Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ex-cop accused of victimizing elderly neighbor gets 2 months

Former Pinole police Cmdr. Matthew Messier arrives at Hayward courtroom for his sentencing on Jan. 21, 2015.

A former Pinole police commander was sentenced Wednesday to two months in jail after being accused of defrauding an elderly Pleasanton neighbor who had dementia by placing her entire estate into a trust he controlled.

Matthew Messier, 38, pleaded no contest in September to a single felony charge of filing a false document relating to his own bankruptcy. In exchange for his plea, Alameda County prosecutors dismissed charges of grand theft, attempted grand theft and elder abuse relating to his late neighbor, Jean Phyllis Jones.

But at a hearing in Hayward, Superior Court Judge Michael Gaffey castigated Messier, saying he had manipulated, taken advantage of and tried to take the home of an elderly woman he had just met in 2012.

“Even when they started looking, you wouldn’t let go,” Gaffey said, referring to how Messier continued seeking Jones’ assets after investigators began looking into his actions. “You did everything in your power to get your mitts on what Ms. Jones has.”

Deputy District Attorney Connie Campbell told the judge: “What the defendant did to this victim was cruel and vicious. He chose to do it under color of authority as a police officer.”

The prosecutor added outside court, “I know a lot of very honest, good cops, and I think it’s sad that what he did reflects poorly on law enforcement in general.” She also said Jones’ estate remains intact.
(Continue Reading)

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Ex-cop accused of victimizing elderly neighbor gets 2 months

Man pleads guilty in dehydration death of mother

Ronald Goodwin
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A 56-year-old Memphis man entered a guilty plea in the death of his mother.

Prosecutors said Jackie Goodwin, 72, died of dehydration and malnutrition in May of 2012.

Police said her son, Ronald, called 911 saying his mother was non-responsive in her Cherry Road home.

A medical examiner determined she had been dead at least 18 hours when she was found, “lying on her back in a pile of trash and covered with insects and feces. She had a large ulcer on her back that penetrated to her spine.”

Goodwin also pleaded guilty to two counts of theft of property, because prosecutors found he’d withdrawn several thousand dollars from his mother’s bank account.

The money was supposed to be used for his mother’s care, but he used it for himself.

Investigators said utilities had been cut off for non-payment and, “there was no sign in the home that her prescribed medications had ever been purchased.”

Goodwin was sentenced in Criminal Court to 20 years in prison with no chance for parole for the death for the second-degree murder charge.

Full Article & Source:
Man pleads guilty in dehydration death of mother

Police: Sarasota home health aide stole thousands from elderly client

A home health is arrested for stealing thousands of dollars from her elderly client.

Megan Craig, 25, was a home health aide for Youthful Aging in Sarasota, Fl.

Officials say Craig began working as a caregiver to the 91-year-old victim, who suffers from age related dementia, in the Fall of 2013.

Craig was responsible for providing the victim with her medication, errand running, grocery shopping and basic cleaning around the house.

When grocery items and other things that needed to be purchased, Craig would take the victim to the store. The victim would purchase the items using his/her credit card.

According to an arrest affidavit, Craig slowly started signing for purchases while the victim was there and progressed to making purchases, using the victim's credit card, while the victim was not present.

While Craig was authorized to make purchases for the victim, officials say, she was only allowed to purchase grocery items and medication for the victim.

It was the victim's daughter in law who contacted officials with receipts and transactions that showed Craig began to purchase gifts cards in various amounts between May-August 2014.

According to the affidavit, Craig is accused of making more than 30 purchases at Publix stores between May and August 2014 totaling more than $3,900, as well as 10 gift cards at Walmart stores.

In all, officials have accounted for $4,926.11 in unauthorized gift cards believed to have been purchased, by Craig, using the victim's credit card.

Officials have charged Craig with felony exploitation of an elderly person.

Full Article & Source:
Police: Sarasota home health aide stole thousands from elderly client

Friday, January 23, 2015

Guardianship series earns second duPont for WFTS

I-Team accepts award at Columbia University

NEW YORK - The ABC Action News I-Team was awarded one of American broadcast journalism's highest honors Tuesday evening for "Incapacitated: Florida's Guardianship Program," a months-long expose of how the state supervises the court appointees who make financial, medical and other decisions for senior citizens deemed no longer able to care for themselves.

Investigative reporter Adam Walser, investigative producer Fran Gilpin, photographer Randy Wright, and I-Team executive producer Doug Iten accepted a 2015 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award during ceremonies in New York City.

(For more about the I-Team's guardianship series, visit . A behind-the-scenes look at the series is available at .)

The duPont awards celebrate excellence in journalism and are regarded among the most prestigious prizes in broadcast, documentary and digital news – the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes, which Columbia also administers.

The duPont jurors wrote that the I-Team "exposed astonishing stories of elderly people stripped of their rights and property by self-serving 'guardians.' Their homes, personal property and vehicles were often sold for a small percentage of their actual worth and then resold by guardians’ friends for huge profits."

In 2013, the I-Team initially focused on Willi Berchau, then 99, who had been locked in a dementia ward after being declared '"incapacitated" three times by court-appointed panels. After the I-Team began looking into his situation, Berchau was freed from the locked unit at a Pinellas County assisted-living facility and later was released from his guardianship when a fourth examination found him to be capable of handling his own affairs after all.  (Continue Reading)

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Guardianship series earns second duPont for WFTS

Guilty verdict handed down in trial

MINERAL COUNTY – A resident of Thompson Falls in Sanders County was convicted last week of the abuse and exploitation of an elder in Mineral County after a four day jury trial.

Daryl Enos Strang was arrested in late April 2014 on suspicion of abusing and exploiting 84-year-old Superior resident Ben Poat, according to Mineral County District Court documents filed by Mineral County Attorney Marcia Boris. Strang pleaded not guilty to the two felony counts but was convicted by a jury that deliberated for a little over two hours before returning with a unanimous verdict.

Boris said she was satisfied with the verdict. She said the jury’s decision sends a clear message about the treatment of the elderly in Mineral County and hopefully indicates what could happen if more cases are uncovered.

“I think the reported cases of elder abuse and exploitation are only the tip of the iceberg,” Boris said.

“I am certain we don’t know the full extent of the elder abuse and exploitation that is actually occurring -- many times it goes unreported and undetected and often these cases are really difficult to prosecute.  I hope this case serves to raise awareness in our area about the problem of elder abuse and exploitation and sends the message that those individuals who take advantage of and victimize our elderly population will be held accountable.”

According to the prosecution and testimony from the defendant himself, Strang met Poat in 2007 and began to occasionally help him out with taking care of his affairs on his property. Strang testified he visited Poat sometimes once a month or more to check on him and would also visit when Poat’s family were unable to contact him to make sure he was well.

In October 2013, Poat was diagnosed with severe dementia which was determined after a psychological assessment according to court documents.

After a report of suspected elder abuse in September 2013, a social worker from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services Adult Protective Services Division visited Poat at his home and discovered he was suffering from untreated melanomas on his back and face. Poat was reportedly also living off of milk and peanut butter and his beloved animals were living in squalor and suffering severe health issues.

According to information disclosed during the trial, Strang obtained power of attorney over Poat’s property and assets including access to his bank accounts. Wells Fargo Bank records show that Poat’s account had  $108,065 on Jan. 31, 2013, $98,836 on March 31 and $36,811 as of Aug. 31.

Shortly after the caseworker discovered the conditions Poat was living in, Poat’s sister contacted the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office and reported her belief that Strang was to blame for the neglect. She also reported she believed Strang exploited Poat to gain possession of vehicles, property and other personal belongings including Poat’s prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

At an October hearing, Attorney Lance Jasper was appointed to be Poat’s guardian by District Judge Ed McLean and the Western Montana chapter for the Prevention of Elder Abuse was appointed Poat’s conservator to manage what assets he had left.

According to information disclosed during the trial, Strang told Sanders County Detective Doug Dryden that he was aware Poat was experiencing health issues but that Poat was fully aware he was granting Strang power of attorney and what that meant concerning oversight of his property and other assets.

After three days of testimony that included several character witnesses that testified Strang had a very positive reputation in the Thompson Falls community and was active with his local church, the trial ended with closing arguments from the defense and the prosecution.

A member of the viewing public was ordered to leave the courtroom after shouting at Boris during her closing. The case was sent to the jury and after nearly two hours of deliberation, they unanimously convicted Strang on both charges. Boris said the jury of Strang’s peers arrived at the proper verdict.

“I think the jury came to exactly the right decision, Boris said. “Justice was served.  This was a fairly complex case and there was a lot of information provided to the jury over the course of the trial.  They had the toughest job of anyone involved -- determining what the facts are and applying the law to those facts and making a determination of guilt or innocence -- and they performed their duty admirably.”

Boris said this was not the first case of elder abuse she has tried in the past. She said she had hoped Poat would live to see the outcome of the trial but unfortunately, he passed away before the proceedings commenced.

“This case is the second case I’ve taken to trial that involved the financial exploitation of older people,” Boris said. “The first was an embezzlement case in which the defendant targeted mostly elderly victims.  Each case I prosecute is different and is heartbreaking in its own way. It is unfortunate that he (Poat) passed away prior to the conclusion of the criminal case and didn’t get to live to see justice done.”

According to Boris, much of the credit for uncovering the exploitation was due to the efforts of Poat’s guardian, Lance Jasper. She said it was through Jasper that assets were recovered and Poat was able to live out the rest of his life at home which he expressed on multiple occasions was his wish.

“It was really through the efforts of Mr. Poat’s guardian, Lance Jasper, that the full extent of the financial exploitation came to light,” Boris said. “There was relatively little in the way of resources available by the time Mr. Strang’s actions came to light and Mr. Jasper worked tirelessly to recover a great deal of the property which had been taken from Mr. Poat, and to ensure that there were sufficient resources that Mr. Poat was ultimately able to stay in his home until the end of his life, as he wanted to do.”

Strang will be sentenced on March 9. Attempts to contact Strang’s attorney for a statement went unanswered.

Full Article & Source: 
Guilty verdict handed down in trial

Two new programs help the elderly, children

CLEARFIELD — Two new initiatives will help protect both the elderly and children in Clearfield County.

Lawrence Township Police Chief Mark Brooks discussed two new programs taking place in Clearfield.

The first is the establishment of an elder abuse task force. Brooks said the program is part of a drive by the district attorney’s office to combat crimes against the elderly and children. He said the two biggest crimes against the elderly are identity theft and physical/mental abuse by a family member or a care taker.

Brooks said the effort is a collaboration between agencies, law enforcement and professionals who are trained in dealing with these types of crimes. He said by combining resources, the initiative will help speed up responses and investigations.

Brooks said the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging approached the township, Clearfield Borough and nearly all other local and state law enforcement agencies.

“It’s still in its beginning phases but these types of crimes don’t just happen in one area. The perpetrators of these crimes know no boundaries and they know no boundaries or jurisdictions,” Brooks said.

Full Article & Source: 
Two new programs help the elderly, children

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Did Plymouth man take his dead mom into bank to make cash withdrawal?

PLYMOUTH, Minn. (KMSP) - County social workers have investigated David Vanzo for elderly neglect and financial exploitation of his mother, and now, so are Plymouth police.

Detectives wonder if he brought his mother to the bank to make a withdrawal -- after she was already dead.

Vanzo denies the allegation.

"My mother and I had an agreement," he tells Fox 9. "I took care of my mom for years, I'm the good guy here, not the bad guy."

Caryl Vanzo died two weeks ago, just days before she turned 91.

But when Plymouth police arrived at the home, they were overwhelmed by the stench of urine and feces. They found the woman in bed, wearing a robe and fur coat, her boots covered in feces.

Police arrested David for elderly neglect.

"My mother, she wouldn't eat in the end," David says.

David did, however, take his mother to the bank that day. They rode there together in a taxi, seven hours before he reported her dead.

He took out $850 in her name. But bank employees said Caryl's feet were dragging under her wheelchair. A search warrant citing those employees says she "did not move" and employees "couldn't tell if she was breathing."

A neighbor who saw them leave in the taxi also wonders if she was dead.

"I don't know if she was unconscious, or not alive," the neighbor says.

The Plymouth police chief says Hennepin County Adult Protection Services made an in-home visit in 2012. But authorities found Caryl lucid and able-bodied, and she told them she wanted to stay with her son. The question is if the situation deteriorated between then and two weeks ago.

"If it was such a big deal why didn't they take her out of here?" David says.

But authorities investigated David for financial exploitation on at least two occasions. There was a reverse mortgage his mother couldn't explain to the tune of $118,000, cash withdrawals of $47,500, and another for $25,600.

David says the money came from a joint bank account, and that everything he did, he did for his mother.

"I love my mother very much," he says. "I gave my life to keep my mother alive. Look at my eyes."

Last year, there were 9,853 calls in Hennepin County reporting vulnerable adult maltreatment, and 4,409 of those cases involved non-licensed facilities, such as home care.

Those calls led to about 714 active field investigations.

Full Article, Video & Source:
Did Plymouth man take his dead mom into bank to make cash withdrawal?

Trending Now: Hollywood Guardianship and Conservatorship Proceedings

The case of Amanda Bynes’ illustrates how the decision can take a fatal toll on the family 
The next scheduled hearing in Amanda Bynes’ conservatorship proceedings is set to take place in February 2015.

Guardianships and conservatorships are proceedings provided for under state laws, which generally provide for the care of minors or disabled adults who are unable to make responsible decisions concerning their own person or assets due to mental illness or disability.  Although that standard could arguably apply to anyone lacking in common sense and with poor impulse control, guardianships are most typically used to allow adults to take care of elderly parents suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, for a caretaker to be appointed for a minor whose parents have passed away or can no longer take care of them or to care for an adult after a serious injury or health issue.  In one subset of the last category, these proceedings are used to appoint a responsible caretaker for young adults suffering from mental illness, drug addiction or both.  The purpose of these proceedings is to protect and care for someone in need of assistance, but in a manner that amounts to taking away some of that individual’s civil rights.

Fact Specific
Every state code includes specific provisions governing guardianship and/or conservatorship proceedings and, typically, codifies the tests for determining when a guardian may be appointed.  However, the issue ultimately presented in each case is one of fact, that is, whether the circumstances of the specific individual fall under the statutory requirements such that a guardian should be appointed.  Ultimately, the state courts determine whether an individual is incapacitated, protect that individual’s right to due process within the proceedings, appoint a guardian and determine the guardian’s duties and ensure that the guardian satisfies her fiduciary duties to the ward.  Before a guardian or conservator is appointed, the individual being put under the guardianship or conservatorship receives notice of the proceedings and has an opportunity to object to it.  She may choose her own counsel to represent her at the proceeding or, in many states, may have a lawyer appointed for her by the state if she can’t afford to hire one.

California Law
In California, the state’s mental health laws allow for any individuals who are a danger to themselves or others or who are gravely disabled to be detained for up to 72 hours for observation and crisis treatment.  At the end of the 72 hours, the state may certify the patient for an additional 14 days if certain conditions are met.  The statute provides for additional involuntary confinement thereafter for up to 180 days at a time. Alternatively, if a judge finds that the individual is gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder or chronic alcoholism, then a conservator may be appointed, and the judge may specify the conservator’s specific powers including payment of debts, management of the person’s property and estate and decisions regarding medication.1 After the judge appoints a conservator, the judge will re-evaluate the conservatorship and the specific powers annually.

Celebrity Breakdowns
While mental illness is fairly prevalent in our society, it’s particularly noticeable and acute in the unique circumstances of celebrities, where the media is quick to report on anything and everything they do, so-called friends and family might be willing to betray them for a piece of fortune or fame and wild and crazy behavior indicating that something may be wrong is often exponentially more dramatic because the amount of money celebrities may blow through is staggering.  These cases highlight that in the context of guardianships, more money really does mean more problems.  And with more problems comes more publicity. Guardianships and conservatorships are seemingly being increasingly used in California by the parents of troubled Hollywood celebrities and former child stars, like Britney Spears in 2008, and most recently, former Nickelodeon breakthrough starlet Amanda Bynes in 2013 and again in 2014.

Full Article & Source:
Trending Now: Hollywood Guardianship and Conservatorship Proceedings

N.J. Supreme Court says judges broke rules by dining with indicted friend

New Jersey Supreme Court

TRENTON — The state Supreme Court today ruled that a pair of Passaic County judges violated state judicial ethics rules by dining with a long-time friend after he was indicted on corruption charges — but stopped short of punishing the judges.

State Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Reddin and Paterson Municipal Judge Gerald Keegan faced sanctions ranging from suspension to being forced off the bench for continuing to attend regular dinner gatherings after their friend, Anthony Ardis — a former top-level administrator at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission — was charged with official misconduct.

In a unanimous 7-0 decision, the state's highest court said both judges "reasonably called into question their impartiality and weakened the public's confidence in the judicial system."

"Because such events raise questions about the integrity of judges and the Judiciary as a whole, they should not take place," Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote for the court.

But Rabner said both judges have "an unblemished record and neither engaged in actual impropriety."
Still, as part of the ruling, the court strengthened ethics rules for New Jersey judges.

Many states and federal courts determine when a judge's conduct creates an appearance of impropriety by considering "whether reasonable minds would perceive that a judge has violated the judicial canons of ethics," according to the decision.

Thus, the Supreme Court adopted a new standard for New Jersey: "Would an individual who observes the judge's personal conduct have a reasonable basis to doubt the judge's integrity and impartiality?"

"That approach appropriately protects the reputation of the Judiciary and, by extension, the public," Rabner wrote. "It also is fairer to judges, who can better anticipate the meaning of the more familiar test."

The court noted that any judge who dines with someone under indictment from now on would be sanctioned under the new standard.

Ardis has been friends with Reddin for 50 years and Keegan for 30 years, according to court papers. In 2000, they began weekly gatherings for dinner at a Woodland Park restaurant, following by Mass at a nearby church.

In 2011, Ardis was indicted for allegedly using his power and influence at the PVSC — the commission that oversees the state's largest sewage treatment plant — to exploit subordinates into helping fix up his mother's home for free.

The group continued to meet despite the indictment, according to the papers. And in September 2012, they dined at the restaurant while a local Republican organization hosted a dinner there the same evening. One guest emailed Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno about it, and the matter was referred to the state Division of Criminal Justice, the documents say.

The judges voluntarily stopped dining with Ardis after the grievance, according to the papers.

In June of last year, the state Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct recommended that Reddin and Keegan be only publicly admonished and not suspended or removed.

Reddin's attorney — his son, Raymond B. Reddin of Totowa — said he was pleased with today's ruling.

"As the opinion clearly stated, both Judges have unblemished records and neither engaged in any actual impropriety," the son said. "Now they can go forward serving the public with their heads held high."

Keegan's attorney, Clark Cornwell III of Paterson, said he was happy the court created a new standard.

"I think it now tells judges that their conduct will be assess in the context of what a reasonable person might think," Cornwell said.

Full Article & Source:
N.J. Supreme Court says judges broke rules by dining with indicted friend

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Focus on guardianship reform

Too many elders in Florida denied due process 
State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has proposed legislation that she said would "put teeth" in Florida's current elder guardianship statute.
The plight of elder Floridians trapped in a guardianship system that can strip them of their rights, their finances and their dignity is finally receiving needed attention in the Legislature.

Bills that would reform the system -- whose abuses were detailed in a Herald-Tribune series "The Kindness of Strangers: Inside Elder Guardianship in Florida" -- have been filed in both the House and Senate.

These reform efforts deserve the support of both lawmakers and the public in the upcoming legislative session.

House Bill 5, drafted by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, would "put teeth" in Florida's current guardianship statute, Passidomo told the Herald-Tribune's Barbara Peters Smith.

"We're putting in the standards that guardians need to live up to," the legislator said.

Senate Bill 318, filed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, would reduce the term of an emergency temporary guardian from 90 days to 60, and let a judge suspend an abusive guardianship by freezing a guardian's assets and imposing sanctions on guardians or their attorneys.

The two bills address some of the egregious abuses cited in the "Kindness of Strangers" series, written by Peters Smith.

As the series noted, Florida's guardianship statute "is considered one of the best in the world, but its practical application has been criticized by advocacy groups and elder law scholars as paternalistic, ruthless and even corrupt."

The series highlighted cases in which elders were swept into a court system (often with little or no warning) that quickly deemed them "incapacitated," taking away their ability to control their own lives.  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Focus on guardianship reform

Undocumented Minors in Nashville Face Judicial Quandary

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

After being shuffled from relative to relative, at one point being held in a locked room for weeks at a time, Edith Gracibel Pineda Orellana fled from her native Honduras last year only to be greeted by waiting U.S. Homeland Security agents who quickly took her and some 30 others into custody.

Orellana, 17, though temporarily rejoined now with her mother in Nashville,  faces the prospect of deportation and efforts for assistance in Davidson Probate Court have been swiftly rebuffed.

A petition seeking to have her mother appointed as her guardian, the first step in a lengthy legal process, was rejected this month without notice or a hearing by Probate Judge David "Randy" Kennedy. In a one-page order Kennedy ruled that he did not have jurisdiction and instead transferred the case to Juvenile Court

Court records and interviews show the same action was taken on several other nearly identical petitions, including one filed for Edith's cousin.

Thomas J. Brown of the Community Law Group, who represents Iris Varela, Edith's mother, said in response to questions that while Edith's petition has not yet been acted on by the Juvenile Court, similar petitions have been rebuffed  in that forum.

 Brown  said similar petitions filed in Davidson County Juvenile Court have been rejected also on jurisdictional grounds because any alleged neglect, abandonment or abuse occurred in a foreign country by U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents on May 3, 2014.

Requests for comment from Davidson County court officials went unanswered.

"I am aware of past petitions concerning undocumented immigrant minors brought in Davidson County Juvenile Court that have been dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, concluding that the alleged neglect or abuse "took place in a foreign country – not in Tennessee,"Brown said.

The local legal roadblock comes amid a national flood of undocumented aliens crossing U.S. borders. A recent report showed that 1,361 minors who crossed the U.S. border illegally had been placed in Tennessee over the past 15 months.

The swift rejections come despite a little noticed opinion issued Sept. 16, 2014 by then Attorney General Robert Cooper. Citing state and federal statutes, Cooper concluded that guardianships for undocumented minors can be considered in both Probate and Juvenile Courts.

Responding to a request from State Sen. Brian Kelsey, Cooper concluded that the only legal requirement was that such actions be brought in the county of the person seeking the guardianship.

While acknowledging that "No Tennessee court has addressed the question whether an undocumented alien may establish domicile in Tennessee," Cooper concluded that state law and past court rulings show there is no impediment to an undocumented alien qualifying as a Tennessee resident.

"Unquestionably, my client, Iris Yolanda Orellana Varela, has standing in Tennessee to bring a guardianship petition,"  Brown wrote in an email response to questions.

Kelsey asked for the opinion at the request of Shelby County Probate Clerk Paul Boyd, who said the questions about guardianship petitions for undocumented alien minors had been raised by local attorneys handling such cases.

In contrast to Davidson County, Boyd said such guardianship petitions for alien minors have been filed and approved in other Tennessee jurisdictions.

 Brown, who previously practiced law in Florida, said other states have developed specific procedures for the handling cases similar to Edith Orellana's.

"Questions regarding jurisdiction should be settled statewide," Brown said, adding that in light of the growing border crisis, the current conflict is "in dire need of immediate clarification."

The petition by Iris Varela and an accompanying affidavit from Edith, recount a short life well stocked with abuse, abandonment and a natural disaster, Hurricane Mitch, adding to the misery.

She wrote that her father lied  and told her that her mother had died. The mother had come to the United States to earn money to support her family

Locked in a room, she wrote that she was fed only plantains and was let out only to go to the bathroom. 

Later she joined with her cousin Fredy to plan their escape to the United States. They were both captured on May 3 of last year. 

The two still face May hearings before a federal Immigration Judge on the pending removal proceedings.

Full Article & Source:
Undocumented Minors in Nashville Face Judicial Quandary

Ex-UC/WNY lawyer indicted over alleged $1 million mortgage fraud scheme

A lawyer that used to have offices in Union City and West New York was one of a dozen people indicted last week over charges of conspiring a $1 million mortgage fraud scheme that would’ve stolen money from lenders, Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman announced.

Andrys Sofia Gomez, 47, of Chatham, is alleged to have been the brains of the conspiracy, where she and her co-conspirators are accused of filing fraudulent mortgage applications, falsifying U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) forms, and diverted mortgage proceeds before laundering the funds through her attorney trust account, authorities said.

Gomez and her co-defendants are accused of purchasing three discounted homes – two in Paterson and one in East Rutherford – through “short sales,” which are pre-foreclosure sales where the mortgage holder agrees to permit the home to be sold for less than the amount due on the loan, officials said.

The defendants then allegedly used straw purchasers, who in turn sold each home at a much higher price to a co-onspirator or a buyer whose identity was used without full knowledge or authorization, according to the indictment.

In each case, money was borrowed for the higher-priced sale and the bank was not informed of the short sale, which occurred at about the same time.

Gomez is said to have handled all of the real estate closings and is accused of using the loan proceeds to pay off the short sale prices, keeping the remaining money as profits that were shared with her co-conspirators, authorities said.

In an attempt to conceal her identity in the fraudulent transactions, Gomez allegedly used the name of a male attorney on HUD settlement forms and receiving the loan proceeds in that attorney’s trust account, officials said.

According to court documents, she then laundered the money from that trust account into her own trust account.

Full Article & Source:
Ex-UC/WNY lawyer indicted over alleged $1 million mortgage fraud scheme

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

FFOA EXCLUSIVE: Safety or State Sanctioned Land-Grab?

December  14, 2014

Suzanne Ohrling age 81 invited home health care workers into the home her father built nearly a hundred years ago in Milwaukie with an ie, a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Approximately two and a half months later, according to Mrs. Ohrling and her family, she was taken with force from her home, and stuck into a nursing home from which she has told me she thinks she will never be allowed to leave.

Mrs. Ohring's story was the subject of my previous article 'Nursing Home Inmate: The Crime is Old Age', published here at FFOA 9/4/14. In that article I did not use any names nor even name the state as the family which had contacted me had borrowed money to remove their mother to another state. The family reasonably in light of further actions, feared their mother would not be released. Mrs. Ohrling in a telephone interview with me had stated, "I don't think they will let me leave. It is just a feeling I have that they won't let me leave." She denied that anyone had specifically told her she could not leave but her feeling was chilling. I chose not to use names though I had permission to do so, so as not to endanger the plans of her family.

Early on the morning or September 9 Suzanne's son Randy Lytle who resides in Nevada, spoke with his mother on the phone. According to Lytle who had purchased two airline tickets, his mother was anxious to fly home with him. I had put him in touch with the Oregon State Ombudsman Office which looks out for the rights of nursing home residents. According to Lytle they had warned him the nursing home might call the police if he tried to remove his mother but that the police could not do anything and it would be a scare tactic.

Mid afternoon on the ninth Mr. Lytle called me on his cell phone, telling me  he was at the nursing home, Milwaukie Convalescent Center, 12045 SE Stanley Ave., and his mother was unresponsive. Mr. Lytle described to me a horrible smell coming from his mother and said she could not stand nor be dressed. Lytle said nursing home staff had threatened to call the police and he had told them to go ahead, he had been warned about that and the police couldn't do anything. State workers appeared he said. 

According to Mr. Lytle it was decided his mother had a bladder infection and he demanded that she be treated immediately. He said the convalescent care staff had said that was not necessary, but a representative of the state said if family requested, it was OK to take the patient to, as it turned out an emergency room. Lytle wanted to have his mother drug tested but in the end this was not done and later could not be done.

That September day apparently a family member could request care for Mrs. Ohrling and family wishes needed to be acted upon. Between then and now according to Randy Lytle, the state of Oregon has, without notifying any family, appointed a guardian over his mother. Last week Lytle says he was denied medical information concerning his mother. He believed his mother was "sleeping way too much", inquired about her blood sugar numbers and was told he could not have that information as his mother had a guardian appointed! Randy said today that several family members have now received notices to appeal the guardianship with a two week filing date and a $250 fee required. He does not yet have his copy which he plans to file and pay for with his Christmas bonus from work.

Provided all this is true, how can something like this happen in America? Why is it happening in Oregon? Randy Lytle gave me some contact numbers for state workers who he notes have taken over his mother's life and shut out family. Adult Protective Services was a term I was not familiar with and a quick Google search elicited the information that APS is very similar to Child Protective Services (CPS) but that the grist for the grinding stones of APS are those who are disabled or over age 65. [1] This is frightening indeed in my opinion.

Spring of 2014 Suzanne Ohrling lived in the home her father had built, with her son Brett Lytle who has lived with his mother about 50 of his 53 years. Brett is a licensed construction worker; never married he has lived with his mother as a friend and companion. There is deep affection in this family. In the past few years his mother's arthritis and diabetes have worsened, especially the arthritis and Brett also became a care giver. Brett told me in an interview that this year he had also been seriously ill though he continued to work and care for his mother.

Brett described to me how his mother had applied for in home care and that they came about May of this year. The health workers came frequently until mid-summer when late one day the police, fire department, code enforcement and Adult Protective Services workers kicked in the door, according to Brett, and took away his mother.

Suzanne has little memory of being hauled out of her home. "People cheated me when I went to sleep, they cheated me", she explained plaintively.

Her son Brett is soft spoken like his brother Randy. His voice is even when describing horrors that would send many into rage and despair. Brett admits things were not as good as he wished they were, but he comments that he was also seriously ill at the time the home health workers came to his and his mother's home. The home was temporarily condemned. Randy says his mom saved a lot of things. There were some mice. Randy and Brett both note that the condemnation order also required the repair of one plugged kitchen sink and that ALL electrical outlets must be working. I have not seen a copy of the condemnation order but it is my understanding that the home was inspected and the condemnation lifted  within weeks.

When his mother was hauled out of her home Brett was charged with two counts of Class A misdemeanor neglect of his mother. How I wonder, was he neglecting his mother when state provided health care workers had been coming for something like two and a half months?What in the world were those workers doing in all that time? Why did not these workers work with Brett to correct any deficiencies before there were actions that appear to be draconian, heavy handed and unnecessarily cruel?

Brett claims an  female official state worker whom he named told him, "In six months you will be convicted and your mom will spend the rest of her life in a nursing home."  

The state next filed a restraining order against Brett which prevented him from even calling his mom on her birthday which occurred last month.

Suzanne never understood why her beloved son was kept from her.  "Brett has never done anything wrong. No one has talked to me about this case," she told me. "I will not go against Brett. He has been awful nice to me," she said with obviously deep feeling.

The family has always been close and affectionate. Brett and Randy have periodically lived with their mother while they worked. Suzanne also had one daughter who, when she was a young mother, was brutally beaten to death by a killer. There has been tragedy in the family and surely the restraining order that separated Brett from his mother was another.

Brett told me the restraining order came about because a couple years ago or so his mother had become very ill and the ambulance EMTs had come to the home. Brett said one EMT said, "Your mother would be better off in a nursing home." Brett said he answered that he had promised his mom she would never have to go in a nursing home and that he made a the statement, "No way in hell she's going in a nursing home." According to Brett notes or possibly a tape recording from that event was used to bring and perpetuate the restraining order that would not allow him any contact his mother for months. I have been unable to this date, to ascertain that there was anything more to the restraining order.

Mrs. Ohrling has rapidly deteriorated in the nursing home according to her sons. Fearing that she could die without being allowed to see the son who had lived with her for years, just after Suzanne's birthday and just before Thanksgiving Brett, with the urging of his court appointed attorney pleaded guilty to neglecting his mother. When he was finally allowed to see her he was shocked by her physical condition. He told me he thought the nursing home was not taking good care of her.

For me to write this story with names or even the location there was always a gamble that I would do harm. Something does not feel right and the family seems to me to be getting steamrolled by the state.Would using names cause the home to remain condemned? Would Brett's legal troubles get worse? Would the state tighten their grip on Suzanne?

I know these people and they are hardworking and decent.  They do not have money to hire lawyers though I have been told by experts that a family law attorney is needed. Whatever deficiencies may have been found in Mrs. Ohrling's home I believe there was also a great deal of love and caring and Mrs. Ohrling wanted to remain in her home. According to her and her sons no one has discussed discharge planning with her though Milwaukie Convalescent Center's web page states they, "provide discharge planning for each patient." []

Now the state of Oregon has apparently appointed a guardian for Mrs. Ohrling without consulting family. This too is a point of confusion. In a few days I will have copies of the form for the family to appeal what they apparently were never consulted about until it was too late. There seems nothing to loose in writing the story at this time, names and all.

Randy Lytle thinks his mother's home may be worth about $350,000. A civil rights expert I consulted off the record asked who was paying for Mrs. Ohrling's confinement in Milwaukie Convalescent Center. I mentioned the land value and this expert grunted uh-huh in a knowing way.

A friend of mine who works with similar issues in Idaho suggested Mrs. Ohrling's civil rights were violated because her son had been kept from her. I have been assured by sources off the record she has no other right than to be kept safe as determined by the state. If state provided home care workers were in the home for almost two months, and if the issues that seem to have led to Mrs. Ohrling's removal from her home were fixed in a short period of time, what kind of safety does the state need to provide? Why should this state mandated "safety" spill over onto other family members who now seem to be legally cut out of their mother's life decisions?

Shortly after his mother was put into Milwaukie Convalescent Center her son Randy tried to reach her long term doctor. According to him and as he understood it, the convalescent center had dismissed his mother's regular doctor and assigned her a doctor connected to the facility. He told me this was why he could not have his mother tested for drugs when she was too weak to even stand when he came to fly her home.

What of Milwaukie Convalescent Center? Their web site shows pictures of pleasant one story buildings, a small manicured green lawn, flowers and a cement bird bath. Under the heading "Nursing Services" this statement appears:  We believe that a nursing home should be more than just providing excellent care. IT SHOULD BE ABOUT INCREASING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN FAMILIES. (Emphasis mine.)

On another page describing social services within the facility it is stated, "Social services maintain contact and open communication between the facility, families and the residents..." It is also written, "there is discharge planning for each patient." Also, "We stand up for resident's rights and strive to make Milwaukie Convalescent Center their home."

An article at [2] is titled "Looking for a nursing home? Make sure you do your research".  Citing 'Pro Publica' information about Oregon nursing homes in genera the article makes this specific statement, "The Milwaukie Convalescent Center has the highest number of deficiencies at 78." Another article at  [3] also using 'Pro Publica' as a source shows that Milawukie CC is a "for profit" nursing home with 96 beds, 58 of which are filled. The date of this article is September 16, 2014. If these stats are accurate for that date we can assume that Suzanne Ohrling accounts for one of the 58 filled beds. Fines and deficiencies or not the state of Oregon has, it appears to me, decided unilaterally, this is the proper place for Suzanne to continue to deteriorate while being kept "safe". 

It is almost Christmas. Randy Lytle is counting the days until he receives his Christmas bonus check from his work. In between long days at work he must cash his check and apply it to the filing fees for the appeal of something the state did, according to him, without consulting the family. He will spend more and take time from work will fly to Portland, Oregon for whatever court proceeding will follow. He loves his mom.

"If she dies will the state even let us have her body?" he has asked me. I said I thought so. Even if the state has managed to brand his brother Brett as a criminal why is the rest of the family seemingly punished? There is an adult grandchild of the murdered daughter. She barely knew her mother and now it appears she will lose again with her grandmother. (If I was in a snarky mood I would mention that Oregon allows "Death With Dignity' which is assisted suicide. What happens when Mrs. Ohrling's likely soon to be seized assets run out?)

We at Freedom Fighters of America will continue to pursue answers in this story. If this case is what it appears perhaps we will be served a gag order such as happened in the Justina Pelletier case and that of the Diegel sisters in Phoenix, Arizona. In the meantime we will have our version of the Friday document dump with a weekend article dump. Dear friends at FFOA, share this around the world. Protect your elderly and disabled loved ones with knowledge of your state's policies.

Mrs. Ohrling has not been declared incompetent in a court of law to the knowledge of her family. Sources tell me that sort of thing is now a battle of experts and Suzanne's family cannot afford to hire the experts~or lawyers. Therefore Mrs. Ohrling's desires are not considered as I understand it. Let Suzanne's own words end this article:

"I would like to go home; to be able to go home. They won't let me because of old age. I have a right to go home to my own home" (Here she began to cry) "I'd do anything to get out of this place I haven't done anything wrong, why are they holding me here? Because of old age. The crime is old age."
[1]  htto:// ; Elder Abuse and Neglect ; a quick understanding of Adult Protective Services 
[2] ; Looking fir a nursing home? Make sure you do your research, by Shellie Bailey-Shah, 4/26/13
[3] ;  Oregon nursing homes with the most health and safety deficiencies, 9/16/201

Full Article & Source:
FFOA EXCLUSIVE: Safety or State Sanctioned Land-Grab?

State Commission Disciplines Union County District Court Judge

EL DORADO -- A Union County District Court judge is being disciplined after the investigation of several complaints.

The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission today announced the action taken against Judge George Van Hook, Jr., who has served the state's Thirteenth Judicial District since 1991.

The action amounts to a Letter of Censure issued to Judge Van Hook, which cites six complaints.

Full Article & Source:
State Commission Disciplines Union County District Court Judge

Monday, January 19, 2015


This spring, Florida lawmakers will have a chance to stem abuses in the state's little-understood adult guardianship system by taking up measures that would make it harder for guardians and attorneys to disregard the best interests of the wards they're supposed to protect.

Critics say the process of stripping away an elder's rights and taking over that person's assets happens too quickly in Florida, without enough notice to family, friends or even the prospective ward.

In December, the Herald-Tribune published a series of stories -- "The Kindness of Strangers: Inside Elder Guardianship in Florida" -- offering case studies of people who believe they were denied due process in court and afterward.

The series highlighted the potential for conflicts of interest among judges, attorneys, guardians, health care providers and other business people who work closely together within the system. Because wards' cases are confidential, there is often little opportunity for oversight.

With more Americans living into their 80s, cases of age-related dementia are increasingly becoming matters for litigation. In most states, anyone can apply to the court to determine that an elder lacks the capacity to make decisions, and place that individual under guardianship.

Florida law has a checklist of 14 rights that an elder may surrender as a result of the guardianship process -- including the rights to marry, vote, manage finances, determine where to live and accept medical care.

This year, two legislators who pressed for reform in 2014 are back with new bills they believe have stronger chances of success, as the excesses possible within Florida's guardianship system become more widely known.  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source: 

Man pleads guilty to exploitation of elderly father

An Elgin man accused of financial exploitation of an elderly person avoided a possible prison term by accepting a plea deal that will have him serving two years of probation and paying nearly $17,000 in restitution, according to Kane County court records.

Robert B. Plagemann, 53, of the 400 block of North Spring Street, was set to go on trial next week on felony charges that carried a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

Instead, Plagemann pleaded guilty to the exploitation charge in exchange for prosecutors dropping other counts, records show. Plagemann was ordered to pay $19,086 in fines, fees and $16,796 in restitution at a rate of $355 per month, records show.

Judge Clint Hull accepted the plea. Plagemann can be resentenced to four to 15 years in prison if he violates his probation.

Plagemann was arrested in September 2012 and accused of stealing at least $5,000 from his 90-year-old father's bank account and failing to pay bills to a South Elgin nursing home.

Full Article & Source:
Man pleads guilty to exploitation of elderly father

Man charged with abusing 87-year-old grandmother

An Allentown man was charged this week with abusing his 87-year-old grandmother in her Salisbury Township home.

Michael C. Snyder, 29, surrendered to township police following an investigation by the Lehigh County Elder Abuse Task Force. He is charged with simple assault and harassment.

According to court records, the investigation began Aug. 29 when police were called to the victim's home on West Emmaus Avenue for a possible domestic disturbance. Police "de-escalated a family argument" and saw the victim in her bed. She appeared to be injured, the records say.

Emergency medical services were called and she was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest for an evaluation. According to court records, the victim had "past injuries" that did not fit Snyder's version of what happened to his grandmother.

Snyder came to the Lehigh County District Attorney's Office with a lawyer on Jan. 9, and spoke to detectives. Court records say he admitted losing his temper after the victim soiled her bed on Aug. 12.

He then pulled her into a bathroom where "she was forcefully and recklessly moved around," court records say. The woman fell to the floor, and Snyder yelled at her and used profanity, according to court records.

Full Article & Source:
Man charged with abusing 87-year-old grandmother

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Who Has Access to Your Digital Assets When You Die?

This isn’t a simple matter, even if you’ve planned.
It used to be that people kept important things in filing cabinets, banks, and photo albums. Now everything from communications, to photos, to music, to sensitive financial information is increasingly kept online. In fact, 51 percent of U.S. adults bank online, according to the Pew Research Center; and 63 percent of all American adults, and 27 percent of all Americans ages 65 and older, use social networking sites.

And, while the Internet has made things easier in many ways, it can cause a lot of complications when someone dies or loses the ability to manage their own affairs. That’s why the Uniform Law Commission, a group of state appointed attorneys, created the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) as a way to clear up some of the complications.

Right Now, Accessing a Loved One’s Account Could Be a Criminal Act
What becomes of a person’s digital life, such as their Facebook accounts, Flickr photos, and online banking information, when they die or become incapacitated?

Currently, there’s no good answer. Very few states have laws that deal with these issues. Even if someone’s will contains instructions, there is no guarantee their wishes will be carried out. (Gerry W. Beyer and Naomi Cahn, NAELA Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1)Often, only the account holder can legally access their online account. The terms of agreement on many sites prohibit sharing passwords and third-party access.

Worse, it may be an actual criminal act to violate those terms of the service agreement. Even a fiduciary, the person that’s designated to act in your best interest, could be breaking a federal privacy law or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act when accessing your account.

The Current Limits on Access Makes the Problem of Identity Theft Worse
Glenn Williamson discovered what all too often happens when his mother passed away. The identity thieves get busy.

“The year after somebody passes is one of the most vulnerable times for identity theft. It’s a heinous crime, but it’s what the bad guys do, because death is public record, they’ll go out there and they’ll comb through recently deceased and they’ll create a fake identity, because the deceased don’t check email and they don’t get the mail,” said Williamson in a July 2014 interview with PBS.

The inability to access a loved one’s digital assets makes problems like Williamson’s much harder to stop.

UFADAA Is an Important Update for the Internet Age
The UFADAA gives people the power to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets the same way they can make plans for their tangible property: by providing instructions in a will, trust, or power of attorney. If a person fails to plan, the law contains provisions for distributing those assets.

Also, the Act would put limits on access to digital assets and extends a fiduciary’s existing authority and duties when overseeing a person’s tangible assets to include the person’s digital assets. Read a complete summary.

The Uniform Law Commission will introduce UFADAA in 2015. It will be up to state legislatures to pass it.

So far, 26 states plus the District of Columbia have expressed interest in a UFADAA bill for 2015.

Delaware has already enacted a statute based on UFADAA. Obstacles still exist – some Internet companies oppose the UFADAA because of the administrative costs associated with complying.

About the Author
Catherine Anne Seal, CELA, is vice president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). She acted as NAELA’s official observer to the Uniform Law Commission’s Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Committee.

Who Has Access to Your Digital Assets When You Die

Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent : A Guide for Stressed-Out Children

Do You Have
An Aging Parent Who
  • Blames you for everything that goes wrong?
  • Cannot tolerate being alone, wants you all the time?
  • Is obsessed with health problems, real, or imagined?
  • Make unreasonable and/or irrational demands of you?
  • Is hostile, negative and critical?
Coping with these traits in parents is an endless high-stress battle for their children. Though there's no medical defination for "difficult" parents, you know when you have one. While it's rare for adults to change their ways late in life, you can stop the vicious merry-go-round of anger, blame, guilt and frustration.

For the first time, here's a common-sense guide from professionals, with more than two decades in the field, on how to smooth communications with a challenging parent. Filled with practical tips for handling contentious behaviors and sample dialogues for some of the most troubling situations, this book addresses many hard issues, including:

  • How to tell your parent he or she cannot live with you.
  • How to avoid the cycle of nagging and recriminations
  • How to prevent your parent's negativity from overwhelming you.
  • How to deal with an impaired parent who refuses to stop driving.
  • How to asses the risk factors in deciding whether a parent is still able to live alone.
  • Available at Dementia Weekly