of $39,000, and it all ended up to be a fake connection.

“I am still paying for that today because I can’t get things repaired at the house. I’ve had no air-conditioning this summer, my refrigerator is off and my stove is off. I have been leaning on my family, my sisters especially, to get me through this,” Ms. Kleinert said. “But the loss that hurts the most was losing his love and losing the family I thought I was going to have and what my new future was going to be.”

Mr. Casey’s committee runs a toll-free hotline for those who want to report suspicious activities and potential scams, staffed Monday through Friday during business hours. The number is 1-855-303-9470.

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Friday, September 24, 2021

Lansing nurse pleads guilty to over-drugging dementia patient, texting photo to co-worker

by: Brian Dulle

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — A 37-year-old Atchison, Kansas woman accused of over-drugging a dementia patient and then texting a co-worker a photo has plead guilty.

On Friday, Jennifer Lynn Reavis was convicted of endangerment (or recklessly exposing another person to a danger of great bodily harm or death), unlawful administration of a controlled substance, and battery. 

Charges were filed against Reavis after an investigation by the Lansing Police Department at the Twin Oaks Health and Rehab Center in May 2019.  

Administrators contacted police after finding out that a resident had been given evening and bedtime medications at the same time by a nurse, along with an Ativan and a Benadryl, which was not in the resident’s schedule of medications and are known to cause a person to be drowsy.

The nurse was identified to be Reavis, who gave the resident the medication. Reavis also sent a text message to the oncoming night shift nurse that included a photo of the resident slumped over in a wheelchair and appeared to be asleep. The caption along with the picture in the text message read, “Your welcome! I hope she is asleep most of the day tomorrow.” A second text message along with the photo read “Hint hint.”

Reavis admitted to giving the resident the medication and sending the text message. She indicated the resident had been trying to leave the facility.

After being given the medication, the resident, who suffers from severe dementia, began vomiting and became lethargic and eventually needed to be taken to the hospital to undergo treatment.

At this time Reavis is out on bond awaiting sentencing.

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Rock Island attorney disbarred after pleading guilty to drug charges

by Emily Andersen
A Rock Island attorney was disbarred by the Illinois Supreme Court during the September 2021 Term of Court after pleading guilty to two drug charges. Two other local attorneys had their licenses suspended during the term.

John George Steckel, of Rock Island, was sentenced in April to 60 months of probation for one charge each of possession of controlled substances and methamphetamine delivery.

Steckel had his license suspended for 18 months in 2019. His disbarment was retroactive to his interim suspension, according to the September 2021 case summary list released by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Steckel had been licensed since 2000.

Two other local attorneys, Stephen Thomas Fieweger and Mark Vincent Kelly, were also listed in the case summary report.

Fieweger, of Davenport, was licensed in both Illinois and Iowa. His Iowa license was suspended for 30 days for failing to communicate with a client, collecting an unauthorized fee in a social security disability benefits matter, neglecting a client's case and mishandling client funds. The Illinois Supreme Court decided to impose the same discipline and suspended his Illinois license for 30 days as well.

Fieweger has been licensed in Illinois since 1987 and in Iowa since 1989.

Kelly, of Alpha, Ill., had his Illinois license suspended for three months. He reportedly misappropriated $2,230 in funds he had agreed to hold in escrow pursuant to his work as an attorney agent for a title company. No client lost any money because of Kelly's misconduct, however. Kelly has been licensed in Illinois since 1987.

Both suspensions are effective on Oct. 14.

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Home health aide accused of stealing $32K from elderly couple in Lewis County

A home health aide from Port Leyden is facing charges after allegedly stealing more than $32,000 from an elderly couple she was hired to care for in Lewis County.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office started investigating 35-year-old Stacey Dixon in October of 2020.

According to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, from March to October of 2020, Dixon allegedly charged more than $17,700 on the couple’s credit card, endorsed and cashed forged checks for more than $8,600 from the couple's checking account and received checks from their personal account that she was not entitled to in the amount of $6,200.

Dixon was arrested on Sept. 22 and charged with 16 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and three counts of grand larceny, all felonies.

She was arraigned and released, and is scheduled to appear in court at a later date.

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Bipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy

By Celine Castronuovo

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Tuesday announced plans to hold a hearing next week on “toxic conservatorships” as the recent legal battle to end pop singer Britney Spears’s controversial court-ordered agreement has fueled bipartisan calls for federal reforms. 

Blumenthal, chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on The Constitution, tweeted that he and Cruz, the subcommittee’s ranking member, would be hosting a hearing entitled, “Toxic Conservatorships: The Need for Reform,” apparently referencing Spears's hit song “Toxic.”

“Britney Spears is one of hundreds of thousands of Americans in conservatorships that too often restrict their basic human rights,” Blumenthal wrote.

The announcement did not make mention of any specific individuals scheduled to testify at the hearing. 

The Spears case has brought together lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as questions have been raised about whether conservatorships can cause undue harm for individuals who have their financial affairs or daily life placed under the control of a court-appointed guardian. 

The 39-year-old singer spoke out against her conservatorship in bombshell testimony in a Los Angeles Superior Court hearing in June, during which she called the 13-year court agreement “abusive," adding that it had left her "traumatized" and in "shock.” 

In June, GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Burgess Owens (Ohio), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.) sent a letter to Spears inviting her to testify before Congress. 

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) also cited Spears’s comments in court in a letter calling on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to provide more data on the U.S. conservatorship system.

Spears’s father, Jamie Spears, had repeatedly resisted stepping down as her conservator, though he reversed course in August by filing to remove himself from the court agreement, noting that while he believed there were “no actual grounds for suspending or removing” him, he did not “believe that a public battle with his daughter over his continuing service as her conservator would be in her best interests.” 

Her father went further earlier this month by filing to end the conservatorship, writing in a petition that “recent events” have “called into question whether circumstances have changed to such an extent that grounds for establishment of a conservatorship may no longer exist.” 

Days after the petition, the pop singer, who had previously said she had been barred from getting married or having more kids under her conservatorship, announced news of her engagement to her longtime boyfriend. 

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Wallingford attorney who stole $60G disbarred

Tendered resignation letter in August


By Alex Rose
PHILADELPHIA — A suspended Nether Providence attorney sentenced in federal court earlier this year on charges of wire fraud, Social Security fraud and theft from an employee benefit fund has been officially disbarred, according to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court order issued Friday.

Daniel Vermeychuk, 66, of the Wallingford section of Nether Providence, pleaded guilty in November before U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno and was subsequently temporarily suspended from practicing law in the commonwealth by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board.

He was sentenced in June to serve three years of probation and fined $40,000. Vermeychuk was also ordered to pay restitution of $59,491, pay a $600 special assessment and serve six months of his probation on house arrest.

Vermeychuk was charged with four counts of wire fraud, one count of Social Security fraud and one count of theft from an employee benefit fund in March 2019 following an investigation by the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

According to an indictment, Vermeychuk obtained nearly $60,000 worth of Social Security and pension benefit funds intended for a deceased tenant of an apartment building owned by his wife.

The tenant, identified as “J.B.” in the indictment, had added Vermeychuk to a bank account receiving the SSA and pension payments in 2003, according to the indictment. Vermeychuk found the tenant dead inside his apartment in July 2013, but never informed SSA or the pension plan of J.B.’s death.

Payments from both continued to go into the account between July 2013 and April 2017, according to the indictment. Vermeychuk withdrew these funds, totaling $59,491, and converted them to his own use, according to the indictment.

Vermeychuk tendered an unconditional resignation to the disciplinary board in August indicating restitution, fees and costs associated with his conviction have been paid. He also acknowledged that the underlying facts of the indictment are true and that he could not successfully defend against charges of professional misconduct.

The disbarment was made retroactive to the date of Vermeychuk’s Feb. 13, 2020, suspension at his request. He may apply for reinstatement after five years from that date under state rules for disciplinary enforcement.
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Woman accused of stealing from nursing home

MASSENA, New York (WWNY) - A Massena woman is accused of burglarizing a nursing home she used to work for.

State police say 29-year-old Narissa Joubert allegedly stole property when she unlawfully entered the Highland Nursing Home in Massena on September 13.

She was charged Sunday with second-degree burglary.

Joubert was arraigned in Massena town court and released under probation supervision.

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