Saturday, February 21, 2015

Health care worker gets 45-day term for exploitation

A Minneapolis woman convicted of taking advantage of a Rochester woman she provided home health care for has been sentenced to 45 days in jail and restitution.

Danielle Marie Johnson, 31, was charged in September 2013 in Olmsted County District Court with financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and theft, both felonies; and pawning the property of another, a misdemeanor.

She pleaded guilty in October 2014 to the exploitation count; in exchange for the plea, the two others were dismissed. Johnson was sentenced Thursday.

The victim, a quadriplegic, suffers from lung disease and mental health issues, according to court documents.

The woman reported the theft of some of her jewelry in June 2013, telling police she had last seen the jewelry in May. The woman said in March that she got out of the shower and saw Johnson standing near an open drawer where her jewelry was kept, according to the criminal complaint.

The investigator spoke with Johnson's employer, who said he'd contacted Johnson to discuss the missing jewelry. She didn't show up at their meeting, hadn't gone to any other clients' homes and had not returned his phone calls, the report says.

When an officer ran Johnson's name through the pawn system to see if she'd recently pawned anything, it revealed she'd pawned three items in April 2013 at Pawn America in Rochester, according to the complaint.

The woman recognized photos from the pawn shop of both Johnson and the items, the report says, and said she'd not given Johnson permission to take the jewelry, which was valued at $5,640.

The signatures from the pawn shop and Johnson's drivers license also matched, the complaint says.

In addition to jail and 10 years of probation, Johnson was ordered to pay a total of $4,560 in fines and restitution.

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Health care worker gets 45-day term for exploitation

Six Central Florida attorneys disciplined

The Florida Bar announced the latest round of attorney discipline action in the state, and six of 22 attorneys on the list are from Central Florida.

Two of the attorneys, Terrence L. Dowdel of Orlando and Neal Johnathan Blaher of Altamonte Springs, were suspended until further notice when a Bar investigation showed they were paying themselves out of client trust accounts when they were not authorized, according to a news release from the Bar.

Dowdel was suspended on a Dec. 4 order from the Florida Supreme Court. (Case No. SC14-2295)

Blaher was suspend on a Nov. 25 court order. (Case No. SC14-2241)

Two other Central Florida lawyers asked to have their licenses revoked when they were confronted with serious allegations from the Bar:

Charles Everton Lewis, of Longwood, was revoked on a Nov. 14 court order, effective 30 days after the order. Charges pending against Lewis included allegations of misappropriation of client funds, gross neglect of trust account records and procedures and lack of supervision of his non-lawyer staff. (Case No. SC14-1959)

Rhonda Rankin Fisher of Daytona Beach was revoked on a Nov. 20 court order, effective 30 days later. A charge pending against Fisher alleged that she improperly used client funds for a purpose other than which they were intended. (Case No. SC14-1811)

According to the news release, two other local lawyers received public reprimands:

Adam Paul Philpott, Orlando, received a reprimand after he was arrested for DUI on three separate occasions, resulting in two convictions since 2006. He failed to notify the Bar of his latest conviction. (Case No. SC14-2074)

Timothy Wayne Terry, Orlando, after he failed to remit funds he withheld from employees’ wages for unemployment, Social Security, Medicare and income taxes from 2009 to 2012. (Case No. SC14-2078) 

Full Article & Source:
Six Central Florida attorneys disciplined

Probate Court workers demand recognition as state employees

— Probate court workers are demanding to be recognized as state employees, hoping to change state law that denies the approximately 300 workers benefits similar to what tens of thousands of others at Connecticut agencies receive.

If successful, the legislation will allow the employees in the state's 54 probate courts and six regional children's probate courts to organize a union.

"I am paid by the state of Connecticut, I have state of Connecticut health insurance, I endured a wage increase freeze from 2008 to 2014 like many state employees, yet without the job security 'real' state employees were afforded," Heather Kennedy, probate court officer at the New London Regional Children's Probate Court, said in written testimony at a legislative hearing this week.

Paul J. Knierim, the Probate Court administrator, urged lawmakers to reject the legislation. The court system reflects probate judges' roles as elected officials accountable to the voters for the performance of their courts and the bill "would eliminate a key element of local control," he said.

The legislation would "upset the reasonable balance that this structure embodies," Knierim said.

State Rep. Peter Tercyak, House chairman of the legislature's Labor and Public Employees Committee, supports the legislation, which is strongly backed by public employee unions and the Connecticut AFL-CIO. He discounted Knierim's criticism, saying probate judges handle nonpartisan, nonpolitical matters.

"The question is, why are we electing these judges in the first place?" he said.

Tercyak, D-New Britain, criticized the probate system's practice of requiring employees to serve judges and courts similar to how political appointees work, with little job security that's available to civil servants.

"Nothing stops them from saying, 'thank you for your service, now it's time for you to go,'" he said.

Connecticut's probate courts oversee estates and trusts and handle guardianship of children, the removal of unfit parents and adoptions, appoint guardians to supervise the care of adults with intellectual disabilities and are involved in involuntary medication and commitment of people with psychiatric disabilities.

Knierim said the probate system has uniform statewide compensation and a benefits plan to "ensure fair and competitive pay" for staff.

But Susan Meagher, an employee of the Berlin Probate Court, told lawmakers that probate court employees are "significantly underpaid" compared with state employees in similar jobs, such as the state Judicial Branch.

In addition, Probate Court employees could lose their jobs if judges they serve do not seek re-election or are defeated at the polls, she said.

"I am lucky that my current judge was re-elected in November," Meagher said.

Read more here:

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Probate Court workers demand recognition as state employees

Friday, February 20, 2015

Burr Ridge Attorney Sentenced To Nearly Six Years In Prison For Stealing Millions

Kathleen Niew

“Accept no loss of principal,” was the money-keeping mantra of an Oak Brook-based attorney and financial advisor, sentenced Tuesday to 70 months for stealing $2.34 million from her clients which she used for fraudulent investments.

Kathleen Niew, 59, who resides in Burr Ridge, pleaded guilty to ten counts of wire fraud in federal court last June, a month before she was scheduled to go to trial. In addition to her jail sentence, Niew was also ordered to pay $2.34 million restitution to clients she defrauded, and forfeit any ill-gotten assets, said a news advisory from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber also ordered three years of supervised release.

“The sentence must promote respect for the law . . . something has to be done when a case like this comes up,” the judge said before imposing sentence.

Niew was a fast rising financial advisor and attorney, founding Niew Legal Partners, LLC, in Oak Brook, along with her husband, Stanley. Among the many accomplishments Niew touts in her online bio, she is a former Republican Businesswoman of the Year, author of two books, a radio probate law guru, and a star on the seminar circuit with her “Money Talks For Women” series.

According to the charges, Niew took an Oak Park couple’s life savings of $2.34 million and invested it in her escrow account to be used for closings on commercial real estate deals. Prosecutors allege that Niew invested the couple’s money without their knowledge into gold mines, instead of using their money to purchase commercial property as originally planned.

Niew also arranged to receive a 20-percent finder’s fee from the mining investments as part of her fraudulent scheme, in exchange for providing approximately $1.5 million in funds that belonged to her clients.

During her sentencing on Tuesday, Judge Leinenweber also found Niew responsible for defrauding another client out of $500,000, claiming she needed to borrow the money help buy assets in an upcoming divorce.

The judge said that the now disbarred attorney was not divorcing her husband, and sent the client’s money to the same gold mining operations where she had sent the Oak Park couple’s money.

“Niew blatantly stole $2.8 million of her clients’ money, and then lied to cover up the scam,” Assistant United States Attorney Suni Harjani argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum. “When confronted and caught, Niew undertook acts that can only be described as shocking for an attorney licensed by the bar – creating false cover-up documents, lying to her clients, and lying under oath (once again) to the [Illinois Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission].”

Niew is to report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on April 14.

Full Article & Source:
Burr Ridge Attorney Sentenced To Nearly Six Years In Prison For Stealing Millions

Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver indicted on 3 charges

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was indicted Thursday on three charges after his arrest in a federal bribery case.

The indictment was returned in Manhattan federal court, where he appeared briefly last month when he was freed on bail just a day after sharing the stage with Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address.

The indictment doesn't add to the charges against Silver when he was arrested, but it's a critical step that provides a legal roadmap for prosecutors' presentation of evidence at trial. Two conspiracy charges contained in a criminal complaint were not included in the indictment, though no explanation was offered.

Silver will now have to enter a plea at an arraignment scheduled for Tuesday to charges that include two forms of honest services fraud, plus extortion under the color of official duties.

"Our client is not guilty. We can now begin to fight for his total vindication. We intend to do that fighting where it should be done — in court," Silver's lawyers, Joel Cohen and Steve Molo, said in a statement. Silver has said he is confident he will be exonerated.

Silver's arrest came after he had led the Assembly for over 20 years, becoming one of the most powerful and savvy figures in New York state politics.  (Continue Reading)

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Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver indicted on 3 charges

Mich. Attorney Suspended For Trying To Have Rival Killed

Law360, San Francisco (February 17, 2015, 6:39 PM ET) -- The State of Michigan Attorney Discipline Board suspended attorney Clarence Gomery's law license Friday after he pleaded guilty to hiring someone to murder an attorney representing Gomery's former client, who sued seeking repayment of a debt after Gomery filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Gomery pleaded guilty Feb. 6 to one felony count of solicitation of murder, triggering the automatic suspension of his license, according to the board. He sought the killing of attorney Christopher Cooke of Cooke Law PLLC, who represents Fred A. Topous in Topous'...

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Mich. Attorney Suspended For Trying To Have Rival Killed

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tonight on T.S. Radio: America's Elderly - Drugging, Shock Treatments and Other Abuses in the System

Join us as Bruce Wiseman, U.S. President of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, talks with us this evening about the hidden abuse of America's elderly as they fall prey to a system used to exploit, experiment and abuse them. Drugging with psychotropic drugs, chemical restraints and electroshock await those who do not submit voluntarily... to forced isolation, and the theft of their assets. The elderly are also used for experimentation with vaccines, drugs and untested therapies. This could happen to your mom, your dad or

Bruce Wiseman:
Bruce Wiseman is the U.S. President of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. He has testified before bodies of both houses of the United States Congress, as well as state legislative and judicial bodies in Colorado, Arkansas, New Jersey, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Florida. He has also testified before the Food and Drug Administration; the President's Commission on Mental Health; the President's Commission to Reform Special Education; and the National Institute of Mental Health’s Consensus Conference on ADHD. He has made more than 800 radio and television appearances including CNN, Fox National News, NBC's Dateline and The Montel Williams show, and has been quoted in print media across the country, including The New York Times. He has a Master’s Degree, Summa Cum Laude, in American History from the California State University at San Jose, and is the former Chairman of the Department of History of John F. Kennedy University. Mr. Wiseman is the author of the compelling book, Psychiatry: The Ultimate Betrayal and for five years hosted the acclaimed, nationally syndicated radio show, Take America Back.

4:00 pm PST … 5:00 pm MST … 6:00 pm CST … 7:00 pm EST

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Nurse charged with putting hot sauce in patients’ mouths

OCALA, Fla. — A central Florida woman has surrendered her nursing license after she was charged with placing hot sauce into the mouths of two sleeping dementia patients.

Tracie Nellis was charged last summer with battery on a person age 65 or older and misdemeanor battery. She pleaded no contest to the battery charge and was sentenced to one year probation. The state Board of Nursing ruled last week that Nellis could give up her license to avoid disciplinary proceedings.

State records show she worked at the Williston Rehabilitation and Nursing Center when the incident happened in March 2013.

The state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigated the case and arrested Nellis and another employee, but the Ocala Star-Banner reports the charges against him were ultimately dropped.

Full Article & Source:
Nurse charged with putting hot sauce in patients’ mouths

Chief judge calls for grand jury reform during annual speech

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman

New York's Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman proposed a number of changes to the state court system Tuesday including grand jury reform, improving indigent criminal defense and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18.

Speaking at his State of the Judiciary Address in the state Court of Appeals in Albany, Lippman put grand jury reform at the top of the agenda as he set out his vision for 2015.

"Of immediate concern are the perceptions of some that prosecutors' offices, which work so closely with the police as they must and should, are unable to objectively present to the grand jury cases arising out of police-civilian encounters," Lippman said. "Such perceptions, while broad brush, clearly can undermine public trust and confidence in the justice system."

Lippman said he will submit legislation requiring that grand jury proceedings be presided over by a judge in cases involving allegations of homicide or felony assault stemming from police-civilian encounters. According to Lippman, the judge would be there to "provide legal rulings, ask questions of witnesses, decide along with the grand jurors whether additional witnesses should be called to testify, preclude inadmissible evidence or improper questions, and provide final legal instructions before the grand jury deliberates."

The second grand jury reform Lippman is seeking to enact would end grand jury secrecy. He wants full disclosure of records for grand jury proceedings in cases where the public is "generally aware that the matter is the subject of grand jury proceedings; the identity of the subject of the investigation has already been disclosed or the subject consents to disclosure; and disclosure of the proceedings advances a significant public interest."

Lippman also called on legislators to pass a joint resolution making it "unmistakably clear as a matter of a policy and principle" that low-income New Yorkers with legal difficulties are entitled to "effective legal service."

Regarding the age of criminal responsibility, Lippman wants it raised to 18, effectively ending the state's "dubious distinction in being one of the only states in the nation to prosecute 16 and 17-year-old offenders as adult criminals." He said raising the age to 18 would "end our shame in treating children as adult criminals."

Other initiatives proposed by Lippman Tuesday include the creation of the Community Justice Center in the high-crime neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn to help residents navigate the justice system and to provide them the services they need to be law-abiding citizens; the creation of the Poverty Justice Solutions program where 20 pro-bono scholars would be placed in two-year fellowships with civil legal service providers; make attorneys' public discipline history available on the court's website; reform the bail system to make public safety a factor in bail decisions; and mandate electronic-filing for all court cases in the state.

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Chief judge calls for grand jury reform during annual speech

Facing Suits, a Nursing Home in California Seeks Bankruptcy

A California nursing home fined by the state for substandard care and facing multiple lawsuits by patients and their families has taken the extreme measure of filing for bankruptcy protection in the face of millions of dollars in potential payouts.

The action, taken by North American Health Care, which operates more than 30 homes in California and other Western states, is being derided by plaintiffs’ lawyers as a legal maneuver to avoid what could be catastrophic legal verdicts, while defenders of the strategy say they are facing mounting lawsuits from overly aggressive trial lawyers.

Last year, another California chain filed for bankruptcy for similar reasons and in Florida, a bankruptcy judge forced Medicaid officials to continue paying a nursing home while it was under bankruptcy protection.

North American’s step comes at a time of rising bankruptcies in the health care industry. Filings were up by 38 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to indexes maintained by the law firm Frost Brown Todd, which tracks such data. Overall filings for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, by contrast, fell by about 60 percent over the same period.

Bobby Guy, who oversees the bankruptcy data for Frost Brown Todd, said the increase in filings among health care providers — like hospitals, nursing homes, surgical centers and home health agencies — reflected broader turmoil in the industry, including changes in the competitive landscape and the impact of the new health care law. The firm plans to release a report on the industry bankruptcy trend later this year.

The threat of major litigation is a common reason health care companies file for bankruptcy, Mr. Guy said, albeit an extreme one. “Bankruptcy is the tool of last resort, but it can be very effective if you have to go there,” he said.

When a company files for bankruptcy, all creditors must seek relief in court and all pending legal actions are halted. Mr. Guy said that filing early — even while a company was still profitable — could be better for everyone because there were more assets to divide fairly among creditors in bankruptcy court.

In legal filings, North American said it was profitable and “cash-flow positive” but risked going out of business if the lawsuits succeeded.

Lawyers who are suing North American described the move as a way of avoiding accountability and said it would do a disservice to their clients. “The bankruptcy laws were created for a legitimate purpose — when an entity is underwater — but this entity is highly profitable,” said Lesley Clement, a lawyer representing the family of a woman who fell in one of the chain’s facilities, Rosewood Post-Acute Rehab in Carmichael, Calif., and later died. “It’s a strategic defense mechanism to try to get the plaintiffs to go away and not get their day in court, ” Ms. Clement said.

Neither John Sorensen, North American’s chief executive, nor his lawyer responded to emails and telephone calls seeking comment. In the past, Mr. Sorensen has vigorously defended the company’s record for providing quality care to patients. In recent legal filings, the company repeated those assertions, noting that Rosewood holds a coveted five-star rating from the federal government.

North American Health Care and Rosewood, which is owned by an affiliated company that also filed for bankruptcy, was cited in a New York Times article in August about flaws in the federal government’s rating system for nursing homes. Despite its top rating from Medicare, Rosewood has been the focus of several lawsuits by former patients and their families saying there were lapses in quality of care. The state of California has fielded dozens of consumer complaints and reports of problems at the facility in recent years, and in 2013 fined Rosewood $100,000 — the highest fine possible — for causing the 2006 death of a woman who was given an overdose of a powerful blood thinner.

In legal filings, the chain said it had been targeted by lawyers who “have relentlessly pursued what they perceive to be potential ‘deep pockets’ for recovery.” If the company had not filed for protection, the company’s owners “would have been forced to close their business.”

Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive of the American Health Care Association, the lobbying group that represents for-profit nursing homes, said his members were increasingly struggling with the financial impact of lawsuits, describing it as a “financial cloud” looming over the industry. “It’s not the only one, with cuts in both Medicare and Medicaid slamming providers during the past few years,” he said in a statement. “They seem to be on the rise, and it’s clearly taking its toll.”

But some industry experts said the practice of filing for bankruptcy in the face of accusations of poor quality of care were just as troubling. Charlene Harrington, a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, pointed to past actions of companies like Country Villa, which filed for bankruptcy in the face of several lawsuits and settlements and then sold some of its facilities to new owners.

“I think it’s really unfortunate, when you have some high-profile successes like that — then it encourages facilities to do this,” said Ms. Harrington, who has served as an expert witness for plaintiffs’ attorneys, including in the Country Villa case and in a pending lawsuit against Rosewood.

Full Article & Source:
Facing Suits, a Nursing Home in California Seeks Bankruptcy

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Former Robertson County District Attorney Indicted

FRANKLIN - Former Robertson County District Attorney John Paschall is out of jail on $30,000 bond.

Paschall turned himself into the Sheriff's Office Wednesday afternoon. He was indicted earlier in the day by a grand jury for misapplication of fiduciary property greater than $200,000, which is a first degree felony.

According to the indictment, the theft occurred from September 1997 to August 2010. The indictment does not specify what he did with the money other than use it contrary to the Last Will and Testament of Marium Oscar.

Oscar died in 2004 and Paschall is the executor of her estate.

The case was presented to the grand jury by a special prosecutor from the Attorney General's Office. Paschall was the DA in Robertson County for more than 20 years before he was defeated in 2012 by current District Attorney Coty Siegert.

If convicted, Paschall faces between 5 and 99 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Full Article, Video & Source:
Former Robertson County District Attorney Indict

Elder abuse task force receives Senate OK

PIERRE — State senators agreed Thursday that a task force should be created to study elderly abuse in South Dakota.

Sen. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said Chief Justice David Gilbertson was asked and agreed to fund the work from the state Unified Judicial System budget.

The chief justice also will receive authority to make the most appointments to the task force, Novstrup said.

Gilbertson would receive five slots to fill, the governor three, the Senate president pro tem three and the House speaker three.

“All three branches have a stake in it,” Novstrup said. “We can also look outside of our borders to get their ideas.

He added, “This is a serious issue, and we need to get in front of it.”

The budget will have a maximum of $15,000 and UJS employees will serve as the staff for the task force.

Gilbertson, during his State of the Judiciary speech to the Legislature on Jan. 14, spoke about elder abuse and said he stands ready to work with others on it.

Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton of Burke praised the effort Thursday. Sutton suggested someone from the banking sector, or a state banking regulator, should be on the task force.

Sutton said there are privacy restrictions that can affect and limit the information a bank can provide about activities happening within a person’s account.

“I hope that’s considered when this task force is being set,” Sutton said.

Senate Republican leader Tim Rave of Baltic said he agreed with Sutton’s remarks and thanked Gilbertson for agreeing to the funding.

The measure, Senate Bill 168, won approval 31-0. It now goes to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, is the lead sponsor. Johns is a retired circuit judge.

Full Article & Source: 
Elder abuse task force receives Senate OK

Massive Financial Exploitation and Theft in Montana Case

Financial exploitation and theft of patients by caregivers amount to not only crimes of theft punishable under the law, but also amount to a disturbing moral and ethical financial exploitation in which nursing home staffers exploit their residents’ weaknesses and their positions of authority and supposed trust in order to benefit or enrich themselves. This can include simply stealing items like jewelry from residents’ rooms or taking cash or credit cards.

Sometimes a caregiver may be entrusted with making purchases on behalf of the patient and is thus entrusted with their checkbook or credit card, and can so easily steal money or use a credit card to buy items for themselves. Where a caregiver gains power of attorney for a patient, the caregiver effectively can control everything and take advantage of that power.

Where the victim is less likely to notice or pay attention to these things, and particularly in situations where the patient suffers mental infirmities like dementia or Alzheimer’s, this can be quite easy for a staffer. It is also important to realize that this does not just happen at nursing homes but can happen with in-home caregivers as well, thus it is broadly a serious issue in the area of elder care. Typically it takes the vigilance of a loved one to notice money missing or problems with credit card statements or missing jewelry or valuable for it to be reported and possibly investigated. And many accused of this horrible behavior will claim that they have a special relationship with the victim, and that the victim ultimately wanted to pass along property and money to them for whatever reason.

Recent Case of Elder Exploitation

In Montana there has been another case of financial exploitation by an elder caregiver against the 84 year old whose welfare he was charged with protecting and supporting. This caregiver was accused of using power of attorney over his patient’s affairs in order to take over the patient’s 103-acre ranch, as well as to acquire titles to two cars and a motorcycle also owned by the patient. The caregiver also stole $142,000 from the victim’s bank account in one particular year.

As is often the case the patient suffered dementia, and the caregiver took clear advantage of that situation to steal all of this money and property. The caregiver was just recently convicted in county district court on two felony counts of “purposely or knowingly abusing or neglecting a victim” as well as “exploitation of an elderly person resulting in losses in excess of $25,000.” The accused posted bond and awaits sentencing within a couple of months. In addition to the financial exploitation, it appears that the caregiver neglected his duties to provide care for the victim, as “untreated melanomas” on the patient’s face and back posted serious medical problems. The patient died last August.

In this particular case, the gross and egregious financial and property exploitation was discovered by a social worker, who was assigned to protect the patient after the patient’s sister called the police to report the suspected abuse and exploitation. The social worker saw the patient had nothing left “but milk and peanut butter.” A legal guardian was also then appointed to help the victim and discovered the extent of the exploitation. They were able to recoup some of the property, and sell the ranch in order to finance his end-of-life care. While this had somewhat of a happier ending than it could have, this case is another warning about elder caregivers who will exploit the patients’ weaknesses and their relationship in order to unjustly enrich themselves.

Full Article & Source:
Massive Financial Exploitation and Theft in Montana Case

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rickhoff’s probate mantra: Don’t trust anyone over 85

Four years ago, in an estate hearing involving an 88-year-old World War II veteran, Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff made a dubious proclamation.

“The statistic,” Rickhoff said, “is that everybody in America who is 85 has some dementia.”

That opinion didn’t bode well for Jack Hood, the veteran who was fighting to maintain guardianship of the estate of his incapacitated wife, Billie Ray, while his stepdaughter argued that he was not mentally fit. Rickhoff handed control of the estate over to Hood’s stepdaughter, a decision later reversed by the Fourth Court of Appeals.

Rickhoff’s stance on octogenarians is questionable — a 2014 report by the Alzheimer’s Association stated only 38 percent of Americans 85 and older suffer from dementia — but it’s instructive to his recent handling of the estate of San Antonio and New Orleans billionaire Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans.

Rickhoff declined Thursday to answer questions about the Benson case.

On Monday, Rickhoff suspended Benson, 87, from running a family trust, and appointed two receivers — former Mayor Phil Hardberger and estate lawyer Art Bayern — to oversee his affairs. Rickhoff’s decision came in response to a legal challenge from Benson’s daughter, Renee.

It was the kind of move rarely seen in probate cases. Gerry Beyer, a Texas Tech University professor, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 30 years of studying probate law, he only had heard of a dozen or so cases in which a judge appointed a receiver.

He added that most probate judges take smaller, more deliberate steps, such as ordering a trustee to reverse a specific action.

Rickhoff’s move spurred some courthouse conjecture that the veteran judge had found a way to punt on the case. After all, over his 14 years on the probate-court bench, Rickhoff never has been accused of working too hard.

As this column reported last October, he spent 65 work days last year away from the court, including a year-ending six-week vacation to Australia and New Zealand.

In 2006, Rickhoff waited until after his re-election to announce that he no longer intended to handle the probate court’s mental health docket, because he wanted to reduce “angst and conflict” in his life.

It’s a common perception at the county courthouse that Rickhoff, 70, has viewed the probate-court seat as an easy way to add a county pension to the state pension he earned from his stint as a judge on the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals.

Phil Ross, a local attorney who unsuccessfully challenged Rickhoff in the 2014 Republican primary, has been one of the judge’s most dogged courtroom thorns.

Rickhoff has been forced to recuse himself from five cases handled by Ross, including one involving Mary Dahlman, a woman in her mid-60s who was put in charge of a $20 million trust from her deceased mother, and whose mental competence Rickhoff questioned.

Ross only has observed the Benson case from a distance, but said, “It appears to me that Mr. Benson is not getting a fair shake in Judge Rickhoff’s court.”

Ross added, “When I got (Rickhoff) reversed a couple of times on appeal, part of the rationale for reversing him was that there wasn’t any evidence on the record to support his decisions, because he has a habit of conducting business behind closed doors — avoiding trials and not having hearings where any evidence is submitted.”

Perhaps because he knows his reputation precedes him, Rickhoff seemed to take pains, in a four-page addendum to his Benson ruling, to explain his thinking this week. He called out for Benson family unity and said he wanted to avoid “an endless Dickensian kerfuffle.”

A local probate expert I spoke to suggested that, given the red flags about Benson’s recent change of behavior and his Jan. 7 transfer of $25 million from Lone Star Capital Bank of San Antonio to Frost Bank, the best course of action was to appoint receivers while a medical examination of Benson is conducted. That’s the way the case is moving forward, thanks in part to a Tuesday ruling by a New Orleans judge who ordered the medical exam.  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Rickhoff’s probate mantra: Don’t trust anyone over 85

Accused of bilking elderly client, man withdraws guilty plea

A former financial adviser accused of stealing money from an elderly Meadville woman withdrew his guilty plea Friday morning before Crawford County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Anthony Vardaro.

David E.A. Seagren, 70, originally pleaded guilty in November last year, facing up to 62 years in prison and $140,000 in fines on six counts of theft by deception and two counts of forgery in a plea agreement with the Crawford County District Attorney’s Office.

Meadville police charged him with taking tens of thousands of dollars from a 97-year-old woman’s bank accounts and using the money on himself.

He verbally asked to withdraw the guilty plea prior to his sentencing in early January.

Vardaro asked Seagren on Friday if he understood that going to trial would mean facing the original 52 charges — 22 counts of theft by deception, 22 counts of theft by unlawful taking and eight counts of forgery.  (Continue Reading

Full Article & Source: 
Accused of bilking elderly client, man withdraws guilty plea

Mississippi judge indicted for 'hitting a mentally disabled man while yelling 'Run, n*****, run' faces five years in prison

A Madison County Justice Court judge has been indicted and arrested over allegations he struck a mentally disabled man and used racial slurs while working as a security guard at an event in Canton.
Judge Bill Weisenberger turned himself in to the Madison County Sherif's office, authorities said.  Last year, the family of the 20-year-old African-American man, Eric Rivers, filed a police complaint against Weisenberger in connection with the May 8 incident at a flea market.

The law does not discriminate, and the Grand Jury has given us our marching orders,' Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood told the Jackson Free Press. 'The law does not discriminate. We look forward to presenting the facts of this case in court.'

Weisenberger was released on a $10,000 bond and could be put behind bars for five years if convicted.  (Continue Reading)
Full Article & Source:
Mississippi judge indicted for 'hitting a mentally disabled man while yelling 'Run, n*****, run' faces five years in prison

Monday, February 16, 2015

Senior citizen says guardianship left her 'absolutely broke'

Lin McDowell

Some people call it the "silver tsunami." America's population is aging and with it more and more of our parents and grandparents are falling victim to exploitation.

Seventy-four-year-old Lin McDowell believes she's one of those senior citizens. McDowell lived old school – she never rang up credit card debt. She paid cash for her cars, and consistently saved as she worked for decades in different careers, including as a project manager position at NASA, a real estate agent, and an art gallery owner.

"I had a $100,000 CD, I had a very good stock portfolio. I had investments," said McDowell.

In 2012 McDowell, divorced and estranged from her children, lived in a quaint rambler with pretty gardens in the backyard, on a nice street in Vancouver, Wash. By then, she'd managed to bank nearly $250,000 in cash and cash equivalents.

Two-and-a half years later, the bank account's been drained to roughly $20,000. The home's been sold.

"I've sold my wedding rings (to buy groceries)," said McDowell.

She and her dog Sam live in a motor home in an RV park just a few feet from noisy Interstate 5, with a Subway sandwich shop in the backyard. And that's where the RV stays put. McDowell can't afford the gas to take it out on the road.

"I am absolutely broke, yeah," said McDowell. "You don't realize that everything you've earned and worked for your whole lifetime can be taken away."

McDowell didn't get robbed or taken by an illegal pyramid scheme. She lost her life savings right underneath the noses of at least four different Clark County Superior Court judges who oversaw a perfectly legal professional guardianship that was put in place to manage McDowell's affairs.

Three years ago after a series of health problems, a psychologist diagnosed McDowell with "cognitive impairment" and "psychotic delusions." A judge ruled she was an "incapacitated person" in need of a professional guardian.

With no family around to help, a professional would be in charge of McDowell's mail, bills, and nearly all her decisions.

McDowell completely disagreed with the decision to place her under guardianship.

"You have no rights. Here's a piece of paper from the court that says you have no rights. I couldn't sign my own name," said McDowell.

So where did all the money go? Records show once a guardian started on the case, so did the spending. The first guardian spent nearly every penny of Lin's cash in under two years. Most of the money paid for attorneys, a caregiver service and guardian fees.

Some of the charges reviewed by KING include:
  • $342 for a three hour breakfast with her client at Biscuits Cafe.
  • $95 for visiting Lin to drop off a birthday present.
  • $47.50 for a phone call on Thanksgiving.
Diana Kretzschmar is a well-known community advocate for seniors in Clark County.

"So where are these fees going? Legal fees, administrative fees, guardianship fees. Fees, fees, fees….My radar goes up," said Kretzschmar.

Against McDowell's will the guardian also sold her home. She also moved McDowell into a swanky retirement complex where the monthly rent -- $3,500 – was more than her client's estate could sustain. That rent was more than three times the amount of the mortgage McDowell was paying on her home.

"I think the thing that disturbs me the most is that she was under a guardianship, and she was supposed to be protected by people who had her best interests at heart, and who were being paid to have her best interests at heart. To have this happen under legal circumstances, there are no words for that," said Tiffany Couch, a forensic accountant working pro-bono for McDowell as she seeks answers to what happened to her savings.

A second guardian billed McDowell in a way no professional KING 5 consulted has ever heard of -- by the second.

Records show the guardian appeared to charge her client every time she left a voicemail for McDowell or touched a piece of mail.

"This doesn't look to me as if we're in the business to care for people. This looks to me like if I pick up a piece of paper and I'm billing it by the second or every 30 seconds, I'm in it for the money," said Couch.

The guardians in this case wouldn't agree to an interview with KING 5. But in court filings they wrote that the case had a "contentious nature" from the start and that the guardianship was "complicated by information received from Ms. McDowell."

In addition, a guardian wrote that McDowell had personal and professional relationships with outsiders that "created unnecessary confusion" and "increased work for the Guardians."

Asked if McDowell was served well in the guardianship, one of the professionals responded: "absolutely."

Elder care experts say we'll see a lot more "Lin McDowell's" as more and more Baby Boomers age into their 70s, 80s and beyond. One problem the experts identify is that in Washington state, there is very little oversight of professional guardianships. Judges authorize a guardian's actions, but advocates say no one is taking a hard look at the where the money's going.

"There's no real reconciliation or oversight over these billings. (It's a) rubber stamp," said Couch.

Adding salt to the wound, it's quite possible Lin McDowell never should have been in a guardianship in the first place.

In September 2014, a court appointed investigator found McDowell "has demonstrated remarkable independence with regard to her daily living activities." The investigator also wrote, "There is no need to continue the … guardianships."

The investigator relied on the input of medical professionals working with McDowell who found she is not an incapacitated individual.

"(McDowell) has been labeled with dementia by her caretakers and the court. Ms. McDowell was seen by the undersigned (doctor) for eleven one-hour sessions and her level of functioning was never impaired."

After that detailed report, a judge terminated the guardianship on September 26, 2014.

During her 29 months of living under a court-appointed guardian who oversaw every aspect of her life, McDowell said she experienced extreme depression and at times lost the will to live.

"(It was) almost too tough. Almost too hard to get up. Almost too hard to keep pushing," said McDowell.

With McDowell back in charge of her own life, the guardian issued her a check in September for the remaining balance of her life savings: $24,251.90.

"I've got (my dog) Sam, that's it. I've got Sam and enough money to, well, I've already paid my rent here for the month."

"These are the people who have built this nation on their back and don't they deserve at least safety and security as they age? Don't they deserve a voice?" said Kretschmar.

It's unclear if there is any financial recourse for Lin McDowell. She has professionals working pro-bono to explore options.

The KING 5 Investigators have been in communication with lawmakers working on legislation to tighten up loopholes in the professional guardianship process. State Sen. Ann Rivers (R-Vancouver) has introduced a bill that would hold guardians more accountable in the state.

"Washington leads the way in a lot of things like the health exchange and marijuana. Why can't we be a model for how we treat seniors?" said Rivers.

Full Article & Source:
Senior citizen says guardianship left her 'absolutely broke'

Doctor admits taking kickbacks for prescribing risky drug

A suspended doctor pleaded guilty Friday to a felony charge of taking kickbacks and other benefits from a pharmaceutical company to prescribe its risky antipsychotic drug for thousands of his patients.

Michael Reinstein, who for decades treated patients in Chicago nursing homes and mental health wards, admitted in a 22-page plea agreement with prosecutors that he was given nearly $600,000 in benefits over the years for prescribing various forms of the drug clozapine, known as a risky drug of last resort, to patients in his care.

Prosecutors revealed in court that Reinstein is cooperating in an ongoing investigation. Under preliminary sentencing calculations, he faces up to four years in prison, but if he continues to assist investigators, the government will recommend a reduced sentence of a year and a half behind bars, according to his plea agreement.

At the same time Reinstein was entering his guilty plea, he also settled a civil lawsuit brought by the U.S. attorney's office and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan alleging he submitted more than 140,000 false Medicare and Medicaid claims as part of the kickback scheme. The settlement calls for Reinstein to pay more than $3.7 million in penalties to the U.S. government and the state of Illinois.

In addition, Reinstein must forfeit an additional $592,000 as part of his guilty plea to the criminal charge.

Reinstein, 71, of Skokie, appeared in court in a rumpled gray suit. He told the court he’s suffering from a number of ailments, including bladder cancer, hypertension, diabetes and an enlarged prostate.

Two decades ago, Reinstein was known as one of the most prolific Medicaid billers in Chicago history, once charging the taxpayer-funded program for the care of 490 patients in just five days.

In 2009, a joint Tribune-ProPublica investigation found that Reinstein had been overprescribing powerful antipsychotic drugs in Chicago nursing homes and mental health facilities, amassing a worrisome record of assembly-line care that was linked to three patients' deaths and triggered lawsuits as well as accusations of kickbacks and fraud.

Now, six months after state regulators indefinitely suspended Reinstein's medical license, federal authorities filed a criminal charge alleging Reinstein took kickbacks from a pharmaceutical company to prescribe clozapine — known as a risky drug of last resort — to patients in his care.

In a telephone interview earlier this month, Reinstein's attorney, Terence Campbell, said that Reinstein was "working toward resolving the issues raised by the government and hopes to put this episode behind him soon."  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Doctor admits taking kickbacks for prescribing risky drug

See Also:
Huge Prescriber of Risky Antipsychotic Drug to Plead Guilty to Taking Kickbacks

Best and worst states to grow old in


The state of your golden years

The U.S. elderly population has grown exponentially in recent decades. The number of Americans 65 and older grew from 35 million in 2000 to 41.4 million in 2011 and to an estimated 44.7 million in 2013. This trend is expected to continue as members of the baby boomer generation reach retirement age.

While it can be difficult to grow old in some U.S. states, life for seniors is often far worse in many other countries. Still, the United States will face increasingly large challenges. In the coming years, state officials, families, and individuals will need to pay more attention to the needs of the elderly — to improve medical care, access to services, infrastructure, or other amenities that become more necessary late in life.

HelpAge International evaluates each year the social and economic well-being of elderly country residents in its Global AgeWatch Index. Last year, the United States was among the better places to grow old in the world, at eighth place. However, domestically, each state offers a very different quality of life for its older residents. Based on an independent analysis by 24/7 Wall St., which incorporated a range of income, health, labor, and environmental indicators, Utah is the best state in which to grow old, while Mississippi is the worst.

To be considered among the worst states to grow old, senior citizens in the states had to have relatively weak income security, as measured by several indicators. The 2013 median income among families with a head of household 65 and older, for example, did not exceed the comparable national figure of $37,847 in nine of the worst states to grow old. A typical elderly household in Mississippi earned less than $30,000, the least nationwide.

Retirees often have fixed income, as they begin to tap into their savings and collect social security. Kate Bunting, CEO of AgeWatch USA, explained that, “It is really important for older people to have reliable access to a guaranteed income.” More than 90% of Americans 65 and older in the vast majority of all states received social security income in 2013. The average monthly social security benefit of $1,294, however, was likely not enough for many seniors.

As a result, many older Americans relied on non-social security income, such as withdrawals from 401Ks and savings as a supplement. In 2013, 47.9% of Americans 65 and older had such supplemental retirement incomes. More than 50% of older residents in four of the best states to grow old had such incomes. At stake, according to Bunting, is the elderly’s “ability to eat nutritious foods, which impacts their health, and their ability to access other critical services.” (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Best and worst states to grow old in

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Guardianship Alternative: National Resource Center for Supported Decision Making

Everyone has the right to make choices!

The National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making (NRC-SDM) builds on and extends the work of Quality Trust's Jenny Hatch Justice Project by bringing together vast and varied partners to ensure that input is obtained from all relevant stakeholder groups including older adults, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), family members, advocates, professionals and providers.

The NRC-SDM partners bring nationally recognized expertise and leadership on SDM, representing the interests of and receiving input from thousands of older adults and people with I/DD.

They have applied SDM in groundbreaking legal cases, developed evidence-based outcome measures, successfully advocated for changes in law, policy and practice to increase self-determination and demonstrated SDM to be a valid, less-restrictive alternative to guardianship.


See Also:
Jenny Hatch's Impact Story

Tim Potts' law license suspended by Ohio Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Ohio has suspended the law license of Ashland attorney Timothy Potts.

Potts, 43, was sentenced Dec. 29 to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to felony grand theft, forgery, possession of cocaine and possession of heroin and misdemeanor falsification, endangering children and possession of drug paraphernalia on Nov. 17.

In its written order, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Potts "from the practice of law for an interim period, effective as of the date of this entry (Feb. 13)."

Potts' case will be forwarded to a "disciplinary counsel" as part of the Supreme Court's Office of Attorney Discipline for further investigation and review.

"It is further ordered that respondent (Potts) immediately cease and desist from the practice of law in any form and that respondent is forbidden to appear on behalf of another before any court, judge, commission, board, administrative agency, or other public authority," the entry said.

Notice of Potts' convictions was filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio Clerk of Court Wednesday.

After Potts' sentencing hearing, assistant Richland County prosecutor Cliff Murphy said the Attorney Discipline Office will review Potts’ case in the coming weeks to determine what sanctions he could face for being convicted of a felony. These could be anywhere from an interim suspension to permanent disbarment.

"You have the public perception of lawyers being above the law, and we’re not,” Murphy said at the time.

Potts was arrested in August in connection to the theft of about $9,000 from a former client's trust account, which he admitted he took to sustain a drug habit.

Full Article & Source:
Tim Potts' law license suspended by Ohio Supreme Court

I-Team: Law would allow nursing home surveillance cameras

Under the proposal, surveillance cameras could be put in the rooms of nursing home patients.

In an age when cameras are everywhere, they are not in Illinois nursing homes, but that would change under legislation proposed Friday by North Side Chicago State Representative Greg Harris.

He and family members of nursing home residents say that surveillance cameras would help keep elderly patients safe and might improve the state's nursing home care ranking, which is near the bottom nationally.

"Contusions on the head. Broken hip, hospitalizations. Every single symptom of nursing home abuse, she endured," said Mary Howard.

Howard's grandmother entered a west suburban nursing home with dementia. Annie Herron's loved ones moved her out that facility after continuously finding her injured.

"To see her in the position she was in was really hard," said granddaughter Audrey Saunders.

Herron's family thinks cameras in their grandmother's room would have answered questions about her care.

"Cameras don't lie," Howard said.   (Continue Reading)

Full Article, Video & Source:
I-Team: Law would allow nursing home surveillance cameras