Friday, July 3, 2015

The Peter Falk Bill: Columbo's Daughter, Catherine Falk

CATHERINE FALK, the daughter of beloved actor Peter Falk aka Columbo, is waging a state-by-state campaign to grant children access to an elderly or incapacitated parent who is under someone else's care, & her visiting-rights bills are advancing in New York and California. If the bills go into effect, it could provide a useful model for legislation in other states.

Despite a long & varied career, Peter Falk gained fame for his portrayal of the dishevelled but crafty Los Angeles Lieutenant. Columbo always wore a grubby raincoat & smoked cigars, & usually made a false exit before uttering his catchphrase: ‘Just one more thing.’ The original series ran for seven years from 1971, but was constantly re-commissioned throughout the 1980s and 1990s due to its popularity. When Peter was diagnosed with dementia in 2008, Catherine found it difficult to get information about his well being.
"The visitation bill basically is a protection, a law that protects adult children and ailing elderly parents when your parent is being isolated or secluded away from family, friends and loved ones," Catherine Falk said. As divorce and remarriage become more prevalent in today’s society, there is a greater possibility of conflicts between a second spouse and children from a first marriage. These conflicts can become very contentious when a parent is incapacitated, enters into a conservatorship, & the current spouse cuts off access between the parent & a child from a previous marriage.

The Peter Falk bill is close to passing in 10 states through bipartisan support. In the State of New York, the Peter Falk Bill – Bill #3461 – is in the Assembly & ready to be passed and approved. The Catherine Falk Organization offers a support center for those who need assistance for getting visitation rights to see an ailing parent.

The Peter Falk Bill:  Columbo's Daughter, Catherine Falk

JOIN the Catherine Falk Organization's Facebook Page

The Catherine Falk Organization

Family divided over millionaire's mental competence

Hatti Poole
Hattie Poole’s affairs are controlled by a court-appointed guardian, her son.

The fear of aging really is the fear of losing control of your life.

Loss of control can manifest itself in a physical or mental deterioration that robs you of your independence. It also cam stem from intrafamily legal squabbles that turn you into a mere pawn of the guardianship process, forced to sit back and watch while others debate your competence and evaluate your lucidity.

That last scenario is the nightmare that’s playing out right now for Hattie Poole.

Poole, 85, deserves so much better than this. With her late husband, Duane, she helped build Industrial Communications, a highly successful radio service and sales company whose original office was located at the site of what later became HemisFair Arena.

She worked tirelessly for charities, co-founding Guadalupe Home (a transitional living center for homeless pregnant women) and playing an active role in fundraising efforts for Padua Place (a home for retired priests). In 2005, the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame inducted her, in tribute to her years of volunteerism.

But Poole finds herself in a situation where her affairs are controlled by a court-appointed guardian (her son, Jeff). She can’t touch her estate of more than $3 million and must get by on an allowance.

In what she regards as the cruelest cut of all, Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff has not even allowed her to pick her own attorney. As a result, Poole’s own estate money is being used to pay a court-appointed lawyer she believes is working against her interests, while she’s also forced to pay the attorney hired by her son to argue against her right to choose her legal representation.

This sad case has divided the Poole family, with Hattie’s daughter Laura insisting her mother is fully competent to make her own decisions, and Hattie’s three sons arguing that she is incapacitated. As with many guardianship battles, this one centers around the death of a parent and the subsequent emergence of a new romantic partner for the surviving parent.

Hattie lost Duane in 2012, after more than 60 years of marriage, and has since become engaged to Ben Marek, a man 30 years her junior. According to a Jan. 27 court application requesting that Rickhoff turn over her guardianship to Jeff Poole, Hattie attempted to transfer $225,000 to Marek last December, and Frost Bank responded by freezing her account. The case also was referred to Adult Protective Services.

Jeff Poole did not respond to an interview request for this column.

A recent neuropsychological exam concluded Hattie has experienced “mild” loss of memory and executive functioning. When she spoke to me by phone on Thursday afternoon, Hattie sounded remarkably lucid. Over the course of a 15-minute conversation, she spoke in a soft voice but displayed a strong command of the facts of the case.

“It’s been really frustrating and sad. I cry a lot,” she said. “I feel betrayed. Unfortunately, the court system seems to be so unfair. I’m older than the fiance, and Mr. Rickhoff’s court seems to think that it’s OK for a future husband to be older, but it’s not OK for the future wife to be older than her fiance.”

Poole reached out to trial attorney Barry Snell to represent her, but Rickhoff refused to allow it. Rickhoff did not respond to an interview request for this column.

Snell hopes to take her case to the 4th Court of Appeals, but there are legal questions about whether he has the authority to file an appeal on her behalf, given the fact that Rickhoff ruled her incompetent to hire her own attorney.

“I have no criticism of the motives of anyone, including Judge Rickhoff,” Snell said. “I think they all believe they’re doing what’s best for the lady. But the point is, no one in this thing was advocating for what she wanted, and it struck me that, ‘Hey this is really unfair. They’re going to take all of this lady’s property away from her and even take away her right to marry, without a jury trial that she’s entitled to.’”

Hattie Poole has earned the right to live her later years the way she chooses. But with the entanglements of a family business, estate considerations and questions about mental competence, the legal system won’t allow it to be that simple.

“It’s my life. I let my sons choose their fiancees and their wives, and I didn’t interfere. So I don’t know why they would want to interfere with my life now,” she said. “I feel as though I’ve been pushed in a corner.”

Full Article & Source:
Family divided over millionaire's mental competence

Jury Awards Family $1.2 M in Nursing Home Abuse Case

An Oklahoma jury awarded $1.2 million to the family of a 96-year-old woman who was abused in a nursing home by two employees.

Eryetha Mayberry’s three daughters filed a nursing home abuse lawsuit against Quail Creek Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Oklahoma after hidden camera footage showed the elderly dementia patient’s caretakers manhandling her. The case reached federal court in Oklahoma City and judge announced the verdict on February 13.

Daughter Doris Racher and her two sisters installed cameras in their mother’s room after they suspected someone at the home was stealing from her. Mayberry passed away in July 2012, a few months after the video was released.

The video shows nursing home employees Lucy Waithira Gakunga and Caroline Kaseke forcing Mayberry to lie down by pushing her head and preventing her from breathing. Gakunga also shoved latex gloves into the grandmother’s mouth as Kaseke watched, the Daily Mail reported.

The two employees were fired, and they face criminal charges. The jury found the nursing home guilty of negligence and abuse.

“All in the memory of our mother. All of us fought hard and are just happy that now we can relax a little bit, and mother’s probably smiling,” Racher told the paper. “I’m so grateful for the outcome, because we told the truth and the truth always prevails.”

Nursing Home to Appeal

Attorneys for Quail Creek said the jury’s award was excessive. The facility plans to appeal the verdict.

Oklahoma’s nursing homes rank third-worst in the country last year, according to data gathered by the nonprofit group Families for Better Care. The year before, the state ranked fourth.

Inadequate staffing is a problem in these facilities, said Brian Lee, FBC’s executive director.

“When a facility is understaffed, you don’t have people paying attention and who are getting people up and mobile or turning them so they don’t develop bedsores — or making sure that they are getting the medical attention that they need,” elder care expert Elaine Sanchez told Drugwatch.

While many families rely on nursing homes and assisted living facilities to care for elderly parents, abuse and neglect is a reality in many facilities. Statistics estimate 1 in 3 residents faces abuse, and many homes under-report the number of incidents that occur.

Feds Toughen Up on Nursing Homes

Last week, the federal government announced it will make it harder for nursing homes to earn top grades. Officials intend to scrutinize use of anti-psychotic drugs and bolster a number of quality measures.

The government website, Nursing Home Compare, grades facilities on a on to five-star rating system. The site, launched in 2008, rates more than 15,000 nursing homes on government inspections, staffing levels and quality measures.

Ideally, the site would allow the public to choose the best home for their needs. But, critics say the site relies too heavily on self-reported data from facilities and even those with top grades still face violations and fines. The feds will look into quality benchmarks like how many residents fall in facilities, how many are on anti-psychotic medications and how many suffer from bedsores, but will still rely on self-reported statistics for these quality measures.

Advocates praise the change, while industry lobbyists are less excited about the changes.

“If centers across the country start losing star ratings overnight, it sends a signal to families and residents that quality is on the decline,” said Mark Parkinson told Kaiser Health News. Parkinson is president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, the industry lobby.

The new scores are expected soon.

Full Article & Source:
Jury Awards Family $1.2 M in Nursing Home Abuse Case

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Steve Miller: Judge Steel Frees Three "Wards" From Exploitive Court Ordered Guardianship On Same Day

LAS VEGAS - In a unprecedented flurry of court action, on June 30, newly appointed Clark County Family Court Judge Cynthia Dianne Steel freed three previously court appointed wards of the court from the custody of their for-hire guardian April Parks.

What would normally have taken years of expensive court hearings, motions, and lawsuits, in two short hearings conducted in one afternoon, over the protests of Parks and her attorney Lee A. Drizin, Judge Steel patiently listened to family members of three of Parks' wards as they, acting without attorneys, explained that their parents were being exploited, and must immediately be released from Parks' guardianship.

In the case of Elizabeth Indig, her daughter told the court that Parks and her attorney allowed her mother's Henderson home valued at over $200,000 to be foreclosed upon and sold at auction for only $22,000 with Drizin's full knowledge, and without the court's required accounting or oversight.

Attorney Drizen was reportedly furious after the accusation and filed a motion with the court to have the family member who was representing her mother pro per, fined for vexatious litigation, and harassing April Parks. Judge Steel will hear Drizen's argument on Thursday July 2, but is not expected to rule in his favor based on her June 30 ruling in favor of the release of Elizabeth Indig from Parks' guardianship in which the family member acted as her own attorney in spite of Drizen's loud protestations.

In the case of Rudy and Rennie North, their daughter told the court that her parents were not mentally impaired and do not need to be under court ordered guardianship. That during Parks' guardianship, the North's assets were taken, and the court did not require an annual accounting.

In both cases, family members told Judge Steel that Parks initially came to their parent's homes impersonating a police officer, and ordered the elderly people to come with her to a rest home, or face arrest.

April Parks 
In both cases, family members were not informed of Parks' actions until after the parents were removed from their homes.

At subsequent hearings held before appointed Family Court Hearing Master Jon Norheim, (a former mob lawyer) neither Norheim or his boss Judge Charles Hoskin listened to the pleas of family members, and after being informed by Parks or her attorney that the adult children were either "unfit," "exploiters," or "drug addicts," ruled that Parks be granted permanent guardian status for the rest of the parent's lives.

Following a series of stories in The Vegas Voice, and on KNTV Ch. 13 News, the Boulder City Police Department opened an investigation of April Parks, and soon thereafter, her name was stricken from the State of Nevada's list of professional guardians.

It is not yet known whether the families of Parks' victims plan to take legal action to try to recover the monies Parks allegedly converted from their parent's estates.

Betrayal of trust, Part 4: How to help the vulnerable

Shannon Mullen, @MullenAPP 

Billions are stolen from the elderly and infirm across the country each year. Here's how to stop it

As volunteers work through case files, looking for missing reports or red flags pointing to possible improprieties, they're also entering information into a new statewide database.

Until now, New Jersey has never tracked guardianship cases. Some county surrogates don't even know how many of their cases are still active.

Rabner believes the total number of active guardianships statewide may be in the tens of thousands, but no one is sure.

While prior experience with accounting or the courts is a plus, it's not required to join the program.
"To be sure, we need to enlist (and) train yet more volunteers to be able to continue and review these reports on a sustained basis," Rabner told the conference attendees.

"But make no mistake, the very fact that this program now exists in New Jersey will cause people to think twice before they might even consider to take a step to take advantage of those they've promised to help," he added.

Uekert, for one, believes New Jersey is taking a practical approach. She spoke at the elder abuse conference in Stockton and came away impressed by New Jersey's commitment to do a better job policing guardians.

"Ideally you would have a cadre of trained professionals (reviewing guardianship case files) but the courts generally don't have the funds to have those types of personnel," says Uekert, principal court research consultant for the National Center for State Courts, based in Williamsburg, Virginia.

"Volunteers," she believes, "would be better than nothing."

But at least one other expert is strongly opposed to the idea.

"It's just another way of trivializing the problem by saying, 'We can handle this with volunteers,' " says Minnesota law professor A. Kimberley Dayton.

"It's about money, a lack of resources. Until that's fixed, none of this is going to be fixed," she says. "It's just going to keep on going and going."

In Atlantic County, where Lieberman was based, two volunteer monitors have helped the county surrogate review more than 330 cases so far.

But by the time the volunteers began their work last year, the damage was already done.

Shannon Mullen: 732-643-4278;

Full Article & Source:
Betrayal of trust, Part 4: How to help the vulnerable

Royal Oak Guardian Files Lawsuit Against Ward’s Father Over Blog About Michigan Guardianship System

PONTIAC, Mich., June 30, 2015 – A Royal Oak-based guardian has filed a lawsuit against the father of one of his ward’s over an Internet blog designed to raise awareness about the lack of checks-and-balances in Michigan’s guardianship system.

Steven (Steve) Siporin of Royal Oak, Michigan-based Siporin & Associates filed the suit June 4 in Oakland County Circuit Court against Anand Sadashivan, father of Tom Nithyanand, who is one of Siporin’s wards.

The defamation suit alleges the family’s blog at contains false and misleading statements and that the family and friends have somehow been on a mission to discredit and embarrass Siporin and his business.

Sadashivan says the site has never strayed from its original intention: draw attention to what the family feels is a severe lack of checks and balances in Michigan’s guardianship system. Sadashivan says he became familiar with what is believed to be a flawed system only after his son, Tom, was in it as a ward of Siporin.

“ has always been designed with the goal of drawing attention to what we feel is Michigan’s flawed guardianship system,” says Sadashivan. “There doesn’t seem to be any accountability for those handed tremendous responsibility by the court – the kind of responsibility that will affect my son for the rest of his life.”

Sadashivan says he believes is no different than any other form of editorial media and designed specifically to express the family’s feelings and beliefs about the system based on what they have experienced together as a family over the last year.

To defend its right to free speech, the family has been working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, among others, for assistance in defending their case.

“The bottom line is that they can take our son away, keep him tucked away in a rehabilitation facility, and drag our name through court all they want,” Sadashivan says. “But our voice and right to express ourselves? That can’t be taken away.”

Though the complaint alleges has harmed Siporin’s business since it launched March 19, Sadashivan has an email from his former attorney sent within hours of the site’s launch and dated March 20 that has “orders” from Siporin to shut down the site by March 23.

Since then, however, nearly 5,700 visitors have been to the site, many publicly and privately supporting the family’s call for change and signing the family’s petition to draw attention to the need to change Michigan’s guardianship system. Similar changes have already been undertaken or are being considered in Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, and Pennsylvania (see sidebar on right for links to stories).

The family quickly became aware of the problems with the system in Michigan throughout the course of 2014-15. A press release detailing how Sadashivan’s son, Tom, ended up in the guardianship system can be found here.

Sadashivan says because the family are from India and non-U.S. citizens, they sought out the help of a guardian to assist with managing the large insurance settlement Tom received as part of a bad accident on June 26, 2010.

As the family met with potential guardians, Sadashivan says Siporin painted a picture that made him feel like he could trust Siporin to operate as co-guardian, which he ultimately was named through a court order. When Sadashivan and his son verbally argued over spending money last June, however, Siporin obtained a new court order to make himself sole guardian and within days had people who identified themselves as “bodyguards” at the family’s home with orders to take Tom to Rainbow Rehabilitation Center of Farmington Hills, Michigan. The Novi Police Department doesn’t have any records relating to domestic issues in the home.

As months passed with no indication anything would change with regard to Tom’s status anytime soon – and Sadashivan’s requests for details such as Tom’s health, schooling and overall treatment plan falling on deaf ears – Sadashivan said he and his family decided to launch to raise awareness of how an individual person like Tom could end up trapped in the guardianship system with hopes of others being able to avoid suffering a similar fate.

Seperately, Sadashivan did petition the Oakland County Probate Court to remove Siporin as guardian. However, the family’s former attorney – Jonathan A. Green – quit within weeks of the scheduled hearing. Sadashivan says he tried to find new representation but with such a short time and convoluted case to digest, attorneys wanted more money than the family could afford. Oakland County Probate Court Judge Kathleen Ryan allowed Sadashivan to withdraw the petition on May 4.

Siporin asked Judge Ryan to allow the petition withdrawal, but with prejudice, which would have effectively banned Sadashivan from re-petitioning the court. In just a few minutes at that May 4 hearing, Siporin tried to work in as many  allegations as possible against Tom’s family. The blog once again came up as an apparent issue of contention on the part of Siporin.

“I don’t understand why a guardian brought up issues of media law and free speech in a probate court setting,” says Sadashivan. “Thankfully, Judge Ryan stuck to the real issue of Tom’s guardianship and simply allowed me to withdraw the petition.”

Sadashivan says he plans to continue using available legal remedies to try and bring his son home. However, he says there appears to be no one overseeing Tom’s case other than those who are benefitting financially.

Sadashivan says he hasn’t seen any kind of treatment plan for his son. He says he isn’t provided any details on the health and well-being of Tom beyond what Tom is able to tell him on weekends. Sadashivan says he hasn’t been told about the plan for Tom to continue schooling and that there doesn’t appear to be any timeline for Tom’s return to living with his family full-time, to returning to the life he had been building before he was taken away a year ago.

Perhaps most important, Sadashivan says, is the fact Siporin is so concerned about the family’s blog that he appears to be spending a tremendous amount of time and resources on it instead of working with the family to best facilitate Tom’s continued health and recovery.

Similar cases about online content and those trying to strip away First Amendment rights of bloggers have been heard around the country, only to be thrown out by some of the nation’s highest courts.

For example, the Georgia Supreme Court weighed in on Chan vs. Ellis, a case in which one party (Ellis) did not like some of the opinions being published about her on a website. The court ruled in favor of Chan and on the side of free speech.

As the EFF (which helped back online freedom of speech by recruiting top law professors from around the U.S.) said in a post about the case, “while Ellis may not have liked what people said about her, that’s not enough to stifle publication of opinions expressed to the general public.”

Siporin’s case against Sadashivan claims more than $25,000 in damages resulting from the blog.

Sadashivan says, however, the family has no intentions of shutting down and will continue to push for change to Michigan’s guardianship system and, at the very least, hope others can learn from Tom’s experience.

“Until First Amendment laws are changed to prohibit us from expressing our opinion and feelings about the need for revision to Michigan’s guardianship system, we will continue to do so,” says Anand.

Full Article & Source:
Royal Oak Guardian Files Lawsuit Against Ward’s Father Over Blog About Michigan Guardianship System

The Power Of The Past: Boomers Catch Nostalgia Fever

Martha T.S. Laham  Headshot
Do you remember watching the original airing of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, or I Love Lucy? If you're nodding your head, smiling, and wistfully thinking back on the playful charm of these television shows from the 1950s and 1960s, you're probably like many boomers who wax nostalgic about an earlier time, when life was simpler, more streamlined, and less dependent on the Internet for everything.

Many boomers have been bitten by the nostalgia bug. In response, many marketers are using nostalgia to sell everything from whiskey to perfume and cars to sneakers. Let's take a closer look at the concept of nostalgia, and learn how the power of the past can spell good business in the present.

The word "nostalgia" has Greek roots. 
 Nostalgia is believed to have been derived from Homer's The Odyssey (about 675-725 BCE). The word was created by combining the Greek words for "homecoming" and "pain, ache."

In its modern usage, nostalgia is defined as "pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again." Today, the word has gained tremendous popularity. In fact, nostalgia landed on Merriam-Webster's 2014 Words of the Year list.

Nostalgia is a domain of the brain.
In the realm of psychoanalysis, nostalgia is a longing to return to an idealized past, specifically a scrubbed narrative of the past. This is known as a screen memory, a mash-up of entangled memories minus negative emotions.

When you hear, smell, or taste something that takes you back to the past, you're experiencing screen memories, according to an article entitled "The Nature of Nostalgia." Of the five senses, smell is closely linked to a part of the brain that processes emotions, called the olfactory bulb, which is a component of the limbic system, the brain's emotional hub. So, when you catch a whiff of a gardenia, you may think back to your prom night when your prom date presented you with a gardenia corsage--the sweet scent of nasal nostalgia.

Hard times can foster nostalgia.
During tough economic times, people tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses, according to a Euromonitor International industry report. A shaky economy or an uncertain political environment can stoke the fire of nostalgia, as people are apt to hold on to something familiar and makes them feel good.

Retro brands are staging a comeback.
Consumers often seek products and services that help them reanimate the warm and fuzzy feelings that they felt during happier days. These retro brands are repurposed versions of brands from a prior era.

To market retro brands, companies frequently use nostalgia with the intent of triggering an emotional response from the consumer. This practice is known as retro marketing, also known as flashback branding. According to an article entitled "Nostalgia Products: Making a Tasty Comeback," advertisers add a "mix of retro-cool to their advertising campaigns."

Take Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer 9. Microsoft blasted consumers back to the past in a video titled "Child of the '90s." The video featured fad products like the yoyo, troll doll, fanny pack, pumpable sneaker, and Hungry Hungry Hippos. When the video went viral, both Microsoft and Microsoft Windows enjoyed a boost in their brand power, according to Adweek.

Boomer brands sing a nostalgic tune.
In an earlier blog post entitled "Here Comes the Boom: 15 Things You Should Know About the Next Wave of Seniors," boomer brands were presented, including Harley-Davidson, Volkswagen, Noxzema, the Beatles, Pepsi, Absolut Vodka, Saturday Night Live, Facebook, Coach, Levi's, Club Med, L'eggs, Frye Boots, and Clairol.

Consider the Beatles. To grab baby boomer eyeballs and ears, Beatles' songs have cropped up in a variety of advertising campaigns. For example, in 1987, Nike launched Nike Air Max with a commercial featuring tennis sensation John McEnroe, basketball great Michael Jordan, and The Fab Four's song "Revolution."

The fashion industry recycles retro.
Fashion trends are historically cyclical. According to an article in Vogue, fashion designers, including Tom Ford, Prada, Pucci, and Gucci, have revived retro-style garments from the 1970s for their spring/summer 2015 collections. So, if you stored away your crop tops, fringed suede jackets, paisley shirts, go-go boots, and bell-bottoms, it's time to bring them out of mothballs.

But an outfit isn't complete without accessories, including jewelry. Jewelry designer Deborah Porterfield of A Touch of Class Jewelers explains that jewelry trends evolve too. "During the '70s, we saw layered chains, leather wristbands, bulky jewelry, long earrings, and the peace sign used in everything from earrings to bracelets to rings. It's a trend in jewelry we're seeing again today." Porterfield compared ever-changing fashion trends to "a revolving door."

Dead celebrities are brought back to life to pitch products.
Audrey Hepburn makes a virtual appearance in a Galaxy Chocolate commercial. Gene Kelly raps and break dances to a club mix of "Singin' in the Rain" in a VW Gold GTI spot. Bruce Lee makes his CGI debut in a Johnnie Walker Blue Label ad. Marilyn Monroe co-stars with Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, and a very alive Charlize Theron in a splashy fragrance commercial for J'Adore by Dior.

Whether you like or dislike the practice of bringing a celebrity back from the dead to pitch products, this creative strategy can strike a chord with baby boomers. According to a Time's article entitled "Digital Necromancy: Advertising with Reanimated Celebrities," the use of "delebs" in ads is driven by nostalgic baby boomers.

You'll probably be able to find updated versions of once-popular products from the good old days as long as nostalgia resonates with consumers. After all, the almost defunct Hostess Twinkie was partly saved by what else: public nostalgia.

Full Article & Source:
The Power Of The Past: Boomers Catch Nostalgia Fever

See Also:
The Con Game - Failure of Trust

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Vegas Voice Guardianship Seminar

Julie Belshe (a family victim of guardian April Parks) with Vegas Voice Publisher, Dan Roberts, at The Vegas Voice Guardianship seminar, held at Sun City MacDonald Ranch.

Don't miss our next Guardianship seminar on Thursday, July 2 at 6:30 PM, at Siena, sponsored by the Siena Conservative Club.

Facebook: The Vegas Voice

Betrayal of trust: Part Three

Shannon Mullen, @MullenAPP 

Elder abuse cases like Barbara J. Lieberman's aren't supposed to happen in New Jersey.

The state has one of the strongest guardianship laws in the U.S.

On paper, that is.

New Jersey toughened the rules in 2006 after a scandal involving an Ocean County attorney, Gary S. Beninson.

A Toms River resident with a law practice in Lakewood, Beninson, like Lieberman, was a trusted attorney who regularly received guardianship appointments from the court.

Secretly, though, he was stealing millions from dozens of incapacitated wards, authorities said.

Beninson later admitted to taking $1.7 million and was sentenced to seven years in state prison. He was released in 2005 after serving just over 10 months at a state work farm.

As a result of his case, New Jersey guardians aren't allowed to manage the affairs of more than five wards at one time.

In addition, third-party guardians like Beninson are no longer common, as they are in other states. Typically now, if there is no family member able and willing to take on the responsibility of being the guardian, judges will make the incapacitated person a ward of the state.

That change has placed the agency responsible for their care, the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian for Elderly Adults, under increasing strain.

In just the past two years, its caseload has soared 40 percent, to about 1,550 wards. Meanwhile, the agency's annual budget hasn't increased. It's remained at $1.3 million for nearly five years.

A 2013 state audit faulted the agency for its "archaic" accounting system and sloppy record keeping.

Among other problems, a storage room where clients' coins, jewelry and other valuables were kept was in disarray, confidential files were stacked in the hallways, and the estates of two clients who had died in 2007 and 2008, totaling $130,000 in assets, had yet to be dispersed to heirs.

State Auditor Stephen M. Eells referred one unspecified finding, related to "questionable" professional services, to the state Division of Criminal Justice for further investigation. No further information is available on that issue, Eells says.

The agency told the auditor that it has corrected these problems.

Acting Public Guardian Helen C. Dodick declined, through a spokeswoman, an interview request from the Asbury Park Press.

(Continue to Section 2)

Full Article & Source:
Betrayal of trust: Part Three

Betrayal of trust: Part Three - Section 2

Little Enforcement

A system with no checks and balances

Most private guardians are required to submit status updates and financial reports, but many county surrogate offices — which oversee guardianship cases — simply don't have the manpower to make sure they do, let alone scrutinize the reports that are filed. Since the Beninson scandal, both Monmouth and Ocean counties have hired full-time accountants to keep abreast of the paperwork.

In New Jersey, however, guardianship cases are shrouded in secrecy.

The state's laws shield guardianship financial documents from public scrutiny. The identities of incapacitated individuals and their guardians are kept confidential, even from family members in some cases.

Minnesota has taken a different approach.

The state makes all guardianship documents public. In recent years, it also has created a statewide database to keep tabs on guardians, and in a further bid for transparency, it has given anyone the right to call for an accounting of someone holding a power of attorney.

Yet A. Kimberley Dayton, a Minnesota law professor, says guardianship abuses are still rampant in the state.

The reason? The laws simply aren't being enforced, she says.

One of the perpetrators was an appellate court judge who admitted to stealing approximately $300,000 from a trust fund he oversaw for a friend's incapacitated adult daughter.

Read the full sentencing report.

"They keep holding up Minnesota as a model of post-guardianship monitoring. And I know what's going on," says Dayton, one of the country's leading experts on guardianship abuse and crimes against the elderly.

"I just don't think any state is doing a good job," she says.

(Continue to Section 3)

Full Article & Source:
Betrayal of trust: Part Three

Betrayal of trust: Part Three - Section 3

Back in the courtroom

Handcuffed and sentenced

Lieberman avoided a trial by pleading guilty to one count of money laundering. She also agreed to pay $3 million in restitution, surrender her law license, and to testify against her co-defendants, if necessary.

On March 25, the day of her sentencing, Lieberman, 63, returned to the same courthouse where she built her reputation as a bright, trustworthy attorney.

Barbara Lieberman at her sentencing for laundering almost $4 million, stolen from elderly victims.

This time she wore handcuffs and an orange inmate jumpsuit.

In brief remarks delivered with a steady voice, she thanked and apologized to her family, and spoke of the support she's received from her minister.

"He tells me that God has forgiven me," Lieberman said. "I appreciate that intellectually, but in truth, in my heart, I can't forgive myself."

Hear Lieberman's entire statement to the court.

Lieberman called her conduct "indefensible." Yet she said nothing specific about what she'd done, let alone why she'd done it, and made only an oblique reference to her victims.

"I'm just grateful that I can make them whole for the pain that I know I have caused them," Lieberman said.

She failed to mention that 14 of her 16 victims are dead. Or that the bulk of her restitution money could wind up in the New Jersey treasury.

So far, relatives of only two of the deceased victims have come forward.Together, those relatives will receive about $574,000 of the funds, a court document shows.

If no one else claims the remaining $2.5 million within two years, that money will be forfeited to the state.

See the list of Lieberman's victims.

State Superior Court Judge Michael A. Donio sentenced Lieberman to 10 years in state prison. She must serve 31/2years before becoming eligible for parole.

In scathing comments from the bench, Donio compared her crimes to child abuse.

"Some people will say there's nothing worse than taking advantage of a small child; nothing worse than a sexual predator who lays and waits for a small child to molest," Donio said.

The judge at Barbara Lieberman's sentencing expressed his disgust with her crimes.

"A good argument can be made that what was done to these elderly victims who were in assisted living or nursing facilities, unable to care for their physical or mental well-being and were preyed upon by this lawyer and allegedly by her team of co-conspirators is just as bad. I agree," he said.

"(The exploitation of) elderly people who worked and saved their whole life to end up ... broke because of this greed should be met with the swift sword of justice."

This was no momentary lapse of judgment, Donio noted, but a "continuous course of illegal activity" that spanned a decade, at least.

"Are there other victims? Did it occur over greater than 10 years?" the judge asked.

"We may never know."

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Betrayal of trust: Part Three

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Betrayal of Trust: Part Two

Shannon Mullen, @MullenAPP 

Barbara and Ken Martin never stood a chance.

Thoroughly outmatched, their legal fight to free Barbara Martin's aunt, Helen Hugo, from the grip of what they believed to be an unwarranted guardianship in 2012 ended in a humiliating defeat.

Not only was Hugo, then 81, declared mentally incapacitated, but the last of her retirement savings was awarded to the attorneys who represented her. Among them was her court-appointed temporary guardian, Barbara J. Lieberman.

The court left her broke.

The Martins say they only wanted what was best for Hugo. Never married, she lived by herself with her cat, Sweetie Pie, in an apartment in Buena, Atlantic County.

The Martins' bid to help Hugo backfired miserably, however. Accused by Lieberman and others of a host of illegal acts, including Medicaid fraud and forgery, they wound up under a cloud of suspicion.

It still hovers over them today, three years after the trial.

The Martins' loss was Lieberman's gain. By discrediting them, she protected herself. Because, despite all their flaws, the Martins had been right on one crucial point:

Lieberman was stealing from some of her elderly clients.

Her secret still safe, Lieberman was free to continue her deception.

If not for an alleged accomplice's pangs of conscience, she might be doing it still.

There are fundamental flaws within the structure of guardianship.

(Continue to Section 2)

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Betrayal of trust: Part Two

Betrayal of Trust: Part Two - Section 2

'It's about making money'

Thieves are everywhere

In the U.S., scamming the elderly is a nearly $3 billion-a-year-business.

Its growth potential is off the charts.

America is getting grayer by the day. By 2050, the 65 and older population is expected to hit 80 million, almost double what it is now.
Within 12 years, seniors will comprise 20 percent of New Jersey's population, up from 14 percent in 2012.
The scams run the gamut. Becoming a guardian in order to exploit someone is one of the most effective tricks, because it gives a predator total control over someone's life and assets, usually with little or no court oversight.

In the only two states that track the amount of assets under guardians' control, Minnesota and Idaho, the combined total comes to more than $1 billion, says Brenda K. Uekert, a leading guardianship expert.

"I don't think people understand the amount of money we're talking about," says Uekert, principal court research consultant with the National Center for State Courts, in Williamsburg, Virginia.

"You're talking about billions of dollars under the courts' watch."

Alternatives to guardianship. Click to open and close.

An even easier way than guardianship to gain access to that money is to get an elderly person to sign over a power of attorney.

The document gives whoever the elderly person designates the authority to act on his or her behalf in legal and financial affairs.

With guardianships, there's at least the potential for checks and balances. Judges, attorneys and county surrogates all play an oversight role. At least, they're supposed to.

In New Jersey, as in other states, guardians are required to file periodic reports updating the court on their wards' care and finances.

With powers of attorney, there's no such paper trail.

It's little surprise, then, that the majority of Lieberman's 16 victims involved powers of attorney. Three others were guardianship cases.

"Only in three cases did she (Lieberman) have to file accountings with the court. That left 13 cases where there were no prying eyes," says Martha Laham, a California business professor and author of "The Con Game: A Failure of Trust." The book covers guardianship abuse and other scams targeting the elderly.

A prominent elder law attorney in Atlantic County, Lieberman, 63, had a team of accomplices to help her scoop up victims, authorities say. To date, a grand jury has charged five co-defendants. They are all presumed innocent and all but one are still awaiting trial.

Lieberman was the quarterback of the group, a judge has said.

The group zeroed in on seniors in their eighties and nineties.

Many lived lonely lives. Most had no children or close relatives to watch over them in their twilight years.

Irma Schwarzberg was a prime candidate.

She was 87. Alone. And vulnerable.

(Continue to Section 3)

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Betrayal of trust: Part Two

Betrayal of Trust: Part Two - Section 3

Fancy cars, fluffy puppies

Surrounded by strangers

As a child, Linda Carestia loved visiting her "Auntie Irma's" toy shop on her visits to the Jersey Shore.

Her aunt — really a much older cousin — let her pick any toy she wanted, provided it wasn't too big for her to lug home on the train back to Massachusetts.

Along with the sweet taste of salt water taffy and the deep-fried aromas along Atlantic City's famed boardwalk, those toys made Schwarzberg's adopted home seem like a magical place. It was easy to see why Schwarzberg, whom Carestia describes as a feisty, "spark plug" of a woman, left Massachusetts and settled in Ventnor.

Decades later, though, when the two reconnected following the death of Schwarzberg's brother in 2009, the magic was gone.

By then, Schwarzberg, long divorced, lived by herself in a neglected house just blocks from the beach.

Watching over Schwarzberg was a group of women Carestia didn't know.

One was Lieberman, Schwarzberg's attorney; the others were Jan Van Holt, her sister Sondra Steen, and Schwarzberg's home health aide, Susan Hamlett, Carestia and authorities say.

Van Holt, Steen and Schwarzberg have not yet pleaded to the charges against them and are presumed innocent.

Jan Van Holt is charged with stealing money from elderly clients she dealt with through her business, A Better Choice.

Van Holt formerly worked as a caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services, the same agency that initiated Helen Hugo's guardianship in 2011.

In her county job, Van Holt crossed paths with Lieberman, one of a handful of private attorneys regularly assigned by the court to represent elderly clients in guardianship and estate cases in Atlantic County.

A hard-featured woman in her fifties with chopped blonde hair, Van Holt later sued the county, unsuccessfully, claiming it failed to stop a co-worker from sexually harassing her.

Van Holt stopped working for the county in 2006 and started her own business, A Better Choice. The company offered senior citizens a variety of in-home services, including running errands, scheduling medical appointments, and paying bills.

The Van Holt Carestia knew cultivated the look and lifestyle of a successful entrepreneur. She wore designer clothes and stylish scarves, and rolled up to her clients' homes behind the wheel of a shiny Mercedes, her toy dogs in tow.

"Fancy cars and fluffy puppies" is what Carestia remembers most about her.

She also recalls Van Holt's excitement about a condominium she'd recently bought. Carestia says Van Holt even invited her and her husband, John, down for a visit to the posh island off Florida's Gulf Coast.
"YEAH GONNA OWN A HOUSE ON SANIBEL ISLAND.....LIFE IS GOOD," reads a post on Van Holt's Facebook page, dated Jan. 18, 2011
Years earlier, on Jan. 5, 2005, Van Holt's sister, Steen, obtained a power of attorney from Schwarzberg when she was 87, according to a record on file with the Atlantic County Clerk's Office.

A little over a year later, Steen obtained a reverse mortgage for $405,000 on Schwarzberg's home, according to county clerk records. Such loans provide cash payments based on the home's equity.

Carestia says she knew none of this, but her suspicions were aroused when a piece of jewelry Schwarzberg had showed during one of her visits later disappeared.

One day, Carestia says, Van Holt called her with alarming news.

Schwarzberg herself was missing. Van Holt told her that Hamlett, the home health aide, had disappeared with her, Carestia says.

Carestia says Hamlett had a falling out with Van Holt and brought Schwarzberg to see an attorney, who notified authorities that Schwarzberg was likely the victim of elder abuse, a chronology that a source has confirmed.

"We had no idea what was going on. This became so big. The next thing I know I'm getting calls from the state, and lawyers and judges," Carestia says

Authorities later alleged that Lieberman, Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett had stolen $112,000 from Schwarzberg.

Frail and unable to pay her bills, Schwarzberg ultimately moved to a nursing home, where she died in 2013 after suffering a stroke, Carestia says. She was 95.

"It's heartbreaking," Carestia says now. "There's a lot of guilt that we carry, but we didn't know.

"There was nothing we could do."

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Betrayal of trust: Part Two

Monday, June 29, 2015

Betrayal of Trust: Part 1

An attorney's shocking crimes show how easy it is to steal millions from seniors.

Part One

Shannon Mullen, @MullenAPP

She has broken no law, committed no crime.

Yet Helen Hugo, a soft-spoken, grandmotherly, 84-year-old "Wheel of Fortune" fan, is a prisoner of the state.

Its laws and bureaucracy have forced the retired secretary into a nursing home. Disposed of her antiques and other belongings. Separated her from her cat, Sweetie Pie. Barred her closest relatives from visiting her, and exhausted her life's savings to pay the legal fees of the attorneys involved in her guardianship case.

In the court's eyes, Hugo is mentally incapacitated and requires a state agency to serve as her guardian and manage her care and finances.

That's what a judge ruled in 2012, after a five-day trial that Hugo didn't attend, except for a private conversation with the judge. She spent all of 33 minutes in the courtroom.

A sturdy, brown-eyed woman with warm, silky hands and wavy hair that's still more brown than gray, Hugo says the court ruling three years ago was "a lot of nonsense."

"Probably the people calling me nuts," she says, "are crazy themselves."

The terms of her guardianship aren't so easily dismissed. As a ward of the state, Hugo can't vote, write a check, receive her own mail, or make decisions for herself. Inmates in New Jersey have greater legal autonomy.

Helen Hugo, trapped by New Jersey's guardianship laws, was declared incapacitated and left broke by the court system.

Hugo has lived under those restrictions since the day she first met Barbara J. Lieberman.

An esteemed elder law attorney and respected member of the New Jersey bar, Lieberman, 63, served as Hugo's court-appointed temporary guardian prior to Hugo's capacity trial.

Attorney Barbara Lieberman in Superior Court in Atlantic County earlier this year.
(Photo: Staff photo/Bob Bielk)

At the same time, Lieberman was leading a double life as a thief. Using her legal skills and her status as a trusted insider, she stole millions of dollars in other cases involving 16 seniors in their eighties and nineties.

Among them was the 85-year-old widow of the former head of the Ocean County Police Academy in Lakewood.

Lieberman moved some into nursing homes and sold their homes. With several, she manipulated their wills so she could keep stealing from them even after they died, authorities have said.

More than a year after Lieberman's crimes came to light, Hugo, who never married and was living alone prior to her guardianship, is still fighting to be free again, to go where she wants, when she wants, even to be reunited with her beloved Sweetie Pie.

The problem is, she can't.

(Continued in Section 2)

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Betrayal of trust:  Part 1

Betrayal of Trust: Part 1 - Section 2

Too much authority

A secret system

Like tens of thousands of elderly New Jerseyans, and at least 1.5 million Americans, she's consigned to a guardianship system that's shrouded in secrecy, tangled in red tape, and rife with corrupting temptation.

Across the U.S., the vast majority of court-appointed guardians do difficult, honest work, providing a critical service for society's most vulnerable citizens.

But there are some who have exploited a system with few checks and balances, using the supreme authority the courts grant them over their wards' lives to enrich themselves.

The lawbreakers have included family members, attorneys, professional guardians, even a high-ranking judge in Minnesota.

Guardianship investigations in New Jersey and other states.
Corrupt guardians have stolen millions in New Jersey in recent years, and perhaps billions across the country.

No one knows for sure.

New Jersey's top judge says these crimes are "deeply troubling."

"There are simply too many cases in which individuals who've been granted authority, who've been granted responsibility, take advantage of the very people that they have ...promised to assist," New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said June 15 at an elder abuse conference at Stockton University in Galloway.

The crimes are easy to commit and even easier to hide. Few courts across the country have the resources, or will, to police the guardians they appoint.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner
At risk is the biggest treasure chest of all: $30 trillion — yes, trillion — that today's graying baby boomers have amassed in assets over the last 50 to 70 years. That's enough money to run the U.S. government for three decades.

Why does all this matter to you? Because every cent stolen is more money that the government will have to pony up through Medicaid payments, and your tax dollars, to care for the elderly and infirm admitted to nursing homes.

And the next victim could someday be your loved one — a parent, a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle.

Maybe even you.

(Continue to Section 3)

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Betrayal of trust:  Part 1

Betrayal of Trust: Part 1 - Section 3

'Not a normal life'

Pining for the way things were

Hugo's story shows just how convoluted and confounding guardianship cases can be.

Lieberman hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing in her handling of Hugo's affairs, and a New Jersey appellate court has affirmed the judge's decision to strip Hugo of her legal rights.

Helen Hugo speaks about her life after a guardian took control. 

Yet four different psychiatrists who have examined Hugo have said she doesn't need to be in such a restrictive type of guardianship.

One even said she showed no signs of dementia.

On her most recent cognitive test, earlier this year, Hugo scored 28 out of a possible 30 points. A score of 23 or lower is considered a indicator of cognitive impairment.

Nearly four years after being diagnosed with "progressive cognitive decline," she's sharp enough to hold a long conversation, critique President Barack Obama's leadership skills, and discuss the legal process that led to her placement in a county-owned nursing home, Meadowview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in Northfield, Atlantic County.

"Did I need to be here? No," Hugo told an Asbury Park Press reporter who visited her in the cramped room she shares with another resident.

"Because my life was OK before. I used to go to the senior center. I had Meals on Wheels," she said.

The life she knew is a distant memory now. Outside the window by her bed, a summer sunset splashed golden light and lengthening shadows across the grass and trees.

Another day had passed her by.

"I miss my own stuff. I miss my cat. I miss being able to come and go, cook my own food. I just miss having a normal life.

"And this," Hugo said, looking around her disinfectant-scented surroundings, "is not what I consider a normal life."

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Betrayal of trust:  Part 1