Saturday, February 23, 2019

'He's not related to us': So how did a group home owner become an intellectually disabled man's beneficiary?

DALLAS — Leroy Anderson Jr. depended on others to take care of him.

Those that know him say he had the intellect of a child. He was diabetic, schizophrenic and bipolar. He lived in a Dallas group home until his death last year. He was 49 years old.

His family members say his caretakers failed him. They’re demanding to know what happened in the hours leading up to him being brought to a Dallas hospital in a diabetic coma and near death. They are upset that the owner of the company being paid by the state to care of him may get a big payout as a result of his death.

A former employee of the company that ran Leroy's group home told WFAA that she reported Leroy’s death to Adult Protective Service because she believed there was evidence of neglect.

David Hunt, Leroy’s uncle, said APS officials have refused to tell him the status of the investigation.

Hunt said losing Leroy was a bit like losing a son. He’d promised his sister before she died that he would look after Leroy.

“I don’t want to see nobody else go through the things that Leroy went through,” Hunt said.

Leroy Anderson Jr. (left) and his uncle David Hunt
Leroy Anderson Jr. (left) and his uncle David Hunt

Caring for Leroy

According to those who knew him, Leroy was a people person. He liked to sing. He like to eat out. He loved buying new clothes.

And those who know them both say Leroy loved his uncle David Hunt.

The pair last saw each other at a local barbecue restaurant. They made plans to get together again. That was last year. Hunt said the next time he would see Leroy was in a coma, just hours from death.

At the time of his death, Leroy was living in a Dallas group home on Ryanridge Drive run by a DeSoto company called A Champion Home and Community Based Services. The state was paying for his care under what’s called a Medicaid waiver program intended to keep the intellectually disabled out of institutions. Basically, taxpayer dollars paid for Leroy’s care.

Leroy was on many medications, ranging from diabetic medications to antipsychotic drugs to keep voices in his head quiet, according to his medical records, which Hunt – Leroy’s next of kin – shared with WFAA.

Despite all the ailments, Leroy was “doing well” at his last doctor’s visit in May, records show.

One Sunday morning

On a Sunday morning last July, one of Leroy’s caretakers called 911. His caretakers told the staff at Charleston Methodist Hospital in Dallas that they had found him unresponsive in his bed. Paramedics resuscitated Leroy on the way to the hospital, according to hospital records.

His caretakers told the hospital’s staff that he had been having “manic episode” and hadn’t been eating much for several days, according to his hospital records.

“If he’s not eating and taking medication, that’s going to really make him sick,” said Vanessa Rollerson, one of his former caretakers. Leroy lived with her for about eight months in 2017.

According to the hospital records, the group home’s workers said Leroy had been “in bed all day and (they) assumed he was sleeping” the day before he was brought to the hospital. Records show they reported Leroy seemed “normal” when they checked him at bedtime. But he was found in the “same position” the next morning and wouldn’t wake up, records show.

“Patient has been down for an unknown amount of time,” a hospital staff member wrote.

By the time Leroy arrived at the hospital, his heart, kidneys and lungs were failing, and he was suffering from “severe sepsis,” according to hospital records. Records show he was dehydrated, and his blood sugar was dangerously low. His body temperature was 88 degrees. He had pneumonia from vomiting and choking on it. Doctors put him on a breathing machine.

“He had doctors all around him and he had tubes all in his mouth,” Hunt said.

Leroy died the next day, July 30, 2018. The Dallas County medical examiner concluded that Leroy died from heart disease and a diabetic coma. His death is listed as natural.

“He was critically ill, in no uncertain terms,” said Shezad Malik, a doctor and local attorney specializing in medical malpractice.

Malik is not involved in Leroy’s case. He reviewed hundreds of pages of Leroy’s medical records at the request of WFAA.

He said Leroy’s medical records indicate that he was in “relatively good shape” and that his medical conditions were under control. Malik told WFAA that he believes Leroy would still be alive today if the group home’s staff had had been checking on him.

“There is evidence of neglect,” Malik said. “I am frankly shocked by the degree and how incapacitated he was when he came to the emergency room.”

A surprise

Leroy’s death was a tragic loss for his family, but what happened next left them speechless.

On the day Leroy died, his uncle contacted the insurance company to report Leroy’s death.

That’s when he said he found out that Trace Henderson, the owner of A Champion Home and Community Based Services, was listed as the primary beneficiary on Leroy’s $50,000 life insurance policy, and not him.

“My family is pretty upset about it,” Hunt said. “He’s not related to us and he didn’t pay a dime on Leroy’s insurance policy.”

The insurance company has filed a lawsuit against both Hunt and Henderson and is asking a Dallas civil court to determine who should get the money, court records show.

“In conflict with the claim of Trace Henderson, defendant, David Hunt, is asserting that the change of the policy beneficiary dated September 18, 2017, was improper,” the lawsuit says, “and defendant, David Hunt, is asserting a claim for the entire policy death benefit.”

Court records show that the policy was originally taken out in 2009 by Leroy’s mother. She paid the premiums until her death in early 2017, Hunt said.

In March 2017, not long after his mother’s death, Leroy named his uncle the primary beneficiary, according to court records.

The next month, there was a meeting at A Champion’s offices, his therapist wrote in notes provided to WFAA by Hunt.

At the meeting were Leroy, Hunt, Rollerson, Henderson, A Champion’s program manager and others, the notes show.

There was a “heated discussion about the policy and the beneficiaries,” the therapist wrote.

The notes said it was decided that since Hunt “was a blood relative,” it was important that he be the primary beneficiary. The notes say A Champion’s program director further “stated Leroy must keep the designated beneficiaries and make no further changes.”

“Everyone agreed the decisions made at this meeting were in Leroy's best interest,” the therapist wrote.

A few months later, in September 2017, the primary beneficiary was changed from Hunt to Henderson, court records show.

WFAA spoke to the former A Champion employee who said she helped Leroy change the policy, which she said was done with a phone call to the insurance company. She declined to go on camera, but insisted that Leroy wanted Henderson, not Hunt, to be beneficiary. She said Leroy was able to make his own medical and legal decisions because he was his own legal guardian. She also told WFAA she was the one who initially reported Leroy’s death as neglect to Adult Protective Services.

Leroy’s therapist’s notes, spanning a six-month period, describe Leroy as having a “child’s mind” and “diminished mental capacity.”

“Leroy's insight will always be childlike, understandable given his low intellectual abilities,” his therapist wrote.

His therapist wrote he could “not count backwards” and “had difficulty repeating words back if asked.”

“He tends to listen to others and follow suggestions made to him that have little to do with reality,” the therapist wrote.

Conflict of interest?

So, what are the rules about whether a provider can be the beneficiary of a client’s life insurance policy?

WFAA asked the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), which oversees group homes for intellectually disabled people like Leroy.

Commission rules say providers and their employees should avoid “conflicts of interest” with the clients they serve.

But Kelli Weldon, a commission spokeswoman, said the “the rules do not specifically address” whether a provider, staff member or paid caregiver can be “named a beneficiary on a client’s policy.”

The commission is now reviewing the rule language to determine whether legislation is needed to fix the issue, she said.

Attorney Rick O’Connor has handled guardianship cases for four decades. He’s not involved in Leroy’s case, but told WFAA, generally, he doesn’t think providers who are not relatives should be the beneficiary on a client’s life insurance policy.

“That seems highly improper to me,” he said. “I think you're taking advantage of a special relationship, where you have knowledge of the person's deficits and vulnerabilities.”

In May, two months before Leroy’s death, HHSC inspectors visited A Champion’s group home on Ryanridge, where Leroy lived.

The inspection found the kitchen was not accessible for clients to get water or food; that “direct care staff did not know what constitutes exploitation”; and that “direct care staff did not know the requirements for reporting abuse, neglect or exploitation.”

‘Exploit his death’

Henderson declined requests for an on-camera interview.

In an email, Henderson wrote that he could not “comment on specifics of any case due to confidentiality."

“We would like the world to know about the kind soul that was Leroy Anderson,” he added. “Over the past three years Mr. Anderson became like family to us, his smile, soft spoken voice would light up a room. He loved gospel music and eating Mexican food. He has friends here that miss him dearly.”

His email also made an apparent reference to Hunt.

“What is more disheartening than his passing is that distant relatives who had NO interest in his well-being in life, now seek to exploit his death,” the email said.

Hunt called that a “big lie.”

Hunt said he frequently hard a hard time contacting Leroy, and he believes A Champion tried to keep Leroy away from him and other family members.

“Leroy was just another paycheck for them,” Hunt said.

Rollerson said A Champion did not want Leroy to have anything to do with his family. When Leroy’s mother died in early 2017, Rollerson said A Champion employees told her not to let Leroy mingle at the funeral and not take him to the cemetery.

“David loved Leroy, and he loved him,” Rollerson said. “He shouldn’t have died like that.”

Leroy is buried in the same Ellis County cemetery as his mother.

“I do believe he’s in a better place,” his uncle said.

Hunt said after Leroy died, Henderson paid some of the burial costs. That didn’t include a headstone, which Hunt said he himself can’t afford. So, for now, Leroy’s grave is unmarked.

“I won’t give up on him,” he said.

How do you find a good group home or provider?

If you're searching for a good group home or service provider for an intellectually and developmentally disabled relative or loved one, you won't find much looking at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's Long-term Care (LTC) Provider Search, which doesn't include abuse or neglect investigations or sanctions.

HHSC offers these tips on vetting a provider or home:
  • Talk with your LIDDA (local intellectual and developmental disability authority) service coordinator. When evaluating a certified HCS program provider, it's important that you talk to the provider, see what services they offer, and think about whether your family member would be a good fit with that service provider. Talk with everyone you can, including the program administrator, director, and house manager.
  • Once you have narrowed down a list of certified HCS program providers, ask for home visits at each. Look at the cleanliness of each house, talk with the staff and find out if the staff knows the people in the home. Ask whether your family member will be placed in that particular home. Notice the interaction between staff and residents, and interaction among the staff. Look in the bathrooms and the bedrooms.
  • Once your family member is in an HCS group home, visit the home frequently to check on your family member. Drop in unannounced at different times during the day.
  • The LTC Provider Search is a tool that you can use to help make a list of program providers to consider visiting. HCS homes receive routine inspections once annually. Because the LTC Provider Search shows information from a limited time period, is a reflection of the program providers’ most current compliance history/items that are still out of compliance. The LTC Provider Search does not reflect recommendations of any specific provider by HHSC.
  • The “deficiency cited” language provides basic information about the deficiency type. Also, remember that a provider cited for non-compliance has a right to appeal. If the appeal is successful, the deficiency is amended or removed from the provider's record on the LTC website. Therefore, the investigation rating may improve as the result of such a reversal.

Full Article & Source:
'He's not related to us': So how did a group home owner become an intellectually disabled man's beneficiary?

Jarring photo of elderly woman slumped over pillow in Ohio nursing home sparks investigation

Click to Watch Video
CANTON, OH (WOIO) - You may have seen this heartbreaking photo on Facebook.

It has been shared more than 20,000 times and it’s causing concern about the woman pictured.

Julia Wiggins, the family’s pastor, posted these photos to Facebook on Feb. 19.

The woman pictured is 80-year-old Esther Brown, a resident of Altercare Nobles Pond in Canton.

Her son, James Brown, said they have filed a complaint with the facility about the care his mother is receiving.

Cleveland 19 News reporter Sia Nyorkor spoke to Beverly Laubert, State Long-Term Care Ombudsman with the Ohio Department of Aging regarding the allegations.

The department advocates for people receiving nursing home care, home care and assisted living.

Laubert said when they saw the social media post, it was “very disturbing” and “worthy of an investigation.”

Representatives visited with the family Thursday.

The Ohio Department of Health and The Ohio Department of Aging have been notified and are both looking into the situation.

Altercare Nobles Pond said in a statement:
“We were informed of a family complaint on February 15, 2019. We have followed the protocol established regarding any allegation, including immediately reporting the concern to the Ohio Department of Health and completing an internal investigation.”

The Altercare Nobles Pond Executive Director also placed a return phone call to the person who made a post on Facebook regarding this situation:
“We are in contact with her family including her son who visits daily. The resident is in no distress and remains well cared for by the Altercare Nobles Pond team of dedicated professionals. She is comfortable and safe.”

The Ombudsman offers these resources for those who have concerns about their loved ones:
Ohio’s Long-Term Care Consumer Guide that includes Ohio Department of Health regulatory reports and our satisfaction surveys; providers also have the opportunity to add information about their care and services but many do not take advantage of that opportunity.

Ohio Department of Health site to search for providers and obtain survey reports in a printable format.

Federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services site to search for nursing homes and obtain enforcement information and quality measure data among other provider details.

Full Article & Source:
Jarring photo of elderly woman slumped over pillow in Ohio nursing home sparks investigation

Service Dogs Adapted to Help Dementia Patients Who Live Alone

One of the biggest problems with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is that people who get the disease often want to continue living alone in their own homes and have trouble admitting that they need help. Since around 5.5 million people over age 65 are estimated to be struggling with the disease (a number that is only growing), it’s important that we find a sustainable way to not only help dementia patients remain alive but also improve their quality of life.

Service dogs have been adapted in recent years to do more than just help the blind navigate busy city streets. They now help the hearing-impaired, those with mobility problems, people with mental health issues, and even those with diabetes who are prone to dangerous spikes and dips in blood sugar. And most recently, they’re being trained to help dementia patients cope with their disease.

Dogs and dementia patients are perfect companions right from the get-go. Both are creatures of habit, happiest when they have a sense of routine and normalcy. They’re also both in need of companionship. For an Alzheimer’s patient who lives alone, particularly if family members aren’t able to visit every day, a dog is the perfect friend. It’s also been shown that dementia patients who have something to care for (anything from chickens to baby dolls depending on the severity of the disease) have a better quality of life than those who don’t. A dog can reduce an Alzheimer’s patient’s feelings of helplessness and dependency (reducing the risk of depression) and even promote good exercise habits.

We know what you’re thinking. Let’s just get Grandpa a dog for a pet. We don’t need an actual service dog, right? Well, yes. But a service dog is trained to deal with dementia and the issues that come along with it, such as sudden mood swings and wandering. There are several benefits to having a trained service dog care for your loved one. It’s a big job, so make sure you get a dog who’s been equipped to handle it.

The most important job of an Alzheimer’s aid dog is to deter its owner from leaving the house unaccompanied, which prevents patients from getting lost and relieves some of their family’s worry about them wandering off.

If an Alzheimer’s patient does get lost while walking with a service dog, the simple command “home” will signal the dog to guide its master back home. For patients who are still capable of driving, an assistance dog could also help find the car when their owner forgets where it is parked.

Since it’s quite possible that an Alzheimer’s patient will forget this command over time, the dog’s collar is also there to help. A GPS tracking system lets the patient’s family know where the pair is at all times, and, in an emergency, a button can be pressed which causes the collar to emit a sound that acts as an alternative to the “home” command. The dog then knows to lead its owner to safety without having heard the actual word “home.”

In the event that the patient suffers a heart attack or has another health issue that leaves him or her immobile and in need of help, the dog is trained to stay with its master and bark to alert other people in the area to the problem. If at home, the dog can trigger an alarm system to let family members or emergency professionals know about the problem.

If the person with Alzheimer’s leaves the home without his or her dog, the dog can track its owner by scent.

The list of services a trained dog can provide to its owner goes on and on. Different programs train their dogs to perform different functions, but some options include bringing their master’s pills, leading him or her to the restroom or another place where a loved one has left a permanent reminder note for the person with dementia (perhaps telling them to drink some water, bathe, eat, take their medication, etcetera). Timers or alarms can alert service dogs to do these “chores” at specific times of the day.

While most patients living with dementia will eventually need to be in a nursing home or have someone around all the time to keep an eye on them, service dogs allow them to be independent longer. It may also be possible in the future to have dogs in nursing homes to keep morale up and alert nurses of health emergencies (or even escapees, perhaps). Some assisted-living facilities already have dog handlers bring in therapy dogs to help with their patients’ mental health. Who’s to say this isn’t the next step?

If you’re thinking about getting an Alzheimer’s assistance dog for yourself or a loved one, check out Assistance Dogs International or Dog Wish.

To learn more about what it’s like being an Alzheimer’s patient and still trying to retain independence, listen to this woman explain what it’s like to shop for groceries with Alzheimer’s.

Full Article & Source:
Service Dogs Adapted to Help Dementia Patients Who Live Alone

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Union League Club in Chicago Welcomes - Joy Loverde


On Friday, March 1, at Noon, in the

Presidents Hall of the Union League Club

The First Friday Club of Chicago in Cooperation with

the Authors Group (Union League Club)


Ms. Joy Loverde

Author: Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? and

The Complete Eldercare Planner

Who will address the topic:

“Caring for Aging Parents and Loved Ones while Planning for Your Future Self - Are You Ready?”

The Baby Boom Generation has become the new senior citizen generation, with more than 6000 Americans turning 65 every day. At the same time more and more people are living into their 90s. This data presents us with two fears: the fear of dying and the fear of living too long.

Many of us might become--if we aren’t already--the caregivers for grandparents, parents, spouses, siblings, and beloved friends. Without careful planning, that role as caregiver can put our own physical, emotional, financial, housing, and legal needs at risk.

But wait--what about you and me, especially if we have no children or others to rely on as we grow older? Joy Loverde points to the increasing percentage of the middle-aged and Baby Boomers who are aging solo: the never married, separated, divorced, and widowed. Given this reality, the number one question we all need to ask ourselves is, “Who will take care of me and be my advocate when I’m old?”

Please make plans to attend the March 1st gathering of the First Friday Club. We have invited Joy Loverde to explain this two-sided issue of the current “longevity revolution,” and to help us learn how to plan for a quality old age.

The event begins with an 11:30 a.m. reception followed by lunch and the program at noon to 1:15pm. Books for signing will be available for purchase at the event. The luncheon starts at Noon and ends promptly at 1:15pm.


Please make your reservation by Monday, February 25, BEFORE 5PM. The lunch fee is $45 for members and $55 for non-members. There is no processing/registration fee to reserve online. In the COMMENTS section, indicate whether there is a group or person you wish to sit with, and any dietary restrictions. Hearing aid headsets available upon request. For additional information please call (312.466.9610) or email: or visit our website at THANK YOU!

LUNCHEON LOCATION: All meetings are held at

The Union League Club - Presidents Hall

65 West Jackson Blvd (1/2 block east of Clark)

THE UNION LEAGUE CLUB HAS A DRESS CODE: Business attire for women and a shirt with a collar for men. NO TENNIS SHOES OR DENIM CLOTHING ALLOWED.

Parking & Transportation at the Union League Club: Valet Parking available at the Federal Street Entrance. Self Parking available at the garage on the northwest corner of Federal and Van Buren. Special rates are available for guests with tickets that are validated at the Front Desk.
Public Transportation
The Club is just two blocks from the LaSalle Street Metra Station, six blocks from Union Metra Station and only blocks away from every EL station.

The Union League Club in Chicago Welcomes - Joy Loverde

Little Rock lawyer sorry for looting $440,658, gets prison term

Despite his apology for making bad choices during "a time of great pain for me," Little Rock attorney Matthew Mahlon Henry was sentenced Wednesday to the maximum recommended sentence of just under three years in federal prison for stealing $440,658.09 from two clients.

U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. sided with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jana Harris in sentencing Henry, 45, who has been a licensed attorney for more than 13 years, to 33 months in prison on a wire-fraud charge.

Federal sentencing guidelines suggested a penalty range of 27 to 33 months for Henry, who in September admitted incrementally taking $415,658.09 from a client's trust account between August 2015 and January 2018, and also siphoning $25,000 out of an account he maintained for a business client, CSI Renovations.

The first client, who wasn't named in court, hired Henry in February 2015 to perform probate work after his parents died overseas.

Explaining how the client's inheritance was amassed, Harris said, "[The client's] parents were able to save over a lifetime of hard work and frugal living" only to have it stolen by the attorney he entrusted to obtain the money for him.

Harris said that Henry made about 200 withdrawals ranging from $500 to $5,000 apiece to gradually deplete the man's trust account, engaging in "a string of excuses, delays and lies" to carry out his scheme. The money was taken through a series of wire transfers from the client's account to Henry's business account, which was then used to pay for his business and personal expenses, according to court documents.

The client didn't receive any of the estate funds, according to court documents. They show that after the client retained another attorney, Henry sent an email last Feb. 23 to the new attorney, saying he would deliver $403,658.09 that he owed the client within three days. He attached a fake email chain indicating he had asked an Arvest Bank official to prepare a certified check in that amount from the trust account, the documents said, but in reality, the trust account had a balance of only $6.59 on Feb. 26, and none of the money was ever paid.

Henry's attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig of Little Rock, asked Marshall to sentence Henry within the guideline range, conceding that "incarceration is inevitable."

Henry also addressed the court, saying that in an effort to explain how he ended up before Marshall, but not to make excuses, "I made these choices in a time of great pain for me and I essentially lost my mind, lost my bearings. ... I've not led a life of theft and dereliction and treachery, but for some reason, I engaged in that. ... I'm incredibly sorry for those choices and the pain I caused to the victims and my chosen profession."

Pointing out the presence of Stark Ligon, the executive director of the Arkansas Supreme Court Office on Professional Conduct, in the courtroom, Marshall asked about the status of Henry's law license.

Rosenzweig replied that Henry "has indicated a desire to surrender" the license voluntarily, but said they were "working on the wording" of that effort.

In any event, Rosenzweig said, Henry's license has been suspended "since all this came up" and he hasn't been practicing law.

Henry was jailed for several months last year by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce for contempt of court after he failed to turn over the $25,000 he owed his other client, the construction company, and provide an accounting of his lawyer trust account.

Police and prosecutors said Henry stole the money from Texas building contractor Chris Irving, who hired Henry to represent Irving's company, CSI Renovations, and gave Henry the money to put up for a work bond for a job he had in Fairfield Bay.

Two months later, Henry began to claim the money was owed to him for the work he'd done for Irving. He then sued Irving in December 2017, representing to the court that he had actual possession of the money and wanted the court to hold the money in its registry before deciding how to disburse it. Pierce later dismissed the lawsuit and gave Henry 24 hours to turn the money over to Irving's attorney, Tre Kitchens. After Henry didn't comply, he was ultimately jailed.

In imposing Henry's sentence for wire fraud, Marshall noted that if it weren't for the jail time Henry had already served on the contempt finding, he "would consider even a lengthier sentence" than that recommended by the guidelines.

He noted that "a lot of us in this room are lawyers, and people come to us in the most challenging moments of their lives," expecting to be protected.

"This was not one bad decision, or two. It was a pattern of conduct over an extended period of time, and that weighs in the court's mind," Marshall said.

Attorneys entrusted with someone else's money, he said, "have to be above reproach. You act for those who are depending on you."

Hinting at the possible origin of Henry's troubles, as apparently spelled out in a confidential presentence report, Marshall said he would recommend that Henry participate in a residential drug-abuse program while he is in prison because, "as you know, more than I do, that has been part of your challenges."

Marshall also recommended that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons require Henry to participate in mental-health counseling.

Henry's sentence requires him to make full restitution to both victims, with 50 percent of the funds available to him during his incarceration being divided equally between them. Once out of prison, 10 percent of his gross income is to be divided between the two victims until the entire amount is paid.

Ligon told the judge that the Arkansas Supreme Court has a client security fund, supplied by part of the annual license renewal fees attorneys pay to the state, to which both victims have applied. He said the committee over the fund will decide in June whether to reimburse either victim, up to a maximum of $40,000. If the victims are paid by the fund, he said, the state would prefer that any additional restitution payments made by Henry go first to paying the remaining restitution before reimbursing the fund.

As the hearing concluded, Marshall leaned forward and asked Henry, "Are you going to do your best to make this right?"

Henry replied, "I will, your honor."

"OK," Marshall said. "People are depending on you. Don't let them down."

Full Article & Source:
Little Rock lawyer sorry for looting $440,658, gets prison term

See Also:
Little Rock attorney jailed in theft case in court

Don’t ‘lock them up’

During the last presidential elections cries of “lock her up” energized the crowds. Have our city supervisors taken a page from that book by yelling “lock the homeless up?’

The California legislature passed a law that would allow San Francisco, to institute a new type of conservatorship. Supervisor Mandelman with the encouragement of Mayor Breed has proposed legislation to implement this.

When someone is conserved they lose all civil rights and a court appointee has authority to make all decisions for them. The new law states that an individual who is seriously mentally ill, has a substance use disorder and has been brought to a hospital for competency evaluation (5150) eight times in one year can be taken to court by the Sheriff, the head of a hospital, or the head of the Department of Health for a conservatorship hearing to determine if they can care for themselves.

The law requires that housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment as well as other services be made available to them. In general, these are homeless people who are considered nuisances by the police and residents of the neighborhoods where they stay. It has been estimated that currently 55 individuals meet, and about 48 more may soon meet, the requirements for a hearing. This has the appeal of allowing the City to say it is doing something about bothersome homeless people.

This is a bad idea for many reasons. The people in question have already been found to be able to care for themselves on eight evaluations, thus it ignores the opinion of medical professionals and puts the decision in the hand of lay bureaucrats. Further, when these people get housing, treatment, and other services, they will go to the head of long waiting lists for these services, thus pushing out the elderly, disabled and pregnant as well as other high priority unhoused who are waiting for these services.

Past experience suggests the forced treatment approach is not likely to be successful in rehabilitating the conserved individuals. Many of these seriously mentally ill people have had drug treatment in the past and have failed. In fact, 30 percent of the seriously mentally ill are drug resistant and will never respond. Putting these people in the hospital and trying to medicate them will probably lead to expensive hospitalizations.

Forced treatment for substance use has been tried for many years but evidence that it leads to long term success is lacking. It tends to lead to reduced substance use while a person is in the program with relapse when they are discharged. The best one group studying this could say is that it is probably better than nothing. This is a contrast to those who enter treatment voluntarily, where there is reasonable rate of long-term success. Eventually many of these people may end up being conserved and housed out of the city at a cost of about $160,000 per year, or in even more expensive chronic psychiatric hospital beds.

Is there an alternative? A coalition of groups and individuals with expertise and experience in this area have suggested “voluntary services first.”

This would require intensive case management to encourage the people to enter supportive housing and encourage voluntarily entrance to treatment. This will require trained case managers who will see their patients on an almost daily basis to establish a relationship and coax them into supportive housing where they can manage them over the long term. Let’s try it before we end up depriving these unfortunate people of their civil rights. Call your supervisor and tell them don’t “lock them up.”

Allen Cooper, M.D. is a professor of medicine emeritus at Stanford University who worked for Healthright360 at the Treasure Island Job Corps and the Height Ashbury Free clinic after retirement. He has treated numerous patients with alcohol and drug use problems, as well as mental illness and homelessness.

Full Article & Source:
Don’t ‘lock them up’

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The best legal planning may not be enough to keep you safe from guardianship

BRADENTON, Fla. — Even the best retirement plans may not be enough to keep a stranger from taking over your life under the state’s troubled guardianship system, the I-Team found.

Alice Yaniscavitch said she thought she was making all the right moves in retirement when she went to a lawyer to set up a family trust – a decision she says ended up costing her control over her own life.

The 85-year-old moved in with her daughter Terri McGuire and her son-in-law Mickey in Manatee County after last year selling her home in Cleveland, Tennessee.

“Terri was taking care of me. She’s very good,” Yaniscavitch told I-Team Investigator Adam Walser last month.

At the time, Yaniscavitch was waiting to see if a judge would permanently place her in court-ordered guardianship, which she said she didn’t want.

“It’s my life – not theirs,” said Yaniscavitch.

Yaniscavitch said the thing she feared most was “going to a nursing home.”

“They’re not going to put me in one,” she said.

McGuire and the advocacy groups that she reached out to were concerned when the case first started in late November.

They contacted the Florida Office of Public and Professional Guardians, a watchdog agency set up three years ago to police the state’s broken guardianship system.

So far, the agency hasn’t taken any action in Yaniscavitch’s case.

How did the guardianship start?

Yaniscavitch gave both her daughters – Terri McGuire and Lori Yaniscavitch – powers of attorney over her health care decisions as part of her retirement planning, according to court records.

In November 2017, Yaniscavitch set up an irrevocable family trust, with 90 percent of her money benefitting McGuire, who was taking care of her and the rest going to Lori, according to the trust document obtained by the I-Team.

Tennessee attorney Jeff Miller wrote, witnessed and notarized the trust agreement.

“She knew why she was there. She had a purpose for being there,” said Miller.

Miller said Yaniscavitch wanted to move her assets into a trust to make sure she would be eligible for a future government benefit.

Miller said she also wanted her daughters to avoid going to probate court to settle her estate after her death.

But when Lori Yaniscavitch found out about the trust, she went to court in November, seeking guardianship for her mother.

Lori Yaniscavitch wouldn’t speak to the I-Team at a recent court hearing, but in court documents she alleges her sister was financially exploiting their mother and endangering her health.

When I-Team Investigator Adam Walser asked Alice Yaniscavitch if she felt safe in her daughter Terri’s home, she replied, “Oh, yeah. Definitely.”

Daughter moves to break up trust

Lori’s attorneys asked a judge to remove her mother from Terri’s home and put her in memory care and argued her mother didn’t know what she was doing when she signed the trust document in 2017, court transcripts and documents from the case show.

But Stetson Law Professor Roberta Flowers, director of the Stetson Elder Law Center, said that may be difficult to prove.

“The issue revolves around, under the law, was the person capable at the moment they signed the document,” said Flowers.

“You have to have people who are there when they signed the document who are able to articulate what was going on with that person, how was that person acting so that a judge at some future date can say ‘Oh yeah. Ok. It sounds like that person understood,’” said Flowers.

Miller said he put those safeguards in place when Alice Yaniscavitch signed her trust documents.

“She was fully engaged, fully aware of what she wanted to do,” Miller told the I-Team. “She was the one who spoke out and told me what she wanted and why she wanted it.”

Judge freezes all accounts

But Judge Deno Economou froze Yaniscavitch’s trust account, along with Terri and Mickey McGuire’s bank accounts.

Their funds were frozen before Christmas, according to the court order, but the McGuires hope the Florida Court of Appeals will overturn the judge’s order.

“The allegation is that they have improper funds in that account. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence to support that,” said attorney Marc Soss, who represents the McGuires. “It’s someone trying to second guess the estate planning that Alice put into place because they don’t like it.”

Judge Economou also appointed Anne Ridings as Yaniscavitch’s guardian.

Within a few days of being appointed guardian, Ridings took all of Yaniscavitch’s jewelry for safekeeping.

Terri McGuire showed ABC Action News photos she took of hundreds of pieces of her mother’s jewelry before they were taken.

“Gold watches… I’ve got bracelets, a lot of earrings, diamond earrings,” said Yaniscavitch about the jewelry she had taken from her.

Wedding ring taken off her finger

Yaniscavitch said Ridings even took the wedding ring off her finger, which she has worn for 58 years – even after her husband died.

“Horrible, horrible,” said Yaniscavitch when asked about losing the ring she wore for 58 years –even after her husband died.

“It’s called marshaling the assets,” said Jeff Swartz, a former judge and law professor. “I can understand that the guardian wants to marshal and inventory assets – that’s fine – but taking her wedding band off her finger and not letting her have it back or taking her jewelry and just sticking it away – when maybe she does still wear it because at certain lucid moments she wants her things around her – that’s just not necessary.”

Less than two weeks after the I-Team interviewed Yaniscavitch, her daughter Lori picked her up, saying she was taking her to a hair appointment.

Instead, she moved her into assisted living – even though court transcripts show the judge said earlier that Yaniscavitch should remain in her daughter Terri’s home.

Injured in assisted living

Days later Terri shot a video of her mother at the memory care center, which she shared with the I-Team. In the video, Yaniscavitch complained of arm pain and said she had fallen.

Terri McGuire had her friend, who at the memory care center with her, call 911 for an ambulance to take her mother to a hospital, where doctors diagnosed Yaniscavitch with a fractured vertebra.

Days after Yaniscavitch went to the hospital, guardian Anne Ridings filed an emergency motion asking the judge to limit McGuire’s visits, court records show. The judge denied that request.
Ridings did not respond to the I-Team’s interview requests.

It’s unclear whether Yaniscavitch’s wishes will ultimately be carried out. She has not been in the courtroom to talk to the judge during five hearings so far.

Before she was removed from her home, I-Team Investigator Adam Walser asked Yaniscavitch what would happen if a judge told her she had go to a nursing home.

“I'm not, I'm not,” said Yaniscavitch. “I’d say you’re going to have to put me in jail. There’s no way they’re putting me in a nursing home. I’ve been through it. I’ve seen it. I don't want to be there.”

The judge still hasn’t ruled yet on whether Yaniscavitch will be placed in permanent guardianship.

After Yaniscavitch was released from the hospital, she was taken to a rehabilitation center, where she is currently recovering from her injury.

If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, contact

Full Article & Source:
The best legal planning may not be enough to keep you safe from guardianship

Area attorney disbarred; records sealed

A state disciplinary panel has disbarred an area attorney and sealed the records of the case.

Attorney Linda Ziembicki, of Rural Valley, was disbarred on consent by the disciplinary board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, under an order handed down Thursday by the high court.

The disbarment takes effect March 16.`

A spokeswoman at the court said the board usually gives 30 days to allow an attorney to close out cases and direct clients to find other representation.

Laura Mohney, counsel to the board, said Ziembicki submitted a verified statement of resignation, which has been sealed by the court.

Ziembicki was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in April 2000, and apparently practiced law only in Armstrong County.

According to a state court system web page identifying Ziembicki as a registered attorney (state ID No. 85102), she was not affiliated with a law firm or any other legal organization.

“I do not maintain professional liability insurance pursuant to the provisions of the Rule of Professional Conduct 1.4 (c), but I do have private clients and/or possible exposure to malpractice actions,” according to a comment Ziembicki posted on the page.

Disbarment by the state Supreme Court is the most extreme form of discipline that the 13-member board is empowered to impose.

Attorneys are subject to private admonition, private reprimand, public reprimand, probation, public censure and suspension for as long as five years, in addition to license revocation and disbarment, for misconduct and other violation of the state’s disciplinary rules for lawyers.

She could not be reached for comment.

Two published telephone numbers for Ziembicki’s law office are disconnected.

OPINION: Don’t dehumanize people with dementia

Imagine going to the airport. You’re excited about reaching your destination, and nervous about the anticipated flight. You greet the airline attendant as you check in for your flight and the person at the counter explains your times, gates, and hands you your boarding pass. All of a sudden, they read your identification information and ask, “Who is the person who needs assistance?”

When you explain it’s you, because you live with dementia, their demeanour immediately changes. They stop making eye contact. They now only speak to the friend who accompanies you. The attendant assumes you are incompetent and you’re no longer treated as a person. This is the stigma Marilyn Taylor and many other Nova Scotians diagnosed with dementia face every day.

January was Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and our campaign was about changing attitudes towards the disease and reducing the stigma that surrounds dementia. We have launched an awareness campaign, “Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand,” showcasing the unique and diverse stories of individuals like Marilyn Taylor living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

While there is no question that dementia is a complex disease, it is just one aspect of a person’s life story. Nova Scotians with dementia deserve respect, a good quality of life, and to face less stigma as they go on living their lives.

Research shows that stigma around dementia is rampant. In a survey commissioned by the Alzheimer Society last year, one in four Canadians said they’d feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia, while one in five admitted to using derogatory or stigmatizing language about it.

Misconceptions and stereotypes are often at the root of stigma. They contribute to the isolation that those living with the disease experience, and they discourage their families from confiding in others or getting the support they need.

It is important for people to realize that negative reactions from family, friends and professionals can affect a person’s well-being and ability to manage the changes brought about by the disease.

People living with dementia are entitled to the same human rights as everyone else, but stigma can create barriers and often contravenes these rights. Recently, this led to the creation of the first-ever Canadian Charter of Rights for People with Dementia. The charter is the culmination of work from the society’s advisory group of people living with dementia from across the country, including Nova Scotia’s Marilyn Taylor.

Its purpose is to make sure people with dementia know their rights, empowers people with dementia to ensure their rights are protected and respected, and makes sure that Canadians know these rights and support people with dementia.

This year, take the time to become better informed about a disease that has the potential to affect every single one of us. By working together, we can build an inclusive community.

The next time you meet someone with dementia, clear your mind of any preconceived notions you have about the disease. If you’ve met one person with dementia, then you’ve only met one person with dementia. When they tell you they have the disease, ask them, in their words, to help you understand.

Breanne Markotich is communications co-ordinator, Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia. For more information, resources, education and support, call 1-800-611-6345 or visit

Full Article & Source:
OPINION: Don’t dehumanize people with dementia

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Tonight on Marti Oakley's TS Radio Network: Betrayed by Hospice, hosted by Marsha Joiner

5:00 pm PST…
6:00 pm MST…
7:00 pm CST…
8:00 pm EST

Come join us and listen to Jackie Ferrara tell how her husband, Tony Ferrara, age 72 died on August 3, 2017.

His death was hastened by Hospice in Orlando, Florida with Haldol, Ativan, morphine, lorazepam and fentanyl even though Tony and Jackie had been clear that he wanted to live and had revoked hospice.
Hospice staff suggested since he had been in and out of the hospital and rehabilitation facility several times that he didn’t want to continue this way and stated if he had a heart attack, he didn’t want to be revived – right? He said no, I do, I want to live. They were told he had no terminal illness after initially being told he did. After calling 911, the medical staff who took him to the hospital stated he had been overdosed and gave him Narcon to counteract all the drugs but he passed 3 days later.

Call in and listen to what can happen to you or your loved ones if you blindly trust rogue hospice and nursing home staff. It is our intent to inform people about the potential dangers, terminology and red flags. Stealth Euthanasia is happening across the country as elderly and disabled are being targeted for early death and deemed unworthy of more time on earth. Many of the guests on this show have lost loved ones whose death was hastened by medical predators. Education is key for you to know what is happening and not just listen to what you are being told by medical staff. You have the right to question doctors and nurses decisions, refuse drugs and/or hospice altogether. There are other options available and it is our intention to give you knowledge about your rights.

If you have a story about a hospice or nursing home hastening a loved one’s death, contact Marsha Joiner at   You will need to have records that document your story. For more information check out

LISTEN to the show live or listen to the archive later

Burkburnett PD: Disabled twins found malnourished, dirty; father charged with exploitation

An elderly man has been charged with exploiting his disabled twin adult daughters, who were reportedly found malnourished and unkempt.

David Hubert Decker, 78, was charged with exploitation of a disabled individual – a third-degree felony. He was out of the Wichita County Jail Friday morning on $10,000 bail.

The allegations came to light after one of his daughters was found wandering around Burkburnett around 11:03 a.m. on Jan. 31.

Burkburnett police were called to the 600 block of East College Street for a suspicious person call.

They arrived and made contact with a disabled person, who was identified as one of Decker's twin daughters.

The officers saw she was thin, visibly dirty and had a "pungent odor to her body." Her hair was also completely matted down into a massive tangle, an arrest warrant affidavit states.

The affidavit also notes that her finger and toenails were very long and unkempt, and she had "a layer of crust all over her body." The crust included a large ringworm on her back.

The officers observed that her disability prevented her from caring for herself and making decisions, the affidavit states.

Adult Protective Services was contacted, and the affidavit states APS requested the woman be transported to the hospital for treatment.

APS also informed officers that the woman had a twin sister with the same disability, but they didn't know where she lived.

On Feb. 1, officers found the woman's father, identified as Decker, at a residence in the 600 block of East College.

Decker claimed he was the twins' guardian and caregiver due to their disability, the affidavit states.

He apparently was aware that the one daughter had wandered off but didn't make an attempt to find her. The affidavit states he also didn't contact police to report her as missing.

While officers were speaking with Decker, they also made contact with the twin sister.

The twin sister had a similar appearance to the woman found in the street, and her toes appeared to be infected due to her toenails growing into the toes next to them, the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, she seemed to have a difficult time walking and was taken to the hospital for treatment at the request of APS. She was diagnosed with malnutrition and dehydration.

APS reportedly spoke with officials at the Social Security Office who verified that the twin sisters receive a combined $1,541 per month in disability benefits. Decker was listed as the payee to their account.

The affidavit states that Decker was aware his daughters are not bathed or nurtured with any form of hygiene.

Decker was charged with exploitation of a disabled individual for improperly using his daughters' resources and not providing them with the medical services or care that they required.

Full Article & Source:
Burkburnett PD: Disabled twins found malnourished, dirty; father charged with exploitation

Trial of Sebring judge to begin earlier

AKRON, Ohio - At the requests of a former judge in Mahoning County's Sebring court and her husband, a federal judge has moved up the date of their trials on federal crimes.

Fifty-year-old Vettori-Caraballo and Ismael Caraballo have been granted a motion filed in U.S. District Court asking their trials, which had been set to begin on Monday, March 4, to start Friday, March 1 instead.

According to their motion, their defense attorney Gerald Ingram has a prior commitment beginning March 9, and they question whether a trial can be completed by then.

Vettori-Caraballo was indicted late last year by a federal grand jury alleging that she stole at least $100,000 from a former client. She and her husband are also charged with one count of filing a false tax return and have rejected offers for plea agreements.

In October, Vettori-Caraballo was suspended from the bench while she was being investigated for allegations that in early 2016 she took between $100,000 and $328,000 in cash that was in the home of her deceased client.

Vettori-Caraballo also drafted Robert Sampson's will, on November 20, 2015, Vettori-Caraballo filled an application in Mahoning County Probate Court to administer Sampson's estate. The application stated that Sampson died without a will.

Robert Sampson died in 2015, and his closest living relative was his sister, Dolores Falgiani. Vettori-Caraballo helped Falgiani prepare Sampson's will.

According to the U.S. Attorneys Office, sometime in October or November 2015, Falgiani stated that she had several shoeboxes fo cash stored at her residence. Falgiani was found dead in her apartment on March 10, 2016.

Authorities say that Vettori-Caraballo reported having found cash in Falgiani's residence and depositing the $20,000 into the estate. According to the indictment, Vettori-Caraballo filed a notice fo newly discovered assets with the court and each time failed to disclose the cash she allegedly had stolen.

Vettori-Caraballo allegedly made 22 deposits of cash into five different banks within four weeks to avoid regulations that require banks to report cash transactions over $10,000 to the IRS, according to the indictment.

Vettori-Caraballo is also named in a civil action case in probate court on behalf of the victim's family.
A proposed settlement has been offered up in that case, in regards to two other defendants.

Vettori-Caraballo was elected to become the Sebring Court Judge in Mahoning County Court #3 in 2002, and she was reelected in 2006 and 2012.

Full Article & Source:
Trial of Sebring judge to begin earlier

See Also:
UPDATE | Mahoning County judge charged with stealing

Mahoning County judge charged with stealing over $96K from client

Cleveland County woman charged with murder, abuse of mother

CLEVELAND COUNTY, Okla. - A case of elder abuse out of Cleveland County allegedly came from the hands of a family member.

“The conditions of the house were horrendous,” said Sheriff Todd Gibson, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office.

Murder and abuse charges have been filed against 45-year-old Shauna Brown, who was the primary caretaker of her elderly mother, 73-year-old Sharon Ingram.

Ingram died of sepsis shock in the hospital last August.

In May of the same year, she was found wandering the road near her Newalla home that she shared with Brown.

The hospital found severe infections on her lower legs. One wound was bloody and was infested with maggots.

Adult Protective Services investigated Brown’s care of Ingram in 2017 and opened a new case in May 2018.

According to court documents, two months later, in July of 2018, Ingram fell to the floor at her home.

The affidavit said, “…Brown, discovered the victim on the same day and was unable to get her off the floor. Instead of contacting emergency services, Brown left Ingram on the floor for 12 days.”

“On the ground was plywood with fecal matter on the ground. The urine smell penetrating throughout the house. Just really deplorable conditions,” Gibson said.

According to Brown’s statement to Adult Protective Services, she said she did not call for medical assistance until her mother had been unresponsive for 24 hours.

Ingram stayed at the hospital under a doctor’s care, responding only to pain stimuli, until she was pronounced dead on August 19.

“Speaking with the detectives they indicated this is some of the worst they’ve ever seen,” Gibson said.

Brown has been charged with second-degree murder and abuse/exploitation/neglect of a vulnerable adult.

She is currently in jail on a $300,000 bond.

Full Article & Source:
Cleveland County woman charged with murder, abuse of mother

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Realtor seeks court-ordered guardianship to take away rights of elderly beach hotel owner

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — Lawmakers scrambled to push through reforms after a 2013 ABC Action News investigation revealed failures in the state’s guardianship system.

But five years later, as I-Team Investigator Adam Walser discovered, the law still allows someone who barely knows you to use that system to ask a judge to take away your rights.

Guardianship is supposed to care for those who can’t take care of themselves, including seniors without family.

But before 84-year-old Genyte Dirse was taken into court-ordered guardianship last spring, she was living independently at the small hotel she has owned and operated in St. Pete Beach for more than 30 years.

“She was running her business,” said Gedi Pakalnis of his great aunt, who was taken from the hotel where they lived last July. “She was doing a lot of work.”

Pakalnis said he moved in with his great aunt 15 years ago after immigrating from Lithuania, living in a hotel unit on Dirse’s property during high school, college and graduate school.

He said he took her to the grocery store, church and doctors’ appointments and helped her run her hotel.

“She’s like my mother. I spent lots of time with her,” said Pakalnis.

But Pakalnis is no longer allowed to see his great aunt – his only relative in the United States.
Her life is now controlled by a court-appointed guardian, who moved her to an assisted living facility and banned Pakalnis from visiting her.

How did she get there?

“It started with a real estate agent,” said Pakalnis.

That real estate agent hired a lawyer and went to court to ask a judge to put a court-appointed guardian in charge of Dirse’s life after the elderly woman sold one building on her hotel property to her great nephew.

Pakalnis was visiting family in Lithuania in September of 2017 when real estate agent Diana Sames showed up at Dirse’s hotel a few days before Hurricane Irma.

Sames took Dirse to ride out the storm at a nearby beachfront home owned by one of her clients, posting a photo of her and Dirse together on her real estate blog and uploading a video of the two of them together to YouTube.

“(Dirse) would say, ‘I no sell. I no sell,’” said tenant Tim Everett, who has lived at Dirse’s hotel with his wife Tonya for more than three years and considers his landlord a close friend.

Everett told the I-Team he never saw Sames at the hotel until just before the hurricane.

He said Dirse never wanted to sell her hotel, and Everett’s wife told the court in a sworn deposition that she repeatedly heard Dirse tell Sames she didn’t want to sell when she returned after the hurricane.

But Sames disputes that, emailing “Mrs. Dirse had discussed selling often over the years, as I would drop off calendars.”

Real estate agent goes to court

Three months later, Dirse did sell part of her property – not to Sames, but to her great nephew. Pakalnis bought one of Dirse’s three hotel buildings for $50,000. The deal was closed at a title company in front of a notary and witnesses.

About a month later – after Sames learned about the sale, according to her court testimony – she petitioned a judge to put Dirse under the control of a court-appointed guardian, alleging her great nephew exploited her during the sale – something Pakalnis denies.

Court records obtained by the I-Team show Sames testifying under oath and unable to provide evidence to support her allegations that Dirse’s great nephew did something inappropriate in the sale of the hotel property.

“She’s very trusting,” Sames told Dirse’s court-appointed lawyer when asked about her allegations. “She trusts people, and that’s – in this instance, I thought it was important that – it worried me that the transaction – the way the transaction happened was not – was not taking her interest at heart for her future.”

Sames also admitted in court she didn’t know Dirse very well and was never close with Dirse, saying, “I don’t pretend I’m a personal family friend.”

Realtor not the ‘neighbor’ she claimed to be

The I-Team uncovered Sames didn’t know Dirse well enough to spell Dirse’s first name correctly in her court petition to place her in guardianship and wrote, “Her language is unknown, and she speaks English with a heavy accent.”

Sames also told the court she was a “neighbor,” but the I-Team found she lives more than half a mile away from Dirse’s hotel.

Sames refused multiple sit-down interview requests before speaking with I-Team Investigator Adam Walser outside her real estate office about why she sought guardianship for Dirse.

“I was so happy to involve myself with the corruption that I saw,” said Sames. “(Pakalnis) was dishonest. He didn’t contact any of the family members, and he did it by himself and it was against her will, but she loves him.”

Dirse’s only other close family members are two elderly sisters who live in Brazil.

‘I love Ms. Dirse’

In Florida, the Department of Children and Families and law enforcement have specialized units to investigate allegations of elder abuse and exploitation.

Sames admitted she never contacted the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office or the Florida Department of Children and Families to report her concerns that Dirse was being exploited.

Instead, she hired an elder law firm, who filed the petition on her behalf and helped her find a professional guardian willing to serve.

Jeff Swartz, a former judge and law professor who reviewed the case, questioned Sames’ standing to bring the court petition and her motivation.

“There’s no way that this woman will tell you she’s not going to take a commission on an ultimate sale of this property,” said Swartz.

The I-Team asked Sames about that directly.

“I would have no problem if it’s a listed property,” said Sames. “That’s my job. I work here on the beach. I’m a realtor. That’s what I do.”

But Sames insists it’s not about the real estate.

“I love Ms. Dirse,” said Sames. “I’ve come to know her and trust her and she trusts me.”

Declared ‘incapacitated’

Four months after Dirse sold the building to her great nephew, a panel of professionals examined Dirse and recommended that a judge declare her incapacitated.

Dirse’s court-appointed attorney argued she was able to bathe and cook for herself, take medication and maintain her home. She was not delinquent in paying any bills.

The attorney pointed out the panel interviewed Dirse in English – even though her primary languages are Lithuanian and Portuguese.

One doctor testified, “There was some English impairment. She did have a strong accent. I understand she speaks Portuguese, Lithuanian and English. I was able to rephrase questions and establish understanding.”

That doctor later reported, “She did not request an interpreter.”

But Judge Pamela Campbell, who served as a professional guardian herself in the past, seemed to agree with Sames, saying in a court hearing that her decision to sell her property for less than fair market value “does raise concerns about Mrs. Dirse’s right mind when she was signing the paperwork.”

But Swartz said Dirse had every right to sell her property to her great nephew – even if the price was for less than the appraised value.

“She can give it to whoever she wants,” said Swartz.

On April 18, 2018, Campbell declared Dirse to be incapacitated and appointed a professional guardian – a stranger to Dirse – to oversee all her affairs.

Past problems with guardianship

The I-Team first reported about the state’s troubled guardianship system back in 2013 with the story of then 99-year-old Willi Berchau.

Berchau was declared “incapacitated” and wrongly sent to an Alzheimer’s unit by a court-appointed guardian.

“You see nobody, you have no contact with anybody,” Willi said of his condition at that time.
He was freed from the Alzheimer’s unit shortly after the I-Team’s first report and later released from guardianship.

Lawmakers passed reforms, establishing the Florida Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which oversees guardian registration and serves as a state watchdog office.

“Willi’s story is what prompted it,” State Sen. Jeff Brandes told the I-Team at a party celebrating Willi’s freedom.

Guardian sues great nephew

Pakalnis insists his great aunt is also wrongly placed in guardianship.

“I would tell her I hope I will see her soon and hopefully, it’s going to stop,” said Pakalnis.

But Dirse’s court-appointed guardian, Traci Samuel has filed an eviction against Pakalnis and is using Dirse’s money to sue him in an effort to void the sale.

“She’s trying to get her hotel back,” Samuel testified at a recent court hearing. “She didn’t sell it to him.”

So far, Dirse has been billed nearly $75,000 by Samuel’s guardianship attorney and her court-appointed attorney.

In Florida, guardian and attorney fees are paid with the assets of the person in guardianship.

Samuel also moved Dirse from her hotel to an assisted living facility and banned her great nephew from seeing her.

“She doesn’t want him to visit. I’m respecting the privacy of her,” Samuel said in court.

As the guardian, Samuel has complete control over Dirse’s visitors. Samuel would not approve the I-Team’s request to visit Dirse.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email

Full Article & Source:
Realtor seeks court-ordered guardianship to take away rights of elderly beach hotel owner

Hunt continues for disbarred attorney accused of murder

The multi-state manhunt for former Smyrna attorney Richard Merritt continues while family members are in hiding from the suspected killer.

Merritt pleaded guilty last month to theft, forgery and elder-exploitation charges, admitting to settling clients’ lawsuits without telling them and keeping their checks for himself.

Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy III sentenced Merritt to 30 years with 15 to serve in prison and the rest on probation, and ordered to pay $454,706 in restitution.

Flournoy also gave Merritt two weeks to get his affairs in order before reporting to prison, but investigators believe he instead stabbed his mother to death, removed his tracking ankle monitor and fled in his mother’s car. 77-year-old Shirley Merritt was found dead in her Stone Mountain home Feb. 2.
Merritt’s ex-wife, Jenine Merritt, told FOX 5’s senior reporter Dale Russell she is staying in an undisclosed location while her ex-husband is on the loose.
“He’s a deceitful, immoral person, but I never thought he would kill someone,” she said. “The kids and I are scared, and now that we know what he’s capable of, we are afraid that he’s going to turn up.”
Jenine Merritt told Russell her now-ex had called her the night before he was to begin his prison sentence and told her he refused to let anybody else have her.
Jenine Merritt told the TV station her former husband has connections with the Florida panhandle, New Orleans and New York. She said he loves fishing and Irish pubs and that she doubts he’ll be able to keep in hiding for long.

“I think he’s such a narcissist and he has to have an audience. I don’t think he can keep to himself forever. I think he’s going to start going out in public and chit-chatting with people and getting cocky,” she said.

Richard Merritt was last seen driving a silver 2009 Lexus RX350 with Georgia tag CBV 6004. Authorities believe he may have shaved his head or otherwise changed his appearance.

Jenine Merritt said he can grow back his fine, sandy brown hair in a month or so, and grow a goatee in two weeks, though he can’t grow a beard.

The U.S. Marshals said Merritt should be considered armed and dangerous, and his brother Robert Merritt agrees.

Jean and Victor Nennig charged with financial exploitation

Victor Alfred Nennig, 49, Wadena, and Jean Laree Nennig, 62, Little Falls, are facing felony financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult charges in Morrison County District Court.

The charges stem from an incident in June 2018, when a relative of an individual at a nursing home in Little Falls became their emergency guardian and conservator because the individual was about to be evicted.

This triggered an investigation into the handling of the victim’s finances, which were allegedly handled by the Nennigs since 2017.

The two allegedly lived at the victim’s home rent free after he was placed in the nursing home in December 2017, and allowed others to stay there.

The victim’s name was not removed from the utilities for the home, the criminal complaint said.
The Nennigs also allegedly failed to sign the victim up for medical assistance to help maintain the victim’s care at the nursing home, the criminal complaint said.

Social Services allegedly found $30,000 in transactions from the victim’s account that did not benefit him.

These allegedly included the purchase of ATV parts, computer games and mobile phones, the criminal complaint said.

During an interview with police and Social Services, Victor and Jean allegedly admitted they had made numerous purchases with the victim’s money.

The two allegedly became agitated at the allegations and left the interview
If convicted, both Victor and Jean could face up to 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.

Full Article & Source: 
Jean and Victor Nennig charged with financial exploitation