Saturday, December 5, 2020

Another district court judge says inappropriate conduct by other judges is the norm in Adams County

Email lays out several incidents where judges harass, intimidate or retaliate against colleagues

By David Migoya

An Adams County district court judge last year demanded an investigation into a variety of inappropriate conduct — some of it threatening — by other judges, including the chief judge, which she says has been occurring there for years.

In a 10-page, single-spaced email to the top lawyer for the Colorado Judicial Department, District Judge Sharon Holbrook in September 2019 laid out several examples of “retaliation, fraud, harassment, sexual harassment, and threatening behavior” by a number of judges, some now-retired, she said have been condoned or ignored within the 17th Judicial District since at least 2017.

The allegations, known publicly for the first time, are the latest in a string of issues involving judges and their conduct in the judicial district that encompasses Adams and Broomfield counties. It is composed of 16 district court judges and nine county court judges, all appointed by the governor, and is the fourth largest in the state.

In her email to Terri Morrison, the department’s chief legal counsel, Holbrook recounts several incidents of misconduct by other judges that were the result of Holbrook and two other female judges jointly filing a formal complaint against another judge. One incident led to state investigators warning the three women about concerns for their safety. Another incident included muttered “sexist nicknames” from males judges that included “mean girls” and a common slur referring to women.

The three women had co-filed the complaint after senior judges in the district and human resource personnel did nothing about it. The judge was eventually admonished privately for his behavior by the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline, but his name was never made public, and he remains on the bench.

Holbrook also wrote to Morrison that at one point another female judge “begins to come into Holbrook’s office as often as possible … to prevent (verbal) abuse” whenever a particular male judge was there, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Post.

The Denver Post spoke with several other judges and courthouse personnel who either witnessed the incidents first-hand or were told about them after they occurred. All of them spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution or were concerned for their job.

Holbrook’s allegations included other incidents of judicial conduct already detailed in Denver Post stories over the past several weeks. The Post last month wrote of a district court judge who described similar problems within the judicial district. Voters on Nov. 3 chose not to retain that judge, Tomee Crespin, who alleged she was the target of a systemic campaign to drive her out. Her term ends in January.

Holbrook’s email also mentioned an inquiry into a judicial laptop containing pornographic images that was kept from law enforcement, which The Post reported about last month.

“There are more than two years worth of HR (human resource department) complaints and exit interviews that substantiate” her allegations, Holbrook wrote Morrison.

Although much of the behavior in Holbrook’s email occurred under former Chief Judge Patrick Murphy, who retired in July 2019, she wrote that it was an incident last summer with current Chief Judge Emily Anderson that prompted Holbrook to step forward and finally demand a general inquiry.

Holbrook described frustration with a process that treats judges differently than other state employees because they are constitutional officers appointed by the governor and not subject to the same rules as others.

“I have complied with the reporting requirements of HR. You can probably understand my frustration at the lack of responsiveness to a serious situation,” Holbrook wrote Morrison. “I hope that my situation can be addressed and corrected in a way that does not create further damage to our branch, but instead offers meaningful solutions.”

A department memo circulated among judges statewide in late October now requires all complaints by any judge regarding another judge be filed with the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline within the state Supreme Court.

It’s unclear whether Holbrook or Morrison took the matter to the disciplinary commission because its inquiries are secret and its sanctions frequently do not identify the judge.

Holbrook, who has consistently received high marks from the district’s judicial review committee, did not respond to Denver Post efforts to reach her.

Morrison, through a department spokesman, said she is “not at liberty to discuss matters pertaining to her role as legal counsel.”

In the incident with Anderson, Holbrook said the chief judge refused her suggestion to discuss an issue at a more convenient time and called Holbrook “an inappropriate name and jabbed her finger at my face,” according to the email.

Holbrook wrote that after she went to her own office and closed the door, Anderson knocked, then “put her foot in the door trying to open it and force her way in” when Holbrook answered, according to the email. Holbrook wrote that she reported the incident to the department’s HR director and later told Anderson to stop writing emails that tried to “re-write the history of the event.”

Anderson told The Post that Holbrook hasn’t made any complaints to her or district administrators regarding other judges and that Holbrook was lying about their interaction.

“Judge Sharon Holbrook’s description of the conversation is untrue,” Anderson wrote in an email to The Post. “Not one thing she says happened actually occurred.”

Anderson said she’s committed to seeing all the judges in the district succeed — including Holbrook.

“I am committed to overseeing an inclusive bench in the 17th District, and I stand on my 30-year record of helping women and diverse attorneys become leaders and judges and successes in the legal profession,” she wrote The Post. “This record includes helping, supporting, and lifting up Judge Holbrook over several years.”

Troubles start in 2017

The harassment Holbrook and other judges in the district say they experienced began in late 2017 when she first approached Murphy about the district judge they would eventually file the formal complaint about.

“Over the next several months, many other district court judges would go to (Murphy) to also complain about (the judge),” the email says. “When it was clear that nothing would be done — and after a female magistrate had come to me crying and asking for help — myself and two other female judges filed a complaint with the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline.”

That complaint, filed in March 2018, contained allegations of inappropriate conduct with female interns, misuse of court scheduling calendars for personal benefit, and inappropriate demeanor with staff and colleagues, according to the email.

“This set the stage for the retaliation and hostility that would be pervasive for us over the next two years, and that continues today,” Holbrook wrote.

Murphy refused to comment about the inquiry, telling The Post it was a “private matter.”

During the commission’s inquiry, other judges “begin to give whistleblowers everything from cold shoulder to outright hostility,” Holbrook claimed in the email.

Holbrook’s email outlines “almost daily” visits by Murphy to her office. At one point Holbrook “is crying, asking him to stop.”

Finally, two investigators for the disciplinary commission contact Holbrook and the two other judges who filed the complaint to say they’re looking into “Murphy regarding retaliation against” the judges.

“They cannot disclose any details, but they are so concerned for the safety of the whistleblowers that they give them their direct numbers to call if needed,” Holbrook wrote. “They indicate that this circumstance is rare, to their knowledge this has never happened before in an investigation of this nature.”

Said Murphy in an email to The Post: “I never retaliated against anyone.”

In another incident describing inappropriate conduct by male judges, Holbrook wrote that in September 2019 she was cornered in her office by a male county court judge unhappy about a contrary opinion she expressed at a meeting of several judges earlier that day.

It took a male magistrate to convince him to leave, according to Holbrook’s email. She said a commander with the Adams County Sheriff’s office assigned to the courthouse told her that she “should have pulled the security button as the encounter was scary, threatening and meets the definition of the crime of false imprisonment.”

Full Article & Source: 

District Judge candidate denies involvement in staged automobile accident ring, elaborate insurance scam

by: Britt Lofaso

NEW IBERIA, La. (KLFY) — The candidacy of an embattled New Iberia attorney running for District Court Judge for Division ‘H’ in the 16th Judicial District is under the microscope for her alleged involvement in an elaborate automobile insurance scam.

Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board documents accuse Alicia Butler of being involved in a staged vehicle accident ring in 2010.

Louisiana State Police and the State Farm Special Investigations Unit stated they believed Butler purposefully created traffic accidents to obtain personal injury clients.

Authorities say Butler colluded with a man who would purposefully collide his vehicle with commercial vehicles and that Butler would then sue over the crashes she knew were staged to make a profit.

Butler says the allegations are not true.

“I had no involvement at all,” Butler told News 10. “I was investigated. I was never criminally charged in any of that.”

She says her brother, who worked for her law firm, was the person who colluded in the insurance scam.

“I was implicated because my brother used my vehicle to stage the accidents,” she said.

The documents accuse Butler of violating over a dozen rules, including committing a criminal act and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

She adamantly denies the accusations and will go before the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board for a formal hearing this year.

Another issue that has arisen amidst her campaign for District Court Judge is her law license recently being suspended by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The Louisiana Supreme Court suspended Butler’s law license in 2019.

She is currently under probation from that suspension until at least 2021.

Butler says her suspension and probation set by the Louisiana Supreme Court have nothing to do with the investigation into the staged accident ring.

“That dealt with the mishandling of a client trust account,” she said.

Butler says she is an attorney in good standing with the Louisiana State Bar Association.

“I have no blemishes on my record, period. I want to represent the people,” Butler said in a phone interview.

News 10 reporter Britt Lofaso questioned, “No blemishes except for the suspension and the probation though?”

Butler responded, “Yeah, I mean in so far as 20 years practicing as an attorney, you will have some things that you come into contact with that you will break a rule. I broke a rule, and I made a mistake. And I got suspended for it.”

She says in her 20 years practicing law, she has never been disbarred and is legally qualified to run as District Court Judge for Division ‘H’.

Butler believes her opponent, Roger Hamilton, has brought light to the investigation into the staged accident ring to smear her campaign for District Court Judge.

Full Article & Source:

Nursing-home horrors go way beyond the virus

The failure to protect nursing-home residents early in the pandemic led to the death of at least 6,000 New Yorkers.

By Charles Camosy

The failure to protect nursing-home residents is by now a depressingly familiar fact of the pandemic in America — especially in the Empire State, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s grievous March order forcing homes to accept COVID-positive patients led to the death of at least 6,000 New Yorkers (the real figure could be double that).

Nationwide, these residents constitute 40 percent of deaths, though they represent less than 1 percent of the population. Yet the novel coronavirus has proved deadly to our elders in another, perhaps more insidious and invisible, way. According to barely noticed reporting from the Associated Press, straight-up neglect has killed another 40,000 residents.

Take the case of Donald Wallace. The 75-year-old retired trucker survived COVID-19, according to the AP, but neglect led to him becoming so malnourished and dehydrated that he dropped to 98 pounds, suffered septic shock and likely choked on his own food. “They stopped taking care of him,” his son Kevin said of the Alabama facility that took “care” of Wallace (the facility denied ­neglect).

Reports are coming from all over the country, including New York, of diapers left on for so long, the skin peels off when they are removed. Of bedridden residents who haven’t been turned for so long, you could see their bones through their sores. Often, the profound isolation leads to deaths that certificates simply ­label as “failure to thrive.”

One big problem is the ubiquity of corporate-owned nursing homes that are chronically ­understaffed, and by employees paid less than a living wage. Rather than adequately supporting the institutions they own, per investigators, these corporations are more ­interested in passing on cost-savings as profits to their shareholders.

America is truly a barbarous outlier in this respect, as immigrants, especially those from cultures where filiality norms still reign, would tell you.
The practices were hiding in plain sight before, but the pandemic has forced Americans to examine how we treat our parents in the twilight of their lives. An informed choice lies before us. We can continue to acquiesce to a throwaway culture that discards the most vulnerable among us, or we can begin to mobilize to protect and honor our elders.It’s significant this choice on eldercare comes amid a massive political realignment. For all his faults, President Trump and his ­populist uprising at least somewhat loosened the grip on the GOP of small-government fanatics and corporatists. Democrats increasingly represent the interests of corporate America, of the managerial class. That’s a golden opportunity for ­Republicans to champion a pro-family, pro-worker vision — to ­insist that profits and growth aren’t the highest end in themselves.

Reforming our eldercare institutions must be high on this new GOP’s priorities.

That will take time. We must resist a cultural slouch toward assisted suicide, a sinister choice increasingly available to underserved elders. Policymakers, moreover, must empower family oversight and support nonprofit homes like those run by ­religious groups.

Republicans should also work with Democrats and others to find ways to support families who want to care for their beloved elderly at home. I’ve been heartened to work with pro-life and religious groups that support Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.’s plan to have Medicaid (or a similar source) reimburse loved ones for such in-home care.

The price tag isn’t cheap, but ­because such care is still significantly less expensive than institutional care, it makes a good deal of fiscal sense. In addition, this plan would help keep extended, multigenerational families together in ways that are good for everyone. And it would disproportionately benefit communities of color, which have suffered from disproportionately bad eldercare, especially during the pandemic.

Washington needs an appropriations bill by Dec. 11 to avoid yet another shutdown. A COVID-19 stimulus package will be a part of those negotiations. Funding in-home care of the elderly should be included in whatever package passes both chambers.

Here, then, is the first test of whether Republicans will put the working class, racial minorities, economic populism and families ahead of corporate interests. We are watching intently. The lives of our beloved elderly hang in the balance.

Charles Camosy is associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University and author of the new book “Resisting Throwaway Culture.” Twitter: @CCamosy

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Friday, December 4, 2020

How Did the Coronavirus Overwhelm a Florida Nursing Home So Quickly?

Tamara Blackman holds a picture of her late mother, a nurse at Seminole Pavilion. (Douglas Clifford | Tampa Bay Times)

by Leonora LaPeter Anton, Kavitha Surana, Kathryn Varn 

Marjorie Blackman arrived for her shift at the Seminole Pavilion nursing home on a Saturday in April, stopping at the front door for a temperature check. The nurse had been tired and short of breath, and now, she had a slight fever. She didn’t know that a patient had died the day before after testing positive for the coronavirus.

An immigrant from Guyana, Marjorie had gone back to school in her 50s to become a licensed practical nurse. Now 67, her three-hour daily commute was exhausting, and she could have retired. But she loved her job.

Marjorie drove herself to the hospital for a test, then to the home she shared with one of her daughters, Tamara Blackman, and 8-year-old twin granddaughters.

Tamara had been worried about her mother for weeks, since the first cases of COVID-19 hit Florida.

“Are they testing anybody?” Tamara had asked her mother in early April. “What about the patients?”

Marjorie had shrugged. They didn’t talk about it. Marjorie had a thin cloth mask, which she washed again and again.

She later told her daughter that several nurses had quit, and others were sick. Three days after her mother came home with a fever, Tamara listened at the bedroom door to her raspy breathing. She called for an ambulance.

Last spring, the coronavirus stormed through Seminole Pavilion and another nursing home at Freedom Square of Seminole. Forty people have died, among the largest tolls at long-term care facilities in the state.

Nine months into the pandemic, the virus has killed more than 19,000 Floridians. About 40 percent of the deaths have been among senior care residents. In Pinellas County alone, more than 2 out of 3 coronavirus deaths are connected to nursing homes and assisted living centers.

Freedom Square, a 15-acre retirement complex built around a town square and a gazebo, was the early epicenter in Tampa Bay.

At Seminole Pavilion nursing home, staff begged managers for protection as the virus raged through the state in April. They complained they couldn’t get gowns or N95 masks or answers. They saw their ranks diminish as one after another came down with fevers or symptoms.

The facility kept accepting hospital patients for rehab who hadn’t been tested for the virus until April 9, though some state officials and nursing homes raised concerns about the practice weeks earlier. The state took almost two months to mandate testing.

Florida also didn’t require facilities to publicly disclose outbreaks until late April. Freedom Square kept quiet about the first death and positive cases for almost a week. On April 29, state inspectors found broken equipment and dirty facilities. Communication with families was inconsistent and, at times, chaotic.

For this story, the Tampa Bay Times interviewed dozens of family members who lost loved ones to the outbreak as well as former and current employees. Reporters also reviewed hundreds of emails, inspection reports, legal documents and medical records.

By the end of April, more than half of the 95 residents at Seminole Pavilion had tested positive. They died in waves, at hospitals and hospices across the county, many with no family or friends by their side. Staring down the isolation and uncertainty, some gave up, stopped taking medications and called family members, one by one, to say goodbye.

The Times requested interviews with Freedom Square administrators, who asked for questions in advance. Executive director Michael Mason then declined to answer them and instead provided a statement.

“Our residents’ and staff’s health is, and has always been, our No. 1 priority,” he said. “We are fully committed to the health and well-being of everyone in our community – employees and residents alike. We will continue to do all in our power to keep and maintain a safe and healthy environment here at Freedom Square.”

Mason said there would be no further comment, because of “an ongoing investigation and because of the sensitivity of the matter.” He declined to say who was investigating.

Two families have sued Freedom Square, its current and former corporate owners, management company and Seminole Pavilion administrator Cynthia Ayala.

Relatives of Donald Jack and Christopher Pugh allege in separate 40-page complaints that the facility “chose to place profits over residents and ignore deficiencies in their emergency preparedness plan and in their infection prevention and control program.”

They said the facility waited too long to alert the Department of Health to a potential outbreak.

Bennie Lazzara Jr., an attorney representing both families, said: “It’s a disgrace, really, not just here but all over the whole country. The numbers are staggering.”

In court documents, Freedom Square lawyers argued the company “met the standards of care prevailing amongst similar facilities in this community.” It denied allegations of negligence and blamed Jack for his own death.

‘Everything was circulating’

In mid-March, employees of Seminole Pavilion sat in a break room discussing the pandemic. On the news, they’d learned that the first major U.S. outbreak hit a nursing home in Washington state and saw how quickly it attacked residents and staff.

Jaleysah Gainey, a 22-year-old certified nursing assistant, worried about taking the virus home to her grandparents, both in their 60s. Gainey’s grandmother is a diabetic with bad asthma, and her grandfather is a cancer survivor.

Co-workers were convinced the facility was unprepared.

Hallways were linked like a square, and aides moved between different wings.

“Everything was circulating,” Gainey said.

Employees were especially concerned about new rehab patients coming from hospitals, and they warned their bosses.

“We, the staff, we begged them to not take these admits,” Gainey said. “We all said: It’s going to come into the building, because you guys keep taking in new people that aren’t getting tested.”

At the time, Florida hospitals and nursing homes were not required to test for the virus before patients were transferred. Tests were limited and costly.

“They said, ‘It’s okay, oh no, it’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with them,’” Gainey said.

Seminole Pavilion designated one hall for new rehab patients, but all employees passed through it to get to the break room and punch time cards. Staffers in that hall were required to wear face shields and gowns, Gainey said, but the gowns were reused every day and rarely washed.

Her co-workers began to panic. One aide had a sick mother. Another worried she’d give the virus to her four daughters. One nurse, who had recently survived cancer, left a meeting with an administrator weeping. “I do not feel safe in this building,” she told Gainey.

In late March, employees learned the facility’s risk manager had quit.

An aide working at one of the rehab halls told Gainey she thought a new patient had COVID-19 because he had diarrhea and a fever. But even the nurses didn’t know for sure, Gainey said.

At a staff meeting in early April, Ayala and another administrator at Seminole Pavilion chided employees for spreading “rumors” about COVID-19, Gainey recalled. They said the facility did not have any coronavirus cases, and people who continued to talk about it would be punished with a “write-up.”

“She basically scolded us like kids,” Gainey said.

A day later, employees said, Ayala and another top administrator stopped coming to the building.

Neither responded to phone calls and emails from the Times.

Soon after, the first cases arrived in the rehab wing.

‘I wonder if anyone is sick there’

On April 1, Carol Valentine called her 94-year-old mother.

“Things are strange,” Ruth Schneiter said.

Schneiter, a retired Bay Pines Veterans Administration hospital nurse, had spent two weeks at Largo Medical Center for high blood pressure, ending up in Seminole Pavilion’s rehab unit on March 27.

On the phone, Schneiter told Valentine that she had to stay in her room.

“I wonder if anyone is sick there,” Valentine said, but her mother didn’t know.

Valentine called the nurses but could not get a response.

Around this time, Harry Nash, 75, who owned a bookstore on Madeira Beach, told a friend that he thought people at Seminole Pavilion were infected with COVID-19. Nash, who’d arrived for rehab on March 28, said rooms were sealed with plastic.

His friend, Sean Donnelly, asked if the staff wore masks.

“Only half the time,” replied Nash.

Thomas Minichillo, a retired postal worker who in recent years battled chronic pneumonia and other medical problems, also ended up at Seminole Pavilion after a hospital stay.

His wife, Terri Terzini-Minichillo, said it was difficult to find a rehab that would take him in March. Finally, the doctors called and said he was headed to Seminole Pavilion. He was put in a shared room, which concerned her.

At first, she spoke to him on the phone several times a day, sometimes while standing outside his window. The couple looked forward to celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary. “He looked at me and said, ‘I cannot wait until you take me to dinner,’” she said.

But then, he suddenly went silent. Every time she or their son called, the staff said Minichillo was sleeping or too tired to talk.

On April 5, Seminole Pavilion sent Minichillo to the hospital in an “altered mental state.” He tested positive for the coronavirus on April 9. The next afternoon, the 74-year-old became the first Freedom Square patient to die.

That same day, the facility released Ruth Schneiter.

“I’m home,” the retired nurse said to her daughter, Valentine, on the phone.

Seminole Pavilion had discharged Schneiter to her assisted living facility down the street, also a part of Freedom Square. Valentine was surprised. She didn’t think her mother was ready to leave the rehab unit.

Two days later, on Easter Sunday, Valentine dropped chocolates and a pair of moccasin slippers off for her mother. But Schneiter didn’t feel well and didn’t come to the window.

At 11 that night, a nurse called. Schneiter had a 102-degree fever.

“Oh, crap,” Valentine thought. She knew.

Valentine took her to the ER. It was the first time she’d seen her since mid-March. She looked frail and worn out, and they didn’t say much.

When Valentine got to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, nurses helped her mother out of the car. They would not see each other again for 25 days. “She was by herself until the end,” Valentine said, “when I came in and held her hand.”

‘What are you guys not telling us?’

At work on Friday, April 10, the day Minichillo died, Gainey was required only to wear a cloth mask. When she returned Monday, she was told to suit up with more gear, including a shield, gown, gloves and N95 mask.

“We are like, ‘What’s going on?’” she recalled. “What are you guys not telling us?”

Staffers learned the facility had positive cases, 10 of them. But Minichillo’s death wasn’t announced until four days later.

She thought of Marjorie Blackman, who was out sick. Marjorie often appeared when Gainey got overwhelmed, making sure patients still got dressed and their diapers changed. She hoped Marjorie was okay. She’d noticed the nurse was unable to walk far without getting out of breath.

Behind the scenes, the Pinellas County Department of Health and the state Agency for Health Care Administration had conducted a joint inspection on April 9 and found “a widespread lack of hand hygiene upon entry and exit from residents’ rooms,” according to state emails and reports obtained by the Times.

The agencies recommended all residents and employees be tested on the same day to assess how far the virus had spread. That didn’t happen.

On April 14, Gainey came to work uneasy. Since childhood, stress had manifested in physical ways. Now, she had a urinary tract infection, a migraine and a toothache. She attended to her patients, trying to project calm.

After a full day, a supervisor told her that two of her patients had tested positive.

Gainey immediately thought of her grandparents.

“I told y’all what I had going on,” she told the supervisor. “That I just couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t, bring it home.”

She went to the hospital for a coronavirus test. To her relief, she tested negative. But she never went back to Seminole Pavilion.

‘We aren’t a horrible place’

The night Gainey quit, a flow of ambulances pulled up to the nursing home.

Emergency workers and staff, overseen by the Department of Health, shuttled elderly residents out of Seminole Pavilion, forgetting purses, glasses and hearing aides. Some had symptoms or had tested positive; others were asymptomatic but had been exposed.

Ambulances arrived in waves to transfer patients to the hospital in April. Dirk Shadd | Tampa Bay Times

Over the next few days, more ambulances would arrive at the facility. One morning, Michael Jack stopped by to check on his 75-year-old father, a diehard Chicago Cubs fan. He saw a line of four ambulances tended to by medics in Hazmat gear. They pulled away, then another four showed up. He asked an employee at the door if it was COVID. She said she didn’t know.

Later, news reports confirmed his fears: Coronavirus had not only made it into the facility but had overwhelmed it, and dozens of residents were being evacuated to area hospitals. His father, Donald Jack, was not among them.

Before the pandemic, Hodgkin’s lymphoma had crept through Donald Jack’s body, appearing first like a stomach flu.

As he grew weaker, Jack stubbornly refused a wheelchair, opting for a walker instead.

In the spring, after another fall, he went to the hospital, and doctors soon released him to Seminole Pavilion for rehabilitation.

By April 16, records show, 33 patients and five employees had tested positive. Donald Jack called his son to say he’d been tested for the virus. No one had told him the results, but he had overheard nurses talking among themselves that he was positive.

Michael Jack texted a Freedom Square manager: “Do you know if that’s true?” he asked of his father’s result, according to screenshots he shared with the Times. “If so does he need to go to the hospital or anything?”

“I’m sure you’ve seen the news,” the employee texted back. “They always make it seem worse. We aren’t a horrible place. Let me find out. I know you’re worried and so is he.”

Two hours and a few more texts later, he still didn’t have an answer.

“Do you think it would be better to just go over there and ring the bell to ask the nurses? I don’t live far,” he wrote.

A half-hour later, the employee responded: “I can’t get any help, Michael. I’m sorry. Maybe you should.”

Penny Stephenson had missed the news and still wasn’t aware how bad the outbreak was at Freedom Square. On April 17, she called her mother, an 80-year-old in the long-term care wing, who sounded giddy.

“I’m packing up and going home!” Sue Stephenson told her daughter, who was confused — was the facility moving her?

“Nothing like that is going on here,” the nurse assured her.

A few hours later, the entire facility was being evacuated. Freedom Square called to say her mother was headed to Northside Hospital.

Stephenson begged the nurse to take her instead to Morton Plant, where her doctors were. But the nurse said nothing could be done.

At the hospital, Stephenson tested negative, but days later, another test came back positive. She died six days later.

Freedom Square’s letter to families the night of the evacuation said the facility had made the decision to move the remaining residents at noon, about nine hours before Johnson was called.

“The families of all impacted residents have been contacted to let them know of the change,” the letter said.

Several relatives said the notifications came too late.

“Why were we lied to that night?” Stephenson said. “And why did they have to do it in the middle of the night? Would she have lived if we had gotten her moved to Morton Plant somehow?”

Communication issues were among the three dozen questions from the Times that went unanswered by Freedom Square.

Shortly before evacuation, the company announced for the first time that there had been three deaths — Minichillo and two other patients that day.

Michael Jack waited anxiously for news of his father.

He’d wanted to take him out of Freedom Square and bring him home, but it was too late.

Donald Jack, instead, languished at the hospital alone.

He died April 21. His son said goodbye over a 30-second video call.


Marjorie Blackman, the Seminole Pavilion nurse, was now at Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville and still struggling to breathe. The mother of five, who had cared for so many of the evacuated patients, had been placed on a ventilator.

Blackman’s daughter Tamara learned of the deaths on the news April 17 and soon realized the first to die — Minichillo — had tested positive April 9. Her mother had subbed for another nurse that day and the next.

On April 24, a National Guard strike team arrived at Freedom Square to help test patients, but they only checked employees and symptomatic residents.

The virus also spread in other buildings on the campus, where staff shared elevators and break time, according to employees.

At the nearby 116-bed Freedom Square Rehabilitation & Health Center, 12 residents and four employees had tested positive by April 28. The Inn at Freedom Square, an assisted living facility, also had a confirmed case that day.

The same week, Gov. Ron DeSantis, after weeks of pressure and a lawsuit filed by several media outlets, began requiring long-term care facilities to report positive COVID cases and deaths to the public.

‘I love you, bye’

At hospitals and hospices across Pinellas County, the disease began to claim Freedom Square residents.

Margaret Lally, 96, a former independent living resident, was supposed to move into Seminole Pavilion following two heart attacks, her son said, but they placed her with a roommate in a quarantine zone, and she got the virus. She died April 20.

The next day, two people died: Jean Lasner, 90, and Jack, the Cubs fan.

Christopher Pugh, 84, died April 22. Susan Jones, 78, died two days later.

On April 25, Eleanor Schueneman, 94, and Jeanette DeFrank, 102, took their last breaths.

Donna Mortenson died on April 27, 13 days after leaving Seminole Pavilion. At 98, she had almost reached her goal to live to 100.

Four people died the next day, including Sue Stephenson. In her last days, her daughter had been trying to lift her spirits with video calls. Her usually bubbly mother was barely able to speak. “I love you, bye,” was all she would respond.

Emil Sudol, who arrived at Seminole Pavilion from the hospital with a foot infection following a fall, died a little more than an hour after Stephenson. At 91, the Korean War veteran still lived in his own house and enjoyed sharing beers with friends at haunts like the Casual Clam Seafood Bar & Grill.

George Egolf, 89, a former machinist in the Panama Canal Zone, died April 28, as did Anthony Fabrizio, a 93-year-old who was checked out at a hospital and sent back to Freedom Square even as the outbreak spread.

Blackman, the nurse, remained on a ventilator as one of her daughters, Earlene Blackman, pleaded on Facebook for blood plasma with antibodies of the virus.

“Who knows if this will even work, but it never hurts to try,” she wrote.

But on April 29, Blackman died.

Eunice Angelone, 95, who met her husband in London during World War II and came to the U.S. on a ship, died April 30. Avis Lilly, 98, and Constance Bentler, 85, died two days later.

“I don’t want to live anymore,” Bentler had told her daughter. “I’ve tried. I’m done.”

Alice Ford, 90, died May 4.

Louise Johnson, 79, died the next day, as did Nash, the Madeira Beach bookshop owner.

Beverly Dikman, 86, died May 5, after being in Morton Plant Hospital for 22 days.

On May 6, five people died, including Russell Douton, a 92-year-old magician known as “Windy” who was still performing balloon animal shows at a Seminole restaurant twice a week.

Patricia Lewandowski also died that day, after breathing through a ventilator for 25 days.

Verne Strible and Theresa Szubartowski died the next day. Both were 99.

In the span of a month, 32 had died.

Toward the end of that stretch, the state began requiring hospitals to provide two negative COVID-19 tests before they could release a patient to a nursing home.

On May 9, Todd Brusko raced to see his father.

Vincent Narcisi, a Seminole Pavilion resident who tested positive upon admission to Morton Plant Hospital, was dying.

The 91-year-old Korean War veteran was a tough man, his son said, born amid the Great Depression, raised in Philadelphia where he “learned very early to hustle and fight.” His nose was plum-shaped from the many times he broke it. Narcisi spent decades running an electronics business in St. Pete Beach and had moved into Freedom Square about two years ago.

After about three weeks and several more positive tests in the hospital, he stopped taking his medications and ceased any treatment for COVID-19. Brusko thinks his father couldn’t deal with the thought of being hospitalized long-term.

“That was the thing that kind of broke him,” he said.

Ever since the lockdown, Narcisi’s only contact was with workers, who were bouncing from room to room, going home to their families, then coming back.

Brusko, an immunologist at the University of Florida, doesn’t blame them. They’re just not trained or equipped for a situation like this, for a virus this contagious.

‘They need to be regulating them much tougher’

Even before the pandemic, staff at Freedom Square was stretched thin, employees said.

Lucia Torres, a nurse who began working the overnight shift at Seminole Pavilion last August, said she was shocked by what she saw there. It was dirty and smelled of mold. She spotted roaches. She said supervisors brushed off her complaints.

She was often the only nurse in her hall, caring for 35 to 40 residents with two certified nursing assistants.

That was too few to manage the litany of patient needs, she and other employees said, from feeding and showering to making sure everyone got the proper medication. The staff woke residents at 4 a.m., so they would have enough time to get everyone dressed and into the dining room by 7 for the morning shift. It was awful, she said, to watch them lined up half-asleep in their chairs.

Employees were always overworked, she said. She recalled Marjorie Blackman staying sometimes until 2 a.m. to fill out paperwork. Her shift ended at 11.

Seminole Pavilion scores “above average” for meeting national staffing requirements, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

But Torres said the standards didn’t seem high enough, especially to meet the challenges of the pandemic.

In late March, after she moved to the memory care unit, two of her patients developed fevers. Torres wanted to have them tested for the coronavirus, but her supervisor disregarded her request, she said.

It was not safe and going to get worse, she believed. So she stayed home.

What happened at Freedom Square has been repeated across the country, revealing an industry starkly unprepared to confront a crisis of this scale.

The retirement complex had long been owned by a company backed by private investors — Brookdale Senior Living, which leases and owns more than 700 senior properties around the country.

On Jan. 31, Brookdale sold its share of Freedom Square to a real estate investment trust, Healthpeak Properties Inc., headquartered in California. The facility’s operations did not change noticeably, employees and family members said. Records show the same administrators remained in place at Seminole Pavilion.

Healthpeak, in a statement, defended Freedom Square, saying the facility had “done their utmost to ensure the health and safety of their residents, as well as their dedicated employees.”

In for-profit nursing homes, investors often split the business into separate operating and property companies.

This is the arrangement at Freedom Square.

The split-business model can be a way of pumping up profits and protecting the company from liability, said Charlene Harrington, professor emerita of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. It allows the company to lease back the building to itself and charge management fees.

The facilities then operate on razor-thin margins, and profits that might go to hire extra staff or stock up on protective gear instead go to the separate company, Harrington said.

She has not researched Freedom Square but has authored multiple studies on the for-profit nursing home industry. Almost 70 percent of nursing homes are run by for-profit owners.

Research suggests patients suffer as a result, even in prepandemic times. Mortality rates increase 10 percent when a patient goes to a private equity-owned nursing home instead of a nonprofit, according to one New York University study.

In the spring, Brookdale was hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging it boosted profits by keeping staffing at levels that were “chronically insufficient.”

According to the lawsuit, Brookdale facilities in North Carolina used proprietary staffing software to deliberately underestimate the labor required to address resident needs. The lawsuit also alleges the company did not fully document services provided to avoid paper trails.

Brookdale said the lawsuit is “completely without merit,” and, in a court response, asked that it be dismissed.

The company said the lawsuit does not identify deceptive acts, only insinuates that Brookdale made staffing decisions based on financial considerations “as all businesses do.”

Harrington said for profit-nursing homes were more vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks because of limited staffing.

Governments should increase staffing requirements, she said, because “that’s the root of all the problems….They need to be regulating them much tougher.”

Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center points to staffing levels as a key indicator of whether nursing homes are able to quickly identify and contain outbreaks once they start.

Yue Li, one of the researchers on the study, said facilities like Freedom Square should hire extra staff during the pandemic. “One nurse to 40 patients — that is not a high enough staffing ratio,” he said.

Employees said there was no talk of hiring extra staff at Freedom Square, even once the threat became clear. Instead, they said, administrators talked about bonuses for maintaining perfect attendance.

Then people began testing positive.

Testing requirements came in July

The same day Blackman died, a surveyor from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration arrived at Seminole Pavilion for an inspection. By then, more than half of the residents had tested positive.

A worker offered the inspector a thermometer with “exposed probes.” When asked for another thermometer, the employee pulled out a no-contact version, which produced a reading of 95.4 degrees. The worker acknowledged the thermometer was broken.

Inside, resident rooms looked like they hadn’t been touched by housekeeping. Several staff members failed to clean their shields properly. The assistant director of nursing reused gloves, after applying hand sanitizer.

The practice of reusing gloves has been shown to transmit the virus, according to the state agency’s report.

Five days later, on May 4, the state inspected the adjacent nursing home, Freedom Square Rehabilitation & Nursing Services, and found one employee still wearing a cloth mask.

Florida has the highest share of elderly residents in the U.S., but it straggled behind other states when it came to expanding testing. West Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and New York launched universal testing plans early on for long-term care centers, hoping to locate asymptomatic cases.

Florida relied on a piecemeal plan that included randomly testing staff at some facilities and sending strike teams to centers with an outbreak. These measures were voluntary, and some facilities did not participate.

Finally, on July 7, when about 2,000 Floridians from long-term care centers had died from the virus, the state began requiring those centers to test staffers every two weeks. Testing became easier the next month, after the federal government sent kits that could get results within 24 hours.

Cindy A. Prins, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, said employees should be tested at least once a week. That won’t prevent every case, but it allows a facility to react quickly and avoid more transmission.

Prins said nursing homes also need to provide more robust care, almost like hospitals. They should be staffed with someone whose sole job is infection control.

Seminole Pavilion had no infection preventionist on staff when the outbreak began, and the facility’s 68-page emergency plan has no guidance on infectious diseases. Such guidance is not required by the state.

Even with increased testing, the virus has continued to ravage Florida nursing homes. More than 91 percent have had COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Freedom Square has been hit again. In October, at least 22 staffers had tested positive at Freedom Square Nursing and Rehab. At least four employees had positive tests at Seminole Pavilion. In November at The Inn, the assisted living facility, one employee tested positive and eight residents with the virus were transferred to hospitals.

Many employees remain haunted by the outbreak, still angry at the company’s response. Some were shocked to hear from the Times how many of the patients and residents ultimately died.

Gainey went back to work this fall as a certified nursing assistant at a different nursing home. Months into the pandemic, she said little had changed — the facility also was short-staffed, and supervisors pressed her to work double shifts.

She was scared but needed the money.

‘It took them too long to do anything’

At her open-casket service on May 18, as pictures looped on a screen above, Marjorie Blackman’s family reflected on her life.

Her sister reminded mourners that after their mother immigrated to America, Marjorie was left to care for seven siblings at age 17. Marjorie would not leave Guyana until 1980, when she was married with four children. Her fifth child was born in the U.S.

Marjorie’s daughters said she was a strict disciplinarian and even went looking for sticks in New York City to fashion into switches. She made sure her children were educated and went on field trips.

“My mother, through her example and harsh lessons, always sought to teach us to respect the money that people have worked hard to earn,” one of her daughters said at the service. She taught her children to lean on each other and not complain.

Tamara Blackman said she pulled out her mother’s company awards and pins recently. That made her angry.

“It took them too long to do anything,” Tamara said. “For them to say, ‘You know what? Okay, I think we have a problem.’”

As the pandemic started surging, Tamara remembers her mother bringing home paperwork about the ownership change in January, filling out forms for human resources. At that point, she said, Freedom Square should have been focused on protecting patients and staff.

“My mom gave to that company, but they didn’t give back to her,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t know who can put my mind off that.”

Times staffer Connie Humburg contributed to this report.

This story is part of a collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Attorney Disbarred for Practicing under Suspension

The Ohio Supreme Court today disbarred a Columbus attorney for practicing law while under suspension and lying to the Supreme Court, his clients, and disciplinary officials about his activities.

The Supreme Court disbarred Jason A. Sarver, stating that the Court “can only assume that Sarver’s ‘pants are charred’ from the number of falsehoods” he told throughout his prior and present disciplinary proceedings. Writing for the Court majority, Justice Patrick F. Fischer stated that Sarver manipulated vulnerable clients and “has a pattern of breaching his clients’ trust to pursue his own objectives” rather than acting in his clients’ interests.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody J. Stewart joined the majority opinion. Justice Sharon L. Kennedy concurred in judgment only.

Attorney Pursues Wrongful Death Case Sarver was hired by Juanita Mustin to pursue a wrongful-death claim in 2018 while his disciplinary proceedings were pending before the Supreme Court but before he was suspended from the practice of law. Martin’s daughter, Jessica, was killed by a vehicle traveling in the wrong direction on a highway in Cleveland.

Mustin signed a contingent-fee agreement in which she agreed to pay Sarver 33 percent of any settlement obtained without filing a lawsuit . Sarver then agreed to help her pursue a claim with the Ohio Victims of Crime Compensation Program (OVCCP).  

Sarver reached a $50,000 settlement agreement with Allstate Insurance Company, which represented the wrong-way driver. Sarver informed Mustin of the offer and told her that all proceeds of the settlement, less his attorney fees and costs, would be held in trust for Jessica’s minor son. He advised Mustin that he would need to complete some paperwork for the probate court before any of the proceeds could be distributed.

Lawyer Falsifies Documents In September 2018, Sarver accepted the settlement. He prepared and obtained Mustin’s signature on various probate documents and took the documents to the Cuyahoga County Probate Court in October 2018, but filed only one document: the application for authority to administer the estate. During his most recent disciplinary investigation, Sarver acknowledged he did not file the other necessary paperwork at that time so he could begin to distribute proceeds from the settlement earlier than the court process would allow.

On Nov. 26, 2018, Sarver posted a $10,000 bond required for an estate administrator on Mustin’s behalf, and the probate court appointed Mustin as the fiduciary of Jessica’s estate and issued her letters of authority.

Two days later, the Court suspended Sarver from the practice of law for two years, with 18 months conditionally stayed, for engaging in a sexual relationship with a different client, who was indigent, lying about that relationship to the judge who was presiding over the client’s criminal case, and engaging in illegal activity by advising the client to turn off her phone’s GPS while there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest. (See – Court-Appointed Counsel Representing Indigent Defendant Suspended for Sex with Client.)

Two days after his suspension, Sarver wrote a letter to the OVCCP on his law-office letterhead, which identified him as an attorney, and indicated he would be working on Mustin’s claim. That same day, he signed Mustin’s name to a settlement release, falsely notarized her signature, and sent the document to Allstate. During this time, he did not notify Mustin of his suspension.

Sarver received the settlement check, signed Mustin’s name to it, and deposited it into his client trust account. He began to distribute the settlement proceeds without the probate court’s approval. He immediately began paying personal financial obligations directly from his client trust account with what he had calculated to be his earned fee.

Lawyer Lies about Compliance with Suspension Order In December 2018, Sarver filed an affidavit of compliance with the Supreme Court, stating he had complied with the Court’s suspension order and had notified his clients and the courts in which he had pending cases of his suspension. During the disciplinary proceedings, he acknowledged he did not notify Mustin, the probate court, Allstate, or the OVCCP of his suspension.

Mustin learned of Sarver’s suspension in February 2019, when an OVCCP representative called her to discuss her case and informed her that he no longer could work with Sarver because Sarver’s law license had been suspended. 

Mustin stated that not only had Sarver failed to tell her about the suspension, she never gave him permission to sign her name on any documents or the settlement check.

The Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint in June 2019 with the Board of Professional Conduct, charging Sarver with several violations of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys. The disciplinary counsel maintained that Sarver filed a false affidavit of compliance with the Supreme Court, failed to notify relevant parties of his suspension, practiced law while under suspension, and committed other violations while practicing law under suspension.

Supreme Court Considered Sanction Sarver and the disciplinary counsel recommended to the board that Sarver receive an indefinite suspension. The board recommended Sarver be permanently disbarred. Sarver objected to the recommended sanction of disbarment. The disciplinary counsel stood by its recommendation of indefinite suspension, but told the Court that permanent disbarment is not unwarranted because Sarver’s misconduct in Mustin’s case occurred while he was suspended from practicing law.

Justice Fischer wrote that the “recency and severity of Sarver’s disciplinary history cannot be overlooked.” 

The majority opinion stated that Sarver, in his first disciplinary matter, labeled Sarver 1 by the Court, “committed some of the most egregious and disturbing violations of attorney misconduct, short of a violent felony offense — violating and abusing the attorney-client relationship and deceiving members of the judiciary.”

The Court believed that Sarver was trying to “wait out” the six months of actual time not practicing under the suspension by securing and using the Mustin settlement funds during his suspension. His plan was to then resume his representation after his suspension was over, “clearly thinking that no one would be the wiser,” the Court said.

The opinion noted the two-year suspension with 18 months stayed imposed in Sarver 1 was intended to protect the public and give Sarver the opportunity to be reinstated to the practice of law with the shortest suspension that could be imposed under the circumstances. Despite this sanction, Sarver immediately proceeded to violate the professional conduct rules by engaging in “a pattern of deceit and misrepresentation involving a grieving and vulnerable mother,” the opinion stated. 

“Integrity is a necessary characteristic for an attorney practicing law in Ohio, and Sarver does not possess this qualification,” the opinion stated.

The Court concluded that disbarment was necessary to protect the public from future harm.

2020-0229. Disciplinary Counsel v. Sarver, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-5478.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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Former Prosecutor and Police Chief Sentenced for Framing Their Relative with a Crime to Conceal Their Own Fraud

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

Monday, November 30, 2020

Former Prosecutor and Police Chief Sentenced for Framing Their Relative with a Crime to Conceal Their Own Fraud

Special Attorneys Michael Wheat (619) 546-8437, Joseph Orabona (619) 546-7951, Janaki Chopra (619) 546-8817, and Colin McDonald (619) 546-9144

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – November 30, 2020

HONOLULU, Hawaii – Former prosecutor Katherine Kealoha and former police chief Louis Kealoha were sentenced during separate hearings in federal court today to 13 years and seven years in prison, respectively, following a number of convictions, including conspiring to frame a relative with a crime to conceal their own fraud.

Chief U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright of the District of Hawaii also ordered the Kealohas to pay $454,984.78 and $237,698.56, respectively, in restitution to their victims, and ordered forfeiture of property representing proceeds of fraud, including the Kealohas’ former home in Honolulu, a Rolex watch, and $228,746.79. Katherine Kealoha is already in custody; Louis Kealoha was ordered to report to prison on April 12, 2021.

Judge Seabright rebuked the Kealohas for their “grotesque deprivation of civil rights,” which “staggered the community in many ways” and had “truly shaken confidence in our governing institutions.” He further remarked that “the Kealohas used their power to nurture, feed, and conceal their corrupt activity.”

The sentences imposed today mark the end of a series of criminal cases against the Kealohas. In June 2019, after six weeks of trial and one day of deliberation, a federal jury in Honolulu convicted the Honolulu power couple and Honolulu police officers Derek Hahn and Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen of conspiracy and attempted obstruction of justice pertaining to the false arrest and prosecution of Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana. The evidence at trial established that the Kealohas used their considerable power, including commandeering the Honolulu Police Department’s elite Criminal Intelligence Unit, to frame Gerard with stealing their mailbox. To accomplish this, the conspirators prepped the mailbox to be “stolen,” selectively edited grainy surveillance video to conceal their preparatory acts, falsely identified Gerard as the culprit captured by the video, falsified police reports, withheld and destroyed evidence, and repeatedly lied about their activity to investigators, the federal grand jury, and the District Court for the District of Hawaii.

The Kealohas’ motive for framing Gerard was to discredit and intimidate him after he accused Katherine Kealoha of fraud. Trial evidence established that Katherine stole over $200,000 from him and Katherine’s elderly grandmother, Florence Puana. Acting as her grandmother’s “attorney,” Katherine convinced Florence—who was 89 years old at the time—to place a reverse mortgage on Florence’s family home. Katherine promised Florence that she would pay off the reverse mortgage after using some of the proceeds to consolidate the Kealohas’ debt. Instead, unbeknownst to Florence, Katherine funneled the reverse mortgage proceeds into a bank account that Katherine controlled. And within seven months, the Kealohas drained the account dry—spending over $148,000 on various personal expenses, including mortgage payments, Elton John concert tickets, Mercedes and Maserati car payments, a trip to Disneyland, and a $23,976 brunch tab at the Sheraton Waikiki to celebrate Louis Kealoha’s induction as Honolulu Police Chief in 2009. In the meantime, Katherine made no payments on the reverse mortgage, allowed the balance to balloon out of control, and diverted mortgage statements away from Florence’s mailbox to keep Florence from finding out. Once Florence did find out—almost a year and a half later—she was forced to sell her family home.

After they learned of the missing money and ballooning mortgage, Florence and Gerard confronted Katherine Kealoha about her actions. Katherine responded indignantly, threatening in a letter to seek “the highest form of legal retribution against ANYONE and EVERYONE who has written or verbally uttered those LIES about me!” True to her word, after Florence and Gerard filed a civil lawsuit against her, Katherine attempted to have Florence declared legally incompetent, and Katherine and her co-conspirators had Gerard arrested for a crime he did not commit. At Gerard’s theft trial, Louis Kealoha testified falsely that Gerard was the person displayed taking the mailbox in the grainy surveillance video. “That’s what makes this case so shocking: this could not have succeeded but for you and your position,” Judge Seabright told Louis Kealoha.

“Today, after years of manipulating the levers of justice to shroud their own crimes, justice was delivered to two corrupt public officials,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “This was a flagrant and stunning abuse of power that victimized an entire community by undermining public confidence in its leaders and the rule of law. If not for the initial dogged investigation by former First Assistant Federal Defender Alexander Silvert, who brought this matter to the attention of federal authorities, followed by incredible work by FBI agents and prosecutors Michael Wheat, Joseph Orabona, Janaki Chopra and Colin McDonald, the Kealohas would still be manipulating justice, not meeting it.”

“Our citizens entrust public servants with great powers and authorities. It is our responsibility to serve our community with integrity and authenticity – with truth and justice as our hallmark,” said Special Agent in Charge Eli S. Miranda. “The Kealohas betrayed this trust for their own selfish entitlements, using deception and breaking the same laws they swore to uphold. The FBI will enthusiastically continue to investigate any corrupt public official who willfully and maliciously abuse their office.”

Today’s sentences also accounted for separate crimes committed by the Kealohas. In October 2019, Katherine pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony after using her position of authority within the city prosecutor’s office to actively conceal the drug distribution activities of her brother, Rudolph B. Puana, an anesthesiologist in Hawaii. In her plea agreement, Katherine admitted she arranged to have herself assigned as the prosecutor overseeing the investigation of her brother’s co-conspirators and that she cultivated a close relationship with one co-conspirator—a defendant Katherine was then prosecuting—to reduce the likelihood that the individual would reveal Rudolph Puana’s role in the drug conspiracy. “I always got ur back, I love you and will protect you always!!!” read one private text message Katherine sent to the defendant she was prosecuting. “GO TEAM!!! Can’t wait for this s*** to be over,” read another, to which the defendant replied, “Ditto[.] Then we’re free[.]”

Finally, in October 2019, the Kealohas pleaded guilty to bank fraud. As part of their pleas, the Kealohas admitted that between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2014, they spent more than $591,000 derived from stolen funds or loan proceeds obtained through fraud. Their bank fraud scheme included falsely claiming assets that belonged to others (including money belonging to children over whom Katherine had been appointed guardian), falsely inflating their monthly income, and falsely denying derogatory information on their credit. To legitimize their denial of poor credit, the Kealohas submitted a forged police report in loan applications that purported to document Katherine’s false claims of identity theft. The act of forging the police officer’s signature on the report was itself identity theft, for which Katherine pleaded guilty. Katherine further admitted using an alias “Alison Lee Wong” to facilitate the bank fraud. This alias also played a role in Gerard Puana’s claims of fraud. As evidence at trial established, in 2009, Katherine used the “Wong” alias to notarize and create a fraudulent trust in Gerard’s name. And in 2008, under the customer name “Kathryn Aloha,” Katherine ordered a notary seal for “Alison Lee Wong” from the American Association of Notaries and had it mailed to the State of Hawaii’s Office of Environmental Quality Control, where Katherine served as Director. As Judge Seabright stated today, Katherine “perverted justice over and over and over and over again.”

The Kealohas’ co-conspirators, Derek Wayne Hahn and Bobby Nguyen, are scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2020 for their involvement in framing Gerard Puana. Katherine Kealoha’s brother, Rudolph B. Puana, is currently facing drug distribution and firearm charges, and is scheduled for trial in April 2021.


Katherine P. Kealoha                          Age: 50                       Honolulu, Hawaii

Louis M. Kealoha                               Age: 60                       Honolulu, Hawaii


Katherine Kealoha                          

CR No. 17-00582-JMS-WRP

Conspiracy to Commit Offenses Against the United States – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371

Maximum penalty: Five years in prison, $250,000 fine

Obstruction of Official Proceeding – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1512(c) (three counts)

Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison, $250,000 fine

CR No. 18-00068-JMS-WRP

Bank Fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344

Maximum Penalty: Thirty years in prison, $1 million fine

Aggravated Identity Theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A

Maximum Penalty: Mandatory term of imprisonment of two years, to be served consecutive to the sentence imposed for any underlying charge; fine of up to $250,000

CR No. 19-00015 JMS-WRP

Misprision of Felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 4

Maximum Penalty: Three years in prison; fine of up to $250,000;

Louis Kealoha                                  

CR No. 17-00582-JMS-WRP

Conspiracy to Commit Offenses Against the United States – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371

Maximum penalty: Five years in prison, $250,000 fine

Obstruction of Official Proceeding – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1512(c) (three counts)

Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison, $250,000 fine

CR No. 18-00068-JMS-WRP

Bank Fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344

Maximum Penalty: Thirty years in prison, $1 million fine


Federal Bureau of Investigation

Honolulu, Portland, and San Diego Divisions

Public Corruption
Press Release Number: 
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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Nursing home residents’ rights

Residents of nursing homes are sometimes under the impression that they have lost their constitutional rights and privileges when they move into a facility. They may feel as though they haven’t any choices, or say in the care that they receive. All residents have rights that are protected by the law. Even individuals that have been placed in a home under guardianship have rights. Now, because of Covid19 restrictions and regulations, residents may be even more confused about what rights they have. Residents in long term care facilities still have rights. Nothing has changed that.

The State of Oklahoma Long Term Care Ombudsman Program works to ensure that the rights of nursing home residents are protected. The Long Term Care Authority of Enid, Area Agency on Aging, Ombudsman Supervisors Julie Torson and David Huff assist residents in Garfield County, as well as Kingfisher, Blaine, Major, Alfalfa, Grant, Kay and Noble counties. They help individuals in Nursing Homes, Assisted Living and Residential Care Facilities to resolve any complaints or concerns they may have. They ensure these individuals are aware of their rights and make sure the facilities uphold the law and rights of these individuals.

The following is a partial list of residents’ rights in long term care facilities:

• Residents should be treated with dignity, courtesy and respect.

• Residents have the right to privacy when receiving care. Staff should knock before entering the room.

• Residents have the freedom to accept or refuse treatment. They should receive care in a timely manner and have requests addressed promptly.

• Residents should be able to choose a personal physician and/or pharmacy. They should have access to their medical records and be made aware of any changes. They have the right to participate in care plan meetings.

• Residents should be able to visit with guests privately. This includes electronic visits, outdoor visits and phone calls. Socially distant visits are required now because of Covid19.

• Residents have the right to participate in activities of their choice. When residents are unable to attend group activities, they should receive accommodating activities, on an individual basis.

• Residents have the right to vote and receive mail unopened.

• Residents have the right to make personal choices including food and clothing choices.

• They should be able keep and use personal possessions and be able to have a locked space for valuables.

• Residents have the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical and mental abuse. They should be free from corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion and the use of restraints.

Julie Torson and David Huff can be reached at Long Term Care Authority of Enid, Area Agency on Aging at 580-237-2236. Their office is located at 202 W. Broadway, Suite A, Enid, OK 73701. If you or a loved one live in a Long Term Care Facility and have questions about Residents’ Rights, please contact your Ombudsman.

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Priority of Appointments and Independent Guardians/Conservators: Where the Smiths & Alexanders Went Wrong, and Right

by Russell Smith

While the saga of the Smiths & Alexanders might seem too much to be real, the circumstances in which Johnny’s children, Randall and Twyla, sought an independent conservator and guardian for him are not uncommon. Moira, Johnny’s wife and his children’s step-mother (or not, as it turns out), controlled Johnny’s wealth and health in a way that did not sit right with his children. Where one family member improperly handles the care and finances of another, the appropriate remedy is often to seek appointment of a guardian or conservator.

In this case, Randall and Twyla had standing to file petitions for guardianship and conservatorship of Johnny because, as his children, they have an interest in his welfare, estate, and/or affairs. The statutory definition for an “interested person” who may file such petitions, provided in Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 190B, § 5-404, is deliberately broad and can include friends, family, romantic partners, and various agencies.

While there is a broad range of petitioners who may apply, priority as to who is appointed may be better defined. A valid, executed power of attorney or health care proxy may include a nomination giving the holder of that power priority to be appointed as conservator or guardian. (Note: there are separate rules for priority of appointment for guardianship of a minor.) It is also possible for a parent or spouse to nominate a guardian for their child or incapacitated spouse by Will or other writing.

Here, Johnny and Moira’s unexecuted powers of attorney, if they included such nominations, would not be sufficient to establish priority (although counsel may argue that even unexecuted, these documents reflect their intentions). Had those documents been executed, Moira would have benefitted from the presumption that she should be appointed if nominated; and Randall and Twyla would have the burden to prove that she was unqualified to serve or should not be appointed for some other good cause.

Instead, absent a formal nomination, the Court would consider other individuals with statutory priority. Those priorities differ, in some ways, for guardianship and conservatorship, but ultimately consist of persons formally nominated in a writing (with certain requirements), spouses, family members, and any person the Court deems appropriate. The Court may also, and often will, consider the stated preference of the protected person if they have capacity to state a preference.

In the case of the Smiths & Alexanders, Moira, although not a spouse nor a family member, would be a potential candidate for appointment (and could petition herself for appointment) based on her relationship with Johnny. However, a serious conflict between multiple interested parties – i.e., a romantic partner or spouse and a protected person’s children, like the one here — will often (but not always) end with the appointment of an independent conservator and/or independent guardian. These are almost always professionals, as opposed to “neutral” family members. Either or both of the parties may suggest individuals to be appointed as independent guardian/conservator, or they will be drawn off “the list” of available attorneys kept by each Probate and Family Court.

However, not every dispute rises to the level that an independent conservator and/or independent guardian is necessary. Assessing whether a family dispute rises to that level requires experience, careful consideration of the facts and applicable law. In most cases, it is worth making that assessment and discussing neutral appointments with your counsel before filing, since the petition will identify who the petitioner wants to be appointed. That nomination can include specific interested persons, specific independent persons, unidentified “some suitable person”, or an unidentified but independent guardian or conservator. While it might seem self-defeating, there are a host of strategic reasons why an independent fiduciary might be advantageous.

In Randall and Twyla’s case, their petition included requests for an independent conservator and independent guardian – a decision that may have been strategically advantageous by giving them the opportunity to suggest who the independent fiduciaries should be (and thereby suggest known, trustworthy professionals) while also signaling to the Court that they are not interested in Johnny’s money or control over his life (and therefore are not the “bad guys”), unlike Moira. It also helps ensure that Johnny’s estate will be managed professionally by someone with experience in handling significant assets. This good impression and focus on Johnny’s protection may pay dividends down the road for Randall and Twyla.

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