Wednesday, February 10, 2016

CA Investigation: Memphis lawyer removed from veterans' cases amid investigation

David Meadows
David Meadows' life revolves around bottles of medicine cluttered on his living room end table and a $200-a-week spending allowance the disabled veteran receives from the federal government.

Still, it was a comfortable life, until the brain-damaged Army veteran got a call last week informing him his government-appointed conservator — a stranger who manages his money — was under federal investigation.

Meadows said a Department of Veterans Affairs representative reported his account had been frozen — it was unclear when his next check would come.

"If my bills aren't paid I'll be out on the street,'' the graying Meadows, 62, said from an easy chair in his modest Millington rental home.

Meadows is far from alone as the VA's Office of Inspector General investigates actions by Memphis attorney Keith L. Dobbs, a VA-appointed fiduciary who has overseen the financial affairs of as many as 18 Memphis-area veterans in recent years. A VA spokesman declined to discuss specifics of the probe, yet records show the government moved last week to replace Dobbs from control of estates involving four Memphis veterans. Sources knowledgeable of the investigation said they expect that number to grow.

Dobbs' attorney, Michael Scholl, declined to discuss the case, saying, "At this point it wouldn't be proper for us to comment on any investigation. It's Mr. Dobbs' plan to rectify any problems that may have arisen in these accounts if any do exist.''

An independent investigation by The Commercial Appeal shows Dobbs, a licensed lawyer in Tennessee since 2007, has run the financial affairs of as many as 18 Memphis-area veterans. Sixteen of those cases came under a process known as a VA guardianship. In those cases, the VA files a petition to secure an extra layer of supervision in a public court for fiduciaries who run the affairs of disabled and mentally incompetent veterans.

Tennessee law limits an individual other than a family member to no more than 12 VA guardianships at a time. However, the newspaper's review of Shelby County Probate Court records indicates that in January Dobbs may have been in control of as many as 14 VA estates, one worth as little as $1,500 and another as much as $294,000.

Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd said he believes Dobbs has had as many as 10 to 20 cases but is uncertain if Dobbs ever exceeded the limit.

Boyd said he was alerted to potential troubles in late January when he received an email from the VA informing him it was "investigating allegations'' involving Dobbs.

"I received notification that the VA is taking him off their cases,'' Dobbs said. He declined to release a copy of that email. The newspaper filed a request for the email pursuant to the Tennessee Open Records Act and is awaiting a determination by the County Attorney's Office.

The clerk's office has done its own review of Dobbs' files but Boyd said, "There's nothing that we have seen in the public court to say anything is wrong.''

The VA filed petitions last week to remove Dobbs from four cases, replacing him with Memphis attorney Alan R. Wolfe. Wolfe said the VA selected him because he has experience as a guardian, but said he has not been apprised of any possible irregularities.

Replying to a reporter's inquiry, Martin Greenwell, spokesman for the Veterans Benefits Administration's fiduciary hub in Louisville, Ky., released a four-sentence statement that said in part, "The VA has and will always respond swiftly to address any allegations of wrongdoing in order to protect the beneficiaries we serve.'' He referred questions to the VA's Office of Inspector General in Washington, but a spokesman there did not respond to messages.

Meadows, the disabled veteran, said he detected troubles last month when a check from Dobbs failed to clear his bank.

"That's the second time it bounced,'' Meadows said, handing a reporter a letter from his bank and a copy of a $50 check that Dobbs wrote on Jan. 13 from Meadows' VA account.

Meadows said he receives $3,000 a month in veteran's benefits and another $1,300 a month in Social Security disability payments — money that went to Dobbs as his VA payee. Dobbs, in turn, paid Meadows' rent and utilities and provided Meadows with a weekly, $200 stipend for food and personal spending.

Meadows said he received a troubling phone call on Feb. 1 from a VA representative informing him Dobbs had been removed as his conservator and that the attorney was under federal investigation. Meadows said the agent told him his account has been temporarily frozen.

"He said I cannot expect another check.''

Meadows said he's scheduled to have a meeting Sunday with the VA agent. But he's worried and confused after placing a series of follow-up phone calls that went unreturned.

"I can't even get an answer from the VA,'' he said.

"I'll have to go downtown and beg for an opportunity to stay somewhere until this is resolved,'' he said.

"I gave what I had for my country ... And today I'm in fear of my life.''

Full Article & Source:
CA Investigation: Memphis lawyer removed from veterans' cases amid investigation

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Norman Hughes

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