Saturday, October 28, 2017

Special Report: In the market for human bodies, almost anyone can sell the dead

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LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The company stacked brochures in funeral parlors around Sin City. On the cover: a couple clasping hands. Above the image, a promise: “Providing Options in Your Time of Need.”

The company, Southern Nevada Donor Services, offered grieving families a way to eliminate expensive funeral costs: free cremation in exchange for donating a loved one’s body to “advance medical studies.”

Outside Southern Nevada’s suburban warehouse, the circumstances were far from comforting. In the fall of 2015, neighboring tenants began complaining about a mysterious stench and bloody boxes in a Dumpster. That December, local health records show, someone contacted authorities to report odd activity in the courtyard.

Health inspectors found a man in medical scrubs holding a garden hose. He was thawing a frozen human torso in the midday sun.

As the man sprayed the remains, “bits of tissue and blood were washed into the gutters,” a state health report said. The stream weaved past storefronts and pooled across the street near a technical school.

Southern Nevada, the inspectors learned, was a so-called body broker, a company that acquires dead bodies, dissects them and sells the parts for profit to medical researchers, training organizations and other buyers. The torso on the gurney was being prepared for just such a sale.

Each year, thousands of Americans donate their bodies in the belief they are contributing to science. In fact, many are also unwittingly contributing to commerce, their bodies traded as raw material in a largely unregulated national market.

Body brokers are also known as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinct from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates. Selling hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal. But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts.

“The current state of affairs is a free-for-all,” said Angela McArthur, who directs the body donation program at the University of Minnesota Medical School and formerly chaired her state’s anatomical donation commission. “We are seeing similar problems to what we saw with grave-robbers centuries ago,” she said, referring to the 19th-century practice of obtaining cadavers in ways that violated the dignity of the dead.

“I don’t know if I can state this strongly enough,” McArthur said. “What they are doing is profiting from the sale of humans.”

The industry’s business model hinges on access to a large supply of free bodies, which often come from the poor. In return for a body, brokers typically cremate a portion of the donor at no charge. By offering free cremation, some deathcare industry veterans say, brokers appeal to low-income families at their most vulnerable. Many have drained their savings paying for a loved one’s medical treatment and can’t afford a traditional funeral.

“People who have financial means get the chance to have the moral, ethical and spiritual debates about which method to choose,” said Dawn Vander Kolk, an Illinois hospice social worker. “But if they don’t have money, they may end up with the option of last resort: body donation.”

Few rules mean few consequences when bodies are mistreated. In the Southern Nevada case, officials found they could do little more than issue a minor pollution citation to one of the workers involved. Southern Nevada operator Joe Collazo, who wasn’t cited, said he regretted the incident. He said the industry would benefit from oversight that offers peace of mind to donors, brokers and researchers. 

“To be honest with you, I think there should be regulation,” said Collazo. “There’s too much gray area.”


Donated bodies play an essential role in medical education, training and research. Cadavers and body parts are used to train medical students, doctors, nurses and dentists. Surgeons say no mannequin or computer simulation can replicate the tactile response and emotional experience of practicing on human body parts. Paramedics, for example, use human heads and torsos to learn how to insert breathing tubes. 

Researchers rely on donated human body parts to develop new surgical instruments, techniques and implants; and to develop new medicines and treatments for diseases. 

“The need for human bodies is absolutely vital,” said Chicago doctor Armand Krikorian, past president of the American Federation for Medical Research. He cited a recent potential cure for Type 1 diabetes developed by studying pancreases from body donors. “It’s a kind of treatment that would have never come to light if we did not have whole-body donation.” 

Despite the industry’s critically important role in medicine, no national registry of body brokers exists. Many can operate in near anonymity, quietly making deals to obtain cadavers and sell the parts. 

“There is a big market for dead bodies,” said Ray Madoff, a Boston College Law School professor who studies how U.S. laws treat the dead. “We know very little about who is acquiring these bodies and what they are doing with them.” 

In most states, anyone can legally purchase body parts. As an upcoming story will detail, a Tennessee broker sold Reuters a cervical spine and two human heads after just a few email exchanges. 

Through interviews and public records, Reuters identified Southern Nevada and 33 other body brokers active across America during the past five years. Twenty-five of the 34 body brokers were for-profit corporations; the rest were nonprofits. In three years alone, one for-profit broker earned at least $12.5 million stemming from the body part business, an upcoming Reuters report will show. 

Because only four states closely track donations and sales, the breadth of the market for body parts remains unknown. But data obtained under public record laws from those states – New York, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida – provide a snapshot. Reuters calculated that from 2011 through 2015, private brokers received at least 50,000 bodies and distributed more than 182,000 body parts.
Permits from Florida and Virginia offer a glimpse of how some of those parts were used: A 2013 shipment to a Florida orthopedic training seminar included 27 shoulders. A 2015 shipment to a session on carpal tunnel syndrome in Virginia included five arms. 

As with other commodities, prices for bodies and body parts fluctuate with market conditions. Generally, a broker can sell a donated human body for about $3,000 to $5,000, though prices sometime top $10,000. But a broker will typically divide a cadaver into six parts to meet customer needs. Internal documents from seven brokers show a range of prices for body parts: $3,575 for a torso with legs; $500 for a head; $350 for a foot; $300 for a spine. 

Body brokers also have become intertwined with the American funeral industry. Reuters identified 62 funeral operators that have struck mutually beneficial business arrangements with brokers. The funeral homes provide brokers access to potential donors. In return, the brokers pay morticians referral fees, ranging from $300 to $1,430, according to broker ledgers and court records. 

These payments generate income for morticians from families who might not be able to otherwise afford even simple cremation. But such relationships raise potential conflicts of interest by creating an incentive for funeral homes to encourage grieving relatives to consider body donation, sometimes without fully understanding what might happen to the remains. 

“Some funeral home directors are saying, ‘Cremation isn’t paying the bills anymore, so let me see if I can help people harvest body parts,’” said Steve Palmer, an Arizona mortician who serves on the National Funeral Directors Association’s policy board. “I just think families who donate loved ones would have second thoughts if they knew that.” 

Some morticians have made body donation part of their own businesses. In Oklahoma, two funeral home owners invested $650,000 in a startup body broker firm. In Colorado, a family operating a funeral home ran a company that dissected and distributed body parts from the same building. 

When a body is donated, few states provide rules governing dismemberment or use, or offer any rights to a donor’s next of kin. Bodies and parts can be bought, sold and leased, again and again. As a result, it can be difficult to track what becomes of the bodies of donors, let alone ensure that they are handled with dignity. 

In 2004, a federal health panel unsuccessfully called on the U.S. government to regulate the industry. Since then, more than 2,357 body parts obtained by brokers from at least 1,638 people have been misused, abused or desecrated across America, Reuters found. 

The count, based on a review of court, police, bankruptcy and internal broker records, is almost certainly understated, given the lack of oversight. It includes instances in which bodies were used without donor or next-of-kin consent; donors were misled about how bodies would be used; bodies were dismembered by chainsaws instead of medical instruments; body parts were stored in such unsanitary conditions that they decomposed; or bodies were discarded in medical waste incinerators instead of being properly cremated. 

Most brokers employ a distinctive language to describe what they do and how they make money. They call human remains “tissue,” not body parts, for example. And they detest the term “body brokers.” They prefer to be known as “non-transplant tissue banks.”

Most also insist they don’t “sell” body parts but instead only charge “fees” for services. Such characterizations, however, are contradicted by other documents Reuters reviewed, including court filings in which brokers clearly attach monetary value to donated remains. 

A lien filed by one body broker against another cited as collateral “all tissue inventory owned by or in the possession of debtor.” In bankruptcy filings, brokers have claimed body parts as assets. One debtor included as property not only cabinets, desks and computers, but also spines, heads and other body parts. The bankrupt broker valued the human remains at $160,900. 

“There are no real rules,” said Thomas Champney, a University of Miami anatomy professor who teaches bioethics. “This is the ultimate gift people have given, and we really need to respect that.”

Last December, Reuters reported that more than 20 bodies donated to an Arizona broker were used in U.S. Army blast experiments – without the consent of the deceased or next of kin. Some donors or their families had explicitly noted an objection to military experiments on consent forms. Family members learned of the 2012 and 2013 experiments not from the Army but from a Reuters reporter who obtained records about what happened. 

In another case, Detroit body broker Arthur Rathburn is scheduled to stand trial in January for fraud, accused of supplying unsuspecting doctors with body parts infected with hepatitis and HIV for use in training seminars. U.S. officials cited the case as an example of their commitment to protect the public. But Reuters found that, despite warning signs, state and federal officials failed to rein in Rathburn for more than a decade, allowing him to continue to acquire hundreds of body parts and rent them out for profit. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Given the number of body brokers that currently operate in America, academics and others familiar with the industry say regular inspections of facilities and reviews of donor consent forms wouldn’t place a big burden on government. 

“This isn’t reinventing the wheel,” said Christina Strong, a New Jersey lawyer who co-wrote a set of standards that most states largely adopted for the organ transplant industry. “It would not be a stretch to envision a uniform state law which requires that those who recover, distribute and use human bodies adhere to uniform standards of transparency, traceability and authorization.” 

But without consistent laws or a clear oversight authority – local, state or national – “nobody is accounting for anything,” said Todd Olson, an anatomy and structural biology professor at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Nobody is watching. We regulate heads of lettuce in this country more than we regulate heads of bodies.”


Body brokers range in size from small, family-operated endeavors to national firms with offices in several states. Brokers also vary in expertise. 

Garland Shreves, who founded Phoenix broker Research for Life in 2009, said he invested more than $2 million in quality-control procedures and medical equipment, including $265,000 on an X-ray machine to scan cadavers for surgical implants. 

But other brokers have launched their businesses for less than $100,000, internal corporate records and interviews show. Often, the largest capital expenses are a cargo van and a set of freezers. Some brokers have saved money by using chainsaws to carve up the dead instead of more expensive surgical saws. 

“You have people who want to do it in a pretty half-assed way,” Shreves said. “I have really grown to dislike the business.” 

Brokers can also reduce expenses by forgoing the meticulous quality control procedures and sophisticated training called for by a national accreditation organization, the American Association of Tissue Banks. 

In Honolulu, police were called twice to storage facilities leased by body broker Bryan Avery in 2011 and 2012. Each time, they found decomposing human remains. Both times, police concluded that Avery committed no crimes because no state law applied. 

Steven Labrash, who directs University of Hawaii’s body donation program, said the Avery case illustrates the need for laws to protect donors. 

“Everybody knows that what he did was unethical and wrong,” Labrash said of Avery. “But did he break any laws? Not the way they are written today.”
Avery defended how he ran his business and said the incidents were the result of misunderstandings. He said he is now raising capital for a new company, Hawaii BioSkills, which he said will use body parts to train surgeons. 

“I’m all for oversight, and companies that are doing this need to be transparent,” Avery said. “As long as it doesn’t infringe upon the flow of business, that’s fine.” 

Walt Mitchell, a Phoenix businessman involved in the startup of three brokers, said one reason the industry attracts entrepreneurs is that businesses can profit handsomely from selling a donated product. 

“If you can’t make a business when you’re getting raw materials for free,” Mitchell said, “you’re dumb as a box of rocks.” 

Even so, a third of the 34 brokers Reuters identified went bankrupt or failed to pay their taxes, according to court filings. When failing businesses in the industry cut corners to save money, the consequences for the families of donors can be emotionally wrenching.


Harold Dillard worked with his brother resurfacing bathtubs and kitchen countertops in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer the day after Thanksgiving in 2009. 

“He was 56 years young, active, healthy, had a great life, and one night – bam!” said his daughter, Farrah Fasold. “He wanted to do the last selfless thing he could do before he died, and so he donated his body.” 

As her father lay dying, Fasold said, employees from Albuquerque broker Bio Care visited father and daughter, and made a heartfelt pitch: The generous gift of his body to science would benefit medical students, doctors and researchers. Fasold said Bio Care cited several sample possibilities, including that her father’s body might be used to train surgeons on knee replacement techniques. 

Fasold’s view of Bio Care soon changed. It took weeks longer than promised to receive what she was told were her father’s cremated remains. Once she received them, she suspected they were not his ashes because they looked like sand. She was correct. 

In April 2010, Fasold was told by authorities that her father’s head was among body parts discovered at a medical incinerator. She also learned – for the first time, she said – that Bio Care was in the business of selling body parts. 

“I was completely hysterical,” she said. “We would have never have signed up if they had ever said anything about selling body parts – no way. That’s not what my dad wanted at all.” 

Inside Bio Care’s warehouse, authorities said they found at least 127 body parts belonging to 45 people. 

“All of the bodies appeared to have been dismembered by a coarse cutting instrument, such as a chainsaw,” a police detective wrote in an affidavit. 

Bio Care owner Paul Montano was charged with fraud. According to the police affidavit, Montano denied abusing bodies and told detectives that he ran Bio Care with “five volunteer employees,” including his father. He did not respond to requests for comment. 

Prosecutors later withdrew the charge against Montano because they said they could not prove deception or any other crime. No other state law regulated the handling of donated bodies or protected the next of kin. (Click to Continue)

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Special Report: In the market for human bodies, almost anyone can sell the dead

Prosecutor spared discipline in key Louisiana Supreme Court decision over withheld evidence

In a key test of state ethics rules for prosecutors, the Louisiana Supreme Court has cleared a Vernon Parish assistant district attorney of misconduct over a decision to withhold allegedly exculpatory evidence in a murder case.

In ruling in favor of Assistant District Attorney Ronald Seastrunk, the court found that the state's legal ethics rules don't set a higher bar for prosecutors than the U.S. Constitution does when it comes to withholding evidence.

That means prosecutors in Louisiana likely won't face discipline — censure, suspension or disbarment — if they're caught failing to turn over evidence unless a court finds a "reasonable probability" that the evidence would have tipped the verdict.

That's the same standard the U.S. Supreme Court set for violations of Brady v. Maryland, the 1963 ruling that requires disclosure of all evidence favorable to a defendant.

Charles Plattsmier, the top enforcer for the state's Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which pushed for Seastrunk's suspension, said Wednesday's decision could affect numerous pending complaints against prosecutors.

"There are several cases in our inventory that we have paused further efforts on, pending a decision by the court" in the Seastrunk case, he said. "Now that we have the decision, we certainly will accept it, honor it and obey it. We're going to look at all of those cases and see if we can go forward."

The state's highest court hadn't previously addressed head-on whether a prosecutor can be punished and perhaps lose his or her law license for withholding evidence that might not cause a conviction to be overturned.

The answer came nearly six years after Justin Sizemore first stood trial over the June 14, 2010, murder of Christopher Hoffpauir, whose body was found in a roadside ditch.

Hoffpauir's wife, Kristyn, had carried on a relationship with Sizemore, and she eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter, conspiracy to commit manslaughter and obstruction of justice. But her conflicting accounts of where Sizemore hid before the killing were never revealed to his defense team until during his first trial, which ended in a deadlocked jury.

Later, a detective interviewed a former brother-in-law who said that, three years before the murder, Kristyn Hoffpauir's mother had mentioned that she had found a .22-caliber revolver in her daughter's closet. That seemed to contradict Kristyn Hoffpauir's testimony that she had no experience with firearms and had never owned or fired a gun.

But Asa Skinner, district attorney for the 30th Judicial District, told the detective to leave the story about the gun out of his report. Skinner then told prosecutor Scott Westerchil, who tried the case with Seastrunk, not to turn over the report to Sizemore's attorney.

Westerchil also faced an ethics complaint, which was aborted when he was elected a judge in 2015 and Plattsmier's office lost jurisdiction.

The police report on the interview with the brother-in-law was revealed during Sizemore's second trial. Judge James R. Mitchell first denied a defense motion for a mistrial. But the judge and prosecutors soon agreed on a mistrial after the statement about the gun being found in Kristyn Hoffpauir's room was revealed, along with a claim that she had once threatened to kill her mother.

All of that evidence was included in a new police report that prosecutors turned over to the defense before Sizemore's third trial in 2012, which ended with a jury convicting him of murder. (Click to Continue)

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Prosecutor spared discipline in key Louisiana Supreme Court decision over withheld evidence

What You Need to Know About Nursing Homes

New regulations, growing competition and frailer residents mean the industry must evolve


Chris O'Riley

Nursing homes must follow strict government guidelines, including providing 24-hour access to a skilled nursing staff.

En espaƱol | In the aftermath of two major hurricanes that recently ravaged Texas and Florida, nursing home administrator Janine Finck-Boyle said, “You can’t just be prepared for when the disaster hits, you have to be prepared for what comes after.”

Finck-Boyle’s words are also true of those facing the declining health of parents or others they care about.


Many families seek out a nursing home only when a health emergency forces them to. Often that leaves them unprepared to make quick decisions about which facility is the best for what may be many years of residence. “It’s a time of real crisis, and families are pressured to make these decisions,” says Kathleen Unroe, a nursing home doctor at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research.

But the hurricane-related deaths at a nursing home in Florida and photos of nursing home residents sitting in wheelchairs with water up to their waists near Houston provide a stark illustration of the need to learn everything possible about the nursing home industry before a crisis.

Here are some answers that will help as you decide where your loved one should live.

How big is the nursing home industry?

There are about 15,600 nursing homes that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs in the United States, a number that largely has held steady since 2009. These operations serve as home for roughly 1.4 million of America’s most frail citizens.

Who pays for the care? 

Taxpayers who fund Medicaid pay the majority of America’s nursing home bills. In 2015, the program was the primary payer for roughly 62 percent of residents, Kaiser Family Foundation research showed. And some patients get Medicare coverage in their first months at a facility.

Who owns nursing homes? 

In 2015 about 68 percent were owned by for-profit corporations, and 24 percent were run by nonprofit organizations, with the rest government-owned. All are regulated under a complex system. The federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) crafts the regulations and guidelines for America’s nursing homes. But enforcement is left to the states, each of which is required to perform unannounced inspections of every facility. The state’s review of the nursing home is subject to CMS approval.

Nursing home dollars and cents

What level of care is expected? 

Nursing homes must follow strict government guidelines. Among the requirements: Provide 24-hour access to a skilled nursing staff, and make sure all medical treatment is supervised by a physician. The regulations also require facilities to provide “services to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental and psychosocial well-being” of each resident. Patients often have multiple medical conditions, and also can require assistance with daily activities such as bathing and dressing. In 2015, nursing home staff spent a national average of 4.1 hours attending to each resident per day.

Who is the typical nursing home resident? 

Most arrive after having exhausted other less comprehensive forms of care. Many older adults who don’t require daily medical assistance choose to live in lower-cost assisted living facilities. Others use a home- or community-based service that allows them to receive help in their own home. Changes in Medicaid policy let the government program pay for more home- and community-based services for Americans who need ongoing care. This has had an unforeseen consequence: More people are arriving at nursing homes when their health is poor.

Federal rules were overhauled last year. What changed?

Government regulators have been striving to put more control into the hands of residents, who now have more say over when they see visitors, whom they share a room with and what they eat. There are also new rules designed to protect residents against theft and financial rip-off, and residents have more control over when they can be discharged. There is also new legal protection for those with dementia, aimed to stop the practice of nursing homes sending such residents to hospitals and then refusing to readmit them.

What didn't change? 

One essential change was not made, critics say: The government did not address the need for staffing increases. Advocates had urged CMS to mandate that nursing homes have at least one nurse on site 24 hours a day (the current requirement is only eight hours). “Whenever you see a concern or problem in a nursing home, you can generally trace it back to inadequate staffing standards,” says Lori Smetanka, executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. “Until we fix that as a problem, we’ll not be able to improve the quality of care.”

But the nursing home industry successfully pushed back, noting the additional taxpayer expense that such requirements would create, and the difficulty in some places of finding trained workers. “It’s very hard to find staff to work in nursing facilities, especially in rural areas,” says David Gifford, a physician and senior vice president for quality and regulatory affairs at the American Health Care Association.

What may lie ahead? 

One promising initiative that is underway is a $30 million, eight-year “innovation demonstration project” called OPTIMISTIC, which is testing new approaches to improving the quality of care. In phase one of that project, additional nurses were embedded in 19 long-term care centers. The nurses were specially trained to coordinate the patients’ treatments to reduce the number of times residents had to be sent to hospitals.

Another new approach is for nursing homes to specialize in specific ailments. One home might be best equipped to care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, while another might focus on ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). And some companies are launching care facilities that offer unassisted living, assisted living and nursing home arrangements in one complex. The goal: Keep a person in one location throughout his or her later years.

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What You Need to Know About Nursing Homes

Woman who vanished in 1975 found alive in Lowell

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MONTICELLO, N.Y. (WHDH/AP) — A woman who disappeared from upstate New York after being dropped off for a doctor’s appointment 42 years ago has been found suffering from dementia and living in the Care One assisted-living facility in Massachusetts, authorities said.

The sheriff’s office in Sullivan County, New York, said Flora Stevens, 78, was using the last name Harris when detectives tracked her down this week at the residence in Lowell, near Boston. Officials said they’ve been unable to figure out details of what happened to her between the time she disappeared in August 1975 and when she was finally found.

“It’s not too often we get to solve a 42-year-old missing-person case,” Sheriff Mike Schiff said in a press release. “The main thing is we know Flora is safe.”

Police said Stevens was a 36-year-old employee of a Catskills resort when her husband dropped her off for a doctor’s appointment at a hospital in Monticello, 75 miles (121 kilometers) northwest of New York City. When he returned to pick her up, she wasn’t there.

Police periodically reviewed her missing person case but kept hitting dead ends. They got a break in September, thanks to a query from a New York State Police investigator working on a different cold case. The unidentified remains of a woman had been found in neighboring Orange County, and the investigator said they roughly matched Stevens’ general characteristics.

The state police investigators asked Sullivan County for help tracking down any relatives who could provide a DNA sample for possible identification. During a records search, Detective Rich Morgan discovered someone was using Stevens’ Social Security number in Massachusetts.

Deputies tracked the number to the Lowell assisted-living residence, where staff confirmed the number belonged to a resident named Flora Harris, who has lived there since 2001. Morgan and another detective went there Tuesday and confirmed Harris was actually the Flora Stevens who had disappeared in 1975.

Because of her condition, she couldn’t provide details of her life since then, police said. But the detectives brought along Stevens’ employee photo identification card from the now-defunct Concord Resort, and she recognized herself, officials said.

“She pointed at it and said ‘me,'” Schiff told 7News.

Her medical records under her new name show she lived in nursing homes in New Hampshire and New York City before arriving in Lowell, police said. Stevens’ husband died in 1985, and she apparently has no living relatives, officials said.

Schiff said investigators have officially closed Stevens’ case.

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Woman who vanished in 1975 found alive in Lowell

Friday, October 27, 2017

Woman battles unintended consequences of conservatorship bill

WSMV News 4

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Reba Sherrill’s legal bill for a lawyer she didn’t want and didn’t hire: $13,469.19.

"Oh my God!" she said when the News 4 I-Team showed her the 11-page detailed bill.

Davidson County's Probate Judge Randy Kennedy appointed attorney Cathryn Armistead in August to look after Sherrill's affairs.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center asked the judge to do that since Sherrill was a patient there and was about to be discharged.

Vanderbilt's lawyers told the judge that Sherrill had a borderline personality disorder and couldn't make her own decisions. Vanderbilt’s motion said no family members were able or willing to step in.

The same day Vanderbilt made the request, Judge Kennedy appointed Armistead at $175 an hour to arrange for Sherrill to be transferred to another facility and to handle the financial transactions. It's help Sherrill said was unneeded.

"I didn't want this. I didn't need this. Why should I pay for something that they sought?" she said.
Sherrill hired her own lawyers and went to court Oct. 11. She fought for, and won her freedom. Armistead was removed as her fiduciary.

The I-Team showed Sherrill what Armistead is billing her for: dozens of legal meetings, emails and phone calls, as well as a trip to Whole Foods grocery store, on the clock at $175 an hour to purchase and deliver food, soap and shampoo.

“Oh my God, you have got to be kidding me; $437.50. Do you know how much food she brought? It was half a bag! Half a bag! Has this woman lost her mind?" Sherrill said.

Armistead charged $437 to make a two and a half hour trip to the store, not including the cost of the food.

Sherrill said Whole Foods could have had delivered the groceries.

“I didn't need her. I didn't need anybody," she said. "Myself and my family should not be penalized for this mess that Vanderbilt created."

How does something like this happen? Who gave hospitals the right to have someone appointed to take over their patient's lives?

The legislature did, in 2013. Rep. Andrew Farmer introduced an amendment to a conservatorship bill that he explained would help hospitals free up bed space.

"If we have folks in a hospital unable to make decisions for themselves, the hospital has the authority to move them from the hospital to a nursing home," Farmer said before the 2013 vote.

Rep. Bill Dunn questioned it at the time, asking why the amendment wasn't debated in the committee system.

"It just sort of sends off alarms when something like this shows up," Dunn said.

Farmer said before the vote that it did not go through the committee system.

"It did not. It did not. It was an oversight on my part. I was approached by Vanderbilt and a couple of other hospitals." Farmer said in 2013.

Dunn watched our story about Reba Sherrill. He said he's concerned about how Vanderbilt used the new law to take over Sherrill's life.

"Just by watching the story it's obvious this was not what the legislature intended," Dunn told the I-Team.

The law gives fiduciaries very limited powers.

Armistead's own bills show she took on far more responsibilities at $175 an hour.

"It's obvious you shouldn't be charging someone 400-plus dollars to go to the grocery store," Dunn told the I-Team.

We found Armistead also billed for conversations with the man Sherrill has been divorced from for 10 years.

“Oh my God! She wrote to my ex-husband! Holy cow!” Sherrill said when she saw the legal bill.
The detailed billing showed Armistead also charged for investigating the value of Sherrill's house.

"And she demanded a key to my home; why? I'm not there," Sherrill said.

The legal bills show Armistead charged for repeatedly contacting Sherrill's attorney in Florida – an attorney who helped Sherrill win a million-dollar settlement after she was hit by a car.

Armistead got the judge to sign a court-order instructing the Florida lawyer to send the $1 million to the court system in Davidson County. That money would then become available to help pay the very lawyers who had taken control of Sherrill's life.

"That's what this whole thing was about. They wanted the money. If I was broke, do you really think they would bother with me?" Sherrill said.

Armistead did not return a call from the I-Team.

"In this case you all did a good job in discovering it, which will allow us to take a deeper look at the issue," Dunn told the I-Team.

Dunn said he wants the legislature to see if what happened to Reba Sherrill is an isolated case or an example of a glitch in the law that needs to be fixed.

"Oh yeah, I'm angry all right. Number one, they claim they are protecting the individual. I don't feel protected Nancy, I feel violated," Sherrill said.

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Woman battles unintended consequences of conservatorship bill

Neglect by a Minn. assisted living facility led to a client's death, state health department says

Neglect by the Heritage House of Pequot Lakes led to the death of a client living at the assisted living facility, the Minnesota Department of Health reported.

An investigation completed by the state agency substantiated charges of neglect, described as improper catheter care and an unclean environment leading to death by a complex urinary tract infection.

"The home care provider is responsible for the neglect because it was not monitoring home health aides and their work performance," the report stated. "The facility ... failed to ensure that ordered and necessary cares were provided."

According to the report compiled by the Office of Health Facility Complaints at MDH, an investigator in February visited Heritage House, 5384 Country Care Lane, Pequot Lakes. Through interviews with staff, examinations of documents and observations of the facility, the investigator found a preponderance of evidence supporting a neglect finding. This included a failure to flush and change the client's catheter and a failure to maintain infection control on the catheter equipment.

Although not identified in the report, the Star Tribune reported the client who died at Heritage House within days of the investigation was 86-year-old Ralph Ford. Ford was admitted with diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease and a neurogenic bladder, or a lack of bladder control. This latter condition required a catheter inserted directly into the bladder through the abdomen.

Ford had a history of urinary tract infections and ongoing issues with his catheter becoming blocked, the report stated. Four months before Ford's death, a nurse practitioner ordered lab work and additional catheter flushes. Those orders were not processed by the provider, however, meaning they did not become part of the client's administration record.

The flushes were not completed, leading to further catheter blockages, the report stated. About seven weeks before Ford's death, a routine catheter change was performed by a urologist, who requested Heritage House instruct a nurse to change the catheter monthly going forward. A change was due three weeks before his death, although no records supported the change occurred.

Two weeks later, Ford became lethargic and had a low-grade fever, soon diagnosed with another urinary tract infection at the emergency room. The investigator was able to meet with Ford, who could make eye contact but was unable to communicate. While on site, the investigator observed a catheter bag hanging on a shower hand rail in the shared bathroom attached to Ford's room. The tip of the bag, which connects to the tube leading to the bladder, was seen touching the bathroom floor. Ford died within a week of the investigator's visit.

Nurses interviewed by the MDH said a sudden and recent departure by a nursing director made it "confusing for the remaining two RNs (registered nurses) to figure out when things were due." The nurse said she thought the urologist was changing Ford's catheter.

Twenty-one pages attached to the report outline specific violations noted and the degree to which violations were considered serious. Among those were two Level 4 violations, denoting when a violation results in serious injury, impairment or death. These violations were of state statutes preserving the right of a person receiving home care services "to be served by people who are properly trained and competent to perform their duties," and "the right to be free from physical and verbal abuse, neglect, financial exploitation and all forms of maltreatment."

Within the details of these violations, the care of several other clients was called into question. Staff care for eight of 12 clients showed a failure to ensure care orders and lab tests were completed, along with a failure to provide a clean environment. The investigator noted a strong urine smell in Ford's room, and urine left on the toilet seat in a shared bathroom among two other clients.

"None of the units observed had an available disinfectant to be used in any of the shared bathrooms between use," the report stated.

When interviewed, unlicensed personnel stated toilets were cleaned at the end of each shift, while a nurse stated they were cleaned after each use. The nurse said urine odors could be from spills from the catheter bag, although staff was supposed to lay down a towel. Unlicensed personnel were tasked with washing catheters, although a nurse told the investigator they'd had no time to monitor this practice since the nursing director left.

Several other Level 2 violations were noted—those that did not harm a client's health or safety, but had the potential to.

Ford's daughter, Constance Ford of Park Rapids, told the Star Tribune she'd long been concerned about her father's care and hygiene at Heritage House. She said she wanted him moved, but a guardian with legal authority over her father opposed the move.

An obituary for Ralph Ford posted on described his death as occurring while "confined at the Heritage House of Pequot Lakes."

"Those who love him believe it is an injustice that a man who worked his entire life supporting the lives of others was not permitted to live out his life as he chose," Ford's obituary stated.

The substantiated neglect in this case comes on the heels of another serious incident at Heritage House. In August, a former employee pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 78-year-old woman with Alzheimer's disease in an incident occurring in May 2016. The woman was nonverbal, wheelchair-bound and unable to feed herself, requiring around-the-clock care, the complaint stated.

In June, a fire at the facility forcing the evacuation of more than 30 residents was determined to be arson, although there was not enough evidence to make an arrest, Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang reported.

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Neglect by a Minn. assisted living facility led to a client's death, state health department says

Woman arrested for allegedly stealing from elderly relative, causing her to almost lose home

Angie Stewart
BOGALUSA, LA (WAFB) - A Bogalusa woman is facing charges after allegedly financially exploiting an elderly relative.

Angie Stewart, 42, was arrested Monday, October 23 and booked into the Washington Parish Jail. She is charged with financial exploitation of an elderly relative. Her bond has been set at $100,00.

Officials with the Washington Parish Sheriff's Office say back in January, they learned of Stewart's activities and started an investigation. A detective spent several months sorting through fraudulent misappropriation of funds that had reportedly been going on for several years.

Stewart was granted power of attorney over her relative's finances to make the estate would be used only for the care of this elderly relative. Instead, officials say the money was used to benefit Stewart, causing the elderly relative to endure financial hardship, and almost lose her home. Stewart's power of attorney was revoked earlier this year.

"There is no way that I can fully comprehend an evil deed such as this. Words cannot adequately express the disgust I feel. Detective Rice spent many, many long hours on this case and did an exceptional job unraveling the complicated web of fraud and abuse which has gone on for the past several years. Finally, Stewart is being brought to justice and the matter is now in the hands of the criminal justice system to determine her fate. Thank you, Detective Rice, for your exceptional work," said Sheriff Randy Seal.

If convicted, Stewart faces a fine of up to $10,000, a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years, or both.

Full Article & Source:
Woman arrested for allegedly stealing from elderly relative, causing her to almost lose home

Thursday, October 26, 2017

UPDATE: Jason Hanson's Case Makes Its Way Through Court System

by Steve Miller

LAS VEGAS - Guardianship exploitation victim Jason Hanson, 28, went to court on Tuesday, October 24, to seek a Summary Judgment in his Breach of Fiduciary Duties lawsuit against attorneys FRANCES-ANN FINE; DARA GOLDSMITH; and ELYSE TYREL; along with private guardian JARED E. SHAFER and his business PROFESSIONAL FIDUCIARY SERVICES OF NEVADA, INC.; and Clark County Public Administrator JOHN CAHILL

District Court Judge Tierra Jones heard lengthy oral arguments from Hanson's attorney Jacob Hafter, and from five attorneys representing the defendants.

In Hafter's opening statement, he gave the judge a summation of his client's complaint against those who were appointed by Clark County Family Court Hearing Master Jon Norheim to care for his physical and financial needs. Hafter told the court that after Hanson, a cerebral palsy victim, turned 18 years of age in 2007, a cadre of guardianship insiders, under color of law, mishandled or misappropriated his inheritance and estate leaving Hanson penniless and a burden on the taxpayers.

Attorneys for the defendants told the court that it was Hanson's fault, that he should have asked the Family Court for relief upon reaching legal age in 2007, and because he did not seek relief when he turned 18, the statute of limitations expired and he is not entitled to sue. Defendant's also stated they were working pro bono, and somehow were not responsible for Mr. Hanson's losses.

After hearing all arguments, Judge Jones took the information into advisement and said she will issue a ruling October 31.


Waitress Accused Of Scamming Elderly Woman Out Of Nearly $500,000

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A waitress who befriended a widow has gone from server to suspect – now standing accused of heartlessly taking the elderly woman for pretty much every penny she had.

As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported Tuesday, Alicia Legall, 46, posted images of fur coats and a fistful of cash to Facebook. She is accused of living the high life after allegedly bilking an 84-year-old Brooklyn widow out of almost $500,000.

“What happened here is an outrage,” said Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “(S)he stole her life savings, opened lines of credit — really took advantage of this widow.”

Gonzalez said it started in 2004, when Legall worked at the Arch Diner as a waitress.

She allegedly met the recently-widowed victim and spent years building trust, eventually gaining access to her money.

According to the indictment, Legall forged the victim’s signature to cash 75 checks totaling $200,000, and used her credit cards on a $270,000 spending spree.

Some of the proceeds were allegedly sent to racetracks, where Legall bet heavily.

“Very scary; terrible,” one woman said. “Have to be very careful and protect ourselves.”

“No one should be treated like that,” said the victim’s neighbor Joey Karr. “Honestly, I would go after who would ever do that to my family.”

DA Gonzalez said it is vital to stay in touch with older relatives and monitor who has access to their assets.

“Too often, we see victims who come forward who are being isolated and are turning to somebody who they befriended, and the person starts stealing from them,” Gonzalez said.

An interesting thing happened at Legall’s arraignment, Aiello reported. The DA asked for $1 million bail, but the judge set it at $2.5 million — apparently concerned she is a flight risk who’s been living recently with a much older widower.

Full Article & Source:
Waitress Accused Of Scamming Elderly Woman Out Of Nearly $500,000

Pa. lawmaker's senior protection bill approved by committee

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Legislation by Pennsylvania state Rep. Jesse Topper to enhance protections for senior citizens targeted by spam telephone calls was approved Wednesday by the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee.

The bill calls for increased cooperation between state agencies related to unwanted telephone calls that lead to financial exploitation.

“House Bill 448 would help our agencies gain valuable information on how people fall victim to financial exploitation," said Topper, R-Bedford/Franklin/Fulton. "Learning how these fraud cases happen is a key ingredient to preventing those senior citizens from falling victim."
The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

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Pa. lawmaker's senior protection bill approved by committee

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Randolph killing underscores dilemma for nursing homes

The Randolph nursing home where Walter D. Rice Jr. is accused of killing his roommate.
RANDOLPH — Walter D. Rice Jr. was growing increasingly aggressive and paranoid.

Throughout the summer, the burly, 58-year-old nursing home resident, who suffered from brain damage as well as dementia, complained that a friend was trying to kill him and rape his wife. He yanked pictures off walls, smashed glass, and wandered into other residents’ rooms, taking their food and belongings.

A nurse practitioner prescribed mood-stabilizing medication, which seemed to help for a while, state records show. But then the staff at CareOne at Randolph neglected to give him the drugs for an entire month, setting the stage for tragedy, according to inspection reports from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Rice allegedly beat his 86-year-old roommate over the head with a heavy ceramic flower pot as the victim lay in bed on Sept. 5. James Schappell, an Army veteran who served in the Korean War, died the following day of severe head trauma.

Now, Rice is facing a murder charge, something his wife said is unfair. The nursing home is to blame, she said.

“They didn’t take care of him,” Regenia Rice said Friday before her husband’s arraignment. “He doesn’t deserve this.”

The case marks the second time in two years that CareOne has faced sharp criticism after a younger resident killed an older one at one of its Massachusetts nursing homes. The New Jersey-based company declined to comment on the specifics of the Randolph homicide or an earlier one in Lowell, but said in a prepared statement that the safety, security, and well-being of its residents are a priority.

The deaths highlight a troubling nationwide pattern of violent and sometimes deadly confrontations between nursing home residents, among them cases in which younger, stronger men attack and sometimes kill their older, more frail roommates. The attacks frequently involve people suffering from dementia or mental illness, separated by generations and living in close quarters with each other.

In North Carolina, an 89-year-old resident died after being attacked in August by a 50-year-old. In Baltimore, a 61-year-old fatally beat an 84-year-old last year. And in Houston, a 56-year-old with a mental illness bludgeoned his two roommates — 77 and 51 — with a wheelchair armrest three years ago, killing them both.
James Schappell, who was killed by his roommate at a Randolph nursing home, in a Facebook photo with one of his daughters.
State and federal regulators say fatal encounters between residents at nursing homes are rare, but reports of violent encounters between nursing home residents in Massachusetts are on the rise at a time when the number of younger, stronger residents is also climbing. Researchers say the true number of violent incidents involving residents under the age of 65 is impossible to know, because government agencies don’t track them.

“This is a taboo topic, because the industry doesn’t want to talk about patients with serious mental disease, like Alzheimer’s, harming each other,” said Eilon Caspi, a Minnesota researcher who has spent more than a decade studying confrontations between nursing home residents in the United States and Canada. He said the lack of reporting is a major public health problem.

“I know of a lot of incidents where the family was told your father fell, and a closer look reveals one resident was pushed by another resident,” Caspi said.

In fact, the US Health and Human Services inspector general’s office recently warned that nursing homes are failing to report a significant number of assaults on residents that resulted in someone getting treatment at a hospital emergency room.

Caspi reviewed 100 fatal encounters between nursing home residents over the past three decades and found the attackers were, on average, about nine years younger than their victims. In all of the cases, at least one of the residents had dementia.

Nursing home leaders say they face a daunting task, expected to provide care for a growing number of patients with drug addictions and other complex needs while state funding has not kept pace. Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, an industry trade group, said nursing home administrators “consistently engage in abuse prevention training,” including how to minimize resident-on-resident abuse.

“Nursing facilities are increasingly being asked by hospitals and physician organizations to care for a younger population with significant needs,” Gregorio said. “With fewer resources, this is an emerging and critical issue for our members.”

Elder advocates have increasingly raised concerns about much younger residents with mental health problems being admitted to nursing homes that do not have adequate staff and training to sufficiently care for them. In Massachusetts, 13 percent of nursing home residents are now under the age of 65, up from about 10 percent a decade ago. The increase is modest, but, in a challenged industry, many nursing home staffs feel overburdened already.

“Facilities are admitting residents that they simply don’t know how to meet their needs, especially younger residents who have mental health issues. That’s an underlying root cause” of many resident altercations, said Amity Overall-Laib, director of the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center, which helps state ombudsman programs track complaints about nursing homes.

In Massachusetts, the number of resident-on-resident incidents reported to the state has declined — from 2,070 in 2012 to 1,836 last year — but the number of incidents involving more serious outcomes is growing. Confrontations ending with broken bones increased from 13 in 2012 to 20 last year. The number of sexual incidents rose from 64 in 2012 to 79 last year, while confrontations in which one resident inflicted pain on another jumped from zero reported incidents in 2012 to 32 last year.

Unfortunately, state officials do not track the ages of the attackers.

The state’s data show no deaths reported from resident confrontations during the past five years, except for 2015. In that year, state public health officials indicated there was at least one and perhaps as many as five deaths, but declined to disclose how many, saying it would violate patient confidentiality to do so.

Caspi, the Minnesota researcher, said regulators need a system for tracking such cases, because “if you really want to tackle this phenomenon, you need to capture it.”

Regenia Rice (above), the wife of defendant Walter Rice, was in Quincy District Court on Friday for a hearing on the case.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Regenia Rice (above), the wife of defendant Walter Rice, was in Quincy District Court on Friday for a hearing on the case.

The experience at CareOne facilities in Massachusetts in recent years, which includes two homicides and a rape, suggests that resident-on-resident violence is a serious challenge, and that staffs struggle to manage the outbursts.

An inspection report by Massachusetts regulators detailed a July 2015 episode in which a 41-year-old resident of the CareOne facility in Lowell knocked 66-year-old Anthony Mazzurco to the ground, striking his head on the floor. Mazzurco died hours later. The report indicates that, after Mazzurco struck his head on the floor, staff waited 85 minutes to notify a doctor. Regulators found that CareOne at Lowell repeatedly failed to properly supervise residents, including Mazzurco and the resident who pushed him. Both residents were “known to have behavior issues and had previously engaged in physical altercations,” according to investigators’ findings.

After Mazzurco’s death, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services imposed a fine of $109,396 on the Lowell facility for a list of failures, including providing substandard care and a critical delay in notifying a doctor.

Separately, CareOne paid a $92,077 fine for failing to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and to prevent the rape of one resident by another at the same Lowell nursing home this past February.

In that case, a resident diagnosed with HIV, schizophrenia, dementia, and bipolar disorder was accused by his roommate of forcing oral and anal sex on him, according to state documents. The documents noted that the alleged attacker had also been accused of sexually assaulting two other residents last year and had frequently been observed masturbating in his room while watching pornography.

In a statement to the Globe, CareOne said accusations in the state’s report that staff waited 85 minutes to notify a doctor about Mazzurco’s head injuries were “inaccurate and false.” It also contested the accuracy of the state findings after the investigation into the alleged rape, but did not elaborate.

State health inspectors cited CareOne at Randolph for numerous failings after Schappell’s death last month. He leaves three daughters, nine grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. He raised his family in Lawrence Township, N.J., where he owned a service station and was an avid bowler, according to his obituary.

State inspectors indicated that Rice had been aggressive and agitated for months prior to the attack. He underwent a psychiatric evaluation at a hospital in December 2016 because he was suffering from hallucinations and paranoia and tried to jump out a window, according to records. The following month, he was readmitted to the Randolph nursing home, where he failed to get adequate care as he became increasingly aggressive and agitated, state inspectors found.

On Aug. 6, mood-stabilizing medication that Rice had been taking for a month, resulting in an improvement in his behavior, was “stopped in error,” according to documents. Rice did not get his prescribed a medication again until Sept. 5, just 20 minutes before he attacked his roommate, state inspectors found.

State officials faulted CareOne for failing to give Rice medications and for not providing adequate services or monitoring his escalating behaviors in the month before the attack. Federal regulators have yet to determine financial penalties for CareOne as a result of Schappell’s death.

Walter Rice was arraigned Friday at Morton Hospital in Taunton, with defense attorney James Murphy at his side.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Walter Rice was arraigned Friday at Morton Hospital in Taunton, with defense attorney James Murphy at his side.

Timothy Hodges, chief strategy officer for CareOne, which runs more than a dozen nursing homes in Massachusetts, declined to comment on allegations that staff neglected to give Rice his medication, citing patient privacy. But he said the company follows industry best practices and state and federal guidelines.

“We are deeply saddened by this recent incident, and our thoughts are with the families of those affected as well as our residents, our dedicated staff, the entire CareOne at Randolph community and all those coping with the realities of dementia,” Hodges said in a statement.

Nursing home companies are rarely criminally prosecuted for failing to protect residents from violence, said David Hoey, a Reading attorney who has represented families in civil lawsuits against nursing homes for more than two decades. He said prosecutors often are reluctant to pursue abuse, neglect, and related charges against nursing homes, given the complexity and cost of such cases.

“A lot of these nursing home companies are out-of-state companies, so now you are in federal court and it’s a major production,” said Hoey.

In most fatal resident altercations, prosecutors don’t pursue charges against the attackers either, usually because the attacker suffers from dementia or mental illness and is not competent to stand trial.

But the Norfolk district attorney’s office is pursuing murder and assault charges against Rice, who was arraigned Friday in his bed in the intensive care unit at Morton Hospital in Taunton because he was deemed too ill to appear in court He kept his eyes closed and never spoke as a court clerk read the charges and entered not-guilty pleas on his behalf.

Attorney James Murphy stood beside his client and told a judge that Bridgewater State Hospital had declared Rice competent to stand trial after a mental health evaluation, even though paperwork provided by staff appeared to contradict that finding. He said a doctor’s report indicated that Rice does not have and never will have “rational or sufficient understanding of court proceedings in this case.”

Rice, who has no prior criminal record, has not been the same since he was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 50, according to his wife. The man charged with killing his roommate, she said, “This isn’t him.”

Full Article & Source:
Randolph killing underscores dilemma for nursing homes

Chappaqua lawyer disbarred for mishandling nursing home patient’s funds

A Chappaqua lawyer has been disbarred for mishandling funds for an incapacitated nursing home client.

Five appellate court justices ruled on Oct. 11 that Steven B. Cottler had committed professional misconduct.

An attempt to contact Cottler for comment was unsuccessful. The telephone number for his Valhalla office was not in service.

The disciplinary action began in 2015, after Cottler stopped paying the patient’s bills at Bainbridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx. The nursing home petitioned Bronx Supreme Court to appoint a guardian to protect the patient’s interests.

The court agreed, finding that Cottler had breached his fiduciary duty. He had been collecting $700 per month to carry out his duties when he was entitled to only $500 per month. He failed to explain why the nursing home bills had remained unpaid for many months.

The court also notified the local attorney grievance committee of its findings.

The committee found that Cottler had used a trust account for personal and business expenses. When the committee tried to examine Cottler under oath, he repeatedly asked for delays and he did not submit files that had been requested.

Cottler responded that it was always his intention to cooperate but he had been hospitalized four times for respiratory and cardiac problems.

Before practicing law, he said, he had a long career as a nursing home and hospital administrator. He had devoted his law practice to helping clients with Medicaid, long-term care, wills, guardianships and nursing home issues. He described his approach to caring for the elderly as “hands-on” and said he had faithfully served the incapacitated patient for many years.

The appellate court suspended Cottler’s license in February and authorized a disciplinary proceeding.

Notwithstanding his “good intentions and his various hospitalizations,” the court ruled, Cottler posed “an immediate threat to the public interest.”

The grievance committee filed several formal charges: He had used his trust account for personal purposes, did not ensure that adequate funds were on deposit, made improper cash withdrawals, commingled personal funds with trust funds, collected excessive fees, failed to account for guardianship funds and failed to cooperate with the investigation.

Cottler did not respond to the charges.

The five-judge panel ruled that the committee had established the charges and Cottler had defaulted by not responding.

Cottler also has struggled with paying personal income taxes. Five federal tax liens have been filed against him in Westchester County for $341,266 from 1999 through 2015. One tax lien, for $19,556, has been satisfied.

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Chappaqua lawyer disbarred for mishandling nursing home patient’s funds

Former Gov. Nikki Haley served with order to testify in SC disability case

COLUMBIA — United Nations Ambassador and former Gov. Nikki Haley has been served with an order to testify in a Greenville man's federal disability lawsuit after a judge dismissed objections by Gov. Henry McMaster.

Court records show one of her attorneys, James W. Fayssoux Jr. of Greenville, agreed on Oct. 5 to accept service of the order on behalf of Haley. He could not be reached for comment.

Whether Haley testifies, however, is still not certain because she had not been represented in the case by her own counsel until this month and her attorneys could object to her testimony.

U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis earlier this month dismissed concerns by McMaster's lawyers about Haley's testimony and directed that she be served with her order and that lawyers for the plaintiffs accommodate her UN schedule.

"To the extent defendant McMaster makes arguments on behalf of defendant Haley regarding the effectiveness of service and whether defendant Haley is being sued in her individual capacity, the Court rejects those contentions inasmuch as those issues must be raised, if at all, by defendant Haley," the judge wrote.

The lawsuit filed last year while Haley was still governor alleges that Johnny Timpson of Greenville was beaten, burned, subjected to physical, emotional, sexual abuse, neglect and financial exploitation while in the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs system. He has named a number of defendants in addition to Haley, including state and local agencies and officials.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages, attorneys fees, compensation for Timpson's sister and various orders, including one to prohibit defendants from retaliating against plaintiffs, witnesses or their advocates.

Timpson was in the care of DDSN system facilities, including an Anderson County Disabilities and Special Needs Board group home from about 1968 to 2013, according to his family. His sister asked that she take over his care after finding burns on his arms in 2013, she said.

His allegations were reported by The Greenville News as part of a series examining the DDSN system and its problems, which include significant increases in abuse, neglect and exploitation allegations and critical-type incidents; critical state and federal audits; neglect and exploitation allegations, and critical incidents or deaths that exceed the state rates for many county disabilities agencies.

Haley is being sued, according to Judge Lewis, because the plaintiffs allege she "possessed personal knowledge of systemic abuse, neglect and exploitation of mentally disabled adults such as Timpson, failed to take reasonable action to protect them, and even retaliated against those who complained."

The Greenville News attempted to reach Haley through the U.S. Department of State and the UN scheduling office, where requests for interviews are sent. She could not be reached for comment.

The governor’s office lawyers had fought against Haley testifying, arguing that she should be dismissed from the litigation and asking for a protective order to prevent her deposition.

They also argued that too much time had lapsed, that Haley was an improper defendant and that Gov. Henry McMaster should be substituted for Haley since he is the current governor.

Judge Lewis ordered that a deposition be taken from Haley within 60 days of the order, which would be by Oct. 24.

According to court records, Haley also is represented by attorneys Paul Landis of Greenville and Butch Bowers, a Columbia lawyer who has represented Haley in the past.

Sandra Timpson has been caring for her disabled brother, Johnny, since discovering he had suffered years of abuse for years in the care of group homes. LAUREN PETRACCA/Staff

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Former Gov. Nikki Haley served with order to testify in SC disability case

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Those crudely crafted cages were seared into our collective minds.

They were the beds of 11 special needs foster children being raised by Sharen and Michael Gravelle in a non-descript house in rural Huron County.

“It was a structure of horror,” one of those children would later recall. “We were all treated like animals.”

Stacy Hansford watched the news from afar back in 2005, even though Sharen Gravelle was her first cousin. She says she made no judgments back then, despite world-wide publicity and accounts of extensive child abuse.

Fast-forward 12 years later, Hansford now worries if her own 93-year-old mother, diagnosed with dementia, is living under similar conditions with Sharen Gravelle.

Hansford is locked in a custody battle for her mother, fighting Gravelle in a courtroom in far-flung Houston, Missouri.

“It’s so hard to look at my friends when they ask me now, `Is your mom caged up like those kids were’,” Hansford said. “I pray in my heart that she hasn’t been.”

After serving two years in prison for child abuse and endangerment, Gravelle divorced and dropped her notorious last name. She’s now known as Sharen Curtis-Timperman.

The state settled a lawsuit with the 11 foster children, awarding them $1.2 million in 2010. The children ranged in age from 1 to 14 when they were rescued from the home.

Efforts to reach Curtis-Timperman were unsuccessful. Her cell phone was not accepting messages. She did not respond to notes and messages left with relatives in Wakeman. Her attorney did not return a call for comment.

The court battle has waged for months, mostly in a Texas County court where Curtis-Timperman relocated with the elderly woman earlier this year.

Stacy Hansford, the couple’s only child, said her mother, Barbara, was married to long-time University of Akron vice president Richard Hansford, who died in 2015 at age 95. The widow’s mental condition slipped afterward, Stacy Hansford said.

The mother and daughter lived together in the same Akron house her parents have owned for nearly 40 years. The house, located in a wooded-setting in Akron, is valued at about $240,000.

Earlier this year, Stacy Hansford said, the home needed extensive renovations and she arranged for her mother to temporarily stay with Curtis-Timperman in Lorain. At some point, Stacy Hansford said, Curtis-Timperman fled Ohio and moved to Missouri, taking along the elderly woman and her six-figure bank account.

“I just couldn’t believe she was doing this,” Hansford said. “She’s taking my mother away. She took her away from all of us. I want her back where I know she’s safe.”

Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall said the custody fight – fairly or not - is taking place in Missouri and despite the dementia diagnosis for Barbara Hansford.

“I feel sorry for Stacy, she’s been taking care of her mother all these years,” he said.

Stacy Hansford said she’s had little to no contact with her mother for several months. That ended when she appeared in a Missouri courtroom early this summer to contest Curtis-Timperman’s attempt to be appointed guardian of Barbara Hansford.

“Finally, I was able to see her and hug her and she knew who I was,” Hansford said. “But it was hard leaving her. I know that, hopefully, I’m going to have her back where she belongs.”

Since then, Curtis-Timperman attempted to have Stacy Hansford evicted from her home. She also attempted to have the water shut off, she said.

“I knew it wasn’t my mother’s doing. It was all Sharen,” Hansford said.

A hearing is scheduled for next month and Hansford, a retired truck driver, has hired a Missouri attorney to argue her case. She intends to travel back to Missouri for the hearing.

“I have my mother’s best interests in mind, containing what’s left of that beautiful mind of hers,” she said. “Sharen doesn’t have that in mind.”

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Attorney for judge facing misconduct fires back at California commission

MARTINEZ — The attorney for a Contra Costa judge who’s facing misconduct charges for the sixth time fired back against the state Commission on Judicial Performance with accusations of his own.

According to attorney Jim Murphy, who is defending Superior Court Judge Bruce C. Mills against two counts of misconduct, the CJP — the California body that investigates and disciplines judges — should have recused itself when it received a complaint against Mills from San Ramon resident Joseph Sweeney, who is an outspoken critic of the commission.

“Sweeney has attacked and challenged the commission on several fronts… I think if any judge was put into CJP’s position, that judge is disqualified,” Murphy said. “That judge can’t investigate this complaint, make a determination, or order formal proceedings, which this commission has done.”
A CJP spokeswoman declined to comment on Murphy’s remarks.

Mills is facing two counts of misconduct. The first alleges that he had an improper courtroom conversation with a prosecutor about the DUI case they were handling, and the second alleges that he attempted to illegally double Sweeney’s sentence for contempt of court in a civil case.

Sweeney, the founder of an advocacy group called Court Reform LLC, became interested in legal reform while representing himself in a messy divorce case and growing disenchanted with the legal system. He issued a report criticizing the CJP for failing to adequately investigate judicial misconduct, prompting the commission to issue a response.

Last year, Mills sentenced Sweeney to 25 days in jail — the maximum for five counts of contempt — after finding Sweeney had violated another judge’s order not to disclose the contents of his wife’s cell phone. Sweeney published a blog that was sourced from public court records filed by his ex-wife, but contained a lot of the same information he’d originally gleaned from her phone.

While Sweeney was serving his sentence, Mills directed his clerk to modify the order, revoking the good behavior credits, and fax a copy of it to the jail. But he failed to notify either party in the case, according to the CJP. The CJP says he violated seven cannons from the Judicial Code of Ethics in his handling of the Sweeney case.

In California, nonviolent offenders who are sentenced to more than four days in jail are granted one day off their sentence for every day they go without discipline, effectively cutting most sentences in half. Murphy said Mills was confused about whether that applied to civil contempt sentences, which Murphy called “quasi-criminal” in nature.

In the August 2016 hearing, Mills said twice on the record that Sweeney was entitled to good time credits.

“Well, keep in mind, he’s also going to get good time credits,” Mills said, according to the transcript. He added, “So out of 25, he’ll serve 12 or 13?”

According to the transcript a bailiff responded, “Yes,” and Mills said, “So the reality is he’ll only serve half of it to begin with.”

After the hearing, though, Mills’ clerk inquired whether good time credits actually applied. The judge researched it and determined that they did not, Murphy said.

After the order was modified, Sweeney’s lawyer got involved. He faxed Mills and the sheriff a copy of the original order — which didn’t have the  added note revoking good time credits — Mills reinstated the good time credits. Murphy said the judge did that to “Avoid the fight and further appeals and riffs in dealing with someone who has proved himself to be litigious,” referencing Sweeney.

“You’re talking about 13 versus 25 days,” Murphy said. “I think it was, ‘Let’s just give him the time served.'”

Mills has been disciplined five times by the CJP, most recently in 2013, when he was admonished for interfering with a case in which his son was a defendant.

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Family in dispute over care of woman with brain damage

Court told by partner and daughters that Mrs P would want to die in such circumstances, while sisters want artificial feed to continue

A family is in dispute over the ongoing care of a woman with brain damage who had suggested she would want to die in such circumstances, a court has heard.

The woman, identified as Mrs P, is said to be in a “minimally conscious state” on an acute hospital ward following a fall last year. A Court of Protection judge is being asked to consider whether she should continue to receive clinically assisted nutrition and hydration.

The woman’s daughters and her partner consider it would not be in her best interests and that she should be provided with palliative care. But her sisters disagree and say an artificial feed should be maintained to see whether she might improve.

A judge in Preston was told on Monday of an email that Mrs P sent to one of her daughters more than three-and-a-half years before her fall.

It read: “Did you see that thing on dementia? Made me think of dad and what a travesty of life his last years were all the sadder as he had such an incredible talent.

“You know I miss Mum everyday and still talk to her but it is a comfort that she went quickly and I’m still haunted by how he ended up ... Get the pillow ready If I get that way?”

However, her sisters insist their sibling would want the opportunity to potentially get better. One sister thought the withdrawal of feeding would be a form of “legalised killing”, the court heard, while another said the medical profession should be the judge of what treatment is provided.

The NHS foundation trust that is treating Mrs P, which cannot be identified, has applied to the court to continue providing clinical treatment and transfer her to a specialist nursing home.

Joseph O’Brien, for the trust, told the judge, Mr Justice Hayden: “Very early on, Mrs P’s daughters were expressing the view to the clinicians that she would not wish to have any treatment which would continue her existence, her life, if she in fact was suffering from brain damage.”

He said witness evidence from friends and neighbours, with recollections of specific conversations, would also set out what Mrs P would wish to happen to her “in the event she found herself either with dementia or with any cognitive problems”.

But he added: “There is a strong presumption about the preservation of life.

“On the evidence we’ve seen so far there is nothing that’s strong enough to rebut the notion that in the circumstances she currently finds herself, she would wish treatment to be discontinued.”

Two medical experts who examined Mrs P’s case agreed there would be no further change in her underlying neurological and neurophysiological state.

They also agreed there would be no significant improvement in underlying levels of awareness and responsiveness.

But they had different opinions on whether nutrition and hydration should continue. One said she believed there was a reasonable prospect that in a different environment Mrs P would become more interactive with other people, and that Mrs P did at times show pleasure and engage with therapy, nursing and medical staff.

But the other expert felt that Mrs P showed evidence of distress and not wishing to engage socially, at least from time to time. He did not agree that there would be a marked improvement in Mrs P’s level of social engagement and quality of life in a different setting.

The three-day hearing continues on Tuesday.

Full Article & Source:
Family in dispute over care of woman with brain damage