Saturday, January 2, 2010

State Workers Accused of Preying on Vulnerable Woman

Two women employed by the state to protect a vulnerable elderly woman instead preyed on her, stealing about $20,000 from her bank accounts while she was hospitalized for dementia.

Police said both women were adult protective investigators with the Florida Department of Children and Families. One went so far as to wait in 85-year-old Jane Janssen's Cocoanut Row apartment and pose as Janssen in case the banks called to verify transactions, according to arrest affidavits made public Wednesday.

This week, Palm Beach Police detective Nicholas Caristo week arrested Mindi Marie Berry, 33, her DCF supervisor, Greta Laverne Lambert, 41, and a third woman, an employee of an escort service who told police she was hired to cash stolen checks.

Police on Wednesday were getting a warrant to arrest a fourth woman in the alleged scheme, which came to light after Janssen's son, Christopher Janssen, complained last month, police said. Berry and Lambert were fired in November after DCF learned of the police investigation, an agency spokesman said.

Described in police records as the scheme's ``mastermind,'' Lambert worked for DCF for several years and had risen to the rank of supervisor.

Berry was taken into custody in November, soon after Christopher Janssen's complaint. After a month-long investigation, Caristo arrested Lambert and Alexis White, 19.

The women face charges of organizing a scheme to defraud, grand theft from an elderly person, credit card fraud and identity theft. Their attorneys couldn't be reached.

Full Article and Source:
Palm Beach Police Arrest 2 State Employees for Stealing From Patient

Convicted Judge Resigns Bench

Embattled Harris County Court-at-Law Judge Donald Jackson resigned a week after being sentenced to 30 days in jail for abusing his authority.

The veteran judge was convicted of misdemeanor official oppression this month after being accused of trying to solicit a relationship with 28-year-old Ariana Venegas, a defendant in his court charged in February with driving while intoxicated.

Jackson was sentenced to a month in jail and two years' probation but remains free as he appeals the decision. He was suspended by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after a grand jury indicted him in August but still drew his $140,000 salary while the case was pending. His resignation is effective Thursday.

Because judges cannot hold outside employment, Jackson would have to resign to take another job. He holds specialization certifications in commercial real estate law and residential real estate law, according to state records.

Calls to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct were not answered.

Full Article, Video and Source:
Convicted Harris Co. Judge Resigns Bench

No More Salary for Luzerne County Judge Toole

The state Supreme Court dumped Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Toole from the public payroll a day after he pleaded guilty to corruption charges.

The high court issued a one-sentence order, terminating Judge Toole's $161,850 annual salary and health benefits.

Judge Toole, 49, had been on a paid suspension from judicial duties since the charges and his plea agreement were announced Dec. 2.

Under his plea agreement, he must resign from the bench within 10 days of the guilty plea. Judge Toole had yet to offer a letter of resignation as of the close of business Wednesday, according to the governor's press office.

Judge Toole's attorney, Frank Nocito, declined to comment on the ruling.

Judge Toole is the third county judge charged this year in a wide-ranging federal corruption probe that has led to charges against 23 people.

He faces a maximum penalty of 23 years in prison and a $350,000 fine on charges of fraud and filing a false tax return, but is more likely to receive 37 to 46 months under federal sentencing guidelines and his plea agreement.

A sentencing hearing is March 30.

Full Article and Source:
Supreme Court Ends Judge's Salary, Benefits

See Also:
Fmr. Luzerne Co. Judge Accepts Punishment

Next Hearing For Britney Will Be Jan. 14th

Los Angeles courtroom Commissioner Reva Goetz ordered the co-conservatorship of Britney Spears to continue, with her father, Jamie Spears, in control of her life.

Jamie will get $16,000 a month for his duties as conservator of Brit. Not a bad deal, but he does make her personal, financial and medical decisions 24/7/365.

In short, he works hard for the money.

Goetz also ordered the co-conservator of Britney, aptly-named lawyer Andrew Wallet, to be paid $174,569.10 for services rendered from July-November 2009.

The judge didn't specify how long the conservatorship will remain in place, but lawyers involved expect it to last somewhere between six months and a year.

The next court hearing in the Britney case is scheduled for January 14. Fees for Laura Wasser, the star's divorce/custody attorney, will be dealt with then.

Full Article and Source:
Britney Spears Conservatorship to Continue

See Also:
Britney Spears' Conservatorship Extended

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ruth Lilly Dies at 94

Ruth Lilly, a prolific philanthropist who was the last surviving great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly, has died at age 94.

A family spokesman says Lilly died Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Over the course of her life, the Indianapolis native gave away much of her inheritance from the Eli Lilly & Co. fortune. Court documents showed in 2002 that Lilly had bequeathed nearly $500 million to charitable and arts-related groups.

That included an estimated $100 million to the influential literary magazine "Poetry," which had rejected Lilly's submissions for years. Lilly began writing poetry in the mid-1930's.

The magazine has published the works of poets William Butler Yeats and Dylan Thomas. Lilly's attorney said in 2002 she didn't take rejections from the publication personally.

Lilly also established two fellowships for graduate students in poetry and an endowed chair of poetry at Indiana University.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is located on the site of Lilly's parents' estate, which she and her brother donated in 1966, along with a trust income to maintain it.

Lilly's wealth was valued at more than $1 billion in 2002. The family statement said she gave away "the vast bulk of her inheritance, largely to Indiana-based institutions."

Her financial dealings have been handled by a court-appointed guardian since 1981, when she was declared incompetent.

Lilly battled depression for most of her life but was helped greatly by Eli Lilly & Co.'s blockbuster antidepressant Prozac, which came on the market in 1988, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Full Article and Source:
Eli Lilly & Co. Heiress Ruth Lilly Dies at 94

See Also:
Investigative Series: Guarding the Guardians

Excerpt: The name "Lilly" evokes all kinds of images in Indianapolis. The international pharmaceutical company. And the endowment that helped build the city is the largest in the country.

But there's another Lilly story you probably don't know that has nothing to do with those well-known institutions. It's about Ruth Lilly, the sole surviving great-grandchild of the company founder - one of the world's richest women whose own philanthropy has left its mark. And it's about others controlling her fortune.

The Eyewitness News Investigators spent six months talking to sources and examining the extensive documents in Lilly's court-ordered guardianship. They found a story about questionable spending by her guardians, a story that reaches into the city's corridors of power - politicians, doctors, judges, a major bank, a prominent law firm.

The stories were reported by Amanda Rosseter and Jeremy Rogalski, photographed and edited by Bill Ditton, and produced by Kathleen Johnston and Gerry Lanosga. The series originally aired Nov. 23-25, 1998.

Two days after this report began airing, Probate Judge Charles Deiter appointed local attorney Greg Fehribach as guardian ad litem to independently review Ruth Lilly's guardianship. His 16-month review resulted in a public acknowledgement of lax oversight by the bank - and reductions in bank and legal fees totaling more than $600,000.

See Also:
Ruth Lilly's Niece and Nephew Become Her Guardians

Puppets Imitate Life

Several puppets play the role of judge, guardian, conservator and lawyer in a court hearing where a forced guardianship is occurring.

See also:
A Grandchild’s Fight

Pima County Guardianships

Poem by Sol Ehrlich

God, keep me working, keep me fit
At windows I don't want to sit
Watching my fellows hurrying by:
Let me stay busy 'til I die.

Grant me the strength, breath and will,
Some useful niche in life to fill,
A need to serve, a task to do:
Let me each morning arise anew.
Eager and glad that I can bear
My portion of the morning's care.

God, I don't want to sit about,
Broken and tired and all worn out.
Afraid of wind and rain and cold,
Let me stay busy when I am old.

Although I walk with slower pace,
Still let me meet life face to face.
This is my prayer as time goes by:
God keep me busy 'til I die.

Final Report of the Dade County Grand Jury, See page 21

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fighting Malnutrition and Dehydration

YouTube Video

County Judge With Everyman Touch Retiring

Hennepin County Judge Peter Albrecht, known for his humor and compassion, says he will miss people, not cases.

Two lines snake through separate security checkpoints every day in the Hennepin County Government Center. One is for employees who flash badges and breeze through. The longer, slower line is for the public.

District Judge Peter Albrecht made a habit of getting in the public line, pocketing his badge and patiently enduring the wait. Albrecht says he believes employees should be subject to the same weapons screening as everyone else.

The 65-year-old judge, who formally retires at the end of the month, brought that same sense of equality to his courtroom. Since first handling misdemeanors after he was elected at 32 in 1976 to what was then the municipal court, Albrecht has earned a reputation for two things: an unfailingly gentle demeanor in the courtroom and unrelenting practical jokes outside of it.

His neighbor on the 16th floor and best friend, Judge Gary Larson, has been a frequent target.

Albrecht once sneaked fake ants into Larson's mouthwash bottle in the judicial bathroom. He secreted a Halloween "mummy" into Larson's office to scare him (it worked -- twice in a day).

He repeatedly crept into Larson's courtroom when it was empty and ever so gradually moved the piece of duct tape on the floor closer and closer to the judge's bench. The tape marks the place Larson tells defendants to stand.

Newer Judge Robert Small said that when he moved onto the 16th floor, he "knew there would be something. The place has a reputation."

There was. Albrecht placed Small's nameplate on his door -- a foot off the floor. Small is considerably shorter than Albrecht.

Full Article and Source:
Hennepin County Judge With Everyman Touch Calls It a Career

Fmr. Luzerne Co. Judge Accepts Punishment

Michael T. Toole walked into the federal courthouse a judge on Tuesday morning. He walked out four-and-a-half hours later an admitted case-fixer and tax cheat facing more than three years in prison.

One of the U.S. marshals who passed the contents of Toole's pockets through an X-ray machine as the judge arrived at the courthouse Tuesday morning apologized sheepishly after asking for Toole's ID and realizing he was dealing with a judge.

"We don't see you up here enough," he said, smiling weakly.

Toole did not return the smile as he plodded toward his appearance in a fourth-floor courtroom to plead guilty to fraud and filing a false tax return.

The judge, who had kept up a cheerful and amiable front for months as rumors of impending federal charges swept the county courthouse, wore a grim and stoic visage all through his plea hearing Tuesday, telling U.S. District Judge Richard P. Conaboy:

"With the strength of my faith and the support of my family and friends, I am here to accept responsibility for what I've done and accept whatever punishment the court imposes."

Only after the hearing concluded did Toole break into a broad grin, turning toward his brother, Patrick, in the gallery, and saying: "I have to go get my mug shot now" as federal marshals and probation officials led him away for processing before releasing him on his own recognizance.

Full Article and Source:
Toole Accepts "Whatever Punishment the Court Imposes"

See Also:
Judge's Beaches Made of Quicksand

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Secrecy Behind the Judicial Conduct Board

The Judicial Conduct Board, created to protect citizens from errant judges, is criticized as doing just the opposite.

One of state government's most secretive agencies is housed near the end of a hallway on the third floor of the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, just across Commonwealth Avenue from the Capitol.
A piece of ordinary white bond paper, tucked into a protective plastic sleeve and taped to a window at the entrance, says "Judicial Conduct Board" in half-inch letters.

There is a small waiting room in Suite 3500, but the door leading to the inner offices is marked with two signs: "Confidential Area. Do Not Enter Beyond This Point" and "The Procedures of the JCB Are Confidential. The Use of Cameras and All Recording Devices Is Prohibited."

The board was created in 1993 to protect Pennsylvania citizens from judges who abuse their power, either ethically or criminally. But recent revelations about its procedures and activities have led some critics to suggest a role reversal in which the JCB's focus is to look after the interests of Pennsylvania's 1,200 judges.

"The outrage is that the JCB believes it is more important to protect members of the judiciary than to protect the citizens the judiciary is supposed to serve," says Tim Potts, executive director of Democracy Rising PA, a nonprofit governmental-reform group.

"The judges don't need protection," adds Robert L. Byer, a former Commonwealth Court judge. "They already have lots of that. They're even immune from being sued for almost anything they do in the courtroom. It's the public that needs protection from rogue judges."

Full Article and Source:
Oversight of PA Judges is Wrapped in Secrecy

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

OH: Judge Seeks Standards for Court Guardians

Attorneys who hold in their hands the lives of the addled, elderly and disabled soon will get a set of common-sense rules, partly inspired by a man wrongly stripped of his freedom and property.

Franklin County Probate Judge Eric Brown is asking for public comment on 46 standards to govern attorneys who serve as guardians to wards of his court.

"These are the most vulnerable citizens in our community," Brown said. "We can do better."

Brown was the Common Pleas judge appointed to hear the case of Milous Keith after the previous Franklin County Probate judge recused himself. Keith, then 76, fought a court-appointed guardian for two years to regain control of his life.

"My learning experience with the handling of that case certainly caused me to be concerned about the issues that arose," Brown said.

Keith still lives in fear "at an undisclosed location," said his sister, Etta Brown. "They took Milous out of his house in handcuffs and put him in a police car and locked him in an Alzheimer's ward for nearly two years."

The former city housing administrator had assets of more than $600,000, court records say. Today, Etta Brown figures, her brother has less than $150,000. Keith is suing his former guardian's law firm, alleging that guardian Jim Hughes sold assets at a loss, hired his father-in-law as a real-estate agent and failed to inventory safe-deposit boxes.

Brown found Keith competent in February 2006. He removed the guardianship.

Brown's standards will apply only to attorneys, but he hopes family, volunteer and other guardians will find them helpful. He's sending his draft to attorneys, other guardians, nursing homes and fellow probate judges, among others.

Proposed rules include requiring attorneys to attend training, visit wards personally at least quarterly, not hire relatives without permission, and designate someone to take over if the guardian dies or quits.

"There are some guardians who have one or two or three wards," Brown said. "Some have hundreds. Those may have trouble meeting the standards."

But the rules, he said, are to protect wards.

Full Article and Source:
Judge Seeks Standards for Court Guardians

See Also:
Proposed Standards for Attorney Guardians

Investigating "Serious Financial Irregularities"

Police are investigating the handling of $4 million during 18 years at a Lafayette agency that serves the mentally disabled.

One subject of the probe is the Wabash Center Inc.'s former chief financial officer, who died this fall during the audit.

Lafayette police Detective B.T. Brown said the name of Stephen McAninch "has come up during our investigation multiple times. We have not ruled out other suspects."

Tippecanoe County Sheriff Tracy Brown said his department was called to investigate McAninch's death Oct. 30. Police did not say how McAninch died.

A statement released by Wabash Center said he died "suddenly during the financial audit."

McAninch had worked at the nonprofit center as CFO since 1986, the Journal & Courier of Lafayette reported.

The center said in its statement that "serious financial irregularities" involving improper payments to vendors had been detected during the facility's annual audit in October. The improper payments totaling more than $4 million allegedly occurred between 1991 and 2009, the statement said.

The most recent audit, filed by an outside accounting firm approved by the State Board of Accounts, did not refer to missing money but noted a lack of documentation for certain billing and "significant deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting."

Full Article and Source:
Police Review Handling of $4M at Lafayette Agency

Monday, December 28, 2009

Former NYS Supreme Court Justice Sentenced

A former state Supreme Court justice was sentenced to 27 months in prison after being convicted of attempted extortion and bribery charges.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe handed down the sentence to Thomas Spargo following his conviction on the charges in August.

At the sentencing, Sharpe told Spargo that “for a judge there is nothing more reprehensible,” according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Fair and impartial judgment by those entrusted to carry out the laws is the bedrock of our legal system,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. “When those sworn to uphold the law violate it, they will be held accountable.”

“We cannot and will not allow the public’s faith in our legal system to be shaken by judicial corruption,” Breuer added.

Full Article and Source:
Ex-Judge Gets 27 Months in Prison

Rothstein's Firm Gave Over $6M to Charities and Nonprofits

A defunct South Florida law firm run by an attorney now charged with operating a huge Ponzi scheme gave more than $6 million in the past year to charities and nonprofit groups.

A federal bankruptcy court filing details contributions by the firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler to more than 100 organizations.

The biggest amount was more than $2.5 million to Rothstein's own Rothstein Family Foundation. Big donations also went to Boys and Girls Clubs, arts groups, Jewish organizations and several groups affiliated with professional athletes.

Full Article and Source:
Lawyer Charged in Fraud Gave $6M to Nonprofits

See Also:
Editorial: Charities Will Suffer

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lawyer Moves to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Facility

A lawyer representing AAA Warmcare, a Potomac assisted living facility shut down by the state after allegations of resident abuse, has moved to dismiss a lawsuit against the facility.

Among other points of contention, at issue is whether former AAA Warmcare resident and plaintiff Elizabeth Tully — who has been described by her lawyer as someone in the advanced stages of dementia — is competent to sue.

The lawyer, Alexander Vincent of the Potomac firm Shulman Rogers, appeared in Montgomery County Circuit Court for a scheduling hearing. William Askinazi of Germantown, who is representing Tully and her husband Raymond, who both alleged to have been abused while living at the facility, also appeared at [the] hearing. In court, Judge David Boynton set a hearing date of Jan. 19 to address the motion to dismiss the Tullys' claims.

Askinazi filed the $10 million suit for the Potomac residents, both in their 80s, Sept. 25. The move followed the August closure of the Gainsborough Road facility by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene after an unannounced investigation. Residents were removed from the eight-bed facility and Montgomery County police launched an elder abuse investigation.

The lawsuit was filed for Raymond and Elizabeth Tully along with Tully's daughter, Mary Ann Shanesy. The lawsuit alleged that Elizabeth Tully had tape and a rag tied over her mouth and was tied to her wheelchair numerous times; she was belted and gagged "with food on her plate at the dinner table but was not allowed to eat," was "often allowed to wallow in her fecal waste" and was "slapped and pummeled" by a caregiver. The lawsuit also alleged that Raymond Tully was "scorned and ridiculed" by staff and forced to urinate in his pants on several occasions.

The suit alleges that the abuse came from a caregiver who was hired after being improperly screened by the facility's owner, Sreedevi Datla. The lawsuit claims the caregiver was illiterate, gave medication to the couple without knowing the prescription and had "a violent background." The suit also alleges that the caregiver called for decreasing food rations to residents.

Datla, according to the suit, knew about cases of physical and emotional abuse but didn't move to correct or better the circumstances. Some of the alleged violations were captured in photographs by concerned staff members who reported the situation, Askinazi said.

Full Article and Source:
Lawyer Moves to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Potomac Closed Assisted Living Facility

Legislator Calls on AG to Investigate Division of Developmental Disabilities

State Sen. Jennifer Beck is calling on the state attorney general to investigate the state Division of Developmental Disabilities' oversight of disabled individuals who are placed with caretakers in the community.

In a letter to New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram dated Dec. 9, Beck called for a "complete and thorough investigation into the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) by your office."

Beck said there are some 1,200 individuals currently in Community Care Residences (CCRs) and that she has good reason to believe these problems pervade the system and are not unique to a case in which two caregivers of a developmentally disabled woman were arraigned after a woman died from neglect in a state-licensed sponsor home.

Tara O'Leary, a 29-year-old developmentally disabled woman who had been living in a sponsor home run by Debra Sloan, of Bloomsbury, Hunterdon County, for several years weighed just 43 pounds when she died in November 2008.

Sloan, the sponsor responsible for O'Leary's daily care, and Bridget Grimes, of Phillipsburg, O'Leary's habilitation coordinator with the Division of the Developmentally Disabled (DDD), a section of the New Jersey Department of Human Services DHS) tasked with ensuring that O'Leary received appropriate care, were arraigned at the Warren County Courthouse on Dec. 11.

Beck attended the Dec. 11 arraignment in the courtroom of Judge John J. Coyle in Warren County.

"Today's arraignment of Bridget Grimes and Debra Sloan is a call to action for the entire state of New Jersey to make sure that no one else suffers Tara's fate," Beck said. "I do believe that these two women should be held accountable for the role they [allegedly] played in allowing Tara O'Leary to starve to death under the care of a state caseworker and a state-sanctioned sponsor home, and the state must investigate deeper to assure that this is never permitted to happen again."

Full Article and Source:
Beck Faults State Oversight of Caretakers of Disabled

See Also:
Two Indicted for Neglect of Tara O'Leary

L'Oreal Heiress Refuses Court-Ordered Testing

A lawyer for France's richest woman says his client, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, has refused to undergo medical tests aimed at determining whether she was in a weak state when she lavished a friend with $1.44 billion in gifts and cash.

A judge ordered 87-year-old Bettencourt to undergo the tests before the April trial of her friend, Francois-Marie Barnier. The 62-year-old photographer faces exploitation charges stemming from allegations by Bettencourt's daughter that Barnier took advantage of the elderly billionaire's fragility to bilk her.

Bettencourt's attorney, Georges Kiejman, said she will not undergo the medical tests, which were supposed to be carried out before March 10.

L'Oreal Heiress Refusing Medical Treatment

See Also:
Accused of Bilking France's Richest Woman