Britney Spears, shown here at an event in 2019, has requested her
father be removed as co-conservator of her estate. (Photo by VALERIE
MACON / AFP)
(CNN)Legal proceedings in Britney Spears' conservatorship battle had remained relatively private over the past year, but that changed during a dramatic hearing last month in which Spears' attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, stated that his client was "afraid" of her father, Jamie Spears, and accused him of making business decisions without her knowledge. According to court documents obtained by CNN, Ingham said the pop star would not perform again as long as her father remains in control of her estimated $60 million estate.
Monday, January 25, 2021
The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct filed a complaint against a municipal judge in Paterson and Dover, charging she should be disciplined for her failure to deposit clients’ funds into an interest-bearing trust and failing to maintain professional insurance.
In January 2020, the state Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Review Board found Cecilia Sardina Guzman, a part-time municipal judge in both towns, admitted to the Office of Attorney Ethics a series of breaches that included gross neglect, failure to purchase professional insurance and clients’ money placed into incorrect accounts, among other things.
The high court censured her in January. The ACJC argues an agreement between Guzman and the Office of Attorney Ethics that preceded the Disciplinary Board’s findings in which she admitted to not have maintained insurance amounts to a breach of judicial code.
The ACJC also seeks to punish Guzman for not depositing clients’ funds into an interest-bearing trust. A Supreme Court order requires attorneys place clients’ money in such an account or be made ineligible to practice law.
Guzman was on a list of such attorneys between Oct. 22, 2018, and Oct. 17, 2019. Guzman continued to act as a municipal judge in Paterson and Dover during this time.
She admitted that breach to the Supreme Court in July.
Guzman was replaced in Dover.
by Anna Quinn
|Kevin Gavin is connected to three murders of elderly women from the Woodson Houses between 2015 and early January, police said Thursday. (Google Maps.)|
BROOKLYN, NY — A serial killer connected to at least three murders of elderly woman in a Brooklyn senior housing facility has been caught, police announced.
Kevin Gavin, who ran errands for the elderly residents, was arrested Thursday for three killings at the Woodson Houses, a New York City Housing Authority complex on Powell Street.
The murders include homicides in 2015, 2019 and, most recently, a 78-year-old woman who was found with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck last week. They had left the 450 elderly residents at the Woodson Houses scared for their lives.
"A fear has existed in the Woodson Houses regarding what's happening there," District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said at a press conference Thursday. "This arrest will have a profound impact on the sense of public safety in Brooklyn."
Gavin, a handyman, is believed to have confessed to the killings, saying that the victims owed him money for the chores, a police source told the New York Post. Police are looking into whether Gavin is connected to any other incidents.
He first appeared on law enforcement's radar after the second murder, when 82-year-old Jacolia James was found lying dead in her apartment with "highly suspicious" wounds on her face and neck in April 2019, Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said Thursday.
Forensic evidence in James' apartment connected police to Gavin, he said.
The break came nearly four years after the first murder of 82-year-old Myrtle McKinney, who was found by her home health aide in November 2015. Authorities initially thought McKinney had died of natural causes, but later discovered a stab wound in her neck, police said.
"The case has remained open throughout this time with very few investigative leads until recently," Harrison said about the first homicide.
The most recent victim was Juanita Caballero. She was found by her son, who was visiting for the weekend on Jan. 15, according to police.
"I know how devastated these losses have been to the people of Brownsville, to the residents of those houses — these women were beloved mothers, and grandmothers, and neighbors," Gonzalez said. "...The defendant took advantage of the relationship with these women, was allowed into their homes, and did unspeakable acts of violence against them."
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Tom Girardi's Brother Files for Conservatorship amid Legal Troubles and Split from Estranged Wife Erika
In the petition for appointment of conservator, Tom's "current condition" is described as "sadly deteriorated to the point where he cannot care for himself without assistance"By Ashley Boucher
In a citation for conservatorship obtained by PEOPLE Thursday, Tom's brother Robert Girardi says that Tom is unable to provide for his personal needs and unable to manage his financial resources.
A court hearing is set for June 9. If Robert is appointed Tom's conservator at the hearing, he will become responsible for deciding where Tom lives as well as appropriate care for him. Robert would also take over control of Tom's property and estate.
In the petition for appointment of conservator, Tom's "current condition" is described as "sadly deteriorated to the point where he cannot care for himself without assistance."
"While Tom does have family members, such as Petitioner [Robert], and certain friends looking out for him to make sure he has sufficient food and that he makes it to a given appointment on time," the petition says, "left to his own devices, it is highly doubtful that Tom could manage most of the activities of daily living for any significant period of time without assistance."
Erika filed for divorce from Tom in November, telling PEOPLE at the time that it was not "a step taken lightly or easily."
In the filing, Erika sought spousal support and requested the court terminate its ability to award spousal support to Tom. Tom responded by asking the court to terminate its ability to award spousal support to Erika, and to request that the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star pay attorney fees and costs.
Tom and Erika do not have a prenup, PEOPLE previously reported.
Just one month later, the couple was sued for allegedly using their split to embezzle money. In December, Tom and his law firm, Girardi & Keese (GK), were held in civil contempt and have had their assets frozen by a judge.
Also last month, Tom was hit with another lawsuit, this time from his partner Robert Keese and fellow business partners Robert Finnerty and Jill O'Callahan to dissolve their venture together. The men claim that Tom never paid them approximately $315,000 in income, instead keeping the money for himself, and that he took out loans against their property without their knowledge for his "own personal gain, benefit and use."
Amid all of this, Tom's lawyers have said in court that he "has had issues of his mental competence" and asked a judge to order "mental health exam," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Edelson PC and Erika declined to comment on the case, and Tom did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment at the time.
File image of Britney Spears. Photograph:( Reuters )
Titled ‘Framing Britney Spears’, the docu-series will air on FX and FX on Hulu.
The official synopsis of the docu-series reads: It re-examines Britney Spears career and offers a new assessment of the movement rallying against her court-mandated conservatorship, capturing the unsavory dimensions of the American pop-star machine.
For those unversed, former pop star Britney Spears has been fighting a battle with her father over conservatorship that gives all her personal and professional rights to her father. For 13 years, she has been living under a conservatorship, which occurs when a court-appointed guardian manages another person’s life due to physical or mental limitations. Conservatorship for Britney Spears has been on since 2008 after several public breakdowns.
Her father, Jamie Spears has been co-conservator of her estate alongside lawyer Andrew Wallet, who voluntarily resigned his post in March 2019.
According to an update on her case against the conservatorship, Britney Spears’ lawyer, Sam Ingham has claimed that she is “afraid” of her father and will not perform again while he remains in charge. As of mid-December, a judge ruled that the conservatorship would be extended until at least September of this year.
Though Jamie is still his daughter’s conservator, a corporate
fiduciary, the Bessemer Trust, serves as co-conservator over her estate.
WALDPORT — A state-provided caregiver has been charged with multiple felony counts of theft, fraud and mistreatment of a disabled senior under her care.
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Lincoln County Circuit Court, when the defendant’s client arrived by ambulance at the hospital in Newport after calling 911 Aug. 25, “she had visible wounds to the tendons and bones in her legs, and had live maggots in the wounds.” The emergency room physician told her that her leg might have to be amputated. She was transferred to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis, where surgeons were able to save her limb.
Her caregiver, Patricia Dianne Norenberg, 54, of Waldport, was not there when her elder charge called 911, and the victim later told investigators she’d been alone in the house for several days prior to hospitalization. She said she’d lain in bed for several days, soiling herself, before calling 911 in extreme pain. The 77-year-old woman requires regular attention, including wound care, for multiple medical conditions.
While she was hospitalized, her son and daughter-in-law accessed her bank account to make some transactions on her behalf, and they noticed something other than the victim’s physical condition was amiss.
“There’s no way Mom has ever spent $300 at Walmart. She’s very thrifty. It would never happen,” daughter-in-law Jessica Lindley, a forensic psychologist in Portland, told the News-Times. “But it was the food that initially stuck out. We’d been driving from Portland to Waldport to bring her food. There’s no way she was spending $1,500 a month at Ray’s Food Market,” she said.
They asked the bank for a fraud investigation and ended up disputing $4,780 in transactions made between June 27 and Aug. 21. There was also security footage, later shared with investigators, allegedly showing Norenberg using the victim’s debit card to withdraw $400 from a Waldport ATM on Sept. 5, when her client was in the hospital in Corvallis.
Lindley contacted the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Sept. 10 and reported that her mother-in-law was the victim of elder abuse. She also shared with investigators photographs and a video walkthrough of her mother-in-law’s home she’d taken after her hospitalization. The images revealed a “dirty and disorganized house,” with “carpets full of stains and debris,” as well as a soiled wheelchair and mattress that were “discolored due to bodily fluids,” according to the probable cause affidavit.
Investigators brought Norenberg in for an interview on Nov. 19, during which, according to the affidavit, she admitted that she’d never bathed nor dressed her client during the time she was her caregiver, though those tasks were among her assigned duties. She also told investigators that she’d noticed the “filthy condition” of the wheelchair when she first assumed the caregiver role in May, and said she’d never cleaned it. “Norenberg told me the wheelchair was stained with bodily fluids because (her client) would often urinate or have bowel movements in the chair,” an investigator wrote in the affidavit.
She initially denied using the victim’s debit card to make purchases, saying that she’d been given the card to do some shopping for her client at Ray’s, but “she tried not to memorize the PIN.” After being shown security footage of the ATM withdrawal, she admitted to that and other transactions, including a nearly $300 payment on her personal health care account and $40 for her cellphone bill.
She told investigators she intended to repay those expenditures, and she said many of the disputed transactions — including purchases of software, copy paper, charcoal, phone activations and a lace kimono — were in fact made for her client, as were multiple point-of-sale cash back transactions. The victim told investigators she did not know how to use a computer, nor was she aware that cash back at the grocery store was a possibility.
According to the affidavit, Norenberg told investigators she did not come to work the day prior to her client’s hospitalization — she said she’d spoken with her by phone, and her client said she wasn’t feeling well and did not want to attend her scheduled wound care appointment in Newport.
At the conclusion of the interview, Norenberg was arrested and charged with three Class B felony counts of aggravated identity theft — for alleged fraudulent use of another person’s PIN 10 or more times within 180 days — as well as Class C felony charges of theft, fraudulent use of a credit card and three counts each of non-aggravated identity theft and first-degree criminal mistreatment. She was also charged with misdemeanor counts of criminal mistreatment and recklessly endangering another person.
In giving grounds for the felony mistreatment charges, an investigator wrote that in addition to wrongfully appropriating money from a dependent person in her care, Norenberg had also recommended to her employer that her client be placed in hospice if she survived her hospitalization and offered to continue as her caretaker, thereby “taking charge of a dependent or elderly person for the purpose of fraud.”
Norenberg is next scheduled to appear in court before Judge Thomas Branford on Jan. 19. She remains in custody in the Lincoln County Jail on $100,000 bond. Judge Amanda Benjamin made “no employment as a care provider” a condition of her bail, should she secure conditional release. She has not yet entered a plea.
Lindley said her mother-in-law has been discharged from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility in Corvallis. “She’s doing much better with her wounds. The wound that had the maggots in it is still healing, but the other leg is completely healed,” she said. There’s currently a large COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, and her mother-in-law has tested positive for the virus.
Lindley enthusiastically credited Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Doug Honse, the chief investigator, for his commitment to the case.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Family calls guardianship a civil rights violation
DELAND, Fla. — Last July, we reported on a controversial eight-year-long guardianship in which state investigators already uncovered wrongdoing.
New developments have led a family to call court-ordered guardianship in Florida “a civil rights violation."
The I-Team introduced you to retired school administrator Dr. Lillie Sykes White last July.
“I never thought anything like this could've happened,” White said, in a 2018 video shared with the I-Team by her niece Terri Kennedy.
When asked by Terri on the video if she wanted to see her sister, White said, “Of course I do. I’ve always wanted to see her.”
A detective tracked her down, so they bought airline tickets
That reunion of Lillie, her sister Jane and her niece Terri wasn’t supposed to happen.
Her guardian, with a judge’s permission, forbid most of her family from knowing where she was or communicating with her.
But Jane and Terri used the services of a detective, who worked pro bono, to track her down.
“We weren’t even sure she was really there. But the private investigator said there’s a high chance. So we bought a ticket and flew from New York to Florida,” Terri Kennedy said.
“We were lucky because it was a holiday or a weekend or something. So the regular people who were supposed to keep us away I guess weren’t on,” said Jane Kennedy, Lillie’s sister. “When I saw her, you never know how great that was. And when she saw me, 'oh my God,' the twinkle in her eyes and the smile and the hugs. Wonderful!”
“My mom had dark glasses on because she had been crying and crying and crying. And didn’t want her sister to see that,” Terri said.
In the months that followed, the guardian ignored requests from Terri and Jane to contact Lillie.
“I just wanted to hear her voice. She probably wanted to hear my voice too,” said Jane.
And the guardian added even more restrictions, supposedly to protect Lillie.
“You needed a passcode to speak with her. No one gave us the passcode,” said Terri.
Watchdog agency found no wrongdoing
In 2019, the Florida Office of Public and Professional Guardians, the watchdog agency assigned to investigate complaints against professional guardians, found that Lillie’s guardian violated multiple sections of Florida’s guardianship law.
But the agency didn’t take any action, saying her conduct was mitigated “by the complexity of the family relationships."
Terri met with Florida Secretary of Elder Affairs Richard Prudom last year.
OPPG falls under his department's jurisdiction.
“Secretary Prudom, when we met in January 2020 said file another complaint. I will expedite it,” Terri said.
But after filing a new complaint, Terri and Jane say they never heard anything from the state.
OPPG’s policy is not to comment on any active or pending investigations.
In November 2018, Lillie’s original guardian resigned and a family member was appointed as her new guardian.
That person is not under the jurisdiction of OPPG, since she is not a registered professional guardian in the State of Florida.
“She dies alone without her family knowing”
The meeting in 2018 was the last time Jane and Terri spoke to Lillie.
“And now my sister’s gone. She’s gone,” said Jane, fighting back tears.
“She dies alone without her family knowing. And two weeks later we find out,” said Terri.
Earlier this week, they received her death certificate, which said Lillie died Dec. 31 of respiratory failure and pneumonia related to COVID-19.
“They should have at least said ok, you can talk to her. She’s not doing well. They didn’t do that. They just let her die,” Jane said.
“Now she’s dying and you still don’t let her 85-year-old sister speak to her? There are no words for that,” said Terri.
Terri says her life’s mission is to tell her aunt Lillie's story and push for changes.
“My aunt’s case reveals the cruelty of unchecked power. Being able to isolate and exploit a senior in secrecy under the guise of protecting her,” Terri said.
“Lillie’s life matters. They have violated her civil rights. My civil
rights. The civil rights of all of our family members,” said Jane.
by Fred Cantu
Texas Governor Greg Abbott often speaks of our seniors, especially
those in long-term care facilities, as our most vulnerable Texans. So,
it was no surprise he would be upset with the low numbers he's seeing
for their COVID-19 vaccination rate.
He shared these numbers in Houston on Tuesday:
“Texas has provided 487,500 doses for nursing homes and long-term care centers. CVS and Walgreens are in charge of administering those doses. They have administered 124,827 of those doses to those who reside in nursing homes or long-term care centers.” He then added, “We, as a state, continue to insist that Walgreens and CVS pick up their pace because while Texas is now administering 78% of vaccines, Walgreens and CVS are only at 26% of their vaccine administrations.”
The math is right, but the participating pharmacies question the metrics he's using to measure their success. CVS tells us the feds allotted them more vaccine than they needed for the job. In a written statement, CVS explains, “The federal government determines weekly vaccine allotments based on facility bed count,” but what they discovered in the real world was, “occupancy is far less than bed count and staff uptake has been lower than expected."
Both CVS and Walgreens issued statements earlier this month saying they believe they'll meet the deadline the feds set for them. That means they expect to have given every patient in every Texas long-term care facility at least their first dose of the COVID vaccine by January 25.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Woman, whose adult son is being treated in hospital, held on suspicion of illegal detention and grievous bodily harm
|Police at the apartment block in Haninge, south of Stockholm, on Tuesday, where the woman was alleged to have kept her son confined. Photograph: Claudio Bresciani/AP|
Stockholm police have arrested a woman suspected of keeping her 41-year-old son confined to their flat for almost three decades, police and local media have said.
Emma Olsson, a public prosecutor in charge of the preliminary investigation, said the 70-year-old woman, who denies any wrongdoing, was being held on suspicion of illegal detention and causing grievous bodily harm.
Her son was being treated in hospital for physical injuries he had when he was found, Olsson said, but did not specify what they were. She said he appeared to have been kept confined to the apartment for “a very long time”.
According to the Expressen newspaper, the man was found by a relative who entered the unlocked flat, in Haninge municipality about 12 miles south of the Swedish capital, on Sunday evening after hearing that the mother had herself been admitted to hospital.
The relative said she had told authorities 20 years ago that she suspected the woman was “totally controlling her son’s life”, but no official action had been taken and other family members had urged her not to cause trouble.
“But I understood he was in there and he must be afraid,” she told the paper. “I pushed the door and shouted hello. It stank of urine, dirt and dust. It smelled rotten. No one can have cleaned for many years.”
She pushed her way through piles of rubbish to the kitchen, where she found the man sitting in a corner. “I saw him in the light from a street lamp outside,” she said. “At first, I only saw his legs … They looked terrible. Everything up to the knees was just sores.”
The relative said the man could hardly stand, was missing most of his teeth, and his speech was slurred. “He spoke very fast and a little incoherently but he was not afraid of me,” she said. “I’m in shock, but I’m thankful he got help and will survive.”
The state broadcster SVT reported that the woman had lost an earlier child at a young age and given her new son the same name, subsequently becoming “over-protective”. Aftonbladet newspaper said she took the boy out of school when he was 12 or 13.
“She stole his life from him and manipulated the people around her in order to keep her secret … he has been badly let down by all of society,” the unnamed relative told Aftonbladet.
An unidentified neighbour who lived in the same building told the paper they had not seen the man for years. “They almost never went outside, and never even opened the windows for fresh air,” she said. “The apartment was sealed.”
Another neighbour told Aftonbladet she occasionally bumped into the mother. “We talked about small things, as you do,” she said. “Sometimes I asked about the boy, and she just said he was fine. She never really talked about him.”
Many neighbours found the situation
strange, she said. “But what can you do? How do you know what’s going
on behind closed doors?”
The term “criminal lawyer” took on a different meaning with an arrest the Jones County Sheriff’s Department made on Monday afternoon.
George “Dow” Yoder III, 49, of Canton — a former state and federal prosecutor who has worked as a defense attorney in several high-profile cases in Jones County — is behind bars facing a felony charge.
He was booked into the Jones County Adult Detention Center charged with burglary of a dwelling after being caught in a home on Rocky Creek Cove, just outside of Ellisville, Sgt. J.D. Carter of the JCSD said.
Yoder was in the living room of the residence when the home owner confronted him and told him to leave, according to the report. Yoder then went outside and walked around the shed and the home owner, who had already called law enforcement, told Yoder to get off the property. Deputies arrested Yoder nearby a short time later.
“He didn’t steal anything,” Carter said, “but it’s not known what he would have done if he hadn’t been confronted.”
The suspect was not making sense with his explanations of why he was there, a source close to the case said, but there was no evidence he was intoxicated.
“I have no idea what I’ve been accused of,” Yoder said Wednesday at his initial appearance in Jones County Justice Court. “I’ve been unable to make bond.”
Judge David Lyons responded, “That’s because I hadn’t set bond yet.”
Lyons set Yoder’s bond at $5,000. Yoder waived the reading of the indictment and the reading of the ways to make bond, saying, “I understand my rights.”
When the judge asked if he had any questions, Yoder said, “I’m not sure I got all of the questions. I‘m unsure of how I can communicate while I’m in the custody of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department,” saying that his constitutional right was being denied.
He went on to say that “no burglary occurred” and that “no criminal charges are being pursued” by the home owner. Yoder told the judge that the resident worked with his aunt for 30 years in Hattiesburg and “no crime occurred.”
That’s a matter that will have to be discussed in another setting, Lyons said, explaining that the purpose of the initial hearing was to tell Yoder what he was charged with and to set a bond. The defendant said he understood.
Yoder ignored questions from a reporter who was trying to get his side of the story as he was being escorted from the jail to the courtroom.
Yoder’s address is in Canton and his law practice is in Ridgeland, but he had reportedly been staying with family members near where he was arrested. A check of Yoder’s criminal history shows that he was arrested in Marion County on Dec. 27 for violation of a protective order.
Yoder was a candidate for the state Court of Appeals in 2016 after serving as ADA in Madison County and he was special assistant U.S. Attorney in the Jackson Division of the Southern District Court.
He represented James Barnett in a civil suit that was settled with the City of Laurel after two officers were accused of beating his client after a high-speed pursuit into Jasper County in 2018.
Yoder has also represented several defendants in criminal cases in Jones County Circuit Court in recent years.
|Maria Oliver (Photo: BCSO)|
BELVILLE, NC (WWAY) — A Belville woman is accused of assaulting an elderly man.
Maria Oliver was arrested on Tuesday and charged with abuse disable/elder inflicting serious injury.
An arrest warrant states Oliver was a caretaker for the man and assaulted him at his home, causing injury.
No word on the extent of the injuries.
Oliver is being held in jail under no bond.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
The federal government and the states should do more to uncover the severity of elder financial abuse, the Government Accountability Office urges in a report released today.
Comprehensive data on the costs of financial exploitation does not exist, but GAO notes some studies have put it in the billions.
The abuse can undermine the ability of older adults to support and care for themselves, which can negatively affect their health, and shift the burden of caring for them to family members or society in general, GAO warns.
The problem is expected to get worse with the aging of the Baby Boomers. By 2030, more than 20 percent of Americans will be 65 or over compared to 13 percent in 2010.
The study notes when older adults are financially exploited by trusted others (such as family, friends, or guardians) or by strangers, the money is rarely recovered.
Acknowledging a barrier that is commonly voiced by senior citizen advocates in determining the severity of the problem, GAO researchers say state adult protective services officials told them victims often are reluctant to implicate others, especially family members or other caregivers.
Another obstacle is adult protective services caseworkers frequently face challenges obtaining and interpreting financial documents, and may not have access to forensic accountants, who might be able to determine how money has been lost and how it can be recovered.
Additionally, caseworkers told GAO said they often have difficulty acquiring financial records from banks that could help verify the costs of financial exploitation.
“Some financial exploitation cases can be extremely complicated because of multiple accounts, asset transfers, complex annuities, and more,” the study explains.
The study explained elder financial exploitation may take a variety of forms from a caregiver or family member stealing money or medications off a victim’s dresser to charging items for their personal use to a victim’s credit card to a legal guardian withdrawing funds from the victim’s bank account to a scam that entices a victim to share bank information or wire money.
While the dollar figure of elder abuse harm is unknow, more state adult protective offices are reporting the frequency of the exploitation to Washington.
Since they began providing data to the Department of Health and Human Service’s National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS) in 2017 voluntarily, the number of states providing financial exploitation data of any kind has risen from 30 in Fiscal 2016 to 39 in Fiscal 2019.
During the same period, states giving NAMRS detailed financial exploitation case data climbed from 17 to 24.
At the same time, detailed case data on type of perpetrator for all types of abuse rose from 21 to 27.
To uncover the financial toll, GAO is urging HHS’s Administration for Community Living to add cost figures to the NAMRS reports.
The study was requested by Senate Aging Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Democrat Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania)
The full 80-page report:
Brian Long is 77 and knows his age makes him a target for the increasing number of scammers who try to steal from senior citizens.
They see the elderly as easy prey, he said, and are ruthless enough to come after them.
Long has learned enough about financial abuse of the elderly that he not only recognizes emails, phone calls and text messages from people attempting to rip him off, but also leads seminars about these crimes on behalf of Berks-Lancaster-Lebanon LINK, an agency that helps the aging and disabled.
Despite his attempts to help people avoid being victimized, Long has repeatedly heard from seniors who still fell prey to financial schemes, evidence of how devious those scammers can be, he said.
Long and others who work with the elderly in Berks hope a new state task force can help protect seniors, improve reporting mechanisms and cut down on those crimes by coordinating efforts between agencies.
"Financial exploitation causes significant harm to older adults, and we know it is significantly underreported," said state Secretary of Aging Robert Torres, who is chairing the task force. "The department felt it was imperative to bring together stakeholders who work closely with older adults and discuss how financial exploitation occurs and ways to prevent and stop it.”
The task force’s creation stemmed from a recommendation in a recent Pennsylvania Department of Aging report.
In studying several hundred substantiated financial exploitation cases statewide, the department found that on average the victim was female, around 79 years old, widowed and living alone, with an income above the federal poverty guidelines. Sixty-five percent of the perpetrators were family members, most of them adult children.
But probably less than 10% of cases are reported, the study estimated, and as a result the approximate losses for fiscal year 2017-18 could have been as high as $2.5 billion, the study found.
"It really is a crisis," said Detective Robert Heiden of the Berks County district attorney’s office, who has investigated many cases involving financial exploitation of seniors.
"For some victims, it can be financially devastating," he said.
About 75% of the cases Heiden sees in Berks involve family members stealing from their parents or grandparents, with a small percentage involving caregivers, and the rest committed by scammers, he said.
Sometimes seniors are targeted because it's assumed they have experienced a decline in mental capacity, but often it's because scammers are hoping they're isolated and won't talk to anyone about the crime, Heiden said.
He has spoken with some victims who were so embarrassed that they were reluctant to report being taken advantage of, but Heiden assures them they aren't alone.
"I tell them that it happens to a lot of people," he said. "They aren't the first. And it's best for them if we try to get their money back. Sometimes that money is their life's savings."
Berks detectives, state police and local police departments do sometimes get convictions in those crimes and can recoup money, but that isn’t always possible depending on the nature of the theft, how difficult it can be to trace the scammers, or how much money the thieves can afford to pay back, he said.
"There are times that money is gone," Heiden said.
Heiden said the average amount stolen from senior victims nationally is $40,000, and he investigated a case last year in Berks in which $180,000 was taken.
Not only are the victims missing that money, but they may now have trouble applying for the government programs and medical insurance assistance until they prove what happened to their savings, he said.
"It can affect the level of care they receive," he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many seniors unable to receive visits from loved ones and they are more vulnerable to being ripped off, Heiden said.
By basically sheltering in place, Heiden said, they have less contact with family members who usually check their finances and mail as well as with groups of friends they may have met for breakfasts or lunches, and with whom they discussed concerns.
"That system of checks and balances isn't there now," he said.
Heiden urged seniors to remember the adages that nothing is free, and that if something seems too good to be true, it likely is.
"If you're suspicious, or you notice something wrong, talk to someone you trust," he said.
Those who think they’ve been victimized should call local law enforcement or their bank if that's where they notice a problem, he said.
Most of the cases the Berks County Area Agency on Aging has seen over the years involved family members stealing from seniors, and those crimes have increased over the last five years or so, Director Jessica Jones said.
But the office also sees cases in which people earned the trust of seniors either in-person, online or by phone in order to rip them off, she said.
Among the most insidious schemes are those that involve tricking seniors into thinking they're in a long-distance romantic relationship and convincing them that they need to send money or gift cards to stay together, she said.
Long has seen those crimes occur locally as well and said they can be extremely hard emotionally for the victims.
"When you're lonely you want to believe that someone is interested in you and concerned about you and loves you," she said. "So people see it as another chance at romance and throw caution to the wind, and others play to those fantasies. Hope can be a powerful thing."
Another common scam is to call seniors and convince them to send money to help a relative who has been hospitalized or put in jail, Long said.
Sometimes seniors answer calls from unknown numbers simply because it provides a connection to the outside world, but that's a mistake, he said.
"If you don't know who is calling, don't answer the phone," he said.
Talk about it
Jones encourages people to speak with their older relatives to help them avoid becoming victims of such crimes.
"There are people who think this isn't going to happen to my mom and dad, but then it does," she said. "You should have that conversation with them."
Jones hopes the task force can reduce these crimes through community education and improve reporting mechanisms to help solve those that occur.
The task force representatives agreed, saying it’s crucial to provide help to seniors.
financial exploitation and fraud are all too common occurrences,
exacerbated by this pandemic," said state Secretary of Banking and
Securities Richard Vague, who is serving on the task force. "The work of
the task force to coordinate and develop strategies around financial
exploitation detection and prevention is more important than ever."
Melisa “Missy” Brooks, 50, is accused of stealing more than $3,900 worth of items from her elderly employer over the course of a month, according to Apopka police. At the time, Brooks was already awaiting trial on allegations that she stole from another elderly person in her care.
In the new case, Brooks was hired in November by the son of a woman police described as an “elderly dying patient.” The son wanted someone to help bathe and dress his mother.
But the son told police that things went missing from his mother’s dresser and cabinets soon after Brooks took the job — including a bag containing $300 worth of quarters, a gold chain and crucifix pendant, four gold rings, an Olive Garden gift card and bottles of liquor.
Brooks denied knowing about the missing items but was later identified in surveillance footage from a Bealls store using the mother’s credit card to make an unauthorized purchase of $623, police said. Brooks was jailed Tuesday on various theft and exploitation charges.
She pled not guilty to similar charges last year after being accused of exploiting and stealing between $300 and $10,000 from a person 65 or older in May 2019. Records detailing the allegations against Brooks were not publicly available Wednesday.
Brooks’ next court hearing is scheduled for Feb. 9 in that case, in which her bond was revoked by Orange County Judge Andrew A. Bain following her latest arrest. Apopka police in an affidavit urged that she be held in custody “to protect future elderly victims.”
A string of additional theft charges also precedes the most recent allegations against Brooks. In 2012, she was arrested for shoplifting about $90 worth of merchandise from a Seminole County Publix.
“I stole some razors and lunch meat,” she told police, according to the arrest report.
Brooks completed a “shoplifting and impulse control” program in lieu of judgement but was found guilty of stealing about $140 worth of merchandise from another Publix two years later, according to court documents.
She was later found guilty of stealing $287 worth of clothing from a
Kohl’s in 2017, which she told officers she intended to return for gift
cards. An Orange County judge also found Brooks guilty of a theft that
took place in 2013.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
|Jack Burton, an attorney from Santa Fe, Sen. Jim White,|
R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque
Republican Jim White served one term in the Senate representing parts of Albuquerque, and Sandoval, Santa Fe and Torrance counties. He lost a reelection bid in the June primary.
“We will miss his wise and calm demeanor and passion for public service,” the Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement Friday. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Senator White‘s family members and friends.”
Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, a Rio Rancho Republican, told the Albuquerque Journal that one of White’s relatives found him at home. The cause of death wasn’t known.
White was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and served in Vietnam. He retired from work as an airport executive and served in the state House from 2009-14.
“He was a man that served his country, served his state and served his constituents well,” Brandt said.
was honored by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government in 2018
for his support in making the adult guardianship program more
As an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and its Department of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the more than 108,000 members of The Florida Bar. Key discipline case files that are public record are posted to attorneys’ individual online Florida Bar profiles. To view discipline documents, follow these steps. Information on the discipline system and how to file a complaint are available at www.floridabar.org/attorneydiscipline
Court orders are not final until time expires to file a rehearing motion and, if filed, determined. The filing of such a motion does not alter the effective date of the discipline. Disbarred lawyers may not re-apply for admission for five years. They are required to go through an extensive process that includes a rigorous background check and retaking the Bar exam. Attorneys suspended for periods of 91 days and longer must undergo a rigorous process to regain their law licenses including proving rehabilitation. Disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment.
Rita Horwitz Altman, 215 S. Olive Ave., Suite 200, West Palm Beach, suspended for three years and probation for two years thereafter effective immediately following a Dec. 17 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) Altman represented an immigration client in an asylum claim. The client provided critical evidence to Altman, who failed to add it to the asylum claim and to the court during the final hearing. Altman’s negligence, incompetence, lack of diligence and failure to be forthright with the court when asked about the evidence resulted in the denial of the asylum claim. (Case No: SC20-848)
Jean Bernard Chery, 1221 W. Colonial Drive, Suite 201, Orlando, disciplinary revocation with leave to seek readmission after five years effective 30 days following a Nov. 25 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2009) Chery improperly made disbursements to himself from his trust account. He also received settlement funds in several personal injury matters and disbursed attorney’s fees to himself before clients signed settlement statements and in amounts greater than he was entitled to. Chery deposited funds into the trust account to replenish the shortages but failed to notify The Bar’s Lawyer Regulation Department of the shortages, their cause, or the amount of the replenishments. (Case No: SC20-1323)
Craig Albert Fine, 159 New Dorp Lane, Fl PLAZA-1, Staten Island, New York, suspended for 90 days effective Dec. 14 following a Dec. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2012) Fine failed to maintain minimum trust account records, which led to a $17,965.97 shortfall in his trust account. Further, Fine commingled personal funds in his trust account and issued earned fees to himself that cleared through another client’s funds held in trust. In mitigation, the court found the unintentional nature of the misappropriation, his remorse and acceptance of responsibility, immediate efforts made to rectify the situation, and remedial recordkeeping measures instituted among other matters including his unblemished disciplinary record. This is a reciprocal discipline action from the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department. (Case No: SC20-1497)
Justin Infurna, 8324 Prestbury Drive, Orlando, suspended effective 30 days following a Dec. 28 court order. No new clients may be accepted as of Dec. 28. (Admitted to practice: 2010) Infurna appears to be causing great public harm by abandoning his clients’ cases, failing to appear for legal proceedings, making misrepresentations to clients as well as to at least one judge, and by engaging in a pattern of verbally attacking clients, former employees, and fellow attorneys. (Case No: SC20-1834)
John Christopher Kenny, 1700 N. Monroe St., Suite 11-131, Tallahassee, suspended for 60 days effective immediately following a Dec. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1994) Kenny was hired to handle an adoption matter and failed to timely respond to the petition for adoption served on his client. He failed to competently and diligently handle his client’s legal matter, resulting in a motion for default being entered against his client. (Case No: SC20-814)
Bryan Alexander Kutchins, 3980 Tampa Road, Suite 101, Oldsmar, suspended for one year and payment of restitution effective 30 days following a Dec. 1 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1973) Kutchins was retained in a guardianship matter when he did not have sufficient experience in handling guardianship proceedings and charged excessive fees. On Nov. 30, 2016, the court issued an order prohibiting Kutchins from accepting any further payments pursuant to the contract. Rather, Kutchins’ compensation was limited to what was provided by statute, which required court approval of attorney’s fees. Kutchins denied knowledge of the Nov. 30, 2016, order, and accepted a payment from the client on Dec. 12, 2016, in violation of the order. (Case No: SC20-525)
James Russell Leone, 1594 Ross Drive, Deltona, disciplinary revocation with leave to seek readmission after five years effective 30 days following a Dec. 17 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1985) Leone was the subject of a Florida Bar investigation wherein he was alleged to have misled or misrepresented facts or law to a nonlawyer relating to residential property over which Leone was asserting a legal interest for his client. Leone filed an action for ejectment, but the trial court found Leone failed to establish any legal basis for his client’s claim. Leone had previously represented his client in at least seven similar matters. (Case No: SC20-1553)
Carmen Diana Lubbecke, 715 N. Washington Blvd., Suite B, Sarasota, suspended for one year effective 30 days following a Dec. 17 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2000) Lubbecke represented a husband and wife in a foreclosure defense case. Thereafter, she entered into an agreement with the husband to receive proceeds from the sale of the house in foreclosure as payment for legal fees. Lubbecke did not advise the clients to seek the advice of independent counsel. Lubbecke communicated with the husband and entered into a legal agreement regarding purchasing the home, which she did not ultimately do. While representing the wife in the foreclosure, Lubbecke filed a lawsuit against her to remove her name from the property pursuant to the party’s agreement in their divorce. (Case No: SC20-1786)
Ronald Louis Nelson, 1247 1 Ave. N., St. Petersburg, suspended for 91 days effective immediately following a Nov. 30 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1994) Nelson was held in contempt of the court’s order dated March 27 for failing to notify clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of his suspension. (Case No: SC20-1365)
Mayowa F. Odusanya, 1315 Oakfield Drive, Brandon, suspended for three years effective immediately following a Nov. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2010) Odusanya was hired to handle post-conviction matters for a client convicted of criminal charges in the Sixth and Thirteenth Judicial Circuits. Odusanya filed a Notice of Appearance in one circuit’s case but filed no pleadings in the cases in the other circuit. Odusanya failed to diligently pursue relief for his client and failed to provide substantive information to his client’s family and his client, who was incarcerated in a state prison. (Case No: SC19-1309)
Ernest Maloney Page IV, 115 W. Drew St., Perry, disciplinary revocation effective 30 days following a Dec. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) Page was charged by Information in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division. On Sept. 3, Page pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning a program receiving federal funds. Page filed for disciplinary revocation, which was granted by the Florida Supreme Court on Dec. 10. (Case No: SC20-1338)
Mark Payne, 9040 Town Center Pkwy., Lakewood Ranch, disbarred effective 30 days following a Dec. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1985) Payne and his wife own Real Estate Services Group, Inc., a Florida corporation that buys and sells real estate. Payne purchased a home after final judgment in a foreclosure action. After the purchase, Payne contacted the homeowners, offering to represent them in the foreclosure action brought by their mortgage lender. Payne did not enter into a written agreement with the homeowner clients, nor explain or seek their consent for his simultaneous ownership interest in and legal representation of Real Estate Services Group. In addition to the conflict of interest, Payne failed to make the necessary and proper disclosures to the lender and made misrepresentations to all parties. (Case No: SC18-680)
John Chandler Ross, 1025 Indian River Ave., Titusville, suspended for three years with proof of rehabilitation required prior to being reinstated effective 30 days following a Nov. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1983) This was a reciprocal discipline based upon the Dec. 18, 2019, order of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, entered in a forfeiture case wherein the court removed Ross as counsel for the client and directed that he be suspended from the practice of law before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The court found it necessary to take steps to remove Ross as counsel because of his abandonment of the client and the case. (Case No: SC20-588)
Leonardo Adrian Roth, 201 S. Biscayne Blvd., Suite 905, Miami, disbarred, effective immediately from a Dec. 23 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) Roth was previously disbarred in 2013 but in three separate grievances with the bar, he is alleged to have held himself out as an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice law in the State of Florida. The complainants in these cases assert that they received legal advice and other services from Roth and that he did not disclose his disbarment. (SC20-1260)
Sabrina Starr Spradley, 207 Tropic Isle Drive, Apt. 107, Delray Beach, disbarred effective immediately following a Dec. 2 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2009) Spradley was held in contempt of the Court’s order dated Feb. 11 for failing to notify clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of her suspension. (Case No: SC20-1366)
James M. Thomas, 36181 E. Lake Road, Suite 414, Palm Harbor, suspended for one year effective 30 days following a Dec. 1 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2003) Thomas represented a complainant in a civil matter involving damage to the complainant’s condominium. The court entered summary judgment as to liability in favor of the complainant and reserved ruling on the amount of damages and attorney’s fees and costs. Thereafter, Thomas failed to appear at two properly noticed pre-trial conferences. As a result, the court entered an order dismissing the complainant’s case without prejudice. The trial court found that Thomas’ failure to appear could not be explained as a mere calendaring error and was more than excusable neglect. The consequence of the dismissal resulted in the complainant recovering nothing and being required to pay $30,563.10 in attorney’s fees to Thomas. Thomas refiled a new case for the complainant but failed to pursue it. (Case No: SC18-1391)
Ryan Christopher Wagner, 110 S.E. 6 St., Suite 1420, Fort Lauderdale, public reprimand and held in contempt effective immediately following a Nov. 24 court date. (Admitted to practice: 2014) Wagner failed to respond to an official Bar inquiry in a timely manner. (Case No: SC20-1361)
Michael Lee Weimorts, P.O. Box 4926, Santa Rosa Beach, disbarred and must pay $3,500 in restitution to the Summerhaven North Townhome Association effective 30 days following a Dec. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1993) Weimorts failed to diligently represent the homeowners association, failed to communicate with the client for more than two years, failed to respond to Florida Bar inquiries, and failed to participate in the disciplinary proceedings. (Case No: SC20-555)
Katrina Wegmann, 66 W. Flagler St., Suite 500, Miami, suspended for three years, effective 30 days following a Dec. 23 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2012) Wegmann was arrested and charged with insurance fraud following a claim for damages to her home in which she misrepresented the date of the incident giving rise to the damages. After Wegmann successfully completes a Pretrial Diversion Agreement with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office, criminal charges will be dropped. (SC20-1795)
Sasha Bentley Weitzner, 37 N. Orange Ave., Suite 500, Orlando, suspended for 18 months effective 30 days following a Dec. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2007) While in court, Weitzner appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The court requested a urinalysis, which Weitzner refused. He was then replaced at the client’s request. In another case, Weitzner fell asleep during voir dire, causing the judge to stop proceedings to wake him up and admonish him. When questioned, Weitzner denied being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In another matter, Weitzner was arrested on one count of Grand Theft and two counts of Petit Theft First Offense. He entered a residential treatment facility, where he remained for 18 months until being successfully discharged. He fully cooperated with The Bar’s investigation, showed remorse, and proved interim rehabilitation. (Case No: SC20-215)
About The Florida Bar
Founded in 1949, The Florida Bar serves the legal profession for the protection and benefit of both the public and all Florida lawyers. As one of the nation’s largest mandatory bars, The Florida Bar fosters and upholds a high standard of integrity and competence within Florida’s legal profession as an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court. To learn more, visit FloridaBar.org