Saturday, March 16, 2019

Sisters arrested in Florida after admitting they 'euthanized' father in 2015, sheriff says

Mary-Beth Tomaselli, left, and her sister, Linda Roberts, right, allegedly confessed to killing their father, Anthony Tomaselli, in 2015 after he refused to enter an assisted living facility, officials said on Tuesday. (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office)
Two sisters were arrested in Florida on Tuesday for allegedly admitting to law enforcement that they killed their father as part of a "premeditated" act four years ago because he refused to enter an assisted living facility.

Mary-Beth Tomaselli, 63, and Linda Roberts, 62, were taken into custody after they detailed to a male confidant whom they befriended in recent months what they had seemingly done, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told reporters on Tuesday.

Roberts told the man — who recorded his conversations with her — that she and Tomaselli "euthanized" their father, Anthony Tomaselli, in March 2015, when he was 85 years old. The sheriff said that "Linda gave very specific details about how she and Mary-Beth killed their father."

The women said "they had killed their father, and had, quote, 'euthanized' him because he had been ill" and refused to go to an assisted living facility, according to the sheriff. He added, "They knew he would die sometime in the next couple of months, so they decided to euthanize him."

The sisters allegedly gave their father a concoction of alcohol and an "excessive" amount of sleeping pills "with the hope that it would kill him." However, the sheriff said Tomaselli put too much alcohol in the drink, which diluted it.

Their father was laying on the couch with labored breathing, but it didn't appear that he would die.

That's when, according to officials, "Linda tried to suffocate him by placing a pillow over his face, and when that didn’t work, Linda took a rag and stuffed the rag down his throat." At that point, the sheriff said, "Mary-Beth then pinched his nose close and held his arms until he stopped breathing and died."

Tomaselli told authorities that the situation was "weird" because after they allegedly killed their father, he "still had a pulse due to having a pacemaker despite being dead."

During this time, Tomaselli allegedly drugged her adult daughter who was in the house with sleeping pills, too, so she wouldn't have to be awake as her grandfather was "euthanized."

Once their father was dead, the daughters sold the home and split a $120,000 profit with their brother, who the sheriff's office said wasn't involved in the father's murder.

Both Tomaselli and Roberts were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, officials said.

Full Article & Source:
Sisters arrested in Florida after admitting they 'euthanized' father in 2015, sheriff says

Attorney charged with stealing clients' investments back in South Bend for court appearance

Eric Marshall
SOUTH BEND — Eric Marshall, the local attorney who appeared to have skipped town amid fraud allegations and charges last year, is back in South Bend and made his first court appearance Monday.

Marshall, 61, closed his office without notice and stopped communicating with clients at the beginning of last year. Not long after, two civil lawsuits were filed against Marshall by former clients accusing him of running a Ponzi scheme and stealing their investments.

In December, he was charged in federal court with five counts of mail fraud in what the U.S. Attorney called an “elder abuse scam.” In January, Marshall was arrested in Clearwater, Fla. After being extradited, Marshall was booked into the St. Joseph County Jail at the end of last week.

Monday, Marshall was arraigned on his federal charges before Magistrate Michael Gotsch. Marshall pleaded not guilty on all counts. Judge Gotsch denied bond and ordered Marshall to remain in pre-trial detention. A jury trial has been scheduled for April 29.

Between two civil suits, Marshall has been ordered to pay roughly $2.5 million. His wife, Kathleen Marshall, is named in one of the suits, but recently had the default judgement against her vacated. She said she had no knowledge of her husband’s alleged crimes and she didn’t know she was being sued.

This doesn’t completely remove her from the lawsuit, but she will now be able to raise a defense in court against the allegations. The default judgement against Eric Marshall still stands.

Full Article & Source: 

How Your Elderly Parent Will Become a Ward of the State (part 1)

Make no mistake - state-imposed "guardianship" of senior citizens is a seizure of assets, and a violation of family rights.

A so-called "senior services" agency can go to court and get an emergency order of guardianship - simply by CLAIMING incompetency, abuse, or neglect. The family has no opportunity to refute the charges (if they even live in the same state!).

The older person is then taken from his/her home by POLICE - and delivered to a long-term care facility with no recourse. There they are usually diagnosed with dementia and medicated against their will. You can't even visit them unsupervised; somebody's always watching you.

They are "dead in the law."

These events often happen after being widowed or other upsetting event. Tragically, the elder person often made the mistake of reaching out for "help."

How Your Elderly Parent Will Become a Ward of the State (part 1)

Friday, March 15, 2019

He Wanted His Wife’s Fortune. So He Killed Her, Then Tried Framing His Daughter.

© Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times Roderick Covlin appeared in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Wednesday where a jury found him guilty of murdering his wife, Shele Danishefsky Covlin in 2009.
by Jan Ransom

The 9-year-old girl woke up early one morning in December 2009 and found her mother facedown in a bathtub filled with bloody water inside their Manhattan apartment. Above the tub, a cabinet door had been nearly pulled off the hinges.

The girl’s father, who was estranged from her mother and lived across the hall, said the panicked girl had called him, and he had called 911. He told the police that he had tried to revive his wife. Investigators initially determined that her death was an accident. Within days, she was buried, without an autopsy, per the wishes of her Orthodox Jewish family.

But on Wednesday, nine years after the woman, Shele Danishefsky Covlin, 47, was discovered dead, a jury found her husband, Roderick Covlin, 45, guilty of her murder.

The verdict came after a yearslong investigation and an eight-week trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Prosecutors portrayed Mr. Covlin as a heartless schemer who would stop at nothing to collect his wife’s money, who used his children as pawns in his machinations and even took steps to frame his daughter for the murder.

As the verdict was read, Mr. Covlin dropped his head and closed his eyes. The victim’s siblings and their spouses, who had attended the trial every day, embraced each other and wept.

“The wheels of justice turn very slowly, and we always had confidence that ultimately this day would come,” Ms. Danishefsky Covlin’s brother-in-law, Marc Karstaedt, said. “Finally, after nine years, we have justice for our beloved Shele.”

Mr. Covlin’s lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, said he would appeal the verdict.

The trial turned largely on circumstantial evidence that pointed to Mr. Covlin as the only person with a key to the apartment who had a motive to kill Ms. Danishefsky Covlin, a wealthy finance executive. Prosecutors said that Mr. Covlin strangled her to death because he wanted to inherit her fortune, then staged the crime scene to look like an accidental drowning. She had planned to cut him out of her will that same day.

“His primary motive was pure, unadulterated greed,” the lead prosecutor, Matthew Bogdanos, told jurors in his opening statement.

Still, jurors were challenged in determining what happened on New Year’s Eve 2009 inside Ms. Danishefsky Colvin’s apartment at the Dorchester Towers, a luxury building on West 68th Street, a few blocks from Lincoln Center.

The police, who initially thought it was an accidental death, did not immediately dust for fingerprints, or collect DNA. Nor did they secure items in the bathroom for evidence. They took no notes and spoke to only a few neighbors. They never searched Mr. Covlin’s apartment or the building’s common areas for evidence. They even allowed the family’s rabbi to clean the bathroom with peroxide, eliminating any evidence of blood.

© Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times Eve Karstaedt (right in red), Ms. Danishefsky Covlin’s sister, cries in reaction to the verdict on Wednesday. 

Mr. Gottlieb said in closing arguments on Monday that there was no way to determine who had murdered his client’s wife, largely because detectives had botched the investigation.

“It is impossible to know beyond a reasonable doubt what happened to Shele Covlin, how it happened and why it happened,” he said.

Because Ms. Danishefsky Covlin was buried without an autopsy, the cause of death was undetermined for several months. But as suspicions grew regarding Mr. Covlin, the family had her body exhumed, and in April 2010, a medical examiner determined that she had been strangled, her neck squeezed with such force it fractured the hyoid bone, causing bleeding in her right eye.

Still, it took five more years before prosecutors had enough evidence to arrest and charge Mr. Covlin, a self-proclaimed martial arts expert, with her murder.

Ms. Danishefsky Covlin had been married to Mr. Covlin for 11 years, and before her death had confided in family members and close friends about his erratic and abusive behavior, according to testimony and evidence presented at trial.

She wrote to her sister, Eve Karstaedt, in January 2009 that she was “very scared that at some point in the future all his anger and rage may result in something bad happening — he really can’t control his temper.”

The children’s babysitter, Hyacinth Reid, testified that one day Mr. Covlin was screaming at Ms. Danishefsky Covlin so loudly inside their apartment that he could be heard in the hallway. Later, Ms. Reid said, Ms. Danishefsky Covlin told her Mr. Covlin had thrown her to the floor.

Ms. Danishefsky Covlin filed for divorce in May 2009 and was planning to remove him from her will. That angered Mr. Covlin, who prosecutors say was often unemployed, and dependent on his wife and her family’s largess.

Prosecutors described Mr. Covlin as an impecunious professional backgammon player who risked losing his children and his lavish lifestyle if the divorce was approved. He wanted his wife dead, Mr. Bogdanos said, because he was set to receive about $5 million from her estate.

Ms. Danishefsky Covlin met Mr. Covlin at a Jewish singles party at Le Bar Bat, a bar in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan in February 1998, prosecutors said. They were engaged in a matter of weeks, despite an age difference of 11 years. Two years later, they had their first child, Anna.

Ms. Danishefsky Covlin was a senior vice president for private wealth management at UBS, while Mr. Covlin was an unsuccessful stockbroker who went to school, traveled for backgammon tournaments and had tried his luck in a number of financial ventures that Ms. Danishefsky Covlin helped fund, court records show. He also spent countless hours pursuing women for sex, prosecutors said.

On their 10th anniversary, Mr. Covlin told Ms. Danishefsky Covlin that he wanted an open marriage, and she objected, prosecutors said.

They separated in April 2009. She rented the apartment directly across the hall from hers for him because she did not want to disrupt the children’s lives — they had a second child, a son, by then. She also gave Mr. Covlin a set of keys to her apartment, a decision prosecutors said cost her her life.

For the rest of the year, the divorce and custody battle became increasingly bitter. Mr. Covlin, who had lost his job at Pragma Securities, a financial consulting firm, told a Family Court judge that he could no longer afford to pay child support. In response, the judge forbade him to spend money to attend backgammon tournaments. “All of which led to his growing, obsessive, all-consuming hatred of her,” Mr. Bogdanos said.

A month after they separated, Mr. Covlin tried to sabotage his wife, according to court records, telling her employer that she used drugs and had stolen money from their joint account. Two months later, he coached their 3-year-old son, Myles, to falsely accuse Ms. Danishefsky Covlin of sexual abuse, prosecutors said.

Patricia Swenson, a woman Mr. Covlin met online, testified that he had told her in August of that year that he wanted to kill his wife or to have her die some other way.

Prosecutors say that Mr. Covlin followed through on his word, but his attempts to obtain his wife’s money after her death stalled after he became mired in a legal battle with her brother, along with a custody dispute over the children.

For Mr. Covlin, custody of the children meant access to the millions of dollars his wife had left for them. In the end, however, his parents, David and Carol Covlin, of Scarsdale, became the children’s guardians.

Mr. Covlin, who moved in with his parents, assaulted his mother in September 2011, slamming her headfirst into a wall, and attacked his father two months later, according to court records. He also took $84,000 from his children’s college fund.

By the fall of 2012, Mr. Covlin had laid out several plans to kill his parents but didn’t carry them out, according to testimony and court records. “His anger and rage was uncontrollable,” another girlfriend, Debra Oles, testified, saying Mr. Covlin had tried to recruit her to help with his schemes.

In January 2013, Mr. Covlin instructed his daughter, Anna, who was then 12, to accuse her grandfather of rape, according to court records. But the girl balked.

Later that year, Mr. Covlin plotted to kidnap Anna and take her to Mexico, where he would pay someone $10,000 to marry her in order to emancipate her from her grandparents, prosecutors said in court papers. That plan also never came to pass.

While Mr. Covlin continued to concoct plans to get his children back and to regain access to their inheritance, he was the primary suspect in the ongoing murder investigation.

In one of his final acts before being arrested, court papers say, Mr. Covlin devised a plan to frame his daughter for Ms. Danishefsky Covlin’s murder. In June 2013, he composed a false murder confession in her email account as if it were written by her.

“I lied,” Mr. Covlin wrote, pretending to be his daughter. “She didn’t just slip.”

Full Article & Source:
He Wanted His Wife’s Fortune. So He Killed Her, Then Tried Framing His Daughter.

Legislation bolsters guardianship reforms

By Colleen Heild
A measure is advancing in the state Legislature to give alleged incapacitated people – and those who care about their welfare – a greater voice in the legal process that can turn over management of their lives and finances to court-appointed guardians and conservators.

The legislation would allow people to call witnesses and otherwise defend themselves in court against allegations that they are incapacitated and provides for a new grievance procedure for complaints against guardians and conservators. It also details the ways someone can designate the guardian or conservator they want should the need arise.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, builds on the slate of reforms enacted in 2018 that aimed at injecting transparency and accountability into New Mexico’s guardian/conservator system.

“Last year made quite an impact,” White told the Journal last week. “We made laws a number of years ago to create this guardianship and conservatorship system to protect the folks that can’t handle it themselves and then people found a way to abuse it. So now we’re making laws to hopefully stop the abuse.”

White said the proposal is the product of a series of meetings over the past year involving a group that included judges, the state Auditor’s Office, Disability Rights New Mexico, the Attorney General’s Office, the Governor’s Office and others.

The measure was approved unanimously by the Senate on Friday and was sent to the House for further hearings.

The measure, SB 395, adds teeth to last year’s legislation by requiring certification of professional guardians and conservators, and increases fines if they are late in filing required annual reports with the court about the incapacitated person’s status.

It provides that people who are alleged to be so incapacitated they can’t manage their affairs would be able to present evidence, examine witnesses and otherwise participate at a hearing in which a judge considers a petition – sometimes filed by family members or even a neighbor – that would authorize the appointment of a guardian or conservator.

That provision, according to a legislative analysis, is important “for the person alleged to be incapacitated to adequately defend themselves and present evidence at hearings.”

Supreme Court Justice Shannon Bacon told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the 52-page bill is “much more explicit what the protected person’s rights are.”

The measure also creates a process so that a protected person or those interested in that person’s welfare can file a grievance with the court if the person believes a guardian or conservator is breaching their fiduciary duty or otherwise acting inappropriately.

“You want anybody who’s interested or sees an abuse, you want them to be able to come forward and say we need to look at it,” White told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Once a grievance is filed, the judge who appointed the guardian or conservator is required to review the grievance, schedule a hearing if appropriate and take any action supported by the evidence.

Bacon, who as a state District Court judge in Albuquerque served as the courts’ chief representative in reform discussions, has since been appointed to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Bacon told the Judiciary Committee that the Supreme Court has already approved rules – not yet put into place – anticipating approval of SB 395, to create a standardized grievance form available to people who seek to file such grievances.

Bacon said court rules will set out the process so a judge can hear all sides of a grievance.

And she added there is a “fail safe” mechanism contemplated so judges can decline to consider a grievance if a similar grievance has been filed within the prior six months and was acted upon by the judge.

The measure would allow anyone interested in the protected person’s welfare to file a grievance.

“We want individuals to say ‘something doesn’t seem right’ and if you start to narrow the scope as to who can say something isn’t right, we’re just putting this all back in the closet,” Bacon told the committee.

Another safeguard in the proposed legislation would allow the court to appoint a court investigator to assess a protected person’s mental and/or physical capacity no later than 10 years after the initial appointment of a guardian or conservator, and every 10 years after that.

Some people, such as those with traumatic brain injury, may have improved to the point that they can manage without a guardian or conservator, Bacon said.

The 10-year review would supplement the legally required annual or initial 90-day reports judges receive from guardians and conservators they appoint.

The bill also specifies what types of documents, such as a will, a person can use to designate their choice of guardian or conservator if he or she becomes incapacitated in the future.

The person designated would rank second on the priority list a judge by law must consider in deciding whom to appoint. The first would be a guardian already appointed in another jurisdiction.

“That’s in there also,” White said, “that if they’ve got a will or a power of attorney, that those documents are respected.”

The bill is the latest attempt to reform the state’s adult guardianship/conservatorship laws after a 2016 Journal investigation and follow-up stories revealed weaknesses in the system, which allowed incapacitated people in need of protection to be victimized.

Full Article & Source:
Legislation bolsters guardianship reforms

Sens. Toomey and Casey working together to protect the elderly | Editorial

Editor’s Note: The editorial has been updated to correct the number of nursing homes currently on the list of Special Focus Facilities. 

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s the absolute imperative of respecting and protecting the elderly.

Whatever your political persuasion, right, left or in between, this is a basic human value that should transcend all differences. And it is heartening to see two U.S. Senators set aside their political differences and cooperate to end neglect and abuse of the elderly in nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

In response to the recent PennLive investigation, ”Still Failing the Frail,” U.S. Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey have decided to work together to address apparent deficiencies in the oversight of nursing homes.

The senators have jointly penned a letter to Seema Verma, administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington, D.C., raising questions about a federal program tasked with improving persistently failing nursing homes.

As PennLive reporter Daniel Simmons-Ritchie documented in “Still Failing the Frail,” some of the worst nursing homes in Pennsylvania have continued to be plagued with problems – including chronically low staffing, insect infestations, and poor care that has harmed residents – despite ownership changes and promises of tougher oversight by the Wolf administration.

Among those homes, one is a current member of the federal government’s “Special Focus Facility” (SFF) program. Nursing homes are selected as SFF if they consistently provide poor care.

A total of 85 of the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes have that designation (including four in Pennsylvania). Those homes are supposed to get extra scrutiny and can potentially lose their government funding if they don’t improve.

Toomey and Casey’s letter raises questions about the effectiveness of that program: many nursing homes have been on the SFF list for years, without any action being taken against them, as the federal dough continues to roll in.

“Neglect and abuse of this nature is altogether unacceptable,” Toomey and Casey wrote, “and through a robust system of monitoring, oversight, technical assistance and enforcement, it should be entirely avoidable.”

The senators are absolutely right. There is no reason nursing homes that do not properly care for their residents should remain open year after year, transferred from one shoddy owner to the next, treating our elderly as pawns in heartless business schemes that focus only on the bottom line.

In fact, there should be zero tolerance for negligence or abuse in any facility charged with caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. And Sens. Toomey and Casey shouldn’t rest until that is indeed the case, and authorities at all levels are held accountable.

To reinforce the seriousness of their interest in the issue, the senators set a deadline of March 27 for the federal agency to respond. That’s a clear sign they mean business and will not let this matter rest until they get the information they need.

Once they get their answers, the next step will be for these senators to move with all due haste to end the apparent negligence that threaten the very lives of the people we have a duty to protect.

While solving many of the problems identified in the PennLive’s series rests with the Wolf Administration and the General Assembly, Casey and Toomey should be applauded for stepping up to help at the federal level in a show of bipartisan cooperation.

Working together, Senators Casey and Toomey must keep the pressure on those at the federal level who can help strengthen oversight of nursing homes, as they have vowed to do in their letter.

We hope more political leaders will take note of the power of bipartisan cooperation for the common good – as Sens. Toomey and Casey are now modeling. And it’s not a bad idea for approving constituents to send a strong signal of their gratitude.

Full Article & Source:
Sens. Toomey and Casey working together to protect the elderly | Editorial

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Former Atco Probate Judge Sentenced to 30 Years for Role in Missing $430,000+ in Missing Probate Court Funds

Former Atkinson County Probate Judge Margie O’Brien was sentenced to 30 years – three to be served in prison – last Thursday morning, February 14, at the Atkinson County Courthouse for her role in missing funds from the Probate Court Office, totaling over $430,000.  

In front of a crowded courtroom Thursday morning, Judge Gary McCorvey handed down the sentence after a restitution hearing was held that lasted over two hours. During the hearing, Judge McCorvey heard from both the prosecution and the defense as to why or why not O’Brien should pay restitution. The prosecution called the CPA to the stand who first discovered the missing money, and he proceeded to explain exactly how they realized that money was missing. According to the CPA, they printed cash receipts, money order and check receipts, and deposit slips and noticed that none of them were matching up. This led into a bigger investigation that eventually revealed over $433,000 in missing monies. After being cross-examined, the CPA was excused from the stand, and the defense then called four character witnesses of their own. 

At the end of the character witnesses, Defense Attorney then called Margie O'Brien to the stand. During the time on the stand, O'Brien, while during questioning by her attorney, Converse Bright, reminded the court that she voluntarily resigned her post and could still be working and drawing a salary to this day if she would have wanted to. When asked why she didn't, O'Brien responded with, "I can't stand going out into public and wondering what people are thinking about me." In an attempt to try and prove that O'Brien shouldn't pay restitution, the defense then went on to explain that O'Brien only has an income due to her husband's job of about $2,600 a month and that her bills total over $3,000 a month and that she has to rely on help from her family to make ends meet.  Bright went on to explain that with things they way they currently were, O'Brien couldn't afford to pay a monthly restitution payment and shouldn't have to. Upon cross-examination, Deputy Attorney General David McGlaughlin stated, "This is a very tough situation, Mrs. O'Brien, but you will still have time to redeem your family's name." He then went on to explain to the court that about $1,000 of O'Brien's bills were to DirectTV and cell phones and that money could be used to pay restitution. Also during the cross-examination, O'Brien admitted to taking some money to buy lunch for herself and the Probate Office employees but stated that she always put it back. McGlaughlin finished by asking O'Brien why she couldn't find a job in the two years since she resigned, and she replied with, "There are some days that I can't even get out of bed." The prosecution closed by suggesting a four-year prison term and 30 years of probation plus restitution.

In his closing statement, Defense Attorney Converse Bright stated in reference to O'Brien, "You can't expect somebody to survive four years in prison with diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, and clinical depression. She may not survive four years. We think that four years may be a death sentence for somebody in her health. She's paid a lot emotionally and has already committed herself to house arrest. I've already made my point on restitution. To order somebody to pay when they can't is setting them up to fail, and the Georgia Court of Appeals will see it that way." The defense then suggested only a two-year prison term.

In his closing remarks before the sentence was handed down, Judge McCorvey stated, "People don't normally go to prison for a first offense of theft by taking." He then went on to say, "We can't afford to put people in prison that we are mad at. We put people in prison that we are afraid of, and nobody in here is afraid of Mrs. O'Brien. Prison should be reserved for child molesters, murderers, and rapists."

According to court documents, Atkinson County has already received $124,000 from a bond to cover part of the missing money. O’Brien would be responsible for the remaining $309,000. Judge McCorvey also ordered that upon completion of her prison sentence, O’Brien would be given no less than six months to find suitable employment before restitution payments would begin on a monthly basis.

O'Brien pleaded guilty to 10 counts of theft by taking in late November, a week prior to a trial date that was set for December 3rd.

On Thursday morning, O'Brien was sentenced to 15 years of probation for one count of theft by taking to be served concurrent to the three-year prison sentence. She was also sentenced to 15 years of probation for another count of theft by taking to be serving consecutively to the other 15-year sentence. 

Tifton Circuit Judge Gary McCorvey presided over the case due to a law that prohibits judges from a circuit from hearing cases pertaining to judges that serve in the same circuit.

The plea deal reduced the charges against O'Brien down to just 10 counts of theft by taking. The original indictment included 81 counts of theft by taking and two counts of racketeering in the case of over $430,000 in missing funds. 

In the indictment, O'Brien was charged with taking cash transactions from firearm licenses, marriage licenses, hunting violations, moving violations, criminal violations, and other means, and keeping the funds for herself and covering the deposits with checks that had been paid into the office. 

At the conclusion of the sentencing, Deputy Attorney General David McGlaughlin stated that the state had no problem with O’Brien taking a few days to get her affairs in order before reporting to begin her sentence. Judge McCorvey took this into consideration and ordered O’Brien to report on Monday, February 18th to begin her sentence.

Full Article & Source:
Former Atco Probate Judge Sentenced to 30 Years for Role in Missing $430,000+ in Missing Probate Court Funds

Lawyer accused of ripping off clients claims no memory

MEDIA COURTHOUSE — A Delaware County personal injury attorney accused of stealing more than $400,000 in settlement funds that were supposed to go to his clients now claims he has no memory of his alleged actions.

Gregory G. Stagliano, 61, of the 500 block of Chaumont Drive in Radnor, is charged with theft by unlawful taking, theft of services, theft by deception and receiving stolen property, all felonies of the third degree, as well as a misdemeanor count of unauthorized practice of law. He is additionally charged in a separate but related case involving insurance.

Stagliano has been declared incompetent, however, on the basis that he cannot remember the entire period when he allegedly was pocketing money that was supposed to go to nine different victims he represented in personal injury cases.

Former District Attorney Jack Whelan said when announcing the charges in May 2017 that investigators led by county Detective Michele Deery began looking at Stagliano in July 2016, based on a tip from the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Investigators found a similar pattern of theft in each of the nine cases, with Stagliano allegedly depositing funds meant for clients into his own Santander Interest on Lawyers Trust Account for personal use.

Stagliano has been represented by three attorneys in the case and previously appeared before Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mary Alice Brennan, but the case is now before Senior Judge Michael Coll, who handles competency cases.

Stagliano’s current attorney, John Hickey, filed the competency motion on the basis that without his memory, Stagliano cannot assist in his defense. Hickey and Assistant District Attorney William Judge appeared before Coll at the end of January on that issue.

Coll signed the order Feb. 7 directing Stagliano to seek treatment for restoration of competency, but seemed incredulous of Stagliano’s claims during a hearing Tuesday.

“What a convenient lapse of memory, huh?” the judge asked Hickey. “It looks like we’re in this position – as long as he says he doesn’t remember, he’s going to be deemed to be not competent? That’s unacceptable. That’s unacceptable. How could you tell whether he’s faking it or not?”

But Hickey noted that a court-appointed psychologist, a neuropsychologist and Stagliano’s current treating psychiatrist all back up his claims of memory loss due to a combination of opioids and nerve pain medications he was taking at the time. Hickey added that a brain scan showed Stagliano has a lesion on the part of his brain that controls memory and cognition, which would lend his story some credibility.

“The fact that there’s a lesion on his brain doesn’t lead to the conclusion that he’s lost his memory,” the judge said.

“If someone says their foot hurts, you can say, ‘Anyone can say their foot hurts,’” said Hickey. “If you take an x-ray and you happen to see a broken bone, you say, ‘Oh, there’s something objective to verify what they’re saying.’”

Hickey said he was unable to get a complete update on Stagliano’s treatment before the hearing Tuesday, but Coll has ordered that a report be delivered within two weeks recounting precisely what is being done to restore his memory.

Hickey later said the record indicates that the combination of medications his client was taking actually precluded him from forming those memories in the first place, so it would be very difficult for him to regain them.

The next scheduled hearing is March 5.

Full Article & Source: 
Lawyer accused of ripping off clients claims no memory

Hidden in the Shadows: Detecting and Addressing Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can be defined as “intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or ‘trusted’ individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder.”1 It is often a “hidden offence, often perpetrated against vulnerable people, many with memory impairment, by those on whom they depend.”2

Elder abuse is common, with one study suggesting that it may affect as many as 1 in 4 vulnerable older people.3 According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans older than 60 years has been the victim of abuse, including physical abuse, psychological or verbal abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect.4

Given the rapidly burgeoning population of older adults in the United States, the number of potentially abused elders is staggering: in 2015, older adults — defined as people age 65 years or above (47.8 million) constituted nearly 15% of the US population — up by 1.6 million from 2014.5 It is projected that by 2060, the number will reach 98.2 million, comprising nearly one-fourth of US residents5 as the “Baby Boomers” age and as life expectancy is expected to increase.6 Of these, 19.7 million will be age 85 years or older.5

Elder abuse can take place in both community and institutional settings; however, some research suggests that it is more common in the community.7 A 2000 survey showed that 60.7% of elder abuse took place in domestic settings, whereas 8.3% took place in institutional facilities.8  (Click to Continue)

Full Article & Source:
Hidden in the Shadows: Detecting and Addressing Elder Abuse

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Court appointed accountant charged with theft, exploitation

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Accused of stealing from a disabled client because he knew nobody would notice… problem is: someone eventually did. Now the troubled guardianship program 13 Action News has exposed over and over again has a new problem: The arrest of a court-appointed accountant.

Certified Public Accountant Joshua Gottesman is facing nearly 50 criminal charges--all them felonies---including theft and exploitation of a vulnerable person. All of it happened under the not-so-watchful eye of Clark County Family Court.

This all stems from the guardianship case of Garrett Dosch. Garrett and his family received nearly $7 million from a medical malpractice lawsuit due to life-altering injuries he and his twin brother suffered when they were born.

According to the arrest report, Gottesman was appointed by Clark County Family Court in 2005 to manage Garrett's trust account.

But the report states by March, 2017, Gottesman stole more than $190,000 of the disabled man's money.

He has since repaid most of the money, but Gottesman admitted to investigators he took it simply because he could. He said he knew no one was watching and he could get away with it, according to the arrest report.

Authorities say when Gottesman's personal accounts were drained or overdrawn, he took money from Garrett's trust and spent it on things like "dating websites and video games, pet spa care, traveling and eating out."

Court records show Gottesman was only caught because the Guardianship Compliance Officer found he failed to file required accountings for 12 years. The position of the Compliance Officer was created after my years-long investigation uncovered massive corruption and heartbreaking exploitation in Clark County's guardianship system.

Gottesman declined our request for an on-camera interview. His next court date is in May.

Clark County District Court provided the following statement after we asked if the court would hold any of its employees accountable for the problems we've exposed in the guardianship system including the recent charges file against Gottesman:
Judicial officers followed the law when handling guardianship cases. Since issues with the guardianship system came to light, significant statutory changes were passed in the Legislature. A 50 page bill of guardianship changes was passed last year. Additional changes to the guardianship laws are currently being considered by the legislature. The court has also added resources to guardianship cases to ensure the well-being of protected persons. Guardianship cases are now heard exclusively by district court judges, rather than hearing masters. Two district court judges have been assigned to guardianship cases on a full-time basis. Investigators and compliance officers have been hired to follow up and investigate information presented in guardianship cases. Our case management technology has been improved to automate functions and facilitate effective tracking. Counsel is now appointed for each adult protected person. The District Court is working hard to improve the system to protect the most vulnerable in our community.

Full Article & Source:
Court appointed accountant charged with theft, exploitation

Is legal guardianship necessary for adults with developmental disabilities?

Adele Barlow clearly recalls her brother Craig’s 18th birthday. It was over four decades ago, but the shock of learning that he’d become a legal adult — with all the rights and responsibilities it comes with — stays with her to this day. Craig has Down syndrome, but in New Jersey and across the United States, 18 is the age all individuals, regardless of developmental disability, earn independent decision-making rights.

“My mother, in her will, designated our older sister to be his legal guardian. She also specified that she wanted him to spend equal amounts of time with all of his other brothers and sisters,” Barlow said.

Barlow’s parents filed for the guardianship, but when Barlow’s mother died the process got messy. Craig wanted to live with Barlow and her husband. Her sister, the designated guardian, contested it.

“We had a three-day trial and the judge ruled that she was going to abide by my mother’s will,” she said. “And I knew that was wrong. There was just so many reasons why she shouldn’t do that.”

Barlow learned a little known fact: wills don’t allow for the transfer of legal custody, they only account for the preference. She eventually won the guardianship battle. Though she admits her situation was highly complicated, it’s a scenario not unlike many others playing out for families of the developmentally disabled across the state. She says many don’t learn of the need to file for legal guardianship until there’s a crisis.

“If you want to make decisions for this person, any decision, I’ve had to show my guardianship papers,” Barlow said.

Paul Aronsohn says the issue to designate legal guardianship is one of the top concerns keeping parents and caregivers of the developmentally disabled up at night.

“That should be part of the transition conversation because parents and families need to be prepared by the time a child turns 18 — they are an independent adult,” said Aronsohn, who serves as state ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families.

Many spend years and thousands of dollars on lawyers to cut through the state’s red tape. Aronsohn says it’s all unnecessary.

“We need to do a better job explaining to families that there are other alternatives, too. It doesn’t have to be general guardianship. There can be supportive decision making, that there can be limited guardianships,” he said.

In New Jersey guardianship is a court-approved legal relationship between a competent adult and a minor child, or an adult declared legally incompetent. Once the guardian is appointed by superior court, only the court can modify or change the order. As the philosophy of inclusion for developmentally disabled adults has evolved, so too have the options surrounding this relationship.

“Increasingly, there are alternatives to guardianship which completely deprive somebody of their right to make decisions on their own behalf,” said Deborah Spitalnik, founding executive director of the Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities.

The Boggs Center is New Jersey’s federally designated University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and part of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The organization’s sole mission is to educate students and the community about topics like this.

“What we’re trying to infuse through the teaching we do, through programs, is the idea of supported decision making — that people can be supported in various ways to make the decisions that affect their lives,” she said.

According to Spitalnik, if put in the wrong hands, full legal guardianship of an intellectually or developmentally disabled individual has potential for abuse. And is only necessary, as in Craig’s case, when the person is unable to care for their basic needs, finances or medical issues.

“There’s a need for tremendous amounts of education about what peoples’ legal rights are and to make sure that people who need support and decision making have that support, that families have standing, but that we do it in a way that’s more balanced, more nuanced, in not making automatic assumptions about what peoples’ capacities are for decision making,” said Spitalnik.

Limited guardianship, for example, covers decision-making around where to live, go to school, handle money, legal and medical choices. It’s good for those who are capable of making some, but not all decisions. Power of Attorney holds similar status, but the individual has to understand, on a basic level, they’re appointing someone else to make choices on their behalf. A lesser-known option is the POLST, physician orders for life-sustaining treatment, used when the person is nearing the end of life.

While advocates agree, people placed in guardianship can be considered vulnerable, there are still many instances where it’s necessary and families need to be ready.

“If you went to the doctor office and they start asking you questions and you can’t speak for yourself, and they want you to go get a medical procedure that’s emergent and you say nothing, yu gum up the entire process because in this world liability is critical. And being clear on who to go to for the decisions can make the difference, just like getting lab work in diagnostics, and the care delivery can be delayed, bad decisions can be made,” said Steven Cook, executive director of The Arc Mercer.

The ARC Mercer is one of the only community-based services for people with special needs and developmental disabilities in Central Jersey. All of the doctors and medical specialists are highly trained in care giving and spotting legal gaps.

“I’ll go to the hospital, I’ll meet with the nurses as soon as they go to the emergency room. No matter where they go, I’ll be there, the staff will be there. So if we can explain to them who they are, what they can understand, what sets them off, how to redirect them, and everything else that they need to know to make it easier on both staff and the consumer,” said Carol Bastian, a registered nurse at The Arc Mercer.

“We know who the guardians are when we take them in. And I think from a behavioral perspective, we work really well with individuals with developmental disabilities to try and make sure they’re making the right decisions. But our model verses other models where maybe a doctor who doesn’t have as much experience with special needs and is seeing someone because they’re local and available, that process ther’re not comfortable with or they’re not even aware of,” said Cook.

Advocates say families should regularly revisit the conversation, especially as circumstance change, individuals age, and mental and health capacities decline.

“God forbid something really awful happens medically and decisions need to be made about feeding tubes or not feeding tubes, you definitely have to have legal authority otherwise the state can step in and say no you can’t terminate this person’s life, or you have to put that feeding tube in, which might not be the family’s choice,” Barlow said.

Adding, that authority shouldn’t be taken lightly, because advocates say more often than not it’s the guardians who get so much more out of giving.

Aging and the Unknown: Adults with Developmental Disabilities” is a four-part series that dives into the complexities and challenges for those aging with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Full Article & Source:
Is legal guardianship necessary for adults with developmental disabilities?

$6.5 million going to nursing home improvements across Minnesota

ST. PAUL, MN — Several nursing homes across Minnesota, including several in our region, are getting some financial help from the state to improve quality of life and care.

It’s part of a $6.5 million package from the State Department of Human Services.

Eight nursing homes in northern Minnesota are among those to receive receive a chunk of those funds.

– Aftenro, Duluth, to develop and implement CDC guidelines for prescribing antibiotics.
– Augustana Moose Lake Care Center, Moose Lake, as part of Care Choice Collaborative, to address the growing number of patients with behavioral health needs.
– Henning Rehab and Health Care Center, Henning, to implement an open breakfast program focusing on customer service and resident choice.
– Interfaith Care Center, Carlton, to decrease depressive symptoms in residents by improving quality and quantity of resident center activity programming.
– Moorhead Rehab and Healthcare Center, Moorhead, to develop a wound management program to reduce pressure sores.
-Saint Francis Health Services Collaborative, to improve overall nutritional status and allow residents to achieve optimal health, functioning and wellbeing. Involved will be Franciscan Health Center in Duluth, Guardian Angels Health & Rehab Center in Hibbing, Heritage Manor in Chisholm, Littlefork Care Center in Littlefork, Thief River Care Center in Thief River Falls and Viewcrest Health Center in Duluth.

According to a news release from the Dept. of Human Services:

“Nursing homes are responsible for providing safe, quality care to some of the most vulnerable Minnesotans,” said Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey. “This funding helps improve residents’ health, well-being and overall quality of life.”

Full Article & Source:
$6.5 million going to nursing home improvements across Minnesota

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Guarding the Guardians

ME (WABI)- A former state lawmaker from Frankfort awaits sentencing, after being found guilty last November of bilking two elderly women out of millions of dollars.

Senator Susan Collins is sponsoring legislation to protect individuals from abusive guardians.

Joy Hollowell tells us more.


In November, 53-year old Robert Lindell, Jr. was found guilty of theft and tax evasion.

The former legislator from Frankfort was working as a broker and financial adviser when he stole more than $3 million dollars from two elderly widows.

"In our country, there are 1.3 million Americans who have assets of some $50 billion whose lives are completely under the control of guardians," says Senator Susan Collins.

Senator Collins is the chair of the Senate Aging Committee. She says in many cases, a guardian is required when people are no longer able to make decisions on their own.

Lindell handled the estate of a 92-year-old Belfast woman who died in 2012.

He also managed assets for a woman in her 80's, living in France.

The Senate Aging Committee spent a year investigating ways to strengthen guardianship programs and better protect those who rely on the system.

As a result, Senator Collins is sponsoring the Guardianship Accountability Act. It would provide a sort of checks and balances for those in a guardianship role.

"Our bill is intended to promote states to adopt reforms where the courts would review regular reports from the guardians just to make sure that everything is on the up and up," Senator Collins explains.

In addition, the proposal encourages the use of background checks as well as easing restrictions on alternatives to the current system.

"Most guardians do a wonderful job of protecting people who have lost capacity," says Senator Collins. "But there are some who use their position to steal money from the very people they're supposed to be protecting."


A sentencing date for Robert Lindell, Jr. has not yet been set.

He faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of $20,000 dollars.

Lindell could also have to pay more than $2 million in restitution.

Full Article & Source:
Guarding the Guardians

Proposed legislation would prohibit nursing home employees from serving as patient guardians

The measure would prohibit nursing home employees from exploiting their closeness to patients for personal gain.
Harrisburg, PA —

Who should handle the affairs of a vulnerable person?

Rep. Thomas Murt
In response to a case of possible financial exploitation of a constituent of his, state Rep. Thomas Murt, a Montgomery County Republican, wants to outlaw employees of long-term facilities from taking advantage of their closeness to those for whom they care.

Murt has reintroduced legislation that would prohibit an employee of a long-term care facility from serving, for any patient of their employer, as: a guardian, an agent under a power of attorney, a beneficiary of any insurance policy or annuity, or an executor of the customer's estate of a patient.

The proposal has 14 cosponsors and enjoys bipartisan support, including state Reps. Thomas R. Caltagirone, a Reading Democrat, and Mark M. Gillen, a Robeson Township Republican.

The measure was prompted by a constituent case which involved a gentleman's father who entered a retirement home and was convinced by an employee of the institution to become his good friend, Murt wrote in his sponsorship memo.

“Unfortunately, the friend became executor of his will and received a $100,000 fee from the arrangement,” Murt wrote. “Financial exploitation is the fastest growing type of elder abuse and as our frail elderly population continues to grow, it is essential that we address this issue and take the steps necessary to prevent such future exploitation.”

The bill was referred to the Committee on Aging and Older Adult Services on March 1.

Full Article & Source:
Proposed legislation would prohibit nursing home employees from serving as patient guardians

Opioids and Elder Abuse: A Disquieting Connection

By Pamela B. Teaster, Ph.D. and Karen A. Roberto, Ph.D., Center for Gerontology, Virginia Tech Robert Blancato, M.P.A, Brian W. Lindberg, MMHS, and Meredith Whitmire, J.D., Elder Justice Coalition

Older adults are an important but frequently forgotten generation that is affected by the opioid crisis in America.  As a group, older adults often have multiple chronic conditions and endure high rates of chronic pain. Opioids and related prescription and non-prescription drugs are frequently the treatment of choice for these individuals.

Further, the opioid crisis has harmed older adults through the addiction of their children, grandchildren, and others who rely on them for money, child care, food, shelter, and the like. Directly or inadvertently, older adults may be stripped of their resources and quality of life because of the struggles of those around them—and may be highly susceptible to elder abuse.

In late 2017, researchers from Virginia Tech (Pamela B. Teaster and Karen A. Roberto) and the Elder Justice Coalition (Brian W. Lindberg and Robert Blancato) conducted 4 one-hour focus group interviews with 20 selected representatives from involved stakeholders in four states and counties where deaths from opioids were the highest (Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia). The goal of the project was to investigate whether the relationship between increasing high rates of opioid use and elder abuse was a real problem “on the ground,” its scope, and available data.

Overall, focus group participants reported that the problem is escalating in scope and severity. Elder financial exploitation was the predominant form of abuse.

For example, in Kentucky, a grandson who had a heroin addiction went to live with his elderly grandfather.  The grandfather had a diagnosis of dementia, and the grandson exploited the grandfather for money ($85,000) to support his heroin addiction. The grandson was taking money out of the grandfather’s debit card, writing checks to his friends, and opening credit cards in his grandfather’s name–all in an effort to support his addiction.

Participants also indicated that when desperate perpetrators had gone through the money, the drugs, or both, older adults were psychologically and physically abused.  Their abusers isolated the older adults in their own homes so that they could not reach out to others to help them.

The focus group findings revealed that the problem is not just limited to home settings. Participants also reported that older adults are being exploited in facility settings, including hospice and nursing homes.

In brief, focus group participants strongly believed that the opioid crisis is contributing to cases of elder abuse.  Across the four groups, participants:
  • Stated that the problem is increasing in severity;
  • Estimated a 25-35% increase in drug-related exploitation cases;
  • Stressed that there is a dangerous lack of resources to help with drug-related cases of elder abuse;
  • Confirmed that there is no reliable, retrievable data to document the scope of the problem across states.
In other words, the time is now to enhance our understanding of the connection between opioids and elder abuse. Ultimately, this information will assist in designing effective prevention and intervention efforts to address this escalating and highly dangerous problem.

Full Article & Source:
Opioids and Elder Abuse: A Disquieting Connection

Monday, March 11, 2019

They're court-appointed to protect the elderly, but who's policing Florida guardians?

State offers little oversight over state guardians 

Professional guardians have become a booming industry in Florida, but in the business of guardianship we've discovered requirements are few, rewards are many and the rules don't always apply to everyone.

James Vassallo of Deerfield Beach has been an open critic of the state's professional guardianship program.

"They are not for the elderly, they are just about their pocketbooks," he told us recently.
In 2014, a sibling squabble over missing money led him to hire a professional guardian to care for his aging father and protect his dad's money.

"It sounded absolutely perfect," he said. But Vassallo said soon after his father's guardian took control of his dad's money she went out of control spending it, from costly guardian fees to outsourcing help including four lawyers.

James Vassallo.jpg
"Each one of them is sending bills no less than $15,000. They do separate things she told me."

Professional guardians are court-appointed caretakers who manage the lives of those a judge deems are unable to care for themselves. It's a growing business. Today, Florida has 551 registered professional guardians, up 121 percent from a decade ago.

While there are many guardians who protect a person's assets without cause for concern, the state program that grants strangers so much control and power offers little oversight, making way for other guardians to take advantage of the system and the elderly they're appointed to protect.

Florida doesn't limit how many people guardians can oversee and courts only set guidelines for how much guardians can charge. We found fees ranging from $45 per hour in Hillsborough County to $95 per hour in Palm Beach County.

In two decades, Palm Beach County found at least $5 million in "unsubstantiated expenditures and missing assets" in guardianship cases. Pinellas County uncovered, at least, $22 million in questionable guardian spending. Still, it's a booming Florida industry that requires no degree. Instead, according to state law, guardians need to attend a 40-hour class, pass an exam, a criminal background check and credit check.

But even when those checks show signs of red, we found some guardians still get the green light. According to the state, Kathy Johnson of Naples, has been a registered professional guardian since 2015. She's currently registered to work as a guardian in Collier and Lee County despite having a record that includes two DUI convictions from more than a decade ago and a 1992 personal bankruptcy she and her husband filed. According to state law, none of her offenses disqualify her from being a guardian since the DUI's are misdemeanors and her personal bankruptcy was filed more than five years before she applied to become a registered professional guardian.

"If you have a multi-million dollar estate should you be comfortable with someone managing it whose been bankrupt? It's doesn't make any sense," said Dr. Sugar.

Albert Nicholas Vassallo Sr.jpg
James' father, Albert Vassallo, died in 2016 roughy two years after Elizabeth Savitt was appointed his guardian.

Last year, Palm Beach County stopped assigning Savitt new cases after she and her husband, a former Palm Beach County Judge, made headlines there accused of using their relationship to pad their pockets in court-appointed guardianship cases. While no criminal wrongdoing was found, a county inspector general's report concluded that Savitt was "involved with corruption and collusion of judges and lawyers" in several of her cases. Savitt now faces becoming the first professional guardian to be kicked out of the state's program.

James Vassallo tried to fight his dad's guardian in court but a judge ultimately ruled against him. He remains angry at the system.

How to protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Have advanced directives and make sure those directives are bulletproof.
  • Write your wishes in writing, including who can assume the position of your guardian.
  • Name at least a dozen people who can assume this position.
  • Videotape your wishes on camera.
Full Article & Source:
They're court-appointed to protect the elderly, but who's policing Florida guardians?

260 Caught In Sweep Scammed Elderly Of $750M: Justice Department

WASHINGTON, DC — More than 260 people from around the country were caught up in a the largest coordinated sweep yet of elder fraud cases, Attorney General William P. Barr said Thursday. The Justice Department said those arrested scammed more than 2 million Americans, most of them elderly, out of more than $750 million.

No U.S. state was untouched in the sweep. The Justice Department said it either filed criminal or civil cases in every federal district court in the country, or launched consumer education initiatives. Last year's sweep also set records, but this year's saw 13 percent more criminal defendants, 28 percent more in losses and twice the number of victims, Barr said.

As part of the sweep, law enforcement authorities took down a fraudulent tech-support scheme, an increasingly common form of elder fraud in which criminals trick victims into giving them access to their computers under the guise of providing technical support. In 2018, these scams were responsible for more than 142,000 consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel Network.

Those 60 and older filed more loss reports on tech-support scams from 2015 to 2018 than for any other fraud category reported to the Consumer Sentinel Network, the statement said.

The sweep also resulted in the arrest of more than 600 accused "money mules," usually foreign-based individuals who transfers money acquired illegally in person, through the mail, or electronically, on behalf of others.

Various state and federal agencies, including Senior Corps, a national service program administered by the federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service, have launched public education campaigns to prevent further victimization, the Justice Department statement said.

Elder fraud complaints may filed with the FTC or by calling (877) FTC-HELP. Other resources to prevent elder abuse fraud are available at the Office of Victims of Crime.

Scams targeting the elderly cause about $2.9 billion in losses annually, according to an earlier report from the government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Among the key findings of that report:
  • Suspicious activity filings on elder financial exploitation quadrupled from 2013 to 2017. In 2017, elder financial exploitation suspicious activity reports totaled 63,500. Based on recent prevalence studies, these 2017 suspicious activity reports likely represent a tiny fraction of actual incidents of elder financial exploitation.
  • Money services businesses have filed an increasing share of elder financial exploitation. In 2016, money services business filings surpassed depository institution filings. In 2017, money service business suspicious activity reports made up 58 percent of elder financial exploitation suspicious activity reports, compared to 15 percent in 2013.
  • Financial institutions reported a total of $1.7 billion in suspicious activities in 2017, including actual losses and attempts to steal the older adults' funds.
  • Nearly 80 percent of elder financial exploitation suspicious activity reports involved a monetary loss to older adults or filers.
  • Among reports that involved a loss to an older adult, the average amount lost was $34,200. In 7 percent of these cases, the loss exceeded $100,000.
  • When a filer lost money, the average loss per filer was $16,700.
  • One-third of the individuals who lost money were ages 80 and older.
  • Adults ages 70 to 79 had the highest average monetary loss at an average of $45,300 each.
  • Losses were greater when the older adult knew the suspect. The average loss per person was about $50,000 when the older adult knew the suspect and $17,000 when the suspect was a stranger.
  • Types of suspicious activity varied significantly by filer. When the filer was an money service business, 69 percent of elder financial exploitation reports described scams by strangers. Depository institution filings, in contrast, involved an array of financial crimes, with 27 percent involving stranger scams.
  • More than half of suspicious activity reports involved a money transfer. The second-most common financial product used to move funds was a checking or savings account (44 percent).
  • Checking or savings accounts had the highest monetary losses. The average monetary loss to the older adult was $48,300 reports involving a checking or savings account, while the average loss was $32,800 for those involving a money transfer.
  • The suspicious activity took place, on average, over a four-month period.
  • Fewer than one-third of those filing reports contacted local, state or federal police agencies to make a report. Only 1 percent of money services business filing reports said they contacted a government agency, such as adult protective services or law enforcement.
Full Article & Source:
260 Caught In Sweep Scammed Elderly Of $750M: Justice Department

What Advisors Can Do About Inheritance Exploitation

After a live-in caretaker was hired to care for his mother full-time, the woman's step-son and other family members were allegedly denied access to their loved one, locked out of the family home and written out of estate planning documents that had originally named them as heirs.

By the time the step-son sued for breach of fiduciary duty and financial elder abuse, the caretaker had already pocketed some $5 million, according to a lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of California in Alameda.

Although the case against the caretaker was privately settled in mediation last month, the attorney for the plainiffs, Michael Hackard, warned that cases of inheritance exploitation like this one are on the rise.

“Inheritance exploitation rears its ugly head under various circumstances,” Hackard told Financial Advisor. “Whether it’s a drug-addicted family member or a dishonest caretaker, the results are the same. Heirs are being cheated out of their share of family wealth or they are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to hold on to it.”

The number of boomers in their 60s with living parents has risen since 1998 to about 10 million, according to an Urban Institute analysis of University of Michigan data. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s.

“Caretakers can go rogue and family members can become predators,” said Hackard, author of "Alzheimer’s, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes: Cause, Action, and Response in Cases of Fractured Inheritance, Lost Inheritance, and Disinheritance."

But financial advisors can play a special role in protecting their elderly clients from this emerging trend.

Where there is reasonable belief of financial exploitation, Finra Rule 2165 facilitates placing a temporary hold on fund or securities disbursements from the accounts of specified customers.

“Financial advisors are armed with Finra's trusted contact rule, which is a good start,” Hackard said. “Advisors also have the ability to put a temporary hold on the disbursement of funds. That can be very powerful in assisting seniors experiencing cognitive decline.”

Here are three common scenarios in which inheritance exploitation can occur and how financial advisors can position themselves to help:

1. A rogue caregiver or abusive family member takes an elderly parent hostage. Hackard advises calling the trusted contact person on file to discuss drawing up a temporary restraining order against the offending party to prevent any further disbursement of funds. “By law, the advisor has to make a reasonable effort to contact the trusted contact that’s listed on their client’s paperwork when they feel a senior is at risk,” said Hackard.

Finra Rule 4512 requires making reasonable efforts to obtain the name of and contact information for a trusted contact person for a customer’s account.

2. An addicted adult child or con artist home health aide obtains power of attorney. Hackard recommends that financial advisors involve other family members who can monitor their elderly client’s accounts.

“Without making the person who is monitoring a signatory, financial advisors are in a position to gain permission from their aging client to provide access to viewing of their accounts,” said Hackard.

3. An elderly client has no trusted family members and retirement assets are being exploited. Build a record with the police. “Get involved with local organizations that are monitoring elder abuse,” said Hackard. “Industries other than law enforcement that may hold workshops and lectures, which financial advisors can attend, include banks, private investigators, veteran's organizations and estate litigators.”

Full Article & Source:
What Advisors Can Do About Inheritance Exploitation

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Nursing Homes Are Closing Across Rural America, Scattering Residents

Ramona Labrensz with a photo of her husband Harold at her home in Mobridge, S.D. When the local nursing home where he was living failed, Mr. Labrensz was transferred to another nursing home 220 miles away in North Dakota.CreditCreditKristina Barker for The New York Times
By Jack Healy 

MOBRIDGE, S.D. — Harold Labrensz spent much of his 89-year life farming and ranching the rolling Dakota plains along the Missouri River. His family figured he would die there, too.

But late last year, the nursing home in Mobridge, S.D., that cared for Mr. Labrensz announced that it was shutting down after a rocky history of corporate buyouts, unpaid bills and financial ruin. It had become one of the many nursing homes across the country that have gone out of business in recent years as beds go empty, money troubles mount and more Americans seek to age in their own homes.

For Mr. Labrensz, though, the closure amounted to an eviction order from his hometown. His wife, Ramona, said she could not find any nursing home nearby to take him, and she could not help him if he took a fall at home. So one morning in late January, as a snowstorm whited out the prairie, Mr. Labrensz was loaded into the back of a small bus and sent off on a 220-mile road trip to a nursing home in North Dakota.

“He didn’t want to go,” said Mrs. Labrensz, 87, who made the trip with her husband. “When we stopped for gas, he said, ‘Turn this thing around.’ ”

More than 440 rural nursing homes have closed or merged over the last decade, according to the Cowles Research Group, which tracks long-term care, and each closure scattered patients like seeds in the wind. Instead of finding new care in their homes and communities, many end up at different nursing homes far from their families.

In remote communities like Mobridge, an old railroad town of 3,500 people, there are few choices for an aging population. Home health aides can be scarce and unaffordable to hire around the clock. The few senior-citizen apartments have waiting lists. Adult children have long since moved away to bigger cities.

“How often have you heard somebody say, ‘If I go to a nursing home, just shoot me?’” said Stephen Monroe, a researcher and author who tracks aging in America. “In the rural areas, you don’t have options. There are no alternatives.”
Small communities like Mobridge, an old ranching and railroad town of 3,500 people, often offer few local options for elder care, and winter weather can make it impossible to visit loved ones placed in distant nursing homes.CreditKristina Barker for The New York Times
The relocations can be traumatic for older residents, and the separation creates agonizing complications for families. Relatives say they have to cut back visits to one day a week. They spend hours on the road to see their spouses and parents.

“Before, I could just drop by five days a week,” said the Rev. Justin Van Orman, a Lutheran pastor who moved back to Mobridge to be closer to his 79-year-old father, Robert. “He knew I was there.”

Not long after Mr. Van Orman’s father moved from Mobridge to a new nursing home about 50 miles away, Mr. Van Orman got a call saying his father had fallen out of bed. Mr. Van Orman had to decide: Should he upend his day to check on him, or wait and take the nursing home’s word that his father was O.K.?

Similar scenes are playing out in other heavily rural states. Five nursing homes closed in Nebraska last year, with more at risk of closing. Six shut down in Maine — a record, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Thirty-six rural nursing homes across the country have been forced to close in the last decade because they failed to meet health and safety standards. But far more have collapsed for financial reasons, including changing health care policies that now encourage people to choose independent and assisted living or stay in their own homes with help from caregivers.

Some nursing homes cannot find people to do the low-paying work of caring for frail residents. Others are losing money as their occupancy rates fall and more of their patients’ long-term care is covered by Medicaid, which in many states does not pay enough to keep the lights on.

South Dakota chips in less than any other state in the nation to pay for long-term care for residents on Medicaid, said Mark B. Deak, executive director of the South Dakota Health Care Association. He added that the state’s low payment level — a product of South Dakota’s fiscal conservatism and distrust of government-run health care — has now created a crisis.

Blowing snow created hazardous driving conditions in February near Mobridge. After the closure of a local nursing home, many area residents wishing to visit loved ones in nursing care face drives of up to four hours even in good weather.CreditKristina Barker for The New York Times
Five South Dakota nursing homes have shut down in the past three years, and dozens more are losing money because the majority of their residents rely on Medicaid. At current reimbursement rates, nursing homes in the state lose about $58 a day for each resident on Medicaid, Mr. Deak said. It adds up to $66 million a year in losses statewide.

“The state has not held up its obligation to seniors,” Mr. Deak said. “How many more nursing homes closing is it going to take?”
Gov. Kristi Noem has proposed a 5 percent increase in the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rate. Mr. Deak said that would not be nearly enough to cover the losses.

The 89-bed Mobridge Care and Rehabilitation Center was rated overall as “below average” by Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare program, though for patient care, the home received four out of five stars in the agency’s assessment. The brown brick building was getting old, and had been damaged by a bad summer storm in 2018.

The nursing home had been part of a chain that switched hands and foundered financially, ultimately ending up in court-appointed receivership. In November, the receiver told a South Dakota judge that the chain’s operations were bleeding money, and that it needed to close down the two homes in the chain that were deepest in the red. Mobridge was one.

The South Dakota Department of Health did not object, and the judge agreed to the closure. Word began to spread through the home and through town: The residents had about two months to find somewhere else to go.

Black Hills Receiver, which had taken over operation of the nursing home, said in a November statement announcing the closure that it was working with residents, their families and employees “to make this transition as smooth as possible.” The company declined an interview request.
For six days this winter, Loretta Leonard could not make the 20-mile drive from Mobridge to Selby, S.D., to see her husband, Dick, who is 91 and suffers from severe dementia.CreditKristina Barker for The New York Times
On paper, South Dakota and other rural states still have enough long-term care beds for people who need round-the-clock care. The problem is where they are. When a nursing home closes in a small town, the available beds are often so far away that elderly spouses cannot make the drive, and the transferred residents become cut off from the friends, church groups and relatives they have known all their lives.

Even the closest town can feel as though it is a world away when a blizzard rakes across the prairie and turns the two-lane road out of Mobridge into a billowing scarf of snow.

For six days this winter, Loretta Leonard could not make the 20-mile drive to see her husband, Dick, who is 91 and suffers from severe dementia, at his new nursing home. When he was living close by at the Mobridge home, she often visited him twice a day, sitting down at the piano to play the old polkas and hymns and Depression-era tunes their daughters sang growing up.

“He always knew me,” Ms. Leonard, 88, said. “Sometimes I wonder whether he knows me anymore.”

The part-time bus driver for the Mobridge nursing home began keeping a list as he dropped people at their new homes: “Residents Who Left.” One resident was moved to Aberdeen, 100 miles east. A husband and wife went 73 miles down Highway 12 to Ipswich. Roommates said goodbye. Fast friends landed in different homes. One person ended up in Nebraska.

“Like cattle,” said Nadine Alexander, a certified nursing assistant who worked at the Mobridge nursing home for 29 years. “They were just hauling them out.”

On the snowy day that Harold Labrensz left Mobridge for his new nursing home in North Dakota, not even the bus driver wanted to make the trip. For seven hours, they crept north along icy roads before arriving.

Mrs. Labrensz chose the facility because it was close to her son’s home, and she was able to find a small efficiency apartment just across the street from the nursing home. They spent 68 years together working their land, fishing and raising a family, and Mrs. Labrensz said she wanted to stay close.

“We spent our whole life together,” she said.

She was also close by when, three days after arriving in North Dakota, Mr. Labrensz died. The date was Jan. 31 — the same day that, 220 miles away, the Mobridge nursing home officially closed its doors.

Correction: An earlier version of this article, using information from a source, misstated Ramona Labrensz’s age. She is 87, not 76.

Full Article & Source: 
Nursing Homes Are Closing Across Rural America, Scattering Residents