Saturday, March 7, 2020

Court: Attorney Doesn't Have to Return $65K Legal Fee to Estate

A Pennsylvania lawyer who was paid for legal services by the daughter of an incapacitated woman is under no obligation to return that money to the estate, despite an Orphans' Court's finding that the fee was paid using funds that were unlawfully transferred to the daughter.

By Zack Needles

A Pennsylvania lawyer who was paid for legal services by the daughter of an incapacitated woman is under no obligation to return that money to the estate, despite an Orphans’ Court’s finding that the fee was paid using funds that were unlawfully transferred to the daughter.

In In re Carol Shiner Rosenbloom, an Incapacitated Person, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court unanimously ruled Feb. 14 to vacate an order of the Allegheny County Orphans’ Court requiring attorney Margie Hammer of Lieber Hammer Huber & Paul in Pittsburgh to return $65,000 in legal fees to the estate of her former client, Carol Shiner Rosenbloom.

In a memorandum opinion, Superior Court Judge Deborah Kunselman said Orphans’ Courts have “no authority under the Probate, Estates, and Fiduciaries Code (PEFC) to force a person to give money to an estate, if, as here, the money does not belong to the estate.”

Kunselman was joined by Judges John Bender and Dan Pellegrini.

According to Kunselman’s opinion, the Orphans’ Court, acting on a petition by the guardian of Rosenbloom’s estate, determined that Rosenbloom’s daughter Kate had exerted undue influence in convincing her mother to transfer investment accounts worth $283,000 to her.

The Orphans’ Court ordered Kate to return that money to the estate, but also required Hammer to return $65,000 in legal fees Kate had paid her for work Hammer had done on behalf of Kate and Rosenbloom, according to Kunselman.

The Orphans’ Court reasoned that it had not approved the payment to Hammer and that, since neither Hammer nor Kate could show that the fees were paid using Kate’s money and not Rosenbloom’s, the fee needed to be returned to the estate.

But the Superior Court panel said the Orphans’ Court “did not find that attorney Hammer exerted undue influence over Ms. Rosenbloom, that she overcharged for her legal service, that she failed to render proper service, or that she in anyway defrauded Ms. Rosenbloom.”

“Instead, the Orphans’ Court relied on the argument of the guardian, namely that Kate’s payments to attorney Hammer violated Section 5536(a) of the PEFC. We disagree,” Kunselman said, noting that Section 5536(a) only gives the Orphans’ Court authority over funds within the estate and not funds that lie outside “‘the income or principal of the estate of an incapacitated person.’”

Kunselman said the section likewise does not permit the Orphans’ Court to order payment of funds into an incapacitated person’s estate from a third-party transaction.

“Here, the Orphans’ Court ordered Kate to refund the full $283,000 to the estate, as an invalid, inter vivos gift from Ms. Rosenbloom to Kate,” Kunselman said. ”However, under Section 5536(a), the court could not go beyond Kate to recover estate funds that Kate may have subsequently transferred to third parties, including attorney Hammer.”

Kunselman also said the $65,000 paid to Hammer was neither principal nor income of Rosenbloom’s estate.

“Contrary to the belief of the orphans’ court and the guardian, attorney Hammer had no obligation to petition that court to be paid for services to Kate and Ms. Rosenbloom, when those services predated the decree of incapacity and were paid for by Kate,” Kunselman said. “Regardless of how Kate obtained the money she paid attorney Hammer, those funds had been passed to a third party and, thus, may not be acquired under Section 5536(a) of the PEFC.”

Reached for comment, counsel for Hammer, James Lieber of Lieber Hammer, said, ”The main thing is it’s a fair decision and I was pleased that the Superior Court made clear what has always been clear, which is that the Orphans’ Court has jurisdiction over the pertinent individual’s estate but not over third parties.”

Counsel for the guardian, Frederick Frank of Frank, Gale, Bails, Murcko & Pocrass in Pittsburgh, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Full Article & Source:
Court: Attorney Doesn't Have to Return $65K Legal Fee to Estate

Aging Parents And Longevity: The Big Issue That Affects Families And How To Fix It

by Carolyn Rosenblatt

So often, we hear about folks declaring that they’d like to live to be 100. Most of us are probably more likely reach the average life expectancy of a little over 78 years for men and about 81 years for women in the U.S. In places where excellent healthcare is available more people surpass average life expectancy and more often reach their 90s and beyond. Is this a great thing?
It’s time for a reality check. Longevity in aging parents can be wonderful but it can also be very difficult to manage.

Take the case of Bertrand, age 91, well fixed financially. He is confused but still driving around and participating in some activities. He loses track of his bills. His memory is shot. He can’t take care of his bedridden wife, but he hires helpers and they take advantage of his confusion. His only son, Dominic, lives an hour plane flight away but he has his own family and his own problems and can’t be available at every moment. Bertrand authorized Dominic, to be his agent on his Durable Power of Attorney to help with finances. When his son tried to step into one of Bertrand’s messes, Dad pushed him away and said he would not allow it. What is Dominic to do?

The burden on Dominic is overwhelming. Of course he wants his dad to have a long life, but now that creates problems he never thought about. He sees his father showing signs of dementia, but Bertrand refuses assistance with the very thing most needed: managing money. That leads to the danger of Bertrand’s assets being depleted, as no one is keeping track of them. Dominic called his father’s estate planning attorney to ask what to do.

His attorney can’t make Bertrand honor the Durable Power of Attorney he signed, as anyone can revoke such a document as long as one is still competent. Bertrand is at the last edge of competency to handle money but he’s too stubborn to admit it. And he’s also too stubborn to give up control and allow his son to help him.

Is there a way out of this dilemma? Perhaps. Bertrand’s physical health is fragile, as he has numerous diagnoses and goes to his doctor often. Dominic also is appointed on his father’s Advance Healthcare Directive, which gives him the opportunity to speak to Bertrand’s healthcare providers. He can call the main treating doctor and explain the situation. The estate planning lawyer told Dominic that with a letter from that doctor stating that Bertrand is incapacitated for managing his finances, Dominic can take over the family trust even if his Dad doesn’t want him to do so. That’s how the trust was written. Now Dominic has to get the letter and break the news to Bertrand, which is likely to set off a firestorm from Bertrand. Dominic knows that taking this next step is the only way to keep his parents’ finances safe. He is at least in good position that he just needs one letter from dad’s treating doctor to move forward to protect his dad.

Diminished financial capacity is an issue many adult children face with parents who live to be 90 and more. Mental capacity to manage money may not last for an entire lifetime, no matter how good an aging parent was at this before. At times, the children have to take over against the elder’s wishes. Some estate planning attorneys correctly predict this possibility and make the trust language easier to work with when a parent has to be removed from the position of authority. Other lawyers put horribly burdensome language into the trust, almost forcing the adult children to go to court in a pitched battle between parent and child when the parent is cognitively impaired. Here at, where we mediate family conflicts like the one between Bertrand and Dominic, we see the dangers of badly written trusts. What does your parents’ trust say about possible incapacity? It is well worth a discussion!

Here are some points to find out about and correct if you need to do so.
  1. If your aging parents have a trust, invite a discussion about what would happen if a medical condition rendered an aging parent unable to competently manage finances.
  2. Look at the trust language about “incapacity”, a legal term. It is typically defined in the trust. If it says anything that necessitates going to court to have a judge say the person is “incapacitated”, that’s a red flag for bad trust language. Who wants to take a parent with dementia to court for all the world to learn that he or she is incapacitated? I don’t know what my brethren lawyers are thinking when they put this stuff into a trust!
  3. Dementia is a real risk to every older person. No one gets it overnight and it’s common to not understand that one is actually impaired. That is the danger: it impairs money management along with lots of other things. Any trust should contain way to remove an impaired, unaware parent from managing the trust (assets, cash, etc.) in a way that is private, and does not require two doctors, going to court, or other dreadful burdens on the ones who need to remove an aging parent from the seat of control.
  4. Ask your parents what they would want if a situation like that of Bertrand and Dominic came up. Ask them to imagine that they had to step down but couldn’t understand why and that the adult child had to legally remove them. Look at their trust with them and dig into the piece about incapacity, and “removal of trustee”.
  5. If your aging parents have a trust with burdensome language in it about incapacity, ask them respectfully to consider your responsibility and have that trust fixed (“amended”), to lessen the burden that might happen to you. That means going to an estate planning lawyer and revising that language.
Notice that what Dominic needs to do with his father is directed by the words a lawyer put into legal documents for Bertrand. It is worth the effort now for you to find out what might be your responsibility in the future and see that it is workable for all in your family. Getting a trust amended (changed in this particular limited way) is generally not a long nor expensive task.

Full Article & Source:
Aging Parents And Longevity: The Big Issue That Affects Families And How To Fix It

Memories Of Music Cannot Be Lost During Various Stages Of Alzheimer’s Disease

Music is the frequency that drives us. It motivates us, and it moves us. And if you are worried about losing memories of music, if you were to ever get dementia and Alzheimer’s, you can stop, because science says it won’t happen.

The reason behind this is that of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), or the tingling sensation that is provoked when we listen to music. In a study published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2018, scientists showed the parts of the brain that were responsible for ASMR. This is important because apparently these parts of the brain are not affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia.

They concluded that the part of the brain that is responsible for ASMR doesn’t get lost during the various stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia. While Alzheimer’s does put the people who experience it through various stages of confusion, they actually believe that music can bring them back to lucidity. With the help of music, some people have actually been able to come back to normal even if just for a short moment. Music as a form of therapy is quite prominent in the world of those with these issues.

Please do not get me wrong! Nobody is saying playing music will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but it might make the symptoms more manageable for some people. As time passes the more we learn about the ASMR response and Alzheimer’s as a whole perhaps the easier it will be to use music therapy or other things of the sort more effectively. If you know someone who has been affected by a form of dementia then you know how heartbreaking it can be to see them lose themselves.

In regards to these findings Health University Of Utah wrote as follows on their website:

“People with dementia are confronted by a world that is unfamiliar to them, which causes disorientation and anxiety,” said Jeff Anderson, MD, PhD, associate professor in Radiology at U of U Health and contributing author on the study. “We believe music will tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning.”

Previous work demonstrated the effect of a personalized music program on mood for dementia patients. This study set out to examine a mechanism that activates the attentional network in the salience region of the brain. The results offer a new way to approach anxiety, depression, and agitation in patients with dementia. Activation of neighboring regions of the brain may also offer opportunities to delay the continued decline caused by the disease. 

For three weeks, the researchers helped participants select meaningful songs and trained the patient and caregiver on how to use a portable media player loaded with the self-selected collection of music.

“When you put headphones on dementia patients and play familiar music, they come alive,” said Jace King, a graduate student in the Brain Network Lab and first author on the paper. “Music is like an anchor, grounding the patient back in reality.”

Using a functional MRI, the researchers scanned the patients to image the regions of the brain that lit up when they listened to 20-second clips of music versus silence. The researchers played eight clips of music from the patient’s music collection, eight clips of the same music played in reverse and eight blocks of silence. The researchers compared the images from each scan.

The researchers found that music activates the brain, causing whole regions to communicate. By listening to the personal soundtrack, the visual network, the salience network, the executive network and the cerebellar and corticocerebellar network pairs all showed significantly higher functional connectivity.

“This is objective evidence from brain imaging that shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease,” said Norman Foster, MD, Director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Care and Imaging Research at U of U Health and senior author on the paper. “Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses, but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment.”

What do you think about all of this? Have you considered music therapy for your loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia? Perhaps music could be the key to something we don’t quite see just yet.

Full Article & Source:
Memories Of Music Cannot Be Lost During Various Stages Of Alzheimer’s Disease

Friday, March 6, 2020

Lawyer accused of stealing from probate estate trust could get 70 years in prison

Brian Wiggins, the lawyer indicted on 55 criminal counts involving stealing about $2.1 million from a probate estate trust, could be sentenced to 70 years in prison if he’s convicted on all the charges detailed in the indictment against him, Greene County Chief trial counsel David Hayes said.

Wiggins, 36, is accused of buying houses, gambling at casinos and paying for a family member’s cosmetic surgery, said Hayes, chief trial counsel in the county prosecutor’s office.

The investigation grew out of a report made to Beavercreek police, he said, and the bulk of the case involves theft and transfers from the estate. There are specific instances that indicate money laundering as well.

“It’s a remarkable amount of money that was stolen, alleged to have been stolen by Mr. Wiggins,” Hayes said.

The money Wiggins is accused of stealing was spent on several things, he said, including houses, a car, a boat, gambling at casinos in Las Vegas and in Ohio and jewelry.

Wiggins also is accused of using some of the money to pay his child support obligations and cosmetic surgery for a family member, Hayes said.

The estate’s owner died in 2018, the prosecutor said, and the estate -- including the trust -- was valued at more than $3 million. 

The beneficiaries of the trust include St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Smile Train, an international organization that provides oral surgery for cleft lip and cleft palate repair, the chief trial counsel said.

Hayes said the theft of $1.5 million or more and each count of money laundering are felonies. If Wiggins is found guilty on all of the charges alleged in the indictment, he could potentially be sentenced to 70 years in prison.

The indictment accuses Wiggins of identity fraud, aggravated theft over $1.5 million, money laundering, theft, tampering with records and possession of cocaine, according to online court records. 

Wiggins remains detained at the Greene County Jail, according to jail records. 

We’ll continue to update this story as new details become available.

Full Article & Source:
Lawyer accused of stealing from probate estate trust could get 70 years in prison

Bank manager sentenced for stealing $315K from elderly customer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A former Montgomery bank branch manager, convicted for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from an elderly customer, is going to federal prison, according to Louis V. Franklin, Sr., U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says 28-year-old Montreal Holley will spend a little over three years behind bars after pleading guilty to theft of funds by a bank employee. The investigation started within months of Holley becoming the manager of a Montgomery Regions Bank branch in mid-2018.

In December of that year, Regions discovered Holley had wired $188,000 from an elderly customer’s account into his own account at another bank. Regions and the U.S. Secret Service began an investigation of Holley’s actions. The elderly customer died shortly after that probe was opened.

“This case is upsetting in many ways, and it serves as a reminder that criminals are targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” U.S. Attorney Franklin explained. “Holley selected his victim because of her advanced age and illness."

According to the DOJ, Regions and the Secret Service found that Holley had convinced the elderly customer that she could trust only him to handle her money. Within months of gaining her trust, authorities say Holley set about draining nearly $315,000 from her accounts.

Authorities said Holley issued cashier’s checks, made wire transfers, and even issued a debit card on one of her accounts and used it to make ATM withdrawals. The stolen money was then used to pay off some of Holley’s loans, as well as those of his wife, his girlfriend, and other family members, according to statements made at his sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors said in one instance, Holley transferred more than $23,000 to pay off a car loan, which he later explained to investigators the victim had told him to do. Investigators determined the loan paid off a vehicle driven by Holley’s girlfriend.

After learning he’d been caught, the DOJ says Holley returned $188,000 of the stolen funds.

“He thought he would get away with stealing her money because no one would notice,” Franklin said. “Fortunately, Regions Bank discovered the suspicious activity in her account.”

As part of his sentencing, the man has been ordered to repay the remaining $125,000 to Regions Bank, which had already credited the stolen funds back to the victim’s account. Once released, Holley will be on supervised release for another three years.

"We must all be vigilant and take action when necessary to protect our senior family members and friends from being exploited,” Franklin said.

“Regions Bank investigators should be commended in this case," said Patrick Davis, Special Agent in Charge with the U.S. Secret Service, "Their quick response and thorough investigative support stopped this defendant from further financially exploiting the elderly victim in this case.”

Full Article & Source:
Bank manager sentenced for stealing $315K from elderly customer

There is no effective oversight of assisted suicide laws.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Assisted suicide laws work by giving a doctor, the power to decide that a person qualifies to die by lethal drugs. The same doctor is given the right in law to prescribe lethal drugs, and finally the same doctor, after the death, submits a report to the relevant authorities. This self-reporting system is designed to protect doctors who are willing to cause the death of a patient.

Dr William Toffler, a physician in Oregon where assisted suicide is legal, explains, in the Fatal Flaws film, how the Oregon assisted suicide law works.

My job as a doctor is to alleviate their suffering its not to be a vending machine when they when they make a good rational argument that they would be better off dead.

Its like being a lawyer for the defense and a lawyer for the prosecution in the same court room. Am I arguing for the health and well-being to extend life as long as is reasonable or am I advocating for their early demise because after all their going to die anyhow? And then, by the way, if you don't think that's a conflict of interest I'm also the Judge to decide which arguement is the best. If your not bothered by that I'm also the executioner.

There are about 200 doctors in the State of Oregon who believe they can keep all that conflict of interest straight. Its a dilusion.
Say no to assisted suicide. 

Order the Fatal Flaws film from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (Link).

Full Article & Source:
There is no effective oversight of assisted suicide laws.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Former CFO Gets 20-Year Sentence in Guardianship Fraud Case

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The former chief financial officer of a now-defunct nonprofit that provided guardianship services is going to prison in an $11 million fraud scheme case in which one co--defendant awaits sentencing and two others are now fugitives on the run.

A federal judge sentenced 64-year-old Sharon Moore to 20 years in prison on Monday and also issued arrest warrants for 73-year-old Susan Harris and 58-year-old William Harris after the Albuquerque married couple failed to appear for sentencing.

Susan Harris faced at least 30 years in prison while William Harris faced seven years. They pleaded guilty last year.

The couple had been free pending sentencing after surrendering their U.S. passports and putting up their home in an affluent Albuquerque neighborhood as security.

Their son, Craig M. Young, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty November 12, 2019.

.Moore pleaded guilty July 9 to conspiracy and financial crimes.

Federal prosecutors say the defendants used client trust, savings and other funds to finance a lavish personal lifestyle that included luxury vacations, and upscale homes and vehicles.

Full Article & Source:
Former CFO Gets 20-Year Sentence in Guardianship Fraud Case

Greene County attorney indicted, arrested in theft of $2M from trust

by: Paul Rodzinka

XENIA, Ohio (WDTN) – A Greene County attorney has been indicted on dozens of counts in connection with the theft of more than $2.1 million from a Greene County Probate estate.

Chief Trial Counsel David Hayes with the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday Brian Wiggins was indicted on 55 counts including theft and money laundering in the case. Wiggins is accused of stealing more than $2.1 million from the estate of a man who left $3 million in a trust when he died in 2018. The money was intended to benefit St. Jude’s Hospital and Smile Train charities.

In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Hayes said Wiggins used the stolen monies to buy houses, cars, boats, jewelry and gambling in Las Vegas and, in at least one instance, cosmetic surgery for a family member. Wiggins also used some of the money to pay his child support payments.

Wiggins was arrested Wednesday morning and is currently in the Greene County Jail being held on a $1 million bond. Hayes said if Wiggins is convicted of all counts he could face as many as 70 years in prison.

2 NEWS is working to learn more about this developing story and will keep you updated when more information is available.

Full Article & Source:
Greene County attorney indicted, arrested in theft of $2M from trust

Home health aide for St. Pete woman who suffered stroke accused of stealing thousands

The 72-year-old victim had suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on the right side. Her aide took over her online banking and debit card, police say.

Shantel Monique Byrd, 27, of St. Petersburg, is accused of stealing from an elderly woman while a home health aide. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
By Chris Tisch

A woman hired as a home health aide to help an elderly woman who had suffered a stroke has been arrested on charges that she stole thousands of dollars from the woman over more than three years.

Shantel Monique Byrd, 27, of St. Petersburg, is facing felony charges of fraudulently using another person’s information and elderly exploitation. She was arrested Thursday and booked at the Pinellas County jail, where bail was set at $40,000. She was released the following day.

Byrd was brought in as a home health aide more than three years ago after the elderly woman, then 72, had a stroke that caused paralysis on the right side of her body, according to an arrest report filed by St. Petersburg police.

Byrd stole the woman’s debit card and transferred money from her client’s savings account to her checking account 11 times. She also hid bank statements in the closet at the elderly woman’s St. Petersburg home, arrest reports state.

Byrd called the bank and, using the woman’s personal information, changed the PIN on her debit card and the online log-in to her bank account. 

The elderly woman’s credit card was fraudulently used to make 433 transactions totaling more than $34,000. Arrest reports state that police can prove that 168 of those transactions were done by Byrd in which she took more than $10,500.

The money was used for car payments, utility bills, cell phone payments, restaurant bills, on-line shopping, jail phone calls for Byrd’s boyfriend and paying off her boyfriend’s traffic citation, reports state.

Full Article & Source:
Home health aide for St. Pete woman who suffered stroke accused of stealing thousands

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Largest-Ever Elder Fraud Sweep Ensnares Over 400 Defendants

Attorney General says scammers bilked victims for more than $1 billion

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday announced the largest-ever annual sweep of alleged fraudsters accused of targeting older Americans. More than 400 defendants have been charged in the past year, and they are purported to have been behind victim losses surpassing $1 billion.

Foreign-based fraud schemes that victimize older Americans in large numbers were at the center of many of the cases in the sweep. Barr also announced that preventing and disrupting transnational elder fraud is now one of the top priorities of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Americans are fed up with the constant barrage of scams that maliciously target the elderly and other vulnerable citizens,” Barr said.

According to a senior official at the Justice Department, the cases that are part of DOJ's annual sweep ran the gamut from romance frauds and grandparents scams to computer tech-support scams and Social Security impostor frauds, among others.

At a DOJ elder fraud sweep announced in 2019, there were 260 criminal defendants, making this year's collection of cases the largest in history, the department said. Cases in the new sweep date back to March 2019.

Spanish speakers in U.S. victimized

Among the bad actors overseas were members of a crime ring in Peru that allegedly targeted Spanish speakers, most of them elderly, in the U.S. Victims were threatened with arrest, deportation and the seizure of property for not paying a bill for a product the victims never purchased, a senior Justice official said.

"All of this was lies,” according to the official, who said a number of the defendants in Peru have been extradited.

In Singapore, it was an Internal Revenue Service impersonator who was targeted by U.S. officials and that defendant also has been extradited, the official said. Impersonators claiming to be from the IRS, the Social Security Administration and other government agencies con victims into sending money by, for example, concocting a phony financial obligation and threatening them with arrest.

“The good news is most frauds can be prevented. It’s one of few crimes in which potential victims can just say ‘No!’”
— Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale

Team effort led to arrests, success of fraud sweep

Barr spoke in Florida at a U.S. Justice Department Summit on Elder Justice, a half-day event called Keeping Seniors Safe. The meetings are being held in Sun City Center, a retirement community south of Tampa. The summit drew federal officials including White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, state officials and law enforcement representatives. Members of the financial and tech sectors also were on hand.

Thanking DOJ's partners, Barr said the department was “committed to stopping the full range of criminal activities that exploit America's seniors.”

Two federal agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, were credited with many of the ongoing elder fraud cases in the sweep.

DOJ's Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, which Barr announced last June, also played a significant role. The strike force draws participation from six U.S. Attorneys’ offices: in Atlanta; Brooklyn, New York; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; and Tampa, Florida.

In addition to the elder fraud sweep, Barr also announced two new initiatives:
  • Investigations of about 30 nursing homes in nine states believed to be delivering “grossly substandard care” to residents.
  • A Justice Department National Elder Fraud Hotline to provide support and resources to victims. The number is 833-372-8311 (or 833-FRAUD11). 
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts," review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

Full Article & Source:
Largest-Ever Elder Fraud Sweep Ensnares Over 400 Defendants

Former caregiver sentenced to 10 years

by Billy Hobbs
A 62-year-old former Milledgeville caregiver will spend the next 10 years of her life in prison.

Cora Mildred Mason, of the 100 block of Merry Drive, pleaded guilty to criminal charges during a Friday hearing before Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Terry A. Massey. 

Mason was sentenced under the Georgia First Offender Act.

Mason worked as a caregiver with a health care service before she was caught on an in-home security surveillance camera abusing a local elderly woman.

She was sentenced to 20 years with the first 10 years to be served in prison. The remainder of the sentence will be served on probation.

The judge also fined Mason $1,000.

If the defendant had opted for a jury trial and been convicted, she was looking at a possible 180 years in prison.

The case was prosecuted by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Ashley E. Herndon.

Mason, who was represented by defense attorney Sheri Smith, pleaded guilty to nine counts of exploitation and intimidation of a disabled adult, elder person or resident, according to Herndon.

Smith noted that her client had been abused in a domestic relationship and that she had difficulties growing up, Herndon said.

“Judge Massey wanted to make sure, as did the district attorney’s office, that a standard was set for the community and the caretakers in the community,” Herndon said. “We, the judge and the district attorney’s office, want people to know that was not a joke and this is not something you get a slap on the wrist for and you walk away from.”

Herndon said as sad as the case was for a lot of people, she hopes lessons are learned from it.

“I hope that awareness is brought to the general public for those who are having to pay for their parents to be cared for, either at home or somewhere else, that you really don’t know what is happening unless you have a camera up,” Herndon said. “And that’s what I told the family, in this case, is by the grace of God they decided to put cameras up.”

Herndon explained that Jeffrie McCormick got a feeling one day that something was just not right and she needed to see what was going on.

A few months before the crimes reportedly began taking place, McCormick and her husband put cameras up to see what was going on in the home when they were at work.

One day, when the victim’s son-in-law came home, he discovered his mother-in-law on the floor, Herndon said.

The McCormicks looked at the video footage that night to see what had happened and what led to the victim being found on the floor, the assistant district attorney told The Union-Recorder on Monday.

The defendant was working at Primecare Home Care Services at the time of the crimes, authorities said.

The crimes involved an 87-year-old woman, who was receiving care from Mason for five years. The victim, now deceased, was identified as Petronia Harper, who suffered from dementia.

“She (Mason) was a person they chose and trusted to stay with Mrs. Harper,” Herndon said.

“She (Mason) threatened her,” Herndon said. “In one of the videos, Cora Mason was in her face to the point that the dog started jumping at her, too.”

 She said the nine criminal charges against Mason were the worst ones that happened to the victim.

District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley presented the case to a Baldwin County grand jury, which led to a nine-count indictment against Mason on charges of exploitation and intimidation of a disabled adult, elder person or resident.

At the time of the crimes, the deputy said in her report that she talked with the victim’s daughter at a local residence, along with a manager with the health care provider.

The deputy said the caregiver told her that the elderly woman had slid off the couch as she was attempting to get her to go to the restroom.

A portion of the in-home surveillance video captured water being thrown in the face of the victim and Mason yelling and shaking a finger in the elderly woman’s face in another incident.

“You can clearly see the victim retreating as much as possible on the sofa,” Veal said in the incident report. “Then, Mason pushes a card table away from in front of (the victim) and slaps her several times across the face. It appears that Mason continues to yell at (the victim) and then reaches over and grabs (the victim) by the shoulder and arm and pulls her in an upward manner.”

Full Article & Source:
Former caregiver sentenced to 10 years

California governor seeks to expand involuntary treatment

California's governor wants to make it easier for the government to force psychiatric treatment for people with mental illness.


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to make it easier for the government to force psychiatric treatment for people with mental illness and expand statewide a still-developing test program that allows officials to more easily take control over those deemed unable to care for themselves.

In a State of the State address Wednesday devoted almost entirely to the issue of homelessness, the Democratic governor said the state should broaden those laws “within the bounds of deep respect for civil liberties and personal freedoms - but with an equal emphasis on helping people into the life-saving treatment that they need at the precise moment they need it.”

Newsom drew support from members of both political parties. But civil libertarians have concerns, while advocates for the mentally ill warned that proper services must be in place and voluntary options exhausted first.

”We often look too quickly to getting individuals off the street involuntarily without assuring that the resources are available, the treatment is available first. And I think the governor candidly acknowledged that in his address," said Curtis Child, legislative director at Disability Rights California.

San Francisco, with one of the nation's most visible homeless populations, is on the verge of trying a new conservatorship program to allow court-ordered mental health treatment for people deemed incapable of caring for their own health and well-being because of serious mental illness or drug addiction.

Temporary conservatorships could be triggered with an individual's eighth 72-hour involuntary mental health hold in a 12-month period. Such commitments are commonly called “5150s," after the legal code section for detaining someone considered to be a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness.

Under the program, a 28-day temporary conservatorships could be followed by six-month programs in which judges could order patients to receive treatment. If they can't be treated at home, they could be ordered into community-based residential care facilities.

San Francisco is “very close” to having the five-year test program running after creating new processes and safeguards in coordination with providers and the courts, said Jeff Cretan, a spokesman for Mayor London Breed.

"That's an important, thoughtful process we have to go through because these are people’s civil rights we’re talking about,” Cretan said.

Newsom said California should allow every county to establish similar so-called housing conservatorships. They are different than longstanding probate conservatorships, in which a judge appoints a guardian for an adult who is unable to care for himself or herself.

“I am thrilled that the governor understands that it is not compassionate, it’s not humane, it’s not progressive to let people unravel and die on our streets," said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who wrote two related laws creating the test program. “There are people on our streets who are so severely debilitated with mental health and eviction challenges that they cannot accept voluntary services and we have to help them.”

Opponents to his legislation included the ACLU of California, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and Disability Rights California, which were concerned it didn't do enough to respect individual rights, and the California Public Defenders Association, which feared it could “sweep many more people into the civil commitment system.”

The governor also called for removing some of the conditions for counties to implement what's know as Laura's Law, which lets service providers and loved ones ask judges to force recalcitrant people into outpatient mental health treatment programs.

It is named after 19-year-old Laura Wilcox, who was fatally shot with two others at a Nevada County mental health clinic in 2001 by a man who had refused psychiatric treatment.

Newsom said the law currently is too hard to use, but his office could not provide more details on what he wants to see changed.

Republican Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa, who also proposed an involuntary commitment bill that died last month, applauded Newsom's proposals.

“We as a state shut down our mental health institutions and the patients migrated to the streets and to the jails,” Moorlach said, calling current conditions inhumane.

Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1967 outlawed lifetime commitments for those deemed mentally ill, while the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 ruled that mental illness alone is not enough to justify involuntary commitments.

The governor said all his other proposals hinge “on an individual being capable of accepting help, to get off the streets and into treatment in the first place.”

“Some, tragically, are not,” he said while advocating “better legal tools" to “help people access the treatment they need.”

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said the Legislature would need to take a “cautious approach" to some proposals, including making it easier for local governments to force the mentally ill into treatment.

Full Article & Source:
California governor seeks to expand involuntary treatment

Man arrested for allegedly exploiting $50,000 from elderly family member

By: Sydney Isenberg

HAMILTON COUNTY, TX — A man has been arrested for allegedly exploiting $50,000 from an elderly family member for personal gain.

In September 2019, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office received a report of possible elderly exploitation. Hamilton County Criminal Investigators immediately opened an investigation into the allegations and contacted Adults Protective Services.

During the course of the investigation, it was discovered that Joe Hengst had exploited funds from an elderly family member and used those funds for personal gain. The elderly woman was previously deemed medically incapable to take care of herself.

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office says Hengst diverted just over $50,000 for personal benefit.

On February 26, 2020, members of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office along with the Texas Rangers executed a search warrant on a home located on FM-218. Fifty five-year-old Joe Edward Hengst of Hamilton was arrested and charged with exploitation of the elderly or disabled, a third degree felony.

The elderly woman was transported to Hamilton General Hospital for medical evaluation. She was later released to another relative.

Full Article & Source:
Man arrested for allegedly exploiting $50,000 from elderly family member

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Warrants issued for couple guilty in guardian fraud case

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A federal judge issued bench warrants Monday for the former president of a now-defunct nonprofit that provided guardianship services for vulnerable and special needs clients and her husband after they both failed to appear for sentencing for money laundering and other crimes.

Susan Harris, 73, was facing a minimum of 30 years in prison while her husband, William Harris, faced seven years for crimes related to the embezzlement of an estimated $10 million.

As one of New Mexico’s largest guardianship firms, Ayudando Guardians Inc., was shuttered by federal authorities in 2017 after the embezzlement was exposed. Some of the more than 800 victims who lost money were expected to address the court as the hearing continued Monday.

Defense attorneys told U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez they could not reach the couple by phone Monday when they failed to show up for court.

The couple had been free pending sentencing after surrendering their U.S. passports and putting up their home in an affluent Albuquerque neighborhood as security.

Two other defendants did appear for sentencing. They are former chief financial officer Sharon Moore and Harris’ son Craig Young.

Federal prosecutors say the defendants used client trust, savings and other funds to finance a lavish personal lifestyle that included luxury vacations, and upscale homes and vehicles.

Full Article & Source:
Warrants issued for couple guilty in guardian fraud case

See Also:
Who guards the guardians?: Judge vows to fight for clients who lost trust funds

Guardianship company closed, U.S. Marshals Service says

Lawmaker: Guardian system ‘turned ugly’

Health officials: Dozens at Kirkland nursing facility reporting symptoms that might suggest coronavirus

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Dozens of residents and staff at LifeCare Center of Kirkland, a nursing and rehab facility, are reporting symptoms that might suggest coronavirus, according to a statement from King County Public Health.

Four coronavirus-related deaths have been linked to the nursing facility. 50 people at the facility are being tested for the virus.

  • The second coronavirus death in Washington and across the U.S., a man in his 70s, died at EvergreenHealth on March 1. He had underlying health conditions and had been a resident at LifeCare, King County Public Health said.
  • A woman in her 70s, a resident of LifeCare, was hospitalized at EvergreenHealth. The woman had underlying health conditions and died March 1.
  • A woman in her 80s, a resident of LifeCare, was hospitalized at EvergreenHealth. She also had underlying health conditions and died March 1.
  • Additionally, a woman in her 80s who was in critical condition at EvergreenHealth, died March 1 from coronavirus.

Another case is a woman in her 40s who works as a health care worker at Life Care. She is currently in satisfactory condition at Overlake Hospital and does not have a history of known travel outside the United States, officials said.

A woman in her 70s, is a resident at Life Care and is in serious condition at EvergreenHealth Hospital.

Ellie Basham, the executive director at Life Care Center of Kirkland, provided KIRO 7 with this statement Saturday, before King County Public Health had released new information Sunday:
"Residents are our highest priority at Life Care Center of Kirkland. Their safety and well-being are our primary concerns.

Recently, one of our associates and one of our residents were diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19) while receiving care in local hospitals. Current residents and associates are being monitored closely, and any with symptoms or who were potentially exposed are quarantined. As precaution, all visits to the facility from families, volunteers or vendors are not allowed.

Concerned family members or responsible parties may call our facility number at (425) 823-2323 with any questions. The facility is currently placing a hold on admissions as well to fully focus on our current residents and associates.

We take the event very seriously and have members of our corporate clinical team en route to provide extra assistance. We are in contact with the Centers for Disease Control as well as the Washington Health Department. We are following their guidance exclusively and will continue to take all precautions necessary for our residents, staff and the community at large."

Full Article & Source:
Health officials: Dozens at Kirkland nursing facility reporting symptoms that might suggest coronavirus

Legionnaires' at nursing home not revealed until after 90-year-old checked in, family says

Click to Watch Video
by Geoff Redick

A nursing home in Upper Arlington with three confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease since October did not disclose the cases at check-in, says a local family, despite recent diagnoses and an ongoing water restriction making sinks inoperable throughout the facility.

A spokesperson with Franklin County Public Health said Monday that despite conflicting reports from the nursing home's administration, one patient in October and two in February did all present Legionnaires' symptoms and were confirmed to have the bacterial infection. The nursing home claimed Sunday night that water testing revealed a type of Legionella bacteria not normally known to cause Legionnaires disease.

The back-and-forth began Sunday, two days after Bette Kessler, 90, was checked into Arlington Court Skilled Nursing & Rehab Center. Her daughter Kim Kessler is currently suffering a bout with the flu, and says she could not safely care for her mother at home. A hospice care company arranged the five-day "respite stay" for Kim's mother at Arlington Court.

"They never mentioned anything about being under a water advisory or having any issues," Kessler said on Sunday. "There were other choices we could have made, and would have made, had I known that."

It was not until Sunday morning that the family realized something was amiss, when Bette's sink would not work. Her hospice aide was told that sinks had been shut off, but communal showers could provide water because they had been fitted with a special filter, or that bottled water was available by request. A Sunday morning phone call from the nursing home's director finally revealed that the water restriction was a response to a confirmed case of Legionella bacteria. Franklin County Public Health later confirmed that Arlington Court had three confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease since October.

Kessler says none of this was disclosed before or during her mother's check in.

The nursing center's director, A.J. Stout, confirmed on Sunday that he had spoken with the family. In a statement late Sunday night, the center's vice president of operations insisted communication with patients had been consistent.

"The facility has been transparent with our residents and families during this period of time," wrote James Muckle. "Letters were mailed out and posted in the facility by February 11th. These initial notices and further updates have remained prominently displayed in the facility."

"Water restrictions and other precautions were put in place on February 10th to ensure the safety of our residents, visitors and staff," Muckle said.

It was unclear at deadline whether the February 10th water restrictions had extended all the way until Kim Kessler discovered the issues on Sunday, March 1st, or whether the current water restrictions are a separate event. Bette Kessler did not check-in until February 27th, her daughter said. Kessler said any earlier notices thus would not have reached the family or Bette's care providers.

The type of bacteria found in Arlington Court's water became a topic of controversy late Sunday night and Monday. First, a letter dated February 11th on Arlington Court stationery, says "previous testing of our water supply did not show Legionella, but we are testing again and have implemented an alternative water source and filter system for drinking and bathing." Since then, Muckle explained that testing had uncovered a Legionella bacteria known as non pneumophila, which Muckle said is not often known to cause illness.

"The non pneumophila type is found commonly in water and soil and is not the type to normally cause illness," Muckle said. He noted that the bacteria was found in patient urine samples.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, "if the patient has pneumonia and the (urine) test is positive, then you should consider the patient to have Legionnaires’ disease."

Franklin County Public Health confirmed on Monday morning that the type of bacteria found is immaterial, so long as patients present symptoms of Legionnaires' disease and any type of Legionella bacteria is present.

Kim Kessler said on Sunday that her hospice care company was working to move her mother Bette to a different facility. Kessler said she reached out to ABC 6/FOX 28 in hopes of preventing a similar situation for other families.

"I just hope that they learn the lesson that they need to be truthful with people. Be up-front, and say 'here's what it is, here's what we're doing,'" Kessler said.

Legionnaires disease is very similar to types of pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with symptoms that include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches. Legionnaires’ disease can also be associated with other symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and confusion.

About one in 10 people who get sick from Legionnaires’ disease will die, according to the CDC.

A review of federal nursing home records through shows Arlington Court Nursing & Rehab Center has received 15 health inspection violations and paid more than $55,000 in fines to the federal government since 2017.

Full Article & Source:
Legionnaires' at nursing home not revealed until after 90-year-old checked in, family says

Monday, March 2, 2020

Defendant in $1M embezzlement scheme waives prelim

Gloria Byars
by Alex Rose

One of three defendants charged with embezzling more than $1 million from approximately 112 victims through court-appointed guardianships has waived a preliminary hearing in district court, according to online court records.

Gloria F. Byars is scheduled for formal arraignment March 25 in Media. Her attorney, Sharon Denise Alexander, did not respond to an email Friday seeking comment.

Byars is charged with hundreds of counts of theft, conspiracy, receiving stolen property and failure to make required dispensation of funds. Co-defendants Keith and Carolyn Collins, both pastors of the Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, each face 45 similar charges. Byars is Carolyn Collins’ sister.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Byars was hired by Robert Stump as an office manager for RES Consulting in 2008. Before she was fired in October 2016, Byars allegedly opened a bank account in the name of one person for whom RES had been assigned as guardian and transferred more than $182,000 to an account she controlled.

She also allegedly took files on cases where she assisted as a guardian from the RES office and established a company called ICU Records and Billing, which the affidavit identifies as a “shell company.”

Investigators executed warrants at businesses associated with Byars and discovered $855,964 worth of unauthorized transactions into ICURB, according to her affidavit.

The affidavit alleges additional funds had been funneled into two other shell companies, ACC Medical and CWR Medical, which were depleted and used for personal expenses like Netflix, trips and hotel stays.

Investigators also discovered $28,739 had been issued from ICURB to the Church of the Overcomer between June 2015 and February 2017, according to the affidavit. Keith and Carolyn Collins, of the first block of Princeton Avenue in Ridley Park, also owned and operated another guardianship company, Pinnacle Guardians LLC, according to the affidavits. Carolyn Collins allegedly deposited at least two checks from the bank accounts of two different wards in March 2016 totaling $8,986 into an ICURB account for unknown reasons.

Pinnacle was stripped of all guardianship cases in Delaware County in February 2017, after a nursing home complained it was not receiving Social Security payments for a 94-year-old ward living there.

An investigation revealed 18 of 25 wards assigned to Pinnacle had suffered approximately $110,319 worth of unauthorized transactions between November 2016 and May 2017, according to the Carolyn Collins affidavit.

The total amount of fraud alleged comes to $1,009,172 and involves 112 victims in Philadelphia, Delaware, Bucks, Berks, Montgomery and Lancaster counties. All of the alleged victims are over the age of 60 and many are in their 80s and 90s.

Keith Collins, a longtime staple of the church community and Democratic candidate in the 2011 County Council race, denied the allegations when he was arrested in October.

“I’m a pastor and if there were donations made, people are allowed to make donations to the church,” he told reporters outside the county courthouse in Media.

“Each defendant has their own situation,” said Keith Collins’ defense attorney Enrique Latoison Friday. “This is not a ‘conspiracy’ where everyone is working together. Byars, she did what she did. Keith, as far as I’m concerned, is 100 percent innocent.”

Latoison said his client never had a guardianship assigned to him and he does not intend on waiving a preliminary hearing in that case, scheduled for April 2 before Magisterial District Judge Elisa C. Lacianca.

Michael Dugan, representing Carolyn Collins, said he likewise intends to litigate the case on behalf of his client on that same date. While people waive preliminary hearings for different reasons, Dugan said, he believed in this case it was indicative of Byars’ culpability.

Court records indicate Keith and Carolyn Collins posted 10% of $100,000 bail Oct. 23, while Byars posted 10% of $500,000 bail Nov. 8.

Full Article & Source: 
Defendant in $1M embezzlement scheme waives prelim