Saturday, April 9, 2016

Texas hospice owner ordered nurses to overdose patients, FBI says

DALLAS – The owner of a Dallas-area hospice ordered nurses to increase drug dosages for patients to speed their deaths and maximize profits, according to an FBI affidavit.

A copy of the affidavit for a search warrant obtained by KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth alleges Brad Harris ordered higher dosages for at least four patients at Novus Health Services in Frisco. It's unclear whether any deaths resulted from overdoses of drugs like morphine.

Harris has not been charged. The FBI on Wednesday declined to say whether an investigation is ongoing.

The warrant refers to an FBI raid on the hospice in September. It alleges Harris sent text messages to workers such as, "You need to make this patient go bye-bye." On another occasion, Harris told administrators during a lunch meeting that he wanted to "find patients who would die within 24 hours."

In at least one instance, an employee refused to follow orders to increase a dosage, the warrant said.

The document explains that federal reimbursements can diminish the longer a patient receives care. A provider eventually can be forced to return federal payments.

A woman who answered the phone Wednesday at Novus declined to comment. Attempts to reach Harris for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful. A working number for him could not be found; listings for a Brad Harris in the Dallas and Houston areas had either been disconnected or turned out not to be his. The Associated Press also sent a request for comment to two email addresses believed to be his.

Harris, 34, is an accountant who founded Novus in 2012, according to KXAS, citing state records.

Novus' website says the company offers hospice and home health care services.

The FBI investigation of Novus, which included interviewing several employees, began in 2014 and initially focused on allegations that the company sought federal reimbursements for patients recruited by Novus who didn't qualify for services, according to KXAS.

Full Article & Source:
Texas hospice owner ordered nurses to overdose patients, FBI says

Attorney calls for sanctions against Passaic County Superior Court judge

An attorney for a state judicial ethics committee on Wednesday called for sanctions against Passaic County Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Portelli, saying the judge made insulting and sexual remarks to attorneys and witnesses who regularly appeared in his courtroom.

An emotional Portelli and his attorney, meanwhile, asked the committee to dismiss the ethics charges against the judge, arguing that the accusations do not withstand the truth test.

The arguments were made at a formal hearing in Lawrenceville before the state’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, which filed a disciplinary complaint against Portelli last September.

The hearing was to determine whether Portelli engaged in wrongdoing. If the committee reaches that finding, it will recommend to the state Supreme Court to impose penalties, which range from reprimand to removal from the bench.

“Judge Portelli is here today remorseful and apologetic,” his attorney, Ralph Lamparello said. “He may not be a perfect judge, but the fact of the matter is, he is a very good judge with a terrific record.”

The hearing Wednesday was briefly interrupted at one point when Portelli burst into tears and stepped outside covering his face with tissue, accompanied by his wife and his attorney. The committee members stopped the hearing for a few minutes until Portelli collected himself and returned to the hearing room. Portelli later testified before the committee and repeatedly broke into tears again.

Portelli also said during the hearing that the ethics complaint against him might be related to his ruling in the case of two Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission officials. The officials, Anthony Ardis and Paul Bazela, were prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office and were convicted in a trial of using employees to make repairs at their homes while they were on commission time.

But defense attorneys requested a new trial, arguing that Ardis and Bazela should have been tried separately. Portelli agreed and issued a decision in August 2014 granting a new trial to Ardis and Bazela.

“I knew they were very upset with my decision,” Portelli said Wednesday of the state Attorney General’s Office. “Their complaint to the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct was made a month and a half after my decision. Maybe it’s coincidence.”

Portelli is accused of three counts in the complaint. The complaint also accuses the judge of making comments that he felt child guardianship cases were “long and boring.”

Maureen Bauman, disciplinary counsel for the committee, said the judge’s conduct was worthy of penalties and called several witnesses to support the allegations.

In one count, two attorneys with the state Attorney General’s Office, which represents the state in child guardianship and parental termination cases, testified that Portelli invited them to his chambers and complimented one of them by saying that she does a good job. The judge also used a vulgar term to describe how that attorney, Patricia O’Dowd, deals with her opposing counsels.

O’Dowd’s supervisor, Peter Alvino, testified at the hearing that he was shocked by the judge’s remarks.

“That was clearly out of bounds,” Alvino said.

O’Dowd also testified that she felt the comment was inappropriate.

Lamparello, Portelli’s attorney, said that Portelli had earlier admonished O’Dowd for grimacing and shaking her head while the judge was making a ruling. The judge later invited O’Dowd and her supervisor into his chambers and complimented O’Dowd because he felt bad about admonishing her earlier in front of her supervisor.

“He was trying to diffuse the situation,” Lamparello said.

Lamparello also said that Portelli’s exact words were that O’Dowd “really sticks it to her adversaries when she has to.”

Both Alvino and O’Dowd testified that the complaint against Portelli had nothing to do with his involvement in the case of Ardis and Bazela.

In another count, Jessica Checo, an adoption worker, testified that Portelli complimented her looks and her nails while she was on the stand. But Lamparello pointed out during cross-examination that Checo was not sure if Portelli complimented her during her testimony or in an informal setting during ordinary exchange of pleasantries.

Lamparello also pointed out that Checo was not consistent in her account of how Portelli complimented her. Checo said at the hearing Wednesday that Portelli wrote his compliments on a legal pad and held it up for her to see, but Lamparello said Checo had said in an earlier statement that the judge had used a Post-It.

Portelli testified that he verbally complimented Checo about her looks and her manicure and denied that he wrote anything on a pad or a Post-It. He said he did not say it in a sexual manner but admitted that in hindsight, he believed his comments were still inappropriate.

In testimony regarding a third count, Kathryn Kolodziej, a deputy attorney general who frequently appeared in Portelli’s courtroom, said the judge told to her, “No you cannot sit on my lap.” But she added that the comment was never made in a sexual manner.

“I never thought that that was the judge’s intention,” she said. “He said it in a casual, lighthearted, jokey kind of way, just to lighten the mood. I didn’t think twice about it.”

Portelli denied that his remarks were sexual.

“I certainly meant nothing sexually implicit,” he said. “I admit it, I should not have said that. It was just a stupid remark.”

Lamparello submitted 61 letters from attorneys and former prosecutors that were written in support of Portelli’s character. He also called as a witness one attorney who appeared regularly before Portelli and described him as “the Mary Poppins of [Children in Courts] because he was firm and fair and that children liked him.”  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Attorney calls for sanctions against Passaic County Superior Court judge

State looks into unit to investigate financial crimes against elderly

The New Hampshire Department of Justice is seeking to relaunch a two-person unit dedicated to prosecuting and investigating financial crimes against the elderly.

The Executive Council will vote today whether to accept and authorize the federal grant funding of $255,800, which would cover salaries of a lawyer and victim advocate, training and travel.

“This grant really does allow us to provide leadership in an area that is going to be (one) you see more and more of as the years go on,” said Jim Boffetti, who heads the Department of Justice consumer protection bureau.

The Department of Justice’s elder unit closed up seven years ago when the grant funding its operations ran out, Boffetti said. Cases of elder abuse are on the rise, he said, both in the state and nationwide.

A new state law that took effect last year criminalizes the financial exploitation of an elderly or impaired adult.

Full Article & Source:
State looks into unit to investigate financial crimes against elderly

Friday, April 8, 2016

Memphis lawyer investigated for mishandling veterans’ funds

by Michael Volpe 

As the VA investigation of a Memphis attorney continues, the financial damage caused by former lawyer Keith Dobbs to the veterans he was supposed to take care of is becoming clearer. 

Seal of the U.S. Veterans Administration. (Public domain, U.S. government image)

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2016 — The extent of the financial damage caused by a Memphis lawyer now under investigation by the Veterans Administration (VA) for mishandling veterans’ funds is now becoming more clear.

Matt Hall said that nearly the entire life savings of his sister, Blae Bryce, had  been taken by Memphis attorney Keith Dobbs. Bryce, a Navy veteran, was a ward in guardianship with her finances handled by Dobbs, the individual chosen to be her conservator.

Guardianship is a legal relationship that gives one or more individuals or agencies responsibility for the personal affairs of the protected person, defined as an individual who has been determined by the court to be either incompetent or incapacitated.

Things began to unravel for Dobbs when he became the subject of a January 2016 series of investigative pieces by  the Commercial Appeal, which broke the news that Dobbs was the subject of an investigation by the Veterans Administration.

The VA was “currently investigating allegations of misuse and replacing Mr. Keith Dobbs as fiduciary for all of our court-appointed Veterans,” according to an emailed statement sent to the Commercial Appeal by Dana M. Farr of the VA’s fiduciary hub and cited in a February 2016 article.

Martin Greenwell, spokesman for the Veterans Benefits Administration’s fiduciary hub in Louisville, Kentucky, which is heading the investigation, did not respond to a voicemail from CDN for comment.

In February 2016, Dobbs was removed as conservator for all his VA-related cases. Shortly thereafter he temporarily surrendered his license to practice law. Dobbs did not respond to an email requesting comment and his attorney, Matt Scholl, did not respond to a voice mail for comment.

While the VA unravels the extent of Dobbs’ apparent misdeeds, the veterans under his care have suffered. The February 2016 article by the Commercial Appeal focused on the plight of one veteran, Bobby Bouie, who received a lump sum settlement of $656,507 in 2012 for a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claim from the VA. Bouie, who was under the care of Dobbs since that time, had an account balance of $1,600 when Dobbs was removed.

According to Matt Hall, his sister, Blae Bryce, who, like Bouie, is also disabled due to chronic PTSD, suffered a similar fate. He said she had received $720 per month and $2,905 in VA monthly benefits with $2105 in monthly rent, a $500 per month allowance and $110 for phone and cable.

Despite apparently having more than enough income to cover her monthly expenses, Hall said his sister’s bank balance has nearly been drained dry from a beginning balance of approximately $35,000 to less than $3,000 as of her most recent bank statement.

“Mr. Dobbs has been uncooperative as far as communicating, returning calls, emails and text, even in the best of times.” Hall said. “An example is when my sister’s cable and phone were disconnected during the Christmas Holidays 2014. It took him a week to return my call prior to Christmas. When he did finally call his response was that he would take care of it after (the Christmas) Holidays which would have been an additional 10 days, leaving her without [any] outside communications whatsoever.”

Ironically, guardianship is generally designed to protect individuals from themselves, financially and otherwise. But Hall views Dobbs as a predator and believes no one was there to protect Bryce from the man chosen by the VA to handle her finances.

“I think Dobbs is the lowest kind of criminal preying on disabled veterans,” Hall said to CDN. “These veterans served their country and this man has absolutely no respect for their sacrifice which made them his wards in the very first place. Hiding behind an attorney just shows that Keith Dobbs only cares about Keith Dobbs with no remorse for what he has been caught doing. Dobbs took everything, all of her $35K savings and social security over three years.”

Hall told CDN he had several arguments with Dobbs over spending issues until Dobbs blocked his email in January 2015. Hall said that this is the first time he has been able to see his sister’s bank balances since she was put into guardianship and Dobbs was made her conservator.

Dobbs was originally the subject of a Daily Caller exposé in 2014 featuring the plight of a Korean and Vietnam War veteran named Norman Hughes Jr., then 79. Hughes was forced to move out of the home of his caretaker, where he paid $2,700 per month and into a room in a retirement community where he had to pay $7,200 per month after Dobbs was named his conservator.

In Hughes’ case, he began with a bank balance of just more than $150,000 when he entered guardianship under Dobbs’ care. That balance had declined to $80,000 at the time the article was written.

“I need somebody’s help to help get me out of here,” Hughes said in the Daily Caller story when the DC called him in the nursing home.

Full Article & Source:
Memphis lawyer investigated for mishandling veterans’ funds

See Also:
NASGA Victims' Profile:  Norman Hughes - TN

Lawyer, accomplices indicted in $600 million federal fraud case

A Kentucky lawyer, a retired administrative law judge and a psychologist have been charged with committing $600 million in disability fraud by submitting phony medical records to the government, according an indictment unsealed on Tuesday.

The 18-count federal indictment accused Eric Christopher Conn, an attorney who advertised his services through the website, of directing the fraud scheme over the course of eight years with two other named defendants - David Black Daugherty and Alfred Adkins.

Prosecutors allege Conn filed more than 2,000 bogus claims with the Social Security Administration seeking disability benefits totaling more than $600 million, some of which was obtained by Conn's clients in the form of retroactive payments. 

Full Article & Source:
Lawyer, accomplices indicted in $600 million federal fraud case

The Latest: Disability attorney pleads not guilty to fraud

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — The Latest on the federal indictment of disability lawyer Eric Conn, who billed himself as "Mr. Social Security" (all times local):

4:45 p.m.
Lawyers for a Kentucky attorney and a psychologist charged in a disability scheme have entered not guilty pleas in federal court for their clients.

Attorney Eric Conn and clinical psychologist Dr. Alfred Bradley Adkins appeared Tuesday in federal court, both wearing hand and leg irons. The men gave brief responses when spoken to by Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier.

Conn remains in custody, with a detention hearing set for Thursday afternoon. Adkins was freed on a personal recognizance bond with the stipulation that he remove from his home firearms that were found there when he was arrested.

Conn, Adkins and former Social Security administrative law judge David Daugherty are accused of colluding to secure millions in federal benefits for Conn's clients while enriching themselves.

2 p.m.
A Kentucky lawyer who billed himself as "Mr. Social Security" has been indicted on charges that he made millions by paying a doctor and a judge to rubber-stamp disability claims using phony medical evidence.

The indictment against Conn, former Social Security administrative law judge David Daugherty and clinical psychologist Dr. Alfred Bradley Adkins was unsealed Tuesday. Among other charges, they have been indicted for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Conn, Daugherty and Adkins are accused of colluding to secure millions in federal benefits for Conn's clients while enriching themselves as well.

Conn's attorney James Deckard declined to comment as he arrived at the courthouse for the defendants' court hearing Tuesday afternoon. Adkins' attorney Jonah Stevens said his client "has the presumption of innocence."

Full Article & Source:
The Latest: Disability attorney pleads not guilty to fraud

Bristol lawyer charged with stealing from estate

A longtime Bristol, Tennessee, attorney is in trouble with the law.

Don Cooper has been indicted by a Sullivan County grand jury on the charge of theft of $250,000 or more.

Members of the grand jury say Cooper illegally took cash from a Bristol family's estate worth more than $250,000. He’s accused of stealing that between May 2012 and Nov. 2013.

Cooper’s law license was temporarily suspended on Dec. 4, 2015, by the disciplinary counsel of the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

News 5 WCYB obtained the order which states Cooper “misappropriated funds and poses a threat of substantial harm to the public.”

He was “immediately precluded from accepting new cases” and had to stop representing existing clients by last January.

News 5 WCYB has learned Cooper’s law license is still suspended.

He is due in court on May 13.

Full Article & Source:
Bristol lawyer charged with stealing from estate

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Joe Roubicek: Joe's Cases: Shanghai'd For Profit

“Shanghai” refers to a time when sailors were taken either by force, the use of drugs, or liquor. This case is about someone shanghaied by a predator and the health care system, while it prevails today in a different form called “Isolate, Medicate and Take the Estate.”

It was New Year’s Day, 1991 when Christine Cobb, a 64-year-old retired postal worker, cried with relief. This was her first day of freedom from the Broward General Hospital’s psychiatric ward. She had been drugged, sedated and under observation after being committed using a Florida law called the “Baker Act,” which allows a person who may be dangerous to him/herself or others be held involuntarily for 72 hours.

Her problems began two months earlier when she moved into an unlicensed adult living facility (ALF). Just a one-story house owned and operated by 29-year-old Jennifer Smith, a former employee of the state’s Adult Protective Services agency who was very familiar with the procedures that regulated group homes in Florida. Before that, she was a bank teller with a good understanding of check-cashing procedures. She appeared to be a polite and pleasant woman, but Christine found otherwise.

Jennifer Smith began by stealing Christine’s purse and reporting to police that both of their purses, identifications and checkbooks, had been stolen. She lied about having her own identification stolen because as a former bank employee, she believed that she could still use her identification to cash stolen checks while claiming the “thief” had done it.

When Christine Cobb demanded her purse be returned, Smith insisted that she was imagining things, or delusional. Christine was outraged!

The nightmare worsened. After Christine served her purpose, she was handcuffed and led away to the psychiatric ward by police, because Jennifer Smith had Baker Acted her. Christine cried foul, infuriated with Smith and her lies, but no one would listen. The more upset she became, the more they restrained and drugged her and eventually she became despondent.

While Christine was drugged and confined, Smith began forging and cashing the victim’s checks for over $10,000. Smith used her own identification, confident that she could later insist that the thief who had stolen her ID had cashed the checks but ironically, the same bank tellers she once worked with identified her for police.

For unknown reasons, Christine was held for observation for 30 days instead of the customary 3 days. Healthcare workers later admitted there never was any basis for committing her while the state of Florida (the taxpayers) paid for Christine’s hospital stay.

Full Article and Source:
Joe's Cases:  Shanghai'd for Profit

Health services CEO ruthlessly took advantage of the terminally ill and elderly, killing patients for profit

A Texas based healthcare company has been accused of expediting the deaths of hospice patients via drug overdoses in order to increase profits, according to a report by NBC 5. Brad Harris, 34, founded Novus Health Care Services, Inc. in July 2012, state records show. The company is based in Frisco.

Individuals employed with Novus accuse Harris of making heartless comments about hospice patients living too long. He allegedly instructed nurses to speed up their death by doubling, tripling and quadrupling their medication.

Harris, an accountant with no medical background, reportedly "instructed a nurse to administer overdoses to three patients and directed another employee to increase a patient's medication to four-times the maximum allowed," the FBI wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant obtained by the local news.

'Hastening the death' of hospice patients

"You need to make this patient go bye-bye," Harris allegedly wrote in a text sent to a nurse employed with Novus. In the first instance, the nurse refused her boss's instructions, but the FBI affidavit is unclear as to whether or not any hospice patients were harmed by Harris' lethal business model.

Apparently, healthcare providers have an incentive to get rid of patients fast because they do not "make more money for longer hospice stays," reports NBC 5. According to the FBI, hospices are subject to an "aggregator cap," which limits Medicare and Medicaid payments based on the average annual hospice stay.  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Health services CEO ruthlessly took advantage of the terminally ill and elderly, killing patients for profit

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Few Clark County guardianship cases are in compliance with Nevada laws


An internal review of guardianship cases in Clark County showed that less than half are in compliance with state laws and that most vulnerable adults are stripped of rights without an attorney.

District Court Judge Diane Steele provided an in-depth overview of the county’s guardianship caseload during a presentation to the Nevada Supreme Court commission studying guardianship. The panel has been meeting since last summer in an effort to fix the state’s troubled system. The commission was formed following a Review-Journal series highlighting the flaws and lack of oversight of county’s guardianship system that watches over thousands of at-risk adults, called wards.

Most compliance issues stemmed from family members not knowing they needed to file annual reports for their incapacitated family member, according to the report.

But the study showed that about 850 of the 3,800 active cases have not filed the required annual accountings that show how a ward’s money was distributed and spent over a 12-month period. In 975 cases, the initial inventory — which lists the assets of the ward such as real estate, vehicles and liquid assets — was also missing, the report said. Without an inventory, it’s nearly impossible for the court to know what the ward owned or how much money the estate is worth. Steele added that several cases have multiple compliance issues.

Steele said she hopes that a newly implemented, case-management system, which automatically flags cases for numerous types of compliance violations, will help bring more cases in line with state law.
The previous guardianship software did not notify the courts if the guardians failed to file accountings or inventories.

The report also showed that 85 percent of wards have no legal representation through the guardianship process. That means those wards, most of whom have already been deemed unfit to handle their own affairs, face the potential loss of rights that comes with guardianships alone and without any knowledge of the system.

The commission has bounced around the idea of recommending that all wards be given the right to an attorney, much like those facing criminal charges, but it has not made a formal decision yet.

The commission is scheduled to meet twice more, on April 22 and May 20, before making recommendations for changes to laws and court procedures to the Supreme Court.

Full Article & Source:
Few Clark County guardianship cases are in compliance with Nevada laws

Nevada AG joining local efforts to stop dishonest guardians

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and law enforcement officials from around the state are joining forces to stop legal guardians who swindle the disabled and elderly clients they're hired to protect.

Laxalt's office formally announced a joint guardianship and elder exploitation task force on Thursday, although it's been working quietly since last summer to investigate abuse cases.

The move follows Las Vegas Review-Journal articles last spring about wards who lost their life savings to professional, private guardians appointed by courts to help manage their financial affairs.

The attorney general's office is now dedicating an employee to investigate the cases full-time alongside Las Vegas police.

The Nevada Supreme Court is also working to correct flaws in the guardianship system through a commission that's expected to recommend changes later this spring.

Full Article & Source:
Nevada AG joining local efforts to stop dishonest guardians

Rothstein Investor's Home Sells for Nearly $3 Million

Scott Rothstein
A Boca Raton mansion owned by Scott Rothstein investor and auto magnate Ed Morse has been sold at auction, but a yacht owned by another investor, George Levin, did not.

The two items were among the final pieces of the disbarred Ponzi king's tainted haul, with the proceeds to be distributed to victims of the $1.2 billion fraud scheme.

The house sold March 3 for $2.85 million—$350,000 more than had been offered by a stalking horse bidder. The buyer was an undisclosed businessman, said Jason Welt, whose Weston company, Trustee Realty Inc., handled the sale.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Raymond Ray in Fort Lauderdale was expected to approve the sale at a hearing Tuesday.

Morse, who died in 2012, was swindled out of $57 million he gave to Rothstein through his son, Ted Morse. The senior Morse planned to move into the house, which cost him $9 million to build.

Levin's $1 million yacht named — some say ironically — Clueless didn't sell after being featured at the Miami International Boat Show last month. The yacht has three staterooms, five bathrooms, an atrium, captain's cabin, handcrafted African wood and leather upholstery. Hollywood-based Michael Moecker & Associates Inc. is accepting offers starting at $400,000.

A final online auction of 31 pieces of jewelry, watches, pens and gold bars owned by Rothstein is planned in April.

Full Article & Source:
Rothstein Investor's Home Sells for Nearly $3 Million

See Also:
Hospital Returns $1 Mil Donation

Kim Rothstein, Wife Of Ponzi Schemer Scott Rothstein, Charged With Conspiracy To Commit Money Laundering

Scott Rothstein Gets 50 Years in the Federal Pen

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Family Court judges not doing enough to prevent guardianship abuse

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - Fists flew at today's Guardianship Reform Commission meeting, but not in the way you might think.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears watched as one judge got hot under the collar about how frighteningly easy it is to lose control of your money and freedom in a Clark County guardianship.
Nevada's top judge literally banged both fists on the table--demanding more.

More scrutiny, more oversight and more questioning from the court about whether someone really needs a guardian.

Now, all it takes is a simple form, a few check marks in a few boxes, sometimes signed by a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant.

It doesn't even require a doctor.

It's the paperwork presented by a proposed guardian telling the court you're incompetent and can no longer care for yourself or your money.

That practice has resulted in what critics call fraudulent guardianships.

And Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice James Hardesty says it's got to stop.

"In order to avoid the risk of abuse where guardians are appointed without greater information, the judge needs to be saying--and I think the commission needs to be recommending--that the judge must ask for more before the guardian is appointed."

That's just one of the many sweeping changes the commission is working on to overhaul Nevada's guardianship system.

The driving force for that is what Contact 13 has been exposing about exploitation and lax oversight in our guardianship system.

Today, commissioners learned more than half of the 3,800 active cases in Clark County are not compliant with state law--or haven't been reviewed for compliance.

There are still 1,000 cases that need to be reviewed.

The Commission also learned that Family Court judges often were not reading reports or financial accountings in a timely fashion. Sometimes, those documents weren't reviewed at all.

Judge Cynthia Diane Steel says those reports will now be reviewed within one day of being filed to ensure cases don't fall out of compliance.

Another startling statistic, 85-percent of wards (people under guardianship) in Clark County don't have attorneys to represent them. Contrast that to the fact that nearly all professional guardians do have lawyers, and they're being paid with the wards' money.

Forty three percent of cases complained about are those involving professional guardians.

One thing the Commission began evaluating today is whether guardianships should be limited in scope so guardians don't systematically get complete and total control over every aspect of a person's life and estate.

There are an average of 66 new guardianship cases in Clark County every month--that's more than two people per day--meaning change can't come soon enough.

Full Article & Source:
Family Court judges not doing enough to prevent guardianship abuse

Scott signs bill aimed at unscrupulous guardians

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (By The News Service of Florida) -- Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed a bill aimed at better protecting elderly Floridians from unscrupulous guardians.

The measure (SB 232), filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, calls for the Department of Elder Affairs to certify and oversee professional guardians. Under the bill, the Statewide Public Guardianship Office at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs will expand to become the Office of Public and Professional Guardians. It will establish standards for public and private guardians, receive and investigate complaints and penalize guardians who breach the standards.

Detert has often cited a December 2014 series by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which 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. By 2014, the number had grown to more than 440.

Detert said private guardians can sell off wards' assets to pay themselves -- even to fight the wards' grown children in court. Private professional guardians often serve wealthy people, while public guardians serve incapacitated people who don't have anybody willing and able to serve as guardians.

The state has had a more heavily regulated system of oversight for public guardians.

Detert and House sponsor Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, said the bill would propel Florida into a leadership role nationwide in protecting seniors from guardian abuse.

Full Article & Source:
Scott signs bill aimed at unscrupulous guardians

Banks urged to do more to protect senior citizens; here's what Cleveland banks do

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- With 57 million people in the nation who are 62 and older, regulators are encouraging banks and credit unions to do more to help protect vulnerable older customers from fraud and scam artists.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants banks and credit unions to train employees to watch out for senior citizens and to develop software to spot suspicious transactions often associated with scams that target older customers.

Several large banks in Greater Cleveland already train employees to be on the lookout for such problems, but most don't go as far as the CFPB would like.

A few facts make this a critical concern, said Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB in Washington, D.C. The senior population is increasing by 10,000 every day. And many fraud victims, even if they realize they've lost money, are embarrassed to get help. And fraud targeting older consumers is becoming more common and more sophisticated.

"Fighting it has never been more urgent," Cordray said. Reports suggest that nearly 20 percent of seniors may be victimized at some point. "It is crucial that others know how to look out for them."

Specifically, the CFPB wants banks and credit unions to:
 Train employees to prevent, detect and respond to financial abuse. There are warning signs every banker should watch for.

 Develop fraud detection software to uncover suspicious account activity, including transactions often associated with fraud against senior citizens. The software should include "predictive analytics" to monitor anything that deviates from someone's normal pattern of transactions or suggests involvement with scams known to target seniors.

 Offer opt-in account options, such as limits on cash withdrawals that are large or outside of a certain geographic boundary. Other possible options: account alerts and view-only access for trusted third parties, such as a close relative or attorney or financial adviser.

 Report suspicious activity to federal, state and local authorities. "Just as a reminder," Cordray said, "we joined with seven other financial regulators three years ago to clarify that financial institutions generally are able to report suspected financial abuse of older adults to the appropriate authorities without violating any privacy provisions in the federal banking laws."

 Allow older consumers to provide advance consent to have the financial institution share account information with a trusted relative or friend if something suspicious is going on.

Fraud and scams can range from theft involving a caregiver, to large voluntary cash withdrawals to give to someone who claims to need money. Other victims fall for lottery or prize scams, or fake charities.

Banks and credit unions play a critical role, Cordray said, "because they know their customers well and often have more opportunity to deal with older consumers face to face when they engage in transactions."

Here's what a few of the largest banks in Cleveland said they do for older customers:

Third Federal Savings:
"Third Federal already addresses many of the CFPB's recommendations around protecting customers from fraud/abuse," said spokesman Dave Reavis.

"We do this through regular internal training, reporting suspicious activity, using predictive analytics (for all our customers) and offering age-friendly services such as account alerts. We regularly conduct branch and customer service training to prevent elderly exploitation and scams, and have done so for several years."

The bank offers training to detect and prevent the exploitation of older customers. "Our corporate security team regularly meets with our retail banking team to discuss how they can assist customers to identify and avoid fraudulent scams," Reavis said.

Tellers also have a standard "cash withdrawal letter" that they can give to a customer at their discretion if the customer wants to withdraw a large sum of cash and the bank encourages him or her to use a cashier's check or official check instead. The letter emphasizes the risks of withdrawing big sums of cash.

Third Federal also relies on "know your customer" practices. That means knowing a customer's normal banking patterns and proactively discussing any transaction that seems unusual, Reavis said, adding, "while the elderly are often the target, we train our associates to look for scams from all customers."

The bank also posts signs and distributes flyers in the branches to educate customers about possible scams. And it regularly works with law enforcement and adult protective services.

The second-largest bank operating in Cleveland has a "comprehensive policy regarding financial exploitation of older and vulnerable adults," said spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel. Two years ago, PNC adopted a companywide policy to detect and report exploitation.

"PNC is committed to its customers' financial well-being and to building a relationship of trust," she said. "PNC's policy is intended to protect customers who may have been victimized." Bank procedures identify "certain red flags that may indicate possible exploitation of an elder or vulnerable adult, based on standards established by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, among other sources," she said.

The bank also has procedures for reporting suspected exploitation so that it gets attention within PNC. Employees who deal with elderly and vulnerable adults must receive training and go through refresher training every other year.

Fifth Third:
The bank trains employees to watch for warning signs of fraud, "and we often assist when we see an issue arise," said spokeswoman Laura Passerallo. The bank also does outreach to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to alert consumers about how to be on guard for fraud and scams.

The bank doesn't offer view-only accounts or opt-in alerts for third parties.

We don't have any view only accounts or opt-in alerts for trusted loved ones. They would have to be set up as joint account holders.

Key's approach to protecting customers -- older folks and others at risk -- is simple: "If we see something, we say something," said spokeswoman Drez Jennings.

The bank requires training for all employees who work with customers to watch "for unusual transactions or changes in how clients interact with them," she said.

They also watch for signs of physical or emotional abuse that might be precursors to financial crime, Jennings said.

Growing awareness has led to an increase in employees reporting possible abuse or fraud to the bank's corporate investigations team. Employees also regularly report concerns to Adult Protective Services.

"We also place a priority on protecting our clients' right to privacy," Jennings said, "and their right to personal independence."

The Columbus-based bank requires training for "front-line employees" to help them circumvent elder abuse, said spokesman Bill Eiler. Bank employees "have a strong track record of looking out for our customers if they perceive anything suspicious. Our employees are always alert for red flags and are encouraged to escalate concerns whenever they perceive something that does not seem right," he said.

Huntington doesn't currently have view-only accounts, although a customer could provide power of attorney to a trusted loved one to allow that person access.

Full Article & Source:
Banks urged to do more to protect senior citizens; here's what Cleveland banks do

Monday, April 4, 2016

Task force created to fight guardianship abuse in Clark County

Local and state law enforcement agencies have banded together in hopes of protecting the elderly and infirm from those who want to exploit them.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt officially announced Thursday that his office has partnered with with local district attorneys and police agencies to form a multi-agency task force to better protect vulnerable people under guardianships from financial exploitation and abuse.

The initiative started quietly in the summer on the heels of a Review-Journal series highlighting the flaws of Clark County’s guardianship system that oversees over 4,000 at-risk adults, who are often referred to as wards.

The series showed a lack of oversight by the courts that allowed private, for-profit guardians to skirt the system and drain wards of their freedoms and bilk their life savings, often within two or three years of becoming the guardian.

The new task force will add state resources to efforts historically handled by city and county law enforcement, including dedicating an attorney general fraud investigator to working exploitation cases alongside Las Vegas police. If a local district attorney decides to press charges, the attorney general’s office has pledged to help prosecute those cases.

“The satisfaction of the victim will be slow coming, but we want to expedite that and give them solace,” Sheriff Joesph Lombardo told The Associated Press. “We’ve learned that we have to not drag our feet.”

Guardianship abuse is notoriously hard for police to investigate and for attorneys to prosecute.

Once granted guardianship by the courts, the guardians have full control over a person’s life. They can access a ward’s bank accounts, sell any and all property — most without even informing the courts — and even force the ward to move out of their home.

Because of that access and power, proving theft in a guardianship becomes difficult unless it is completely overt. The cases are often document-intensive and can take several months from the time police submit the case until the time charges are pressed.

Even when abuses happen, wards are rarely able to report it themselves due to their physical or mental condition.

But in the past, even when claims of abuse are made, getting police to investigate has been problematic.

Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, who is chairing a year-long Supreme Court commission that is looking at ways to improve the state’s guardianship system, said one of the most common complaints heard at commission meetings has been that law enforcement hasn’t done enough to investigate guardianship abuse claims. Several have told the commission they were turned away because police said the cases were “civil matters.”

“That may be true for many of the issues that have been raised by people,” Hardesty said Thursday. “But certainly where the facts warrant at least an investigation, law enforcement should equip itself to do it effectively and that’s what they’ve done.”

The commission is scheduled to meet three more times before submitting its recommendations to the Supreme Court. The next meeting is 1 p.m. Friday at the Regional Justice Center.

Full Article & Source:
Task force created to fight guardianship abuse in Clark County

Guardianships for Disabled Young Adults

Consider a common situation: Mom and Dad care for their severely disabled child, who is quickly approaching 18 years of age. Let’s call this hypothetical soon-to-be adult Jane. Jane has suffered from severe autism her whole life. She has been in special education throughout her entire school career and requires specialized and frequent medical care.  Jane will never be able to live on her own or manage her finances. Jane’s parents will care for her indefinitely. Jane’s parents wonder if they need legal assistance to plan for Jane’s transition to adulthood.

Without proper planning, Jane’s parents will face great difficulty once Jane becomes an adult.   They will face difficulty communicating with Jane’s doctors, banks, and other financial institutions. This legal limbo poses serious practical problems for parents who are the sole caregivers of their disabled adult children.

Under Virginia law (which is similar to the law in other states), a parent is the natural guardian of a child until that child turns 18 years old. However, when Jane turns 18, she, disabled or not, is considered a legal adult under Virginia law. At that point, Jane’s parents have vastly less authority over Jane’s medical care and finances.

Jane’s parents may also believe that they can avoid this legal limbo if Jane executes a power of attorney. In Virginia, a person may execute a power of attorney appointing another person to act on his or her behalf. However, among other requirements, the maker of a power of attorney must be at least 18 years of age and possess legal capacity. By definition, disabled children are not yet 18 years old. In addition, many disabled adults will probably lack adequate capacity to execute a power of attorney.

Practically speaking, what are Jane’s parents to do? Due to her severe disability, Jane likely does not possess adequate capacity to execute a power of attorney. Jane’s parents’ best course of action would be to obtain guardianship and/or conservatorship over her.

Virginia Guardianship Basics
To obtain guardianship/conservatorship over a person, Virginia law generally requires:
  1. the parent to file a petition with the local circuit court;
  2. the parent to plead and prove certain facts, as set forth in the applicable statute;
  3. the parent to provide proper notice to certain relatives of the disabled adult,
  4. the Court to appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate and represent the interests of the disabled adult;
  5. the parent to obtain a doctor’s report and file the same with the Court, and
  6. the Court to hold a hearing to determine if the appointment is proper.
While guardianship/conservatorship proceedings may be instituted against an adult, Virginia law also permits the commencement of such proceedings when a child is seventeen years and six months old. This avenue provides a practical course of action for parents seeking a stress-free transition for their soon-to-be adult child.

Guardianships and conservatorships range in scope. In the final order, the Court will set forth the scope of each appointment. Generally, a conservator manages the estate of the disabled adult. This means supervising and operating bank accounts, negotiating checks and other instruments, making or taking out loans, entering into contracts, paying bills, and managing the estate of the disabled adult.
The guardian manages the disabled adult’s care, including determining residency, day-to-day care, and medical treatment. A guardian also has the authority to communicate directly with the disabled adult’s medical providers.

These appointments are not to be taken lightly. Both the guardian and conservator have tremendous power over the care and property of the disabled adult child. Consequently, they owe legal duties towards the disabled adult. In addition, the conservator must file accountings with the local Commissioner of Accounts, documenting the management of the disabled adult’s estate. The guardian must file annual reports with the local Department of Social Services regarding the disabled adult’s care.

Full Article & Source:
Guardianships for Disabled Young Adults

Nevada AG joining local efforts to stop dishonest guardians

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and law enforcement officials from around the state are joining forces to stop legal guardians who swindle the disabled and elderly clients they're hired to protect.

Laxalt's office formally announced a joint guardianship and elder exploitation task force on Thursday, although it's been working quietly since last summer to investigate abuse cases.

The move follows Las Vegas Review-Journal articles last spring about wards who lost their life savings to professional, private guardians appointed by courts to help manage their financial affairs.

The attorney general's office is now dedicating an employee to investigate the cases full-time alongside Las Vegas police.

The Nevada Supreme Court is also working to correct flaws in the guardianship system through a commission that's expected to recommend changes later this spring.

Full Article & Source:
Nevada AG joining local efforts to stop dishonest guardians

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Steve Miller: Why Have Jared Shafer And Elyse Tyrell Been Allowed to Fleece The Elderly And Disabled For Years?

Guardianship attorney and Nevada Supreme Court Guardianship Commissioner Elyse Tyrell is Jared Shafer's sign company's attorney and registered agent.

Shafer's PFSN, Inc. office manager Amy Viggiano Deittrick is his sign company's manager and runs the sign and guardian businesses out of Shafer's office located at 5858 S. Pecos Rd., Suite 500, in Las Vegas.

Signs of Nevada also uses Shafer's PO Box 50790, Henderson, Nevada.

I believe that Shafer and Tyrell's political advertising business is the reason so many judges and district attorneys have let them get away with their guardianship scams for so long.

Shafer allegedly has the ability to discount or donate his signs to candidates he and Tyrell favor, and based on the performance of Clark County Family Court Judges William Voy (also a Guardianship Commissioner), Charles Hoskin, Art Ritchie, and their appointed Hearing Master Jon Norheim (Rick Rizzolo's former lawyer), the sign company is paying them with dividends through their favored candidate's lack of attention and enforcement.

Based on Colton Lockhead's story in today's Review-Journal, I hope that Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson will no longer need Shafer and Tyrell's signs for his future campaigns, and will prosecute the duo to the fullest extent of the law for their crimes against the weakest of the weak in our society.
~ Steve Miller

Elyse Tyrell

Jared Shafer

Palm Beach man Martin Zelman, focus of twisted guardianship case, has died

A Palm Beach man, who was the focus of what amounted to a custody fight between his wife and his adult children, has died.

Martin and Lois Zelman in 2014
The death of Martin Zelman, a successful Long Island real estate investor, was announced by his family in an obituary that appeared on March 8 in the New York Times. He was 87.

His second wife, Lois Zelman, who fought his adult children’s efforts to separate them after 15 years of marriage, was not mentioned in the obituary.

Lois Zelman was ordered out of the couple’s Palm Beach condo in 2o14 by then-Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis. She believed Martin’s children’s claims that Lois was a threat to their father’s well-being. The decision was overturned nearly a year later by the 4th District Court of Appeal. It ruled that Lewis had for fallen for “legal hocus pocus” and had violated Lois’ rights.

But by that time, it was too late for the couple to resume their life together. With Martin Zelman falling deeper into the well of Alzheimer’s disease, he no longer recognized his wife, said attorney Jeff Fisher, who represented Lois in the litigation.

“Due to an abuse of the guardianship process, Lois lost the ability to care for and be with her husband in the last years of his life,” Fisher said Tuesday. “Martin’s passing makes that fact all the more painful for her.  At this point, we simply hope that the rulings from her case prevent the same thing from happening to other couples who are at a similarly vulnerable stage of their lives.”

At stake in the case was roughly $10 million. According to a prenuptial agreement, if Martin divorced Lois she wouldn’t get the money.

In the guardianship case, Lewis ruled that Martin was incompetent and appointed his children as his guardians. But she let him preserve the ability to file lawsuits. While a divorce suit was filed, Judge Charles Burton later threw it out, ruling that Martin lacked the capacity to understand what he was doing.

The dispute was ultimately settled out of court.

Full Article & Source:
Palm Beach man Martin Zelman, focus of twisted guardianship case, has died

See Also:
Appeals court blasts judge’s order to make woman, 80, leave condo

Senate passes bill to better protect senior citizens from abuse

Senator Patrick Gallivan announces the Senate has passed a bill to make it easier for victims of elder abuse to provide testimony in criminal proceedings against their abuser.

The legislation would allow elderly witnesses, age 75 or older, to be examined conditionally in order to preserve their testimony for future use.

“We have a responsibility to protect our senior citizens,” Gallivan said. “Elder abuse, whether physical, psychological or financial, is on the rise as our senior population continues to grow. This legislation helps ensure those who abuse and exploit the elderly are held accountable and do not go unpunished.”

The bill would allow recorded testimony from elderly witnesses to be used as evidence at a later date in a criminal proceeding. Under current law, victims can only be examined conditionally – or record their testimony before a trial begins – if they suffer from a demonstrable physical illness or incapacity. Unfortunately, some victims who appear healthy at the outset of an investigation pass away before the trial begins.

In a case prosecuted a few years ago, a man in his 90’s, said to be in good health for his age, was the victim of theft by his long-time home aide. He passed away after the aide’s arrest but before the case was presented to a Grand Jury. The case was prosecuted, but would have been improvable if the aide had not confessed.

“Offenders should not be able to game the system by delaying legal proceedings in the hope that an elderly witness will pass away before trial,” Gallivan said.

A conditional examination would preserve the testimony of witnesses who are of advanced age.
The bills have been sent to the Assembly.

Full Article & Source:
Senate passes bill to better protect senior citizens from abuse

Tooley's Cafe owner indicted on embezzlement, elder exploitation charges

The Henderson County grand jury has indicted the owner of Tooley's Cafe on several embezzlement and elder abuse charges, District Attorney Greg Newman confirmed Friday.

According to online court records, Kim Ellen Justice is charged with four felony counts of embezzlement and with three counts for exploitation of an elder adult. Newman said Justice is accused of taking millions of dollars from an elderly customer.

The indictments were handed down Wednesday, and more charges are expected to be brought in the coming weeks, Newman said.

Justice came in contact with an elderly man who would frequent Tooley's Cafe two years ago and formed a friendship with him, said a source close to the case who asked not to be named.

On Aug. 21, 2014, Thomas Byrne signed over his power of attorney rights to Justice, according to Henderson County register of deeds online records.

Then, over the next several months, Justice began transferring funds from Byrne's bank and investment accounts and taking the money, the source said.

“There are a lot of sad situations with the elderly and criminal activity,” Newman said. “If there's enough to support a charge, then the law enforcement agencies will charge someone.”

After an investigation was completed by the State Bureau of Investigation, authorities determined that there was enough information to bring charges against Justice, Newman added.

When contacted Friday by the Times-News, Justice said she did not want to comment on the charges.

The spokesperson for the State Bureau of Investigation could not be reached Friday because of the Good Friday holiday.

The Henderson County Courthouse also was closed on Friday, so court documents were not available.

Full Article & Source:
Tooley's Cafe owner indicted on embezzlement, elder exploitation charges