decades, Miami's judges have been given essentially free reign to
appoint anyone they chose to be a guardian — a position of tremendous
power over a vulnerable resident, with wide leeway to control their
assets, bank accounts and medical care. New Times investigation found
that power was regularly abused, including:
• There were regular failures to file basic information.
Guardians were often years late in filing financial forms, and until
this month, Miami-Dade lacked any electronic system to track the
• Guardians have given thousands in donations to the election
campaigns of the same judges who appoint them to cases and award them
That move comes as multiple bills are working their way through Tallahassee,
including efforts to make it more difficult to declare someone
incapacitated and to limit how much guardians can be paid for their
But there's still one easy fix in Dade that hasn't been
funded: A dedicated watchdog. Despite the fact that Miami, as of last
spring, had 7,000 guardianship cases — the most in the state — there was
no independent oversight of those cases. Palm Beach started a similar
program in 2011, and has uncovered more than $3 million in abuse since
then; Broward, too, has uncovered millions in guardianship abuse since
starting its watchdog program.
Legislators last year gave county
clerks new power to investigate abuses, but didn't fund that push; as a
result, counties like Dade initiated almost zero new audits.
little doubt that Dade's most vulnerable residents are still at risk
from unscrupulous guardians; this week's changes will help, but when
will a transparent watchdog program come to Miami?
The owner of a Belleville nursing home, where an 85-year-old
woman was found dead strapped to a wheelchair at the bottom of a flight
of stairs, owns 12 other nursing homes in Illinois — 10, like Midwest,
have a one-star rating.
Steve Blisko, who is the principal
investor in Senior Healthcare Management in Skokie, near Chicago,
operates Midwest Rehabilitation Respiratory, 727 N. 17th St., where
Juanita Simmons died on March 12.
Besides Midwest Rehabilitation,
formerly the Calvin Johnson Nursing Home, Blisko operates Marion Rehab
and Nursing; Herrin Rehab and Nursing; Intergrity Healthcare of
Smithton; Ridgway Rehab and Nursing; Chester Rehab and Nursing;
Carbondale Rehab and Nursing Center I and II; Integrity of Wood River,
and Columbia Nursing and Rehab, all of which have received the lowest
rating by Medicare, which is operated by the federal government.
nursing homes operated by Senior Healthcare are Anna Rehab and Nursing,
which has a four-star rating; Cobden Rehab and Nursing, four stars, and
Alton Rehab and Nursing, two stars.
Blisko, 34, of Chicago, could not be reached for comment. Calls placed to his corporate office were not returned.
Nursing home ratings can be found at http://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html.
addition, Midwest and Alton Rehab have been named in five wrongful
death suits in three years, according to court records in St. Clair and
“Nursing home ownership is a big business.
That’s why they buy them,” said Jan Sherrer, a Kentucky-based advocate
who writes a blog called “Senior Living Watch” on how relatives should
respond when they learn their loved ones are being abused or neglected
in a nursing home.
“The biggest thing is consumers need to be screaming at the top of their lungs,” she said. “This happens because of greed.”
State inspectors need to make nursing home owners responsible, answerable and liable, Sherrer said.
Illinois Department of Public Health licenses and inspects nursing
homes. The agency has the ability to pull licenses — and does, said IDPH
spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.
Survivors of those who die or are
injured in nursing homes also can file a lawsuit. But one lawyer who
specializes in suing nursing homes said lawsuits, verdicts and
settlements are just the “cost of doing business” for many nursing
“These homes are cash cows for their owners,” said Paul
Richter, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in representing clients who
sue nursing homes. “They know exactly how many beds they need to fill to
make a profit.”
Richter filed one of those suits against Midwest
Rehabilitation last year. Richter sued on behalf of the survivors of
Lesley Ann Falkenhein, who died on Sept. 17, 2012. Falkenhein, a patient
at Midwest, was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville on
Aug. 21, 2012, where she was found to be severely dehydrated, suffering
from kidney failure, a urinary tract infection and septic. That lawsuit
Local attorney Grey Chatham filed suit on behalf of
Tim Miller’s estate. According to the suit, Miller suffered from
cognition issues and needed to be prompted to eat. Miller, 56, died on
May 12, 2013. A doctor found Miller suffered from neglect, dehydration
and malnutrition. Miller’s family reported extreme weight loss and they
asked the Midwest staff whether he was eating, Chatham said.
have a lot of the same issues as the Juanita Simmons’ family. They were
coming in and making complaints to staff and those complaints were
discounted,” Chatham said. “When you drop someone off at a nursing home,
you rely on a duty to care for your loved ones. That duty isn’t being
In another case, the estate of Aubrey Giles sued Midwest and
Blisko after Giles was found frozen to death in a creek on Jan. 16,
2012. The suit alleged Midwest staff failed to promptly notify law
enforcement to find Giles after he wandered away from the nursing home.
staff also failed to notify law enforcement after finding Simmons at
the bottom of the stairs last week, authorities said. Belleville police
dispatchers did receive a call from the facility that morning about 6:32
a.m. on March 12, but the caller only requested an ambulance. Family
members contacted a funeral home in Montgomery County who picked up the
The funeral home director, who was contacted by Simmons’
daughter, called the St. Clair County Coroner’s Office to ask what type
of death certificate was to be issued. Coroner’s office personnel told
the funeral home director they had not been notified of the death. In
the case of an accidental death, the coroner’s office must sign the
death certificate. Simmons’ body was then returned to St. Clair County
for an autopsy.
Last week, St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone
said there was an “open and active investigation” into Simmons’ death.
On Friday, Stone said he expected to wrap up the investigation by
Loretta Jean Ulmer and Ruth McCray, Simmons’ sisters, said
they saw bruises, cuts, black eyes and stitches they believed were the
result of physical abuse of their sister at Midwest Rehabilitation.
“All I want to do is sue and see that place shut down,” Ulmer said. She awaits the completion of the coroner’s investigation.
certainly hope they do something about this,” Ulmer said. “I want the
investigation to give us some answers and some closure.”
Illinois law, the coroner is charged with conducting death
investigations, including accidental deaths in hospitals and nursing
“No one wants to send a loved one to a nursing home, but
sometimes it is a necessity. Hopefully, the choice will be made after
careful research into the best one possible,” Stone said. “I know I
certainly wouldn’t send my loved one to Midwest Rehab.”
Hundreds of frail nursing home residents have been forced to
move as a growing number of Massachusetts facilities have been bought,
sold, and closed over the past two years, state records show.
the public has had virtually no say in the process. A Massachusetts law
passed last summer was designed to provide public comment about the
closing or sale of nursing homes, yet state officials have not put that
into effect. Regulators say they are still working on rules to implement
Since the public-input law passed, 10 nursing homes have been sold and one closed, and none received a public hearing.
The upheaval in the state’s nursing home industry, which mirrors
national trends, has left families with fewer choices, and forced them
to scramble to find alternative facilities.
Industry leaders say they are forced
to close homes because Medicaid reimbursements from the state do not
cover the true cost of care, a gap the Massachusetts Senior Care
Association calculates at $34 a day, per patient. For the average
nursing home, that translates into a loss of $750,000 a year, the
industry group said.
Nursing homes have been closing and changing hands at a rapid rate; since January 2013, 57 have been sold, and nine have closed.
would not be able to place a loved one in a facility in over one-third
of the state’s cities and towns if just one facility in that city or
town were to close,” said Ann Marie Antolini, a vice president at the
Massachusetts Senior Care Association.
Families who dealt with
recent closings do not cite reimbursements or regulations when they
describe their experiences. Instead, they speak of unsettling situations
Scott Brown, a 37-year-old from Attleboro, said
his family received abrupt notice in November 2013 that his mother was
losing her spot at Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation-Goddard in
“It was shocking,” he said.
Brown said the family
found out the facility was closing when his 66-year-old mother, Judith,
was being transferred from Kindred to the hospital for cancer
treatments, and Kindred officials told the family she would not be
allowed to return because the facility was closing.
getting wonderful care, she was comfortable with it, and it had to all
change,” Brown said. Kindred was just 3 miles from the home of Brown’s
father, Kenneth, so the 71-year-old could easily drive to visit his
When Judith, a diabetic who was battling bone cancer, was
discharged from the hospital about a week later, the family had to find
another nursing home, and chose one in Canton, more than twice the
distance from the elder Brown’s home.
“She had to deal with all
new staff,” people who didn’t know how to take care of her as well,
Brown’s son said. Judith Brown, a longtime special education teacher’s
aide at Stoughton High School, died two months later, in January 2014.
son said he hopes the new law will provide other families an
opportunity his did not receive. “The public,” he said, “should have
some sort of input” in nursing home closings.
State rules require
nursing homes to notify regulators at least 60 days before they intend
to sell or close a facility, and to provide families at least a 45-day
warning. The homes must also try to find “appropriate alternate
placements” for each patient within 25 miles of the facility or the
patient’s family and friends, under state rules.
families need more time and more say in how the closing and sale of
nursing homes is handled. Until now, regulators’ decisions about nursing
home sales and closings have been conducted behind closed doors —
unlike the review for hospitals, which are required to undergo public
scrutiny, even for renovations or expansions.
have been meeting with advocates and industry leaders to hear their
concerns, and plan to release proposed new rules for a public hearing
process soon, said Deborah Allwes, director of the health department’s
Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality, which oversees nursing homes.
number one priority is to make sure that closures happen in a
systematic and safe way for families and residents,” Allwes said.
Allwes said that when nursing homes are being sold or closed, the
agency does not have the authority to require that enough facilities
will exist in a region, especially areas with low-income patients. A
2011 study by Brown University researchers found that nursing homes
nationwide were more likely to close in areas with higher proportions of
black, Hispanic, and poor residents.
The union that represents
nursing home workers, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said
those sorts of concerns should be scrutinized. The union is lobbying for
creation of a special commission to study the problems and propose
recommendations “to help ensure a rational and compassionate approach to
the ongoing market consolidation, one that prioritizes the interests of
nursing home residents, families, and caregivers,” said Veronica
Turner, the union’s executive vice president.
The frenetic pace of
sales and closures is expected to continue, given that about 5,000 beds
are unused among the state’s roughly 420 nursing homes. At the same
time, large nursing home chains are buying up smaller ones, and elders
are increasingly choosing to remain in their homes.
a former state Elder Affairs secretary, said Massachusetts has lacked a
coherent strategy for nursing homes for years.
“We have not set a
vision as a Commonwealth to say how we want to create these
environments. That is being left to the [industry],” said Lanzikos, who
is now a member of the Public Health Council, an appointed state panel
that adopts health policy. “I am not being anti-[industry]. But this
process is knee-jerk.”
BELLEFONTAINE, Ohio — Mary Strawser has never said why she neglected her
own mother for years, why she didn’t feed her or clean her or ever even
get the 100-year-old woman the medical attention she so clearly needed
as a slow and painful death crept closer.
But Strawser admitted
today for the first time that she did, in fact, let Blanche Cowen suffer
and die on a ratty old couch, emaciated, dehydrated and covered in her
Strawser, 77, pleaded guilty in Logan County Common
Pleas Court to felony charges of reckless homicide and theft from an
elderly person. She had originally been charged with involuntary
manslaughter but Prosecutor William T. Goslee said even though she is
pleading to a different charge, he will still argue that Strawser be
sent to prison.
“She should not get a free pass,” Goslee said. “I’ve never seen a worse case of elder abuse and neglect. Not ever.”
Mark S. O’Connor allowed Strawser to remain free on bond until she is
sentenced on May 4. She faces as many as six years in prison.
had been kept for years in a dilapidated house trailer about 15 feet
away from Strawser’s nearly 1,400-square-foot, well-maintained house on
20 acres in rural Rushsylvania. Authorities found her dead on the dirty
couch on March 10, 2014, after Sonny Ray Scott, a mentally-disabled man
Strawser had allowed to live there, called 911 to say Cowen wasn’t
The coroner said Cowen died of dehyradation, a urinary
tract infection and infection from untreated bedsores the size of
footballs, some so deep that her bones were exposed. But those medical
explanations don’t really convey the condition that Cowen had been left
in for years. Her adult diaper hadn’t even been changed in probably a
year and had mostly rotted away, said Mike Brugler, a detective with the
Logan County sheriff’s office.
The photographs of her condition
were so graphic that prosecutors say they will show them to O’Connor in
his private chambers rather than in open court before Strawser is
sentenced. And moreover, Goslee said, an autopsy showed that internally,
Cowen otherwise would have been in remarkable health for a women her
age and friends who had spoken to her on the phone over time said she
never lost her faculties. Which all means she suffered a great deal as
her body slowly decayed and wasted away, Goslee said.
Prosecutor Sarah Warren said that as Strawser was living on her mother’s
monthly $650 Social Security check for the last few years — shopping,
eating out and even going to the doctor herself — Cowen hadn’t seen a
doctor since she broke her foot in 2008. Relatives were kept away after
that, and it appears the last time Cowen was moved from the couch was a
year before her death in May 2013, when Strawser and Scott dragged a
kiddie pool into the living room and “bathed” her and took her to a
gathering for her 100th birthday..
Strawser had allowed Scott to
stay with her mother rent-free in exchange for helping with her care.
But he was barely able to care for himself. He was in poor health and
had a low-functioning IQ. He had faced the same charges as Strawser for
Cowen’s death, but he died of a heart attack in December in the same
run-down trailer where Cowen died. He was 66.
Today, as Warren
read through the graphic nature of Cowen’s condition, Strawser just
shook her head no. In answer to the judge’s questions, Strawser said
she’d only completed the 10th grade in school and had once worked at a
factory in Kenton. Otherwise, she said nothing on her own behalf. Her
attorney, William F. Kluge, said he expects to present her side of the
story at sentencing.
Warren said Scott’s death complicated
matters and played a role in allowing Strawser to plead to a
lower-degree felony charge. Her age, and the question of whether she
would even get more prison time with the original charge, also factored
But Warren agrees with Goslee that prison is appropriate. She
said Strawser’s neglect of her mother appeared not only to be motivated
by money but also by hatred.
“Distant relatives have said that
Mary Strawser was just not a nice person,” Warren said. “They say she
had always treated her mother badly.”
Goslee said he hopes the
case sends a message to others: “If you assume the duty of care of an
elderly person ... and if you fail, if you neglect their needs, you can
and will be criminally charged.”
JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -
The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and
Disability Commission has admonished Jonesboro attorney Jeannette
Robertson for her actions during the 2014 election.
The commission issued the Letter of Admonishment on Friday during its meeting in Little Rock.
to the letter, Robertson misrepresented her role as a magistrate in the
2012 and 2014 elections. The commission claimed her campaign
advertisements depicted her as a judge when she was not.
In 2012 Robertson was a candidate for District 1, Position 2 of the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
May 11, 2012, David Stewart, executive director of the commission,
alleged Robertson titled herself as a judge in campaign advertisements,
according to a news release from the commission.
campaign advertisements included statements such as “District Court
Judge-Small Claims/Civil-7 Years” and “Special District Court
Judge-Criminal Court-as needed-7 Years,” the release stated.
At that time Robertson was neither a duly elected nor appointed judge, the commission stated.
Instead, Robertson had been appointed to serve as a small claims magistrate in her district in 2008.
The commission did not deem her conduct at that time to be “intentional.”
a letter to Robertson the investigation panel informed Robertson to
cease using the word “judge” in her campaign materials. Violation, the
panel stated, would be considered “a willful violation of the Code of
The panel further informed Robertson that any
future similar campaign conduct “would be considered misleading and
could be subject to formal discipline for willful misconduct.”
According to the commission, Robertson agreed to halt usage of the word “judge” in campaign materials.
years later, while running for District 2, Circuit Judge, Division 10,
the panel said Robertson authorized at least 2 television campaign
advertisements publicizing herself wearing a judge's robe and sitting
behind a bench, discussing her “judicial experience.”
also presented herself as having “8 years judicial experience” in 2
website advertisements, the commission stated in its release.
When notified of the complaints, Robertson removed the ads.
The commission found her actions violated Canons 1.1, 1.2 and 4.1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
to the release, “Robertson has been open and candid with her
communication regarding her reasons for this action. She has been
cooperative and honest with the Commission in compliance with Canon 2,
Homeowners at a luxury 130-unit Nevada
County senior living community have filed a class action lawsuit against
the Sacramento-based corporate owners of the complex and four of its
top managers, alleging financial irregularities and elder abuse.
The suit, filed in Sacramento County
Superior Court, names Eskaton Village Grass Valley, Eskaton Properties
Inc., Eskaton Village Grass Valley Homeowners Association, Eskaton CEO
Todd Murch, Chief Operating Officer Betsy Donovan, Operations Director
Mark Cullen and former COO Trevor Hammond as defendants in the case.
Lead plaintiffs are Eskaton homeowners
Ronald Coley and Karen Lorini, filing on behalf of themselves and the
other 130-plus homeowners, alleging nine complaints of breach of
fiduciary duties, financial elder abuse, unfair business practices and
“I can’t comment on the particulars,
since we are in open litigation,” Murch said on Monday. “The homeowners
association will be vigorously defending its side, so that means they
disagree with whatever’s being alleged.”
Part of the complaint alleges that the
Eskaton Homeowners Association, rather than being an organization
representing homeowners’ interests, is actually controlled by
In addition to some Eskaton homeowners,
the board of Eskaton Village Grass Valley Homeowners Association also
includes corporate representatives such as Cullen, who served on the
board between 2003 through 2012, and Hammond, a board member from 2003
through the middle of 2011.
“Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and
thereon allege, that Eskaton has disregarded the separate corporate
existence of EVGV (Eskaton Village Grass Valley), EPI (Eskaton
Properties Inc.) and the HOA,” the complaint says. “Among other things,
Eskaton has treated HOA property as its own.”
Both Coley and Lorini declined comment on
the case, which is scheduled for a public case management conference on
May 21, according to Sacramento County Superior Court public records.
The hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. in Department 35 of the Gordon D.
The 95-page complaint was first filed
Nov. 19, 2014, but an amended first complaint was filed on Jan. 5 by the
plaintiffs’ co-counsels, Sacramento-based attorneys David Diepenbrock
and Michael Vinding.
Diepenbrock on Monday declined all
comment on the case. Neither Vinding nor defendants’ attorney Rod
Baydaline of Sacramento could be reached for comment. Donovan also could
not be reached for comment.
The homeowners’ class action lawsuit is separate from a successful union organizing effort last June.
In a landmark election, employees of Eskaton Village Grass Valley
became one of the first groups of senior living workers to vote in favor
of joining a section of the local Service Employees International
Larry King, a campus patrol officer at
Eskaton, said there have been eight contract negotiating sessions since
September, when the union members delivered a proposed 49-page contract
to management. He said the sessions have so far been “slow-going,”
mostly confined to disputes over language.
“We haven’t gotten to the financial terms yet,” he said.
Sources who contacted The Union and who
declined to be identified said both the class action lawsuit and the
union election are indicative of a widespread pattern of dissatisfaction
with management attitudes toward workers and residents in the
As an example of alleged management
intimidation, sources cite a Feb. 12 letter in which the Eskaton HOA’s
legal committee notified homeowners about the costs of the lawsuit and
warned that “special assessments levied against each member may be
required to pay for this unanticipated expense this year if our
insurance carrier denies coverage.”
In the letter, a copy of which was
obtained by The Union, the legal committee states that “the purpose of
this letter is to make you aware of this litigation, and to give you
sufficient notice that special assessments may be required.”
According to the complaint, Eskaton
Village Grass Valley includes 287 housing units, of which 130 are
individually owned condominium units sometimes referred to as “patio
homes.” The patio homeowners pay a monthly “assessment” to cover various
services, such as landscaping and security patrol.
Of numerous allegations in the complaint,
plaintiffs allege “breach of fiduciary duties” in regard to mandated 3
percent annual increases in the cost to homeowners for a variety of
services “supposedly needed to pay for increased personnel costs,” the
“Plaintiffs learned for the first time in
2014, however, that EVGV employees have received no raises since 2010,”
the complaint adds. “Thus, the increases were unjustified and improper
for nonexistent wage increases.”
PORTSMOUTH – John Connors said he
told two police chiefs, one deputy chief and two police commissioners
that a fellow officer was making daily visits to his wealthy neighbor
with dementia and that he thought "it was wrong."
responses, he said, ranged from a "smirk" and a warning to stay out of
it, to an explanation about an "ax to grind" that police officials had
at the time. One commissioner said "good for them" if the officer and
his lawyer could get some of the neighbor's "ton of money," Connors
A 42-year member of the Portsmouth Police
Department, Connors made these remarks during a Feb. 26 deposition, as
part of a probate dispute contesting the $2.1 million estate of the late
Geraldine Webber, who left most of her wealth to Portsmouth police Sgt.
Aaron Goodwin. A judge will decide whether Webber was competent to
endorse her last will and trust and whether or not Goodwin exerted undue
influence over her.
Connors said during his
deposition that he told one police commissioner he thought Goodwin was
"ripping off" Webber. He said he talked about his suspicions daily at
the police station and that he advised Webber's former lawyer, Jim
Ritzo, to get a restraining order against Goodwin because "he's up to no
"When I made my complaints to the Police Department and the higher ups," Connors said, "nobody would listen to me."
didn't go public or talk to anybody for like two-and-a-half, three
years, not until this past August, because I tried to get the guys at
the PD to get this taken care of by themselves," Connors is quoted in a
transcript of his deposition. "I didn't want this going public. I didn't
want this on the PD, as bad as it was looking, because 95 percent of
the guys that work there are the greatest guys in the world. You got a
handful that aren't OK, and that's what this is all about."
was introduced at his deposition as a Portsmouth police officer who
retired in 1995 and continues to work as a sergeant in the auxiliary
"This is something that I've been
living every day of my life for the last four-and-a-half years," said
Connors, who told lawyers at the deposition that he kept detailed notes
about what he saw at Webber's house next door.
said it began in late 2010, when he was at the police station, where a
couple of officers mentioned they were at Webber's house the prior night
for a call about a prowler. Connors said he told the officers he was
sure there was no prowler, because Webber had dementia and was seeing
things that weren't there.
"Well, the next thing I know," Connors said, "police cruisers are coming down every day, more than once."
said he saw Goodwin visit Webber, in an unmarked cruiser, daily and
sometimes twice daily, for the next five or six months. About two weeks
after Goodwin met Webber, Connors said, the 90-something-year-old woman
was driving her Cadillac to her mailbox when she stopped to tell Connors
she was in love with Goodwin, was going to marry him and that he was
going to leave his wife and children to move in with her.
Webber also said "I'm going to give him everything," said Connors.
Soon after, he said, "She stopped talking to everybody."
said Webber was friends with his parents before he was born and that
was the connection that led to his buying the home next to hers and "why
we look out for her." He said he made sure Goodwin and/or attorney Gary
Holmes (who wrote Webber's disputed will to largely benefit
Goodwin) knew he saw them coming and going, and "knew what they were
doing was wrong."
Connors said he "wanted them
to know they were being watched and they weren't getting away with
it."He said he sometimes reported what he saw to Webber's
then-attorney, Jim Ritzo, because Ritzo used to be there "every day and
he took good care of her."
Connors said he saw
Ritzo visit Webber daily for 10 years and that Ritzo "did nothing but
good things for her and helped her out and she adored him."
"That changed when Aaron (Goodwin) came into the picture," he said.
surfaced at that time that Ritzo was exploiting Webber, but police
never pressed any charges and the state determined the complaints were
unfounded, according to public records.
Webber endorsed her last will and trust (in May 2012), Connors said,
Goodwin's visits lessened to "once a week for 10 or 15 minutes after
"He used to come down - I think it was
Fridays because all the neighbors used to call it pay day when he showed
up," Connors said. "It was a joke around the neighborhood for a while.
It was sad, but it was a joke."
police officer said he began reporting his observations to police
officials more than four years ago. He said that on Oct. 18, 2010, he
was at a police function at the Ice House when he told then-police chief
Lou Ferland about his concerns involving Goodwin and his elderly
"(Ferland) said, 'Trust me, you don't want to get involved in this one,'" Connors said. "Those were his exact words." (Continue Reading)
A Philadelphia housekeeper is going to prison after pleading guilty to one count of exploitation of a vulnerable person.
said 39-year-old Rosemary Stribling, also known as Rosemary Carter,
appeared before Judge Marcus Gordon in Neshoba County Circuit Court
Monday to be sentenced.
She's accused of exploiting the elderly
victim who hired her to clean her home. Stribling admitted to taking
money from the victim's accounts to make purchases. The victim lost more
than $2,000 because of Stribling's actions.
She was sentenced to
eight years in custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections,
six years suspended with two years to serve. She was also ordered to pay
full restitution to the victim and some fines.
After graduating from college, and even law school, the thought of drafting your estate plan probably did not make the top twenty on your "to-do" list, and why should it? The only thing most young professionals have when they first start out is debt. However, after you land your first job, preparing your estate plan needs to move quickly to the top of that elusive "to do" list. It's especially important if you are starting a family. Below are five documents that should be part of your estate plan.
1. Durable Financial Power of Attorney. 2. Health Care Power of Attorney. 3. Last Will and Testament. 4. Beneficiary Designation. 5. Beneficiary Deed.
After the necessary documents are executed, be certain that one set of originals is placed in a safe or safe deposit box in your bank and let your family know that the documents are there. It is wise to re visit these documents when a major life event occurs, such as a wedding, a birth or even a death, to ensure no changes to your documents should be made. If no major life events occur, it is always a good idea to contact your estate planning attorney every five years to ensure there have been no substantive changes in the laws that may affect your documents. The above information is based on the laws of the State of Arizona.
(Note: This video is slow loading - but it's worth the wait!) ABC Action News is staying on top of an effort to protect our state's most vulnerable citizens.
State lawmakers are working to reform Florida's Guardianship Program. The measure comes after wards and their family members have reported numerous incidents of abuse and exploitation by professional guardians in court districts throughout the Sunshine State.
One opponent of the new bill was at the center of an I-Team investigation.
In 2013, Willi Berchau told the I-Team that his court-appointed guardian, Patricia Johnson, had wrongly placed him in an Alzheimer's unit.
After our stories, doctors and a judge determined Berchau was not incapacitated and freed him from guardianship.
At that time, Johnson declined to speak on camera, and has refused to make any public comments about the issue until now.
“I get monitored by everybody, every day, seven days a week,” Johnson testified before the Children, Family and Seniors Subcommittee of the Florida House of Representatives.
Johnson told legislators there's no need to reform the state's guardianship system.
Senate should OK House bill to curb those who prey on elderly
A law to better protect seniors from neglect, abuse and exploitation deserves to be passed by
the Ohio Senate.
Stories of senior mistreatment, as vividly reported in
The Dispatch’s March 15-16 “Elder Abuse” series, are stomach-churning. People have been
scammed of their life’s savings after years of living frugally. Others have been horribly
But Ohio’s current law is outdated and insufficient. House Bill 24 is a strong effort to address
this growing problem.
The bill updates the state’s legal definitions of elder abuse to include financial harm, neglect
and exploitation. This isn’t just a matter of compassion; scammers cost taxpayers, because elderly
victims often must turn to public assistance to survive.
The bill would boost training for protective-services case workers. And it would have more
people watching out for the elderly, by expanding the state’s current list of mandatory reporters.
H.B. 24 would expand those required to report suspicions — such as clergy, attorneys and
nursing-home employees — to include firefighters, accountants, notaries public, real-estate
brokers, bank employees and pharmacists, among others.
“If it can be caught early, people can be protected from empty bank accounts,” Beth Kowalczyk,
chief policy officer for the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging, told legislators. “Bank
employees and financial planners are frequently in a position to see what may be going on in an
older adult’s home.”
Charlie Holderman, the retired supervisor of Adult Protective Services for Montgomery County,
recalled working a case where a bank had caught a couple draining the account of a 94-year-old man
whose worth totaled $5 million.
A bank had taken the initiative to alert Holderman’s agency that the husband of the couple, a
prominent attorney, and his wife were writing themselves checks every day for $2,000 or more.
Holderman’s agency went to court to stop the exploitation, but the man had lost $700,000.
“Although this was an extreme case,” Holderman told a House committee, “there are many instances
of exploitation that are happening all over the state.”
How many is anyone’s guess. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that 1 in 10 elderly
Americans is abused or neglected each year, often by trusted family members or caregivers.
Kathleen Quinn, executive director of the National Adult Protective Services Association, called
elder abuse “rampant, largely invisible, expensive and lethal.” Immediate action is needed, she
One of H.B. 24’s key provisions would require the state to create and manage a registry to
identify patterns of elder abuse.
“For the first time,” said Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, “Ohio will be able to accurately monitor
and track the abuse of our senior citizens.”
Sharing this information with law enforcement would allow for the tracking of perpetrators and
victims across county lines. And by getting a handle on the size of this problem, advocates for the
elderly can build a better case to increase state funding.
Some Ohio counties currently are without a single full-time adult-protective-services
The Senate has twice before failed to pass elder-abuse laws sent by the House. Just who is for
draining granny of her life savings? Or leaving grandpa hungry?
No senior citizen should have to endure the indignity of theft and mistreatment. The Senate
should pass this bill.
Full Article & Source: Protect seniors from abuse
Lincoln County has seen several cases in the past couple weeks.
abuse is a crime that often goes unreported, but people are starting to
take note and officials are taking up the cause on behalf of victims.
Financial elder abuse cases come across the desk of Detective Scott Hayden more often than he'd like.
"Unfortunately pretty frequently. I would say a couple a month, sometimes more, sometimes less," said Hayden.
coordination with other agencies, like Health and Human Services, are
bringing the cases to light. Like the case of Debra S. Townsend-Sokoll,
who was recently indicted on charges of theft, allegedly against her
"This woman and her husband through their life amassed this wealth, you know, they were acquiring land and assets," Hayden said.
Court documents allege the theft is a class B felony, valued at more than $10,000.
"And in the end, someone took advantage of them and took those things they worked so hard to get," Hayden said.
National Center on Elder Abuse found 13 percent of the mistreatment
allegations investigated were for financial exploitation and it can be
coupled with physical abuse.
Hayden said he's seeing it more, and
people should be very careful about who they trust and check with
others on important financial decisions.
"Don't be forced into signing any documents you're not comfortable with," Hayden said.
And if you spot anything unusual for you or someone you're caring for, talk with police.
the end, we hope the offender has to pay restitution for what they
took, at minimum. And then there could also be jail sentences and fines
on top of that also," Hayden said.
Waldoboro police said they've
already had three cases of financial elder abuse this year, including
one involving Scott Jordan, a lieutenant at the Cumberland County Jail
who was recently indicted on theft charges.
sometimes it can be hard to tell the extent of these crimes, but it's
estimated to cost U.S. victims almost $2.9 million a year.
Now 93, Ernestine Franks has lived in Escambia County all of her life.
She and her late husband, Charles, both worked at the Pensacola Naval
Air Station — she was in cost accounting and he was a metalsmith. They
saved their money and invested it wisely and put their children through
the best schools to ensure they would get the best education. Ernestine
and Charles’ life was devoted to their boys and always went the extra
mile for them.
Douglas said he and his two brothers agreed to a guardian for
Ernestine in 2011 because they lived out of town and her health was
becoming more of a concern.
But that guardianship has cost his mother $1,000 per day since June 2012.
“It is over $1 million that my mom has spent,” her son Douglas Franks
said. “We’re trying to bring awareness so people know what’s going on
and how this is a lucrative cottage industry.”
Franks spoke in favor of a measure Thursday in Tallahassee as a
Senate panel on Thursday unanimously approved a bill aimed at protecting
Florida seniors from predatory “professional guardians,” described by
one lawmaker as “cockroaches.”
The bill (SB 1226), filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, would
expand the Statewide Public Guardianship Office at the Department of
Elder Affairs, with an eye to tightening oversight of people who assume
control of a senior citizens’ finances.
A recent series by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune found that while
Florida has an efficient system of identifying and caring for fragile
elders, “tapping their assets is a growth business.” In 2003, there were
23 registered professional guardians on Florida. Today, the number has
grown to more than 440.
“Those little cracks in the law are allowing cockroaches to crawl
through and take advantage of people who are elderly,” Detert told the
Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. “Let’s face it.
The elderly are today’s invisible people, who are not given much
credence when they complain.”
The bill would charge the Department of Elder Affairs with
certifying, overseeing and —- if necessary — investigating and
disciplining professional guardians who abuse their trust. It would also
create a registry of professional guardians in each judicial circuit.
Currently, Detert said, the Department of Elder Affairs is
responsible for public guardians, who are assigned to indigent seniors,
but there is little to stop unscrupulous “professional guardians” from
charging exorbitant rates for services they provide and running through
their wards’ assets.
“When you are turning somebody’s entire life over to a guardian, they
have access to every asset that you have, and your own family is
blocked from participating,” Detert said.
Detert said the courts are so overwhelmed with foreclosures and other
backlogged cases that they aren’t able to investigate guardianship
expenditures that are unreasonably large.
Her proposal comes as several other lawmakers also are offering measures aimed at curbing abusive guardianships.
She's been dead for over two years, but her state-appointed professional guardian has been billing her for thousands the entire time.
This is just the latest in a long line of disturbing issues surrounding Florida's guardianship program.
Lynn and Alan Sayler were in Tallahassee last week, testifying before a legislative committee calling for more reforms of the state guardianship program.
But Monday, they met with a judge, begging for Lynn's mother's guardianship case to finally be closed before more money is taken out of her estate.
“She was a tennis player. She worked out at the gym. She loved her grandkids,” said Lynn Sayler, describing her mother.
Retta Rickow died Dec. 8, 2012, just before her favorite holiday.
“Retta loved Christmas. She loved Christmas. She loved to come over and see what the kids would do,” said Rickow’s son-in-law, Alan Sayler.
But since her death, her daughter and son-in-law have been making frequent trips to court, begging a judge to close Rickow's guardianship case.
“Guardianships should be closed in 90 days or so of the ward's death,” Alan Sayler said.
“It's not about my mother. It's about money,” said Lynn Sayler.
Bills obtained by the I-Team filed after Rickow died show her guardian continued to bill thousands of dollars at a rate of $80 an hour for things like accounting, phone calls and travel.
Over the course of Rickow's guardianship, his bills total more than $50,000.
His attorney has billed nearly $144,000, with no sign of stopping.
“They're raiding the estate. My mother-in-law passed away almost two-and-a-half years ago. We just left the courthouse, where the guardian's attorney said ‘Well, we should have some more things going on,’” Alan Sayler said.
The Saylers testified before a Florida House of Representatives committee last week in support of a law that would give the state more power over guardians and the courts.
“They are trained to isolate, medicate and raid estates,” Lynn Sayler testified before the committee.
“It's a statewide problem and needs to be tightened up,” Alan Sayler also testified.
As that bill continues to travel through committees, the Saylers will likely make more trips to court.
“We want change. The judicial system is just broken,” Lynn Sayler said.
“Instead of trying to find out what's truly in the best interest of the ward, it's more what's truly in the best interest of the guardians and the guardians' attorneys and how can we bill some more,” said Alan Sayler.
Ramona Wilson tidied her house, parked both of her cars in her garage, shut all the doors and
turned on the engines.
But before she could climb behind the wheel and asphyxiate herself, she was interrupted by a
tap on her front door.
Two strangers stood on her porch. Wilson was angry at being interrupted and wanted to chase them
away. But one of them — Dave Kessler — told her he understood the shame and embarrassment she must
have felt after being conned out of $50,000 by a man she thought loved her.
He could help her, Kessler said.
At 74, Wilson had been through a lot in life, but nothing before had robbed her of her will to
Kessler, who worked in the Ohio attorney general’s office, asked her to make a pot of coffee and
listen to what he had to say.
“She needed to hear that it wasn’t her fault,” he said.
• • •
Ohio officials hope to elevate elder abuse to the forefront of societal concerns through stories
such as Wilson’s in much the same way that attention was called to child abuse 30 years ago and to
domestic violence 10 years ago, said Cynthia Dungey, director of the state Department of Job and
The state also plans to create a stronger statewide adult-protective-services system and wants
to encourage the kind of collaboration among caseworkers, law-enforcement agencies, prosecutors and
others that helped put Wilson’s life back together.
“It was like he had been sent from God,” Wilson said of Kessler. “I learned that while I couldn’t
go back and change things, that didn’t mean I had to stop living.”
Wilson told Kessler how she had met Charles Sellers at church one summer afternoon in 2005. He
had offered to walk her to her car after the sermon. He was 24 years younger than she was, but they
exchanged phone numbers and struck up a friendship.
What she didn’t know at the time was that Sellers had recently been released from prison after
serving 10 years for fatally shooting a man during a gambling argument.
Wilson enjoyed the attention that Sellers lavished on her. She had lost her third husband,
James, not even a year earlier to Alzheimer’s and was lonely and still grieving. Sellers finally
admitted details of his past, but he had convinced Wilson and most other members of their church
that he was a reformed man, a good Christian, deserving of a second chance.
After a three-month courtship, Wilson and Sellers married. He then persuaded her to take out a
$14,000 home-equity line of credit on her North Side house for home repairs and to open a dental
office. A few days later, he called Wilson to say he was going to a hospital on his way home from
He hung up before Wilson could ask what was wrong. He never came home, and Wilson frantically
called family, friends and then the police to report him missing.
Soon, Wilson saw ATM withdrawals in Dayton, near what police would tell her were known
prostitution areas. Sellers ultimately ended up in Wheeling, W.Va., where, while high on cocaine
and heroin, he fell out of a brothel window and was hospitalized with a broken arm, court records
By then, he had blown $50,000 — the money from the home-equity line and Wilson’s entire life
“Can you imagine your whole life gone like that?” Wilson asked. “The worst part was I lost my
respect. Even my own children were talking behind my back.”
Although Kessler said he might not be able to return her money, he promised he would try to
bring her justice. He worked with Columbus police and the Franklin County prosecutor’s office to
build a case against Sellers. In the meantime, Adult Protective Services in Franklin County and the
Pickaway County Victims of Crime program helped Wilson seek civil remedies, including a
In 2007, Sellers was sentenced to five years in prison by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge
Eric Brown. He appealed and, in 2008, was given five years’ probation and ordered to pay $14,326 in
To spare others the pain she went through, Wilson, who had become pastor of her church, traveled
the state with Kessler to tell her story.
Dr. Sam Sugar has a pretty clear picture of how he thought life would be after he retired to Miami from Skokie, Illinois
physician saw himself in a bathing suit, on the beach, spending time
with his wife and grandchildren. He’d travel, read and have time for
But after his wealthy, widowed mother-in-law became a
ward of the state — her affairs controlled by a coterie of lawyers,
nurses and a court-appointed guardian — Sugar channeled his anger into
political activism. Now he is on the verge of a breakthrough.
Sugar and the organization he started, Americans Against Abusive
Probate Guardianship, leading the charge, Florida lawmakers are in the
process of overhauling the state’s guardianship laws. The changes are
aimed at installing some checks and balances to ensure that guardians,
who have considerable power once they are appointed to a case, are
qualified and that their actions can be reviewed.
“We have accomplished something monumental,” said Sugar, who has testified in Tallahassee on behalf of the overhaul.
who lives in Aventura, spent countless hours researching the laws after
he and his wife engaged with her siblings in a brutal years-long
squabble over the well-being of his mother-in-law, Idelle Stern, also
known by her Hebrew name Rebbetzin Chaya'le Stern.
happens in such situations, there were fingers pointed in multiple
directions. Sugar claims the guardian and lawyers, in cahoots with the
courts and his wife’s siblings, siphoned millions from Stern’s accounts
while keeping her isolated from him and his wife. The siblings and the
guardian claimed that the Sugars moved to South Florida with designs on
Stern’s money, and that they were simply protecting Stern from
One of the few things that is not in dispute is that
the guardianship process and associated litigation cost everyone a lot
of money. Stern, whose late husband was a rabbi and successful investor,
died in 2013, leaving an estate partially drained and a family utterly
It is hardly an isolated case. In December, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a series of stories, The Kindness of Strangers,
asserting that Florida's guardianship system ignores basic rights. The
news organization documented instances where guardians removed seniors
from their homes and sold off their belongings, to cover the cost of
With roughly 3.7 million Floridians over 65,
guardianship is big business. Many come to Florida from elsewhere upon
retirement, and they bring their savings with them. As they age, some
lose the capacity to manage their affairs, falling prey to exploitation —
sometimes by family members or “friends,” sometimes by strangers. The
guardianship apparatus is meant to protect them. When some children live
close by and others don’t, it can exacerbate problems.
current law, family members, nursing homes and other people and
institutions can petition the court system to have someone declared
incapacitated. A judge will appoint a three-member panel, consisting of
medical personnel or social workers, to examine the individual and
render a judgment. They might ask questions such as who is the
president, to determine the person’s grasp of the world around them.
the individual is deemed incapacitated and there is not an appropriate
family member to step in, he or she can end up a ward of the court. In
such instances, the ward’s financial, medical and legal decisions are
made by strangers, under court supervision.
It’s a growth
industry, one reason the number of professional guardians has soared
from less than 10 to 465, according to the state Department of Elder
Affairs. To become a guardian requires 40 hours of training and no
felony conviction. Guardians, who have a legal duty to inventory their
wards’ property and invest and manage the assets “as a prudent investor
would,” are paid for their services at a rate approved by the court.
Miami New Times and others have documented cases where the judges
appointing guardians have received campaign contributions from those who
benefit from the appointment.
Jetta Getty, the president of the
Florida State Guardianship Association, said professional guardians are
appointed as a last resort. In a letter to the House of Representatives,
Getty said appointments come only “when dysfunction, exploitation,
neglect, abuse or strife warrants.”
“Several testifying at the
hearings [in Tallahassee] offered testimony from the family member
perspective stating their view as victims of perceived wrongs and
actions attributed to Professional Guardians,” she said in the letter.
“Might I offer, if these family members were as innocent in their roles
as they profess, no Professional Guardian would be considered for
appointment by the Courts as the Courts under Statutes do give
preference to family members serving in the role of guardian over the
Getty said there are positive aspects of the
proposed new legislation, but there are also concerns. She cited one
measure that would require courts to appoint guardians on a rotating
basis, taking any potential favoritism out of the process.
law attorney Steve Martin from Lakeland told a Florida Senate panel that
a rotation might not solve the problem in smaller counties.
“You’ll be rotating from a list of two or three people,” he said.
Shannon Miller, a guardian and elder care attorney from Gainesville:
“It's going to really create a problem because guardians are people and
wards are people, and they need to fit properly.”
begins in 2010. He and his wife had moved to Florida. Stern, his
mother-in-law, had her own apartment in Miami Beach and had
round-the-clock care. The other siblings began to question whether the
Sugars were exercising undue influence over Stern, whose husband died in
According to Sugar, on April 15, 2010, there was a knock on his door and he was told he had 24 hours to get to court.
said his mother-in-law was immediately assigned a temporary guardian.
He said that meant that all of her life decisions — things like the
purchase of groceries, the selection of a doctor and the spending of her
own money — were now out of her control. He said he later would see
invoices charged to the estate that disturbed him, everything from legal
fees to bills for answering emails and opening envelopes. (Continue Reading)
Kudos to The Dispatch for shining a light on elder abuse and emphasizing the critical need for
funding for Adult Protective Services and other organizations mentioned that combat abuse of
seniors in all its ugly and unacceptable forms (“Elder Abuse” series, Dispatch, last Sunday and
Pro Seniors is another resource for Ohio seniors. Pro Seniors is a statewide nonprofit
legal-aid organization that helps seniors resolve their legal problems.
Many of Pro Seniors’ vulnerable clients are facing the challenge of financial exploitation,
which has been termed “the crime of the 21st century” and is escalating rapidly as the senior
If financial exploitation is not addressed, it can devastate the financial security, physical
health and mental well-being of the senior victim.
Pro Seniors has recently received funding from the attorney general’s office and several
private foundations to address financial exploitation.
Ohio seniors who may be victims of financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse are
encouraged to call Pro Seniors’ Legal Hotline at 800-488-6070. Our attorneys can provide legal
advice and, in some cases, representation to remedy the exploitation, as well as suggestions about
reaching out to other resources that can help.
bill aimed at protecting the elderly from abuse, neglect and financial
exploitation is now in the hands of the Ohio Senate after unanimously
passing in the House on Tuesday.
House Bill 24, otherwise known as
the Ohio Elder Justice Act, is being pushed by State Rep. Wes
Retherford, R-Hamilton. Retherford said seniors today need some added
layers of protection, and the bill would bring about better tracking of
patterns of elderly abuse, increased awareness and research of the
problem and tougher penalties for those who abuse or take advantage of
“As technology advances, so does the use of
technology for evil purposes,” said Retherford, who co-sponsored the
bill with Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea. “Updating our elder abuse laws to
meet today’s demands is just a small step we can take to ensure the
protection of our growing senior population from losing their life’s
savings, property and dignity.”
Crimes against the elderly are
growing both nationally and in Butler County, law enforcement officials
say, especially as the population of older adults increases. A
Department of Justice study estimated in 2009 that about one in nine
people ages 60 and older suffers abuse each year. For every one case
reported to authorities, it is believed five more go unreported.
Betsy Leugers, of Darrtown, said she likes the sound of the bill, but wants to learn more about it before forming an opinion.
would it do to the people that scam? Is it going to cause for their
prosecution? What limitations does it have on everybody?” Leugers said
while quilting at Partners in Prime in Hamilton on Tuesday afternoon.
She said a law giving extra help to the elderly would be a good thing.
are lots of little people who are locked in their rooms, and you
wouldn’t know that,” Leugers said of the fear some seniors experience.
Among other things, the bill includes:
requirement of the Department of Job and Family Services to report on
the creation of a registry to help identify patterns of abuse;
obligation for employees in several financial fields to report
suspected elder abuse to help prevent the elderly from falling victim to
financial crimes; and
The establishment of a statewide Elder
Abuse Commission, which will increase awareness and research of elder
abuse, improve policy, funding and programming related to elder abuse,
and improve the judicial response to elder abuse victims.
population of adults ages 60 or older, which stood at 2.28 million in
2010, is expected to grow significantly in coming years, according to
the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The number is projected to increase
29 percent (to 2.95 million) by 2020 and nearly 50 percent (to 3.42
million) by 2040, according to the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami
University. Such statistics point to the potential for a significant
increase in elder abuse cases in coming years.
“The more older
people there are just means there are more people that are susceptible,”
said Susan Costantino, club and wellness coordinator for Partners in
Prime. “And people are looking to make a quick buck, and they don’t care
who they hurt.”
Doris Swegert, of Fairfield, who was also at
Partners in Prime on Tuesday, is well aware people will try to scam the
elderly and commit crimes against them. She has not been a victim, and
protects herself by not answering the phone if it’s a blocked number or
one she doesn’t recognize.
“And if they don’t leave a message, I don’t talk to them half the time,” she said .
are targets, physically and financially, of strangers, friends and
sometimes their own family, said Butler County Prosecutor Michael
Gmoser. After prosecuting a Trenton woman who bilked an elderly woman
out of more than $200,000, Gmoser formed a task force in 2011 to offer
both education to senior citizens about crimes that may target them and
to assure that such cases were aggressively pursued.
Gmoser said crimes involving the elderly have risen nearly 50 percent since 2005.
think that knowledge is power,” the prosecutor said. “And when it comes
to support people and emergency personnel, I want them to be
Gmoser said the senior population is “an underrepresented class in our society.”
the reason they are being attacked is because it is one of the most
unreported crimes when you have elder abuse, and they are suspect to
financial crimes,” he said. “They are ashamed, and they don’t want their
children to know that they did something so boneheaded.”
said the elderly fear their children may restrict their access to bank
accounts, take their vehicles away or put them in a retirement home.
“So they suck it up, they lose their money, and they don’t make a report,” he said.
cites Barbara Howe as a classic victim of elder abuse. The 87-year-old
resident of Mount Pleasant Retirement Village in Monroe was allegedly
killed in 2012 by Daniel French, a former maintenance employee at the
facility. French allegedly scammed his way into Howe’s cottage with the
intent to rob her by telling the elderly woman her medical alert system
needed repairs, police said.
Once inside her home, police and
prosecutors say French slit Howe’s throat several times after using a
stun gun on her and attempting to strangle her.
Then this past
October there was the beating and robbery of 82-year-old Elmon Booth of
Middletown. Booth was attacked in his home by three men who hit him with
a brick and choked him before fleeing with his 24-inch television, $10
worth of change and his hearing aids. All three men were arrested and
are expected to go trial this spring.
Costantino said if the bill becomes law, she hopes reporting systems and the added measures are well publicized.
this passes and it’s made known widely to anyone who works with
seniors, that’s huge,” she said. “I think that extra level of protection
would be great.”