Saturday, December 19, 2020

Family speaks after former Limestone County judge who stole from them for years was convicted

by: Ethan Fitzgerald

LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala – Last week former Limestone County judge, Douglas Patterson was sentenced to 4-years in prison for several ethics-related charges. As part of the conviction, Patterson is being ordered to pay just under $73,000 in restitution to three different parties.

Jessica Hardy is owed $25,000 after her father’s conservatorship account was drained of roughly $47,000 dollars. Hardy says another judge gave control of the conservatorship to Patterson. Court documents show Patterson took money from the account over the course of 6 years.

“I wanted to see everything. I saw all these withdrawals. One day he took a total of $6,000 in one day,” said Jessica Hardy, who contemplated legal action before the Alabama Attorney Generals Office stepped in.

“I was like, Momma, I’m poor. I can’t afford no lawyer. I can’t go against no judge,” said Hardy when her disabled mother urged Jessica to find answers.

For Hardy, the situation only got worse when she made a call to the hospital to see if she could visit her dying father, a former marine.

“The nurse was like, ‘Well, Doug Patterson told me he didn’t have any family.’ I was like, ‘What!?'” said Hardy.

Eventually, Hardy heard from the Attorney General’s office.

“It felt like weight lifted off of me,” said Hardy.

It’s not clear if the Hardy’s will ever see $25,000 from Patterson or his family. One thing is clear, had the money never left the Hardy’s account, things today would be a whole lot easier.

“We are staying in a hotel because of this COVID situation. I had lost my job,” said Hardy.

Last week, when Patterson was hauled away to start serving his prison sentence, he shared a few words with reporters.

“I’m sorry for everything I did, I’m sorry for all the hurt I caused. I stick to that. I’m very sorry,” said Patterson.

Despite all that has happened to the Hardy’s, Jessica says she has forgiven the former judge.

“It’s the only way I can release myself. And feel good about myself because I can’t carry that hate,” said Hardy.

Patterson also wrote upwards of 70 checks to himself. Taking money from the Limestone County Juvenile Court Services Fund for several years.

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Disbarred Edmonton lawyer faces possible jail time

Shawn Beaver will be sentenced before Christmas for contempt of court

 
by Janice Johnston

Shawn Beaver is expected to be sentenced for contempt of court before Christmas. (J. Penner Photo Co.)

The Law Society of Alberta wants disbarred Edmonton lawyer Shawn Beaver sent to jail for one year for what it calls "egregious and flagrant" misconduct.

Beaver's lawyer has asked Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice John Rooke to consider community service and impose a fine instead.

Rooke will issue his written decision on sentencing before Christmas.

Beaver was disbarred in February 2017 after the Law Society of Alberta found he had stolen from clients' trust accounts. While the case was still being considered, the court issued an injunction prohibiting Beaver from doing any legal work.

In May 2020, Rooke determined Beaver had deliberately violated the injunction by using another lawyer as a shield to secretly practise law. He found Beaver guilty of contempt of court.

In a written sentencing submission to the court, the law society's Sharon Heine argued that Beaver also provided covert legal services to two of his friends and once even went to court to support a friend who was criminally charged.

Heine also noted that just a week after Beaver was found guilty of contempt in May 2020, he posted an ad on Kijiji titled, "Legal instruction from the best."

After the law society raised concerns, Beaver deleted the ad.

"To this date, Beaver refuses to accept that he is not entitled to practise law," Heine said in the submission. "The suggestion that financial desperation justifies a lack of compliance with the injunction order is a theme repeated by Beaver throughout these proceedings."

The law society argued that Beaver only apologized to the court after he was found guilty of contempt. It calls Beaver's apology "parsed and qualified,"noting he avoided making any specific admissions of wrongdoing or taking personal responsibility for his actions.

"It is the LSA's position that Beaver's apology is too little, too late," the court document states.

'Incarceration is a last resort'

A written sentencing submission from Beaver's lawyer Simon Renouf suggests Beaver had a turning point in late August 2020 when the law society was insisting on a jail term.

"Incarceration is a last resort," Renouf wrote. "He has made promises for the future and should be given that opportunity. He is of good character as shown by the evidence."

He argued that Beaver's apology was complete and straightforward, along with his promise to no longer practise law.

To support his sentencing submissions, Renouf presented eight letters written by Beaver's recent paralegal students at CDI College in Edmonton.

"We like Shawn and his teaching style. He knows the law and has a passion for it. He taught us to respect the law and its terms," one letter states.

Two of Beaver's adult daughters also submitted affidavits that were entered as exhibits, but they were not allowed to testify or be cross-examined at the sentencing hearing.

Erin Beaver defends her father, but not his past actions.

My father has made a tragic mistake
- Erin Beaver
Associate Chief Justice John Rooke
 will release his sentencing decision
 later this month. (Alberta Law Society)
"My father made a tragic mistake in a portion of his life and career and he never sugar-coated it to me," Erin Beaver wrote in her sworn affidavit.

"He was left completely alone, and had no one, an empty wallet and a damaged reputation. The image in my head is a man being repeatedly kicked to the ground after a mistake he had made, given no ability to come out strong."

She begged the judge not to imprison her father.

"Leave him where he is needed with his family," she wrote. "Leave him where he belongs to work, in order to repay his debts. Putting him away will only delay this."

Those concerns were echoed by Beaver's lawyer who suggested that sending him to jail would lead to financial collapse for the family and the removal of lawful employment.

Beaver did not respond to a request from CBC for an interview.

He will find out in the next two weeks if he can spend Christmas with his family or in jail.

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State May Require Cameras In Group Homes

by Susan K. Livio

EDISON, N.J. — William Cray was found dead on the floor of his bedroom closet in a group home in Somers Point three years ago.

His mother said she’ll never know what happened to her son, a 33-year-old man with developmental disabilities. The autopsy said he died of natural causes. The operators of the state-licensed group home, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, didn’t say much, although she had been at odds with them in recent months over Billy’s unexplained bruises and other injuries.

Martha Cray asked a New Jersey Assembly panel last week to spare other families this fear and uncertainty by supporting legislation that would require the installation of security cameras if residents or their guardians give consent. She noted her son had suffered abuse in other licensed facilities, and when she complained and demanded an investigation, the claims were always “unsubstantiated.”

“What exactly is the purpose of having a Department of Health and (a Department of) Human Services if they don’t oversee these facilities and hold them accountable?” she said.

Following an emotional three-hour hearing, the Assembly Human Services Committee agreed and voted 6-0 to pass the bill (A4013).

The bill requires the group home to retain the video recordings for 90 days, and the state Department of Human Services to list the names of group homes that have cameras on the state website. The bill, which was amended before the vote, makes clear the cameras would be installed in common areas — including backyards and doorways — and only if all of the residents agree they want them.

“The loss of a child, is best described as a state of purgatory and hell wrapped up in one,” Cray said as she wept. “The families who are testifying before this committee today that are feeling the stress of sleepless nights, is a fraction of the pain and stress they will have, should they lose their loved.”

Priscilla Quesada of East Windsor, the mother of a 21-year-old nonverbal son with autism who lives in a group home, said she believes cameras would help keep her son safe. She showed photographs of bruises around her son’s neck and rug burn on his face, among other injuries.

“No one knew or could give me an explanation on how these incidents occurred,” said Quesada, who described the guilt she feels as a “bad mother” for leaving her son in group care.

Representatives from the group home industry asked the committee to vote no and consider how cameras in common areas like living rooms would violate the residents’ privacy.

Cathy Chin, executive director for the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities, shared with the committee a research paper that found cameras in homes of people with intellectual disabilities raises the level of distrust from employees and give families a false sense of security.

Brent A. Hayward from the Office of Health and Human Services of Victoria, Australia, after reviewing 43 research papers on the subject, concluded: “it was disliked by people with disabilities and was regarded with suspicion by staff. Functionality was limited and the ethical challenges associated with its deployment are considerable.”

At a time when budgets are stretched to acquire personal protective equipment to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, “cameras are a waste of resources,” Chin said.

Evelyn Ramundo, president of the Statewide Self-Advocacy Network, an organization comprised of people with disabilities, said she surveyed her members and the “vast majority” opposed the idea of living under surveillance.

The bill “does not say who will be able to review the recordings,” Ramundo said. “Can you imagine being watched in your own bedroom or living room? The thought frightened me.”

“Cameras do not stop abuse or neglect,” she added. “Cameras cannot stop it when someone is choking.”

Assembly Human Services Chairwoman Joann Downey, D-Monmouth, who is also the prime sponsor of the bill, stressed that everyone living in the group home must consent to the use of cameras in the common areas. If anyone says no, they would not be installed. Residents could request them for their bedroom — paid for by the resident’s family — but if it is a shared space, there needs to be consent by everyone sharing the room.

Downey said she was “really kind of upset” because it appeared the self-advocates “were fed information” that wasn’t true.

“We’ve gone through every particular thing to make sure this balances privacy and protecting people,” Downey said. “If they don’t want it, they don’t have to have it.”

Downey added that some group homes use cameras with great success because they protect both residents and staff, who otherwise may be falsely accused of wrongdoing.

Jessica Gustafson, a former Devereux employee who said she was warned by management that Billy Cray had a habit of falsely accusing staff of abuse, said she came to know him well and witnessed his mistreatment.

There is no reason employees should object to cameras unless they have something to hide, Gustafson told the committee.

“Cameras should be installed in every hospital, nursing and group home in America,” Gustafson said. “While abuse may never go away completely, cameras would definitely decrease the amount of abuse. The men and women that have to live in a group home have the right to feel safe.”

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Friday, December 18, 2020

After lying about thousands of patients’ life expectancy, hospice care owner sentenced to prison, $120M fine

by Kate Winkle


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A hospice care owner told thousands of people they had less than six months to live, enrolled them in hospice programs and even sent chaplains to some of them to receive last rites. He lied, a federal jury in McAllen determined in November 2019. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $120 million in restitution on Wednesday.

The people Rodney Mesquias, 48, of San Antonio, defrauded included patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to a release from the Department of Justice. Mesquias was CEO of the Merida Group, a health care company that had dozens of locations throughout Texas.

“Mesquias funded his lavish lifestyle by exploiting patients with long-term, incurable diseases by enrolling them in expensive but unnecessary hospice services,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. According to a DOJ release, he used the money to buy a Porsche, expensive jewelry and luxury clothing, real estate and tickets for sporting events. It said he held “lavish parties” at Las Vegas night clubs and invited doctors who later gave him “medically unnecessary patient referrals.”

Mesquias was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to obstruct justice, six counts of health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks. A man officials describe as a “co-conspirator,” Henry McInnis, 48, was convicted on all but the kickbacks charges.

According to Special Agent in Charge Miranda L. Bennett, Mesquias paid kickbacks to physicians, falsified medical records and enrolled patients in “hospice care that prevented them from accessing curative care.” Bennett works for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s Dallas Region.

Officials say the scheme involved $150 million in false claims between 2009 and 2018.

“Hospice services require patients to be suffering from a terminal illness expected to result in death within six months. Not only were patients not in such circumstances, they were walking, driving, working and even coaching athletic sporting events in some instances,” a DOJ release said. “However, Mesquias and others kept patients on services for multiple years in order to increase revenue.”

The DOJ says his case was one of the first criminal hospice fraud prosecutions it had brought to a federal jury. McInnis will be sentenced at a later date, according to a release, and two other co-conspirators have pleaded guilty and are waiting to be sentenced. Francisco Peña, 82, of Laredo, acted as a medical director for Merida Group and was mayor of Rio Bravo when he also pleaded guilty to charges, according to KXAN sister station KVEO. He died in November 2019.

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Family convicted Alabama judge stole $25,000 from: ‘I’m poor....I can’t go against no judge’

Doug Patterson, the former Limestone County district judge, was sentenced on Dec. 8, 2020 to four years in prison.

By William Thornton

A Limestone County woman says she has forgiven a convicted judge who still owes $25,000 from her father’s conservatorship account.

“It’s the only way I can release myself,” Jessica Hardy told WHNT.

Doug Patterson, a former Limestone County district judge, was sentenced last week to four years in prison. Patterson, 38, pleaded guilty in October to felony charges of using his position for personal gain, financial exploitation of the elderly and theft.

Hardy’s conservatorship account had roughly $47,000 dollars siphoned off over a six-year period, including $6,000 in one day, the station reported. Patterson already repaid about $22,000 of the money that was stolen from Hardy’s father, the veteran Charles Hardy, who has since died.
 

And that’s not all. Hardy told the station that complications continued when she made a call to the hospital to see if she could visit her dying father, a former marine.

“The nurse was like, ‘Well, Doug Patterson told me he didn’t have any family.’ I was like, ‘What!?’” Hardy said.

Her disabled mother suggested she search for answers. “I was like, Momma, I’m poor. I can’t afford no lawyer. I can’t go against no judge,” Hardy said. Eventually, she heard from the Attorney General’s office.

Patterson stole nearly $73,000 from a juvenile court fund and two of his former legal clients. Prosecutors said he wrote 70 checks to himself from the court fund, which he oversaw as a district judge. He has been ordered to repay the stolen money by Dec. 1, 2029 — about five years after he is to be released from prison.

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See Also: 
 

Molino Man Charged With Neglect Of Elderly Woman After DUI, Hit And Run Arrest

A Molino mas has been charged with neglecting an elderly woman in his care after he was arrested for driving under the influence.
 
Nathan Dwight Pettis, 49, was charged with neglect of an elderly disabled adult,  hit-and-run and DUI.

On December 5, Pettis was involved in a hit and run crash on I-10 at Highway 29, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. His truck entered another lane and collided with another vehicle before driving away.  FHP troopers were able to stop his truck a short time later, and found Pettis smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and could not keep his balance.  Pettis was jailed about 7 p.m. Saturday for DUI.

A family member heard that Pettis had been arrested and went to check on the elderly woman. Pettis is her sole caregiver, according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, and he did not alert anyone at the jail to check on the woman because he was in jail.

Sunday, the woman was transported to a local hospital by Escambia County EMS after she was found alone and sick at her Pettis’ home. She was in a recliner, had soiled herself, and she was unable to reach her walker. She had not had food or water for about 24 hours, according to the arrest report.

The responding deputy wrote that the victim “talked softly and was still confused about what was happening to her”.

Pettis remained in the Escambia County Jail Tuesday morning with bond set at $7,250.

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Nurse’s aide accused of stealing $27K from elderly Jacksonville Beach woman


JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla.
– A nurse’s aide is accused of stealing at least $27,000 from an elderly Jacksonville Beach woman who she was taking care of.

According to Jacksonville Beach police, Stephanie Cerrillo, 37, became friends with Carolyn Chelette, 78, while Chelette was in a physical rehabilitation center in July. Chelette told News4Jax that Cerrillo was one of several nurse’s aides who tended to her needs.

“They came in and help me shower. I wasn’t allowed to get out of the bed at first,” Chelette said. “She would come in and she was so helpful.”

Cerrillo agreed to help Chelette with in-home care when Chelette was discharged and eventually convinced Chelette to loan her money, police said. According to an arrest report and Chelette, Cerrillo told Chelette that she was a single mother of four and was no longer working at the rehab center because she was providing assistance to the 78-year-old and needed the money for a car payment, student loan payment and other needs. Cerrillo said she would pay it back, police said.

“She came up with $800 worth, so I told her I would cover that for her until she got back on her feet,” Chelette said.

Chelette said she developed a level of trust in Cerrillo, who began doing her grocery shopping.

“She said, ‘You make a list and I will pick up your stuff for you.’ So I would give her authorization to use my card to buy my groceries or to do this or that,” Chelette said.

But Chelette told police she thinks Cerrillo took a photo of her debit card and used it repeatedly for the next several months. In October, Chelette learned her bank account had been “drained” of $27,000, police said.

“I was overdrawn, so then I was afraid to write a check because I was afraid she was sending more things through that would make me more overdrawn,” said Chelette, who told News4Jax she is now fighting with the credit union to recoup her money and it has been an uphill battle.

Investigators said they documented dozens of ATM withdrawals and reviewed surveillance video of Cerrillo making those withdrawals.

Cerrillo is charged with elderly exploitation and credit card fraud.

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Charges dismissed for woman accused of stealing from fund

WAILUKU — A Maui woman charged with illegally taking money from a fund set up for the care of her daughter has been ordered to repay a bank nearly $173,000.

Prosecutors said Elizabeth Gentile forged an attorney’s signature and stole money from a bank conservatorship account set up for the care of her daughter from June 2011 to May 2013, the Maui News reported.

“Nineteen times she forged her daughter’s attorney’s name as a signature on withdrawal slips,” said Deputy Prosecutor Justine Hura at sentencing. “Nineteen times she submitted these forged withdrawal slips to the bank. And 19 times she used these illegal withdrawals to move her daughter’s protected money to her own account.”

Gentile withdrew amounts ranging from $4,000 to $21,000, Hura said.

Gentile’s daughter’s attorney discovered unauthorized activity on May 3, 2013, and reported it.

Gentile pleaded no contest to theft, contempt of court and 19 counts of forgery. Prosecutors in a plea agreement did not seek prison time or oppose Gentile’s request for a chance to avoid conviction if she complies with court requirements over five years. Pursuant to Hawaii law, the court deferred further proceedings pending her completion of terms imposed by the judge. The record reflects that charges were ultimately dismissed, effective October 2019.

Gentile’s daughter, a second-grader in 2004, broke her right femur in a fall on May 21, 2004, on a wet cafeteria floor at Haiku Elementary School. She was left permanently disabled and unable to walk.

Gentile sued, claiming the girl was pushed. The lawsuit said school officials knew she suffered from juvenile arthritis and did not properly supervise the girl.

School officials had a plan in place to allow the girl to go to lunch early, but on the day she fell, a substitute teacher was supervising the class.

A judge in August 2009 after a nonjury trial ordered the state to pay $787,397 to the girl and $100,000 to her mother.

Territorial Savings Bank opened a conservatorship to hold the money awarded to the girl. The bank was ordered to restore the account. Gentile was ordered to pay restitution to the bank, Hura said.

The bank sought “a substantial prison term” for Gentile at her Oct. 30 sentencing.

———

This story was first published on Nov. 10, 2014. It was updated on Dec. 14, 2020, to correct that a Maui woman was not convicted of financial crimes. She pleaded no contest to the charges and, pursuant to Hawaii law, the court deferred further proceedings pending her completion of terms imposed by the judge. The record reflects that charges were ultimately dismissed, effective October 2019.

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"Choose Your Elder Abuse Topic" with Paul Greenwood

We’re excited to announce that Paul Greenwood, the Elder Justice Lunch & Learn Keynote Speaker, will be joining us for round two on January 21, 2021. With Paul’s vast knowledge base and expertise in Elder Abuse Investigation and Prosecution, there is so much we’d love to hear him discuss. But we want YOU to decide by choosing your own adventure! Out of the three elder abuse topics below, what do you want to hear Paul talk about?

● Dissecting Elder Financial Exploitation – When it’s Not “Just a Civil Matter”
● Combatting Elder Abuse: Building a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
● Spotlight on Elder Abuse: Pulling This Crime Out of the Shadows

Cast your vote here: https://bit.ly/ChooseYourElderAbuseTopic and then register here: https://bit.ly/JanuaryRegistration to secure your spot for this free, virtual, one of a kind event. But don’t wait too long! While registration will be open until the day of the event, voting ends on December 31st.

We can't wait to announce the topic and Lunch & Learn with you again in the New Year!

Full Article & Source:

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

As Hospitals Fear Being Overwhelmed By COVID-19, Do The Disabled Get The Same Access?

by Joseph Shapiro
 

Kimberly Conger, Sarah McSweeney's nurse at her group home, shows a photo of McSweeney on her phone. She says McSweeney was outgoing and fun: "She absolutely adored going into malls and getting her makeup done and getting her hair done."

Celeste Noche for NPR

On the morning of April 21, Sarah McSweeney woke up with a temperature of 103 degrees — and it kept rising. Staff at her group home worried that the woman with multiple disabilities — she couldn't walk or speak words — had contracted COVID-19. They got her into her bright pink wheelchair and hurried to the hospital, just a block down the street from the group home in Oregon City, Ore.

That afternoon, Heidi Barnett got a phone call from the doctor in the emergency room.

He was puzzled, she says, by a one-page document that McSweeney's caregivers brought with her. It was a legal document that explained what medical care this disabled woman — who couldn't speak for herself — wanted.

"We had her at full code. So all treatment. Because she was young and vibrant and had a great life," says Barnett. "And that was her wishes, that's what we gathered from her. She wanted to be alive."

Barnett works for The Arc Oregon, the agency that was McSweeney's guardian. She had helped McSweeney fill out that document, called a POLST form, for a moment just like this. 

It's normal for a doctor to want to understand a patient's wishes. However, Barnett, who kept daily notes on her conversations with medical workers about McSweeney, felt the doctor was challenging the order.

"They wanted it to be a DNR," says Barnett.

A Do Not Resuscitate Order is a medical order to doctors not to treat a patient — like McSweeney — if she stops breathing or her heart stops.

That emergency room doctor would be the first at the hospital to raise a question that would shadow decisions about McSweeney's care over nearly three weeks at the hospital: Why does a woman with significant and complex disabilities have a legal order that requires the hospital to take all measures to save her life?

McSweeney was 45 when she died on May 10. Her death would raise another question, one that people with disabilities and the elderly have worried about since the start of the coronavirus pandemic: Are they denied care when it gets scarce — like drugs or treatment, including ventilators — that might save their lives?

An NPR investigation looked into McSweeney's death and about a dozen reports of discrimination in Oregon: Of doctors and hospitals denying equipment like ventilators; insisting that an elderly or disabled person sign a DNR — maybe when they couldn't understand it and in the middle of a crisis — or even denying a COVID-19 test.

These decisions are made behind closed doors, NPR found, and as a result are little known and little understood. McSweeney's case offers a rare look at how those decisions are made.

When people met Sarah McSweeney they saw different things.

Most saw what she couldn't do. McSweeney had quadriplegia, cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Because she couldn't walk, or even use her hands, someone had to push her in her wheelchair.

Because she couldn't speak words, she communicated by making sounds and gestures.

Because she couldn't eat solid foods, someone fed her a supplement of nutrients through a tube to her stomach.

A smaller number of people, but the ones who knew her best, saw something different. They saw what was possible for McSweeney. They saw the choices she made and the things she did.

"She absolutely adored going into malls and getting her makeup done. And getting her hair done and doing typically girly stuff that girls like to do — get pedicures and manicures," says Kimberly Conger, the nurse manager for Community Access Services, or CAS, the nonprofit agency that provided services and ran the group home where McSweeney lived.

Kimberly Conger, the nurse manager for McSweeney's group home, objected when a doctor said the disabled woman needed to be on a ventilator but then questioned her quality of life: "I feel like they didn't feel like she was worth that."

Celeste Noche for NPR

She loved country music, especially Kenny Chesney, whose poster she had on the wall of her room. She enjoyed when her staff took her to country music concerts — she'd met Tim McGraw twice — and to country bars to watch people in boots and denim do the flips and swing of country dancing.

The people who worked with her enjoyed her vivacious personality. She smiled and laughed and loved to make others smile and laugh. There's a picture of McSweeney sticking out her tongue and laughing at the camera. Her dark hair is dyed a bright red, a color that clashed with her neon-pink wheelchair.

"Her smile would bring a smile to everyone in the room," says Anna Keenan-Mudrick, who runs CAS.

The two views of Sarah McSweeney would collide once she went to the hospital — and during the nearly three weeks she was there.

On April 21, a Tuesday, in the emergency room at Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center, the doctor wrote down his diagnosis: "acute cystitis with hematuria," a urinary tract infection with the presence of blood in the urine.

Hospital medical records indicate the ER doctor was thorough. With his stethoscope, he listened to McSweeney's lungs. "No wheezes, no crackles," he'd write. Those would be signs of pneumonia, a common killer of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But to be sure, he ordered an X-ray. It would show a small pneumonia. It is not unusual for people with swallowing problems to have a chronic build up of saliva in their lungs that they live with every day, sometimes called "silent aspiration."

NPR reviewed hospital records from McSweeney's case file. The information in the records was shared with an NPR reporter by someone with access to them.

NPR made multiple requests to speak to doctors, staff, and officials at the Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center. "We are not able to comment on the care of a specific patient," a spokesperson for the hospital said. "We do not pressure or force anyone to sign a DNR order, and we are unaware of any evidence to the contrary. We honor decisions by patients and/or their legal representatives. We are not aware of any care needed by any of the patients that was not provided."

As a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, McSweeney was moved to the ICU.

Within a day or two, Barnett says, she got word that the COVID-19 test had come back negative. A second test would return a negative result, too. After the first test, McSweeney was moved from the ICU, back to the general floor of the hospital.

The hospital had a strict limit on visitors because of the pandemic. Barnett and Conger, the nurse manager for McSweeney's group home, spoke every day to doctors, nurses and social workers over the phone and in Zoom calls.

Nearly a week later, on Monday, April 27, another doctor who was leading the care team called Barnett, and said it was "urgent" that she come to the hospital. McSweeney's left lung was "kaput," he told Barnett. She asked what that meant "in medical terms" and he explained that her lung was filled with fluid and not receiving oxygen.

"She was young and vibrant and had a great life," says Heidi Barnett, who works at The Arc Oregon, of McSweeney. "She wanted to be alive."

Celeste Noche for NPR

Barnett and Conger hurried to the hospital. The doctor showed them the X-ray of McSweeney's lung.

The doctor told them the pneumonia had developed on Friday.

Conger and Barnett told the doctor they should have been notified of the problem then or over the weekend.

This was not the kind of pneumonia associated with COVID-19. Or the small pneumonia, Conger says, that may have shown up on the X-ray on April 21. It was aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when food, saliva or liquids are breathed into the lungs or airways, instead of being swallowed into the esophagus and the stomach, because McSweeney was fed through a gastrostomy tube — or G-tube — directly to her stomach.

Conger says McSweeney did not have a history of that kind of pneumonia at the group home. She had lived there since 2005.

In the hospital that Monday, the doctor said McSweeney, as a result of the aspiration pneumonia, needed to be on a ventilator. It was "critical" that she go, Barnett recalls him saying.

Conger agreed because that's standard treatment. It's what, she felt, a hospital would do for anyone.

"We discussed the possibility of her being intubated and letting that lung rest, giving her time to heal and letting the antibiotics do their magic," Conger recalled.

But then the doctor surprised Conger and Barnett, the women say, when he pushed to rewrite McSweeney's care document. He wanted a new order that would say the disabled woman should not be resuscitated or intubated.

That would be an order to deny McSweeney the ventilator the doctor had just said she needed.

"He said intubating her was a matter of risk versus quality of life," Conger recalls. "I was like, 'But she has quality of life.' And he looked at me and goes, 'Oh, she can walk? And talk?'"

The doctor lifted his index and middle fingers and moved them in a walking motion, like in the old advertisements for the Yellow Pages.

Conger pushed back: "And I said 'Well, no, but there's a lot of people who don't walk who have full quality of life.' And he gets kind of irritated with me and left the room at that point."

When the doctor walked out, Conger and Barnett understood that they had failed to change the medical team's negative view of McSweeney.

Conger — "she was livid," Barnett says — called her bosses at CAS, the women who were in charge of McSweeney's care. They decided to file a formal complaint with the hospital.

The next day, Tuesday, April 28, Conger filed the complaint, in a phone call with a hospital official. Keenan-Mudrick, the executive director of CAS, would later testify, in the state legislature, about this incident and the doctor's "pressure" to change McSweeney's orders to a DNR.

Anna Keenan-Mudrick, executive director of Community Access Services, told state lawmakers how her staff pushed back when doctors and social workers wanted to override McSweeney's legal document asking for full medical care.

Celeste Noche for NPR

Conger, in her complaint with the hospital, too, protested the pressure to change McSweeney's stated wishes for health care. She said that staff at the hospital failed to see McSweeney, as she put it, as "a whole person."

At The Arc Oregon, Barnett spoke with her bosses and decided they should try to find another hospital for McSweeney. Barnett notified the hospital. She got a call back from another doctor who told her that insurance would not pay to transfer McSweeney, according to Barnett's notes.

The doctor apologized, too, Barnett says, for the lead doctor's brusque manner and promised she and other advocates for McSweeney would be kept up to date about the woman's condition.

The lead doctor was trying harder, too. Later that day, he called Barnett to say he had called in a specialist, a pulmonologist, to see McSweeney.

On that same day, April 28, Kelly Gauthier, one of McSweeney's direct service professionals — a caregiver from her group home — was allowed to visit. She showed the nurses how to communicate with the disabled woman. She explained how they could ask McSweeney direct questions and she could indicate yes or no.

Gauthier brought a sheet of paper, a one-page introduction to McSweeney. It listed things she liked — country music, getting her hair done, trips to the mall — and things she didn't like. The aide played some Kenny Chesney CDs for McSweeney. In the hospital notes that day, someone writes that McSweeney responded positively to the visit and the music. And that she was breathing "more easily" and at "normal depths."

It's common that doctors often see someone with multiple disabilities, like McSweeney, one way and the person's friends, family and caregivers see her another.

Researchers call this the "disability paradox" — the large gap between how a person with a disability rates the quality of their life and what a doctor would rate it.

A "vast majority" of doctors say people with a significant disability have a worse quality of life, according to a recent poll by Dr. Lisa Iezzoni, a Harvard Medical School professor and physician who studies health care disparities for people with disabilities. Her research will be published in the journal Health Affairs in early 2021.

There are, for sure, doctors who take extra steps to understand the lives of their patients with disabilities and who work to help them achieve health and independence.

Still: Doctors save lives. They cure people. They help them get better.

But Iezzoni says, they often hold a bias — often an unconscious bias — about people who won't be cured and as a result "do not make the same effort to restore patients to their baseline health."

McSweeney's advocates at CAS and The Arc Oregon saw their job differently. It was to help the disabled woman live as full a life as possible, according to her wishes.

For example, when McSweeney said she wanted to work--maybe as a greeter in one of those stores in the mall she loved — Susan Gustavson, a veteran advocate at CAS said: OK, let's figure it out.

Gustavson arranged for McSweeney to get trained to use a voice output device called a Tobii Dynavox.

Because McSweeney couldn't move her fingers to type on a keyboard, the Dynavox was set up to track where her eyes gazed. She could look at a letter or a symbol on a computer screen and the device would read and then speak it for her.

Gustavson told the doctors and medical staff about McSweeney's dream to work, and how she was working on the machine when she went to the hospital. And when they asked — why does this disabled woman have medical orders for a full code — she explained something else.

That what was an acceptable part of life for McSweeney was different than what might be acceptable for others.

McSweeney wasn't afraid of being on a ventilator, for example. She'd been ventilated before — in 2017 when she was hospitalized for pneumonia.

When McSweeney wanted a job, Susan Gustavson, associate director of Community Access Services, arranged for McSweeney to get trained on a special voice output device.

Celeste Noche for NPR

But mostly she wasn't afraid because, as Gustavson explained, "Sarah has friends who are vent dependent, 24 hours a day, with traches," a reference to a tracheostomy, a surgical opening in the windpipe to insert a breathing tube.

"These folks were her friends," says Gustavson. "They participate in the same community activities together. They hang out."

They went to the mall and to the movies.

"That is the norm for Sarah. That is not extraordinary," says Gustavson. "It was definitely received as extraordinary from the hospital staff. They were blown away."

Hospital records say the medical team was debating the best course for McSweeney, who was now dealing with aspiration pneumonia. According to hospital records, on Thursday, April 30, a hospital palliative care team met to discuss whether to put her on a ventilator.

The palliative care nurse argued in favor of keeping McSweeney at full code, to honor her goal to try to get better and go home. But a hospital ethicist argued that intubating McSweeney put her at risk of cardiopulmonary risk and other bad outcomes, according to hospital records. Aggressive treatment, he said, according to the records, could cause "more harm than benefit."

The ethicist, according to the records, said if McSweeney's guardians at The Arc Oregon disagreed, they could seek a second opinion or they could move her to another hospital. But the women in charge of her guardianship say they were never told of this.

Still, hospital staff — after the complaint was filed — started calling with regular updates. Conger, the agency nurse, complained that she, with her medical background, wasn't getting these calls. Her boss, Keenan-Mudrick, would tell state lawmakers that this was "grossly inadequate" communication — and unusual. "We typically do not have this issue of the hospital not directly returning calls to our RNs," she said.

But the hospital was notifying Barnett, McSweeney's certified guardian, and Barnett's boss, Emily Braman, who runs the guardianship program for The Arc Oregon.

Over the course of McSweeney's second week in the hospital, McSweeney's health seemed to be getting better. The pulmonologist called Barnett twice, according to her notes, to say McSweeney's lungs were improving and that she was breathing more easily.

McSweeney's advocates started to plan for her to leave the hospital.

On Thursday, May 7, Barnett looked into possibilities to move her out of the hospital to a group home with nurses who would suction her lungs and provide medical care while she recovered. It would be a temporary stop before she moved back to her group house in Oregon City.

"We were getting notified that it sounded like she was getting better, that things weren't that bad," Braman says.

Then everything changed.

"All of sudden we got a call that it's dire straits," Braman says. On Friday, May 8, a case worker called to say McSweeney's lungs were failing.

There had been added episodes of aspiration pneumonia, on April 29 and May 7 and a clogged feeding tube on May 2 that, according to Braman, Barnett and Conger, had not been disclosed to them.

The next day, on Saturday, Conger and Barnett were summoned to the hospital to talk about McSweeney's worsening condition.

The pair got there early and went to McSweeney's hospital room. "We're standing there in the room waiting for the doctor to be paged and to come into the room," Conger says. "The case manager came up and she really didn't even say hi. She just said, 'So, I'm under the impression that Sarah was going to go for employment and she used to go get her hair done.' I said 'Yeah. She loved to get her hair done and she just finished Discovery for employment.'"

Discovery was the program that was helping McSweeney figure out a way to use that voice computer and find a job.

"And she looked at me and she pointed to Sarah and she's like: 'Her. She used to get her hair done and she was going to be employed?' And I was like: 'Yes.' I mean, it was gross," Conger says.

Barnett could see that Sarah, in her hospital bed, was listening. "She heard it and she understood it." Sarah used her eyes to communicate. And now her eyes followed the case manager — and then her friends — when each spoke.

"She had a very worried look on her face," says Barnett. "And it just broke my heart."

Now Conger could see something had changed. The treatment in the hospital was not working.

"Sarah was desperately trying to communicate something," she recalls. She didn't smile, as she usually did. "It was: Mouth wide open. Arms clinched up. Tears running down her eyes."

And she was in distress.

"She was struggling to get air," Conger remembers, "and you could just see the panic and the fear in her eyes. She would rest for a minute, take a nice long breath for a minute, close her eyes, then wake up in absolute fear. She could not take a breath."

Now, Conger and Barnett agreed with the medical staff that it was time to begin palliative, or comfort care for McSweeney.

They said goodbye to McSweeney and left the hospital.

Just hours later, at 3:30 Sunday morning, a phone call woke up Barnett at her home.

It was the charge nurse at the hospital. "I'm sorry to inform you," he said, "that Sarah passed away."

Painted rocks sit outside Sarah McSweeney's group home in Oregon City, Ore., on Nov. 24, 2020. McSweeney's housemates painted a rock to read "The World Just Lost Some Sparkle" in pink and purple after McSweeney's death.

Celeste Noche for NPR

McSweeney didn't die of COVID-19.

She died of severe sepsis due to aspiration pneumonia.

Aspiration pneumonia is a serious medical condition. But, usually, it's treatable.

Conger says doctors could have stopped the feeding tube and instead fed McSweeney through an IV line.

Conger and Barnett said they made repeated suggestions for the IV feedings. Hospital records say a doctor considered it and concluded there was "no evidence" that it would make a difference. But by then it was May 9, when the pneumonia was out of control and McSweeney was just hours from death.

Over more than two and a half weeks, doctors and social workers had questioned why this disabled woman had medical instructions for full care, instead of a Do Not Resuscitate order.

McSweeney's advocates had pushed back.

Says Conger of McSweeney's care at the hospital: "I don't feel like they — and this is my personal opinion — I feel like they didn't feel like she was worth that."

Because of the pandemic, there was no funeral service for McSweeney. Her friends were her housemates and the other disabled people in nearby group homes and the staff that helped her live independently.

In a rock garden outside McSweeney's group home, her housemates placed a stone they'd painted in pink and purple that said: "The World Just Lost Some Sparkle."

"She was so happy and goofy and funny," Barnett says of McSweeney. "I was lucky to know her for the last three years. And I got to know her and how she communicates and what's important to her and how she jokes around. I used to tease her that she was a princess and I was going to buy her a tiara and she'd laugh. And she was so much fun. And even though she had these medical issues, she was vivacious. She just lived her life."

Barnett pauses, and then apologizes for crying. "She was a beautiful person ... I just think she could have gone out better. They owed her more respect than she got."

 
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Judge freezes assets of famed L.A. lawyer Tom Girardi, citing millions unpaid to clients

Thomas Girardi is seen at an undated court hearing.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

By Matt Hamilton, Harriet Ryan

A federal judge in Chicago has frozen the assets of prominent Los Angeles attorney Thomas Girardi, finding that he misappropriated at least $2 million in client funds that were due to the families of those killed in the crash of a Boeing jet in Indonesia.

At a contempt hearing Monday morning, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin called Girardi’s conduct “unconscionable” and said he was referring him to the U.S. attorney’s office for criminal investigation.

“No matter what your personal financial situation is, no matter what kind of pressures you are under, if you touch client money, you are going to be disbarred and quite possibly charged criminally,” said Durkin, calling it “ethics 101.”

“You learn that in law school,” the judge said, “and someone as experienced as Mr. Girardi knows that as well as anyone.”

Girardi, 81, is one of the nation’s preeminent civil lawyers, thanks to his role in the case that inspired the film “Erin Brockovich” and, more recently, appearances on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” alongside his now-estranged third wife, a 49-year-old pop singer known as Erika Jayne.

During the hearing, two attorneys representing Girardi said he did not currently possess the $2 million owed his clients. Los Angeles attorney Evan Jenness told the judge her client’s firm, Girardi Keese, had about $15,000 in its operating accounts.

“They were unable to make payroll more recently,” Jenness told the judge. The lawyer also cited “obligations and debts,” as well as an anticipated family court battle with Jayne over their assets. She filed for divorce last month after more than 20 years of marriage.

Girardi attended the court hearing by phone but did not speak beyond acknowledging his presence. His lawyers, who were hired in recent days, said Girardi had not been able to assist them in preparing a defense for the hearing. They said they had concerns about his mental competency.

“I’m unsure that he understands either the nature or the gravity of the current situation,” said Jenness, who told the judge she wanted Girardi to undergo a mental examination.

Another lawyer for the plane crash victims’ families called those assertions “a sham.” Attorney Jay Edelson, whose firm alerted the judge to the misappropriated funds, told Durkin that, as recently as last week, Girardi was offering him money in an attempt to stave off the contempt hearing.

Durkin also ordered that a trustee be appointed to oversee whatever assets remained to Girardi and his firm. The priority, he said, was for Girardi’s clients to receive their entire settlement.

“These are widows and orphans,” he said, noting each was due about $500,000. “Half a million dollars for any one of these families is significant money, life-changing given the tragedy they have been through and trying to carry on in the aftermath.”

The settlements at issue stem from the crash of Lion Air Flight 610, which plunged into the ocean off Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board. The plane was a 737 Max, the jet that Boeing subsequently grounded because of problems with its anti-stall software.

The missing money is part of the amount Girardi and his firm negotiated from Boeing for four families, and the federal judge was overseeing the litigation and the payouts. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but based on remarks in court, each client was to have been paid $2 million but had only received about 75% of the money owed to them.

Last week, Edelson’s law firm filed a separate lawsuit against Girardi, accusing him of diverting the Lion Air settlement money to finance his “public image of obscene wealth” for him and his wife.

 
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Press Release: Former Professional Guardian Sues Daughter of a Ward for Over $160,000, Claiming Libel & Slander

Press Release:
___________________________________________________________

FORMER PROFESSIONAL GUARDIAN WHO ALLEGEDLY STOLE MORE THAN $540,000 FROM AN ELDERLY MAN IN PINELLAS COUNTY, IS NOW SUING A DAUGHTER OF A WARD FOR OVER $160,000, CLAIMING LIBEL & SLANDER
___________________________________________________________

Traci Samuel, also known as, Traci Hudson, was recently investigated and arrested for exploiting an elderly man of over $500,000. She was booked into the Pinellas County jail and later released after posting $250,000 bail back in 2019. Elderly rights activist, Lesa Martino, and daughter of a current ward has been vocal about her experiences with Traci Samuel as it pertains to her own father. However, Traci Samuel has now decided to personally sue Ms. Martino for over $160,000 plus over $80,000 in attorney fees, claiming libel and slander. Traci Samuel was able to get a judgement to auction off Ms. Martino’s home which is expected in January 2021. Judges Daryl Manning and Emily Peacock were involved with signing the orders against Ms. Martino. Ms. Martino is disgusted with what Traci Samuel is now doing to her for simply trying to bring awareness to a major problem that involved Traci Samuel. She plans to continue to fight against the recent judgments and continue to advocate for those wrongfully exploiting the elderly.

 #
Contact: Leslie Ferderigos, Esq.
407-371-7855
leslie@leslieannlaw.com
___________________________________________________________

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Shawn Parcells indicted on 10 counts of wire fraud tied to Topeka autopsy business

Shawn Parcells
By Brianna Childers

Topeka native Shawn Parcells, who allegedly illegally obtained funds from at least 375 clients who came to him seeking autopsies, has been indicted on 10 counts of federal wire fraud.

According to a news release Wednesday from U.S. Attorney for Kansas Stephen McAllister, the indictment in the case against Parcells, 41, also seeks to recover over $1 million in fees paid to Parcells by his clients.

Prosecutors said Parcells, of Leawood, falsely led his clients to believe they would receive an autopsy report from a pathologist, the indictment said.

The indictment said that in most of those cases, there was no pathologist involved in the autopsies. Parcells wasn’t a certified physician or pathologist.

Parcells owned National Autopsy Services in Topeka, where he provided private autopsy services, McAllister said.

Clients using the service typically paid Parcells $3,000 plus expenses up front for a full pathological study and diagnosis of the cause of death of a family member.

From 1996 to 2003, Parcells worked as a pathologist’s assistant for the Jackson County, Mo., Medical Examiner’s Office.

The indictment said that from May 11, 2016, to May 5, 2019, Parcells received funds from at least 375 clients for a total of over $1.1 million but never provided a full report in most of the cases.

Parcells could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count, if convicted.

Parcells is a Topeka native and a 1998 graduate of Topeka West High School, according to previous Topeka Capital-Journal reporting.

Parcells made news in 2014 when he and another private professional conducted an autopsy on Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., on behalf of his family.

In March 2019, a court order temporarily banned Parcells from conducting autopsies in Kansas while the Kansas Attorney General’s Office pursued a civil lawsuit.

The Kansas Board of Healing Arts in April 2019 filed one criminal and two civil lawsuits against Parcells. The board alleged that he independently performed autopsies, made medical diagnoses and represented himself as a medical examiner and pathologist.

Parcells in 2019 questioned the board’s jurisdiction and said because he wasn’t a health care or medical provider he fell outside the board’s authority.

He also contended that his use of “P.A.” was lawful because he worked as a pathologist’s assistant and denied ever referring to himself as a physician.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parcells hoped to sample corpses to determine if they were infected with the coronavirus. A district court judge banned Parcells in May from doing so.

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Judges who misbehave in Colorado are largely shielded from public scrutiny

Rare public censure of a former judge last week spotlights a process largely conducted in secret


By Shelly Bradbury

The former Weld County District Court judge who was censured by the Colorado Supreme Court last week is just the fourth judge in the state to receive public discipline in the last decade — highlighting the largely secret process used to correct judges who violate ethical or professional rules.

Colorado shields judges accused of misconduct in the vast majority of cases, and its discipline process offers judges more privacy than in 35 other states, according to the National Center for State Courts.

Because of the state’s constitution, the public is barred from knowing which judges committed what offenses except for in the most egregious cases, or in cases in which the misconduct becomes public apart from the confidential proceedings.

Colorado judges were disciplined privately 51 times between 2010 and 2019 for offenses ranging from failing to issue timely rulings to having a sexual relationship with a member of the court staff, according to annual reports from the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline.

Critics say the secrecy undermines public confidence in the state’s judges and allows judges to escape public scrutiny for their missteps, while proponents argue the confidentiality protects judges from false accusations and encourages genuine and honest participation in the discipline process.

“We need to be able to trust that judges are maintaining the highest level of professionalism in their job duties,” said Chris Forsyth, executive director of The Judicial Integrity Project, a Colorado group focused on reforming judicial discipline. “The lack of transparency undermines that.”

But William Campbell, executive director of the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline, said he felt confidentiality is “defensible and necessary.”

“If it’s not done in a spotlight, people are more willing to complain to us and have us look at it, and judges are more likely to be thoughtful in their response, rather than thinking they’ve got to have a good quote for the newspaper,” he said.

Discipline for the nearly 400 judges and justices who sit on county and district courts, Denver’s juvenile and probate courts, the Colorado Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court is all handled through the commission, which consists of a volunteer board led by Campbell, who is paid.

The commission takes in close to 200 complaints a year, and Campbell dismisses about 90% of them as soon as they are received for procedural reasons, like the issue not falling under the commission’s jurisdiction or the complaint being a matter of law that should be handled in an appeals court, rather than by the disciplinary commission.

The remaining 10% of complaints are reviewed by the volunteer board, which decides whether to discipline the judge, and whether to do it privately or publicly. Most judges are disciplined through “informal proceedings” that often result in a private admonition, reprimand or censure.

The details of discipline usually become public only if the commission moves a case into “formal proceedings,” and even then only are made public at the very end of the process, when the commission makes a recommendation to the state Supreme Court on what discipline is warranted.

The secret discipline process stands in stark contrast with the court system as a whole, which was built on public proceedings, said Paul Chessin, an attorney who has argued for more transparency in the attorney discipline process.

“There is a long tradition that judicial proceedings are public, because that instills the public’s confidence and trust that the system is working,” he said. “Proceedings in secret do the opposite. Then, there is a perception that the actions taken are arbitrary or capricious or perhaps could be playing favorites.”

Colorado is one of just 12 states where the process is confidential until a recommendation for public discipline is filed, according to the National Center for State Courts. In most states, the allegations against judges become public when formal charges are filed or once a judge has had a chance to respond to formal charges.

“Colorado is in the more anti-transparency, privacy-protection rank,” said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow with the Brookings Institution and former president of the Federal Judicial Center.

He said the discipline process must walk a line between protecting the reputation of judges and the court system from baseless accusations and bringing legitimate misconduct to light. Most judicial disciplinary bodies in the U.S. receive a high number of false or frivolous complaints, he said.

“Judges have to accept the fact that when they accept the judicial office, they’re going to be expected to have the public know about their lives in a way that non-judges don’t, but you don’t want to make the transparency so transparent that it scares away people who would otherwise be willing to serve,” he said.

Although most complaints are dismissed in Colorado for procedural reasons, there’s no way for the public to check that, Forsyth said. He’d like to see the process be open to inspection from the initial request for investigation. He pointed to Ryan Kamada, the ex-judge in Weld County who on Monday was publicly censured for tipping his friend off to a drug investigation and making inappropriate comments about people in his courtroom.

“Now we are hearing litigants who said they complained about this guy,” he said. “Were there complaints filed with the Judicial Discipline Commission before all this happened? … We don’t know.”

Besides Kamada, the three other judges who have been publicly disciplined since 2010 are Laurie Booras, who called another judge “the little Mexican,” Robert Rand, who made misogynistic and inappropriate comments, and Lance Timbreza, who was charged with driving under the influence.

While Campbell defended the confidential system, he said the office has increased its transparency since he took charge 11 years ago. The commission created a website to reach a wider audience, and began giving a summary of discipline cases without identifying the judges involved in its annual reports, he said.

“We try to take something that is required to be done in private, and as much as we can, disclose what is going on,” he said.

 
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Couple Charged with Swiping $500K+ from Senior

Photo Courtesy of Maps Queens

Working in the family’s Corona home, Luz Tejeda developed a friendly relationship with the elderly victim.

By Forum Staff

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced Friday that Luz and Rosendo Tejeda, of Manhattan, have been charged with grand larceny and other crimes for allegedly swindling a disabled woman and her elderly mother out of more than $500,000. The couple is accused of switching bank accounts to have the victim’s monthly annuities deposited into their personal account between November 2016 through September 2020.

Rosendo Tejeda, 63, of Lenox Avenue was arraigned Wednesday before Queens Criminal Court Judge Mary Bejarano on a complaint charging him with grand larceny in the second degree, criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person.

Luz Tejeda, 56, now of East 14th Street in Hazelton, PA., was arraigned late last night before Queens Criminal Court Judge Bejarano on a complaint charging her with grand larceny in the second degree, criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree, attempted grand larceny in the second degree, identity theft in the first degree, scheme to defraud in the first degree and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person. The defendants’ return date is February 5, 2021. If convicted, they both face up to 15 years in prison.

District Attorney Katz said, defendant Luz Tejeda was hired to coordinate home care for the 43-year-old victim who was born deaf, blind, immobile and intellectually disabled. A lawsuit alleging medical malpractice was filed on behalf of the victim and when a settlement was reached the cash was disbursed via monthly annuity payments. Working in the family’s Corona home, defendant Luz Tejeda developed a friendly relationship with the elderly mother. The senior – who does not speak or read English – trusted the worker and her husband and signed documents giving the Tejedas shared guardianship of her daughter.

Continuing, according to the charges, in the fall of 2016 the defendants allegedly reached out to the financial services company disbursing the monthly annuity and requested the deposits be diverted to their personal bank account. In June 2019, the defendants also submitted a letter supposedly written by the incapacitated victim to change her physical address to their own Manhattan home.

In addition to the re-direction of annuity payments in excess of $500,000 to their own personal accounts, according to the charges, defendant Luz Tejeda allegedly completed an application with Settlement Resources of New York, Ltd to borrow more than $145,000 against the victim’s future annuity payments and further received loan advances totaling $9,400 that were deposited into the defendant’s personal accounts.

This commencement of the criminal investigation stopped the disbursement of monies to the defendants in September 2020.

DA Katz said the elderly mother was under the impression the monthly deposits had stopped due to the financial institution filing bankruptcy. The scheme was discovered when a new, kind and compassionate health care attendant attending to the elderly mother realized the household was not receiving monies to support the mother and her incapacitated daughter and made a referral to the Queens County District Attorney’s Elder Fraud Unit.

If anyone believes they are being victimized, please call the Elder Fraud Unit at (718) 286-6578.

 
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Monday, December 14, 2020

Caretaker rips off Pinecrest elderly couple’s life savings, Holocaust reparation money


PINECREST, FLA. (WSVN) - An elderly man in Pinecrest is speaking out against a caretaker who pleaded guilty after ripping off he and his late wife’s life savings and his wife’s Holocaust reparation money.

Leonard Herman, 92, is mourning the loss of his wife, Rella Herman, who died nearly two weeks ago.

“We were married, me and my wife, for 72 years,” he said. “My wife was a very good woman.”

The couple loved each other so much that when they slept, they held hands.

Rella was described as tough and as a loving mother and grandmother after living through the Holocaust, when she lost her own mother in Auschwitz.

“We had 72 years of good luck until now,” Herman said. “She was a survivor.”

Rella and Leonard also survived crimes against them much later in life.

Odalis Lopez, the caretaker and nurse for Rella, convinced the couple she could be trusted with their credit cards to shop for their needs.

Instead, she spent their money on personal trips to Publix, restaurants, gift cards and Harley Davidson purchases, charging well over $100,000 of her employers’ money over several years.

Much of the funds blown were part of the Hermans’ life savings and Holocaust reparation money from the German government.

“They convince you,” Herman said. “I’m surprised that she got away with it.”

Lopez appeared in court on Oct. 9 as part of a plea agreement.

“She is pleading guilty because she is guilty,” court documents stated.

7News first broke the story of Lopez’s arrest in 2019 for elderly exploitation and grand theft.

Sixteen months later, she was not given jail time due to being a first-time offender and coronavirus concerns, but she had to pay $25,000 to the Hermans and owes over $100,000.

7News knocked on Lopez’s door in an attempt to comment on the story, but a man who answered the door closed it before saying a word.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle described Lopez’s actions as “selfish indulgence” following her initial arrest.

The state said it wanted to resolve the case with a plea to get the Herman family the money they are owed as soon as possible.

Herman said he is grateful to have been surrounded by a loving family through it all.

“We’re glad it’s over,” Herman said. “Without them, there’d be no family. I’d just be another person trying to find his way.”

Lopez is currently on probation, and she must also stay away from the Herman family.

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