Saturday, May 22, 2021

Pinellas hospice collected millions from flawed Medicare claims, audit says

The Hospice of the Florida Suncoast disputes many of the findings. The federal government says much of the money should be refunded.

During a federal audit, investigators reviewed a sample of 100 Medicare claims from The Hospice of Florida Suncoast Inc. and concluded that 49 did not comply with requirements. Suncoast disagreed with all but two of the questioned claims. [ Times (2006) ]

A Clearwater-based hospice provider received $47.4 million in Medicare reimbursements that did not comply with requirements over a two-year period, according to a federal audit released Monday.

The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended that Suncoast Hospice — which operates three hospice care centers — refund to the federal government the portion of the $47,363,971 that is within a four-year “claims reopening period.”

Also, the inspector general’s office recommended that the hospice, formally known as The Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, Inc., strengthen policies and procedures to ensure that services comply with Medicare requirements.

According to the audit, the hospice provided services to about 12,400 beneficiaries and received Medicare reimbursement of almost $149 million from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2017. Investigators reviewed a sample of 100 claims and concluded that 51 complied with requirements but 49 did not.

Of those 49 claims, clinical records did not support patients’ terminal prognosis in 30 cases. Also, in 20 claims, the clinical record did not support the level of care claimed for Medicare reimbursement.

In two cases, Suncoast claimed “service intensity add on” payment for services that were not provided, according to the report. In three claims, more than one error was found. Medicare provides health insurance coverage to people ages 65 and older, people with disabilities and people with end-stage renal disease.

To qualify for Medicare hospice care, patients must be eligible for what is known as Medicare Part A and be certified by a physician as being terminally ill or having a life expectancy of six months or less. Suncoast Hospice disputed the audit’s findings.

“Specifically, Suncoast disagreed with all but two of the 49 sample claims questioned in our draft report,” the audit said. “Accordingly, Suncoast does not believe it was overpaid for hospice services except for the two claims it agreed were in error.”

Suncoast Hospice is part of the non-profit Empath Health. It has two satellite offices along with three inpatient units in Pinellas County.

Full Article & Source:

Senator Jacque Brings Forward Two Bills

Senator Andre Jacque of De Pere is co-sponsoring a pair of bills aimed at protecting adults at risk and allowing children access to state parks.

The first of those bills aims to allow prosecutors to request that a court freeze or seize assets from a defendant who has been charged with a financial exploitation crime when the victim is an adult at risk in order to preserve them for restitution and allow at-risk adults to appear in court via phone or Zoom for certain cases among other things.

The other requires the Department of Natural Resources to waive the fee for an annual vehicle admission receipt issued to the parent or guardian of a public or private school pupil who possesses a valid Every Kid Outdoors pass issued by the U.S. National Park Service.

The bill was fully endorsed during the DNR and Wisconsin Conservation Congress spring hearing last month.

Full Article & Source:

Online scams rose 25 percent during pandemic

by Paul Bischoff

In 2019, over 3.8 million Americans were victims of fraud and scams. Fast-forward to 2020 and the global pandemic and these figures have risen by over 25 percent with 4.77 million Americans being victims of fraud and scams in 2020 alone.

Of the figures that are reported, we also know that $5.1 million was lost to these scams in 2019, before increasing by 37 percent to $7 million in 2020. But with a large chunk of scams not having a $ figure attached to them, and scams being vastly underreported, these figures are likely much higher.

What’s also interesting is how the types of frauds and scams taking place changed from 2019 to 2020.

Our team of researchers explored data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and the Finance Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to find out just how the pandemic has altered fraud and scams across America.

Key findings:

– 2,523,800 Americans lost $5,142,248,313 to fraud and scams in 2019

– A further 1,282,531 Suspicious Activity Reports were filed to FinCEN for “cyber events” or “scams” in 2019 = 3,860,331 victims of fraud and scams in 2019

– 3,355,555 Americans lost $7,017,577,961 to fraud and scams in 2020

– A further 1,416,005 Suspicious Activity Reports were filed to FinCEN for “cyber events” or “scams” in 2020 = 4,771,560 victims of fraud and scams in 2019

– This is a 25 percent year-on-year increase in victims and a 36.5 percent year-on-year increase in $ amounts lost

– Identity theft, online shopping, healthcare, and employment/business-related scams saw some of the biggest increases from 2019 to 2020

Due to FinCEN not providing figures on the $ amounts lost to Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), these figures have been omitted from our overall totals when comparing dollar amounts lost. But they have been included in our victim counts.

However, in one report regarding SARs related to elder financial exploitation, it was stated that the average loss across all reports was $16,700. While only 80 percent of elder financial exploitation cases resulted in a loss, this still suggests an astronomical loss across these SARs. For example, if we base the losses on the aforementioned 80% of cases resulting in a loss of $16,700, that would put the loss to SARs at $17.1 billion in 2019 and $18.9 billion in 2020.

Read the full report here:

Full Article & Source:

Friday, May 21, 2021

Guardianship Abuse Playbook – Retaliation Against Those Who Dare to Speak Up

By Terri LaPoint
Imagine a situation in which someone you love is abducted. You may or may not know where they are, but you are powerless to free them. The captor takes their money by getting into their bank account and investments, changing insurance policies and trusts to the benefit of the captor. The captor drugs the loved one into oblivion and forbids them to contact friends or family members.

If a masked thug did all this, law enforcement would jump into action, and the person reporting such a crime might even be hailed as a hero.

However, if the perpetrator of such actions does so by manipulating the probate or civil court system, it is business as usual. No one bats an eye if the victim is declared by the court to be an “incapacitated person” in need of a guardian, whether the allegation is true or not.

Worse, there is often swift retaliation against anyone speaking up for these hidden victims of guardianship abuse. Such bullying tactics are so common that they are considered part of the standard “playbook” used by the perpetrators of guardianship exploitation through local probate courts.

Occasionally, stories of this abuse of power make it into mainstream media, such as that of Golden Flake heiress Joann Bashinsky and the film from Netflix, “I Care A Lot”. More often, stories appear in alternative media and blogs.

The prevalent thinking is that, indeed, this case is an anomaly. Few realize how commonly it occurs. And few recognize the high cost at which these stories ever see the light of day.

Retaliation – Part of the Script

Talk show host and elder advocate Marti Oakley has been covering stories of the abuse of senior citizens for 14 years. Over half of her 2000+ broadcasts on the TS Radio Network have been on guardian abuse. She has interviewed many hundreds of victims and family members who have spoken out about the horrors experienced in this system.

Though each story is different, the playbook is predictable, almost like a script. In a recent interview, Oakley told Real News Spark:

In virtually every one of the cases, the retaliation is just unthinkable.

Though they have committed no crime, the person’s fundamental human rights under guardianship are stripped from them. Everything they have worked for their whole lives, including their family relationships, businesses, and estates, are at the mercy of strangers known as guardians and conservators, who now control everything. Exploitation and abuse of the “ward,” as they are called in this system, are the standard MO.

Oakley explains that family members who speak up or try to fight for the rights of their loved ones may come under attack by having false charges levied against them. Their reputations are frequently slandered. It is not uncommon for family members or advocates to be attacked in online or media smear campaigns.

Both the wards and their families are often bankrupted by endless legal battles, while the guardians siphon off inflated fees and commissions from the estate of the ward.

Visits with the loved one, whether the ward is mother, father, sibling, grandparent, or even spouse, have been cut off as punishment. The guardian may tell the court that it is not “in the best interest” of their victim to have visits from the family because the ward “becomes agitated” during visits, (perhaps in wanting their life back?).

While they are being told that their loved ones have moved on with their lives, their families are often fighting expensive battles in probate court simply for the privilege of having a visit or trying to free the estate from being milked away by people with no interest in preserving the intentions of the senior citizen. The bullying tactics kick up into full gear against anyone trying to fight for their dignity or freedom.

Even media personalities and advocates have been de-platformed, shadow-banned, or threatened when they provide a place for the victims or their families to tell their stories.

“Insidious Retaliation” against Daughter Fighting to Free Her Father

In the struggle to free her father Marvin Siegel from the isolation and abuse of guardianship, Boston area attorney Lisa Belanger learned how vicious retaliation can be. Court-appointed guardians forced her and her family to move out of her father’s home just before Christmas in 2011.

Lisa Belanger and her father. Photo supplied by family.

Not only did the attorney guardians engage in a smear campaign against her reputation, but they also went after her bar license when she dared speak out against them. She responded in court:

This entire procedure [of the attempt to remove her bar license] has been about a persecution because it’s retaliation against me for lawfully and reasonably fighting for my family’s constitutional rights.

This is a battle she yet fights today. She recently told me:

This intimidation is the rule, not the exception. They are used to intimidating people and they will shut up.

Lisa Belanger refused to bow to the bullying tactics used against her. She says she will always stand up for the truth. After a court hearing, the “insidious retaliation” began, she explains, when she exposed attorney Marsha Kazarozian and the court-appointed guardian for their role in drugging her father. She told their story to the Boston Broadside, naming names and providing documented evidence.

Belanger realized that this was happening to many more people besides her father. She got involved with the cases of Alice JulianMary Frank, and Beverly Finnegan, all Boston-area seniors who were ultimately euthanized under their court-appointed guardianships.

See article:

Public Warning: Boston is a Cesspool of Adult Medical Kidnappings

Before long, Belanger had uncovered 29 other cases besides her father’s, involving many of the same players. When she filed a federal racketeering lawsuit in 2015 exposing those cases, retaliation against her began in earnest. She was labeled a “misguided crusader,” and guardians stopped her visits with her father.

Citing a restraining order that did not exist, the guardians threatened her with arrest when she tried to see him.

The court removed her as trustee of her father’s estate. The guardians subsequently dismantled the trust and drained the estate – an estate that held over $9 million before guardians entered the picture. Most of the money was gone by the time of his death in 2019.

Wife Threatened and Slandered

Helen Taylor of Missouri fought for, and eventually won, the freedom of her husband of more than 40 years. Under the guise of “protecting” Charley Taylor, guardians sold several properties that the couple owned jointly. She told about some of the outrageous retaliation against her:

I have never had but a speeding ticket in my life until the county took him from me. Since then, I have been labeled a thief, a person that blows up nursing homes, called in to take a lie detector for abusing animals. The county won’t stop with the things they accuse me of. I was a grandmother of 13. Now, I am a homeless woman that lives in an apartment across the street from my husband in a nursing home. Oh, I forgot, an abuser of my husband. No charges after 719 days in court. No witnesses. I can’t believe what a crooked county can do to people.

After she spoke out about the cruel treatment of her husband under the guardianship, including sexual abuse and starvation in the nursing home, the guardians retaliated by obtaining a court order forbidding her to see the love of her life

Helen and Charley Taylor – photo taken by family friend. Shortly after, guardians forbade Helen to take photos of her husband. The day before Valentine’s Day 2017, guardian Amanda Huffman cut off all visits between husband and wife.
Though the attacks were merciless, she refused to back down. Because of her courage, Charlie Taylor finally came home. Helen Taylor is now a passionate advocate for families fighting guardianship abuse.

Retaliation Is Frighteningly Common to Silence Dissent

During almost 7 years of investigating stories of “medical kidnappings” of seniors and children, virtually every family member I have interviewed whose loved one has been taken reports that the court documents contain false information about them. The predators use the power of motions and false allegations in their filings to seize the ward and keep them under the custody of the court. Often these are wild accusations or outright lies which are easily proven false. However, that part of the story is swept under the rug while the victims’ reputations are smeared.

In many cases, family members and advocates have been threatened. In a pattern that is all too familiar to those who have been following these stories, anonymous bloggers and social media trolls attack the reputations and character of those who fight back. By doing so, attention is deflected away from the very real crimes being committed in the guardianship system against senior citizens.

Courage to Stand

History is full of those with the courage to stand for truth and justice, refusing to back down, no matter the cost. Like Daniel in the lion’s den and the Hebrew boys in the fire, these families do not stand alone. May God give them the strength to stand, even in the fire.

Lisa Belanger told a Massachusetts court why she will never back down in speaking out for people like her father:

This matter is not just about me. It’s not just about my father…. This case is about a nationwide epidemic, and it is shown from the exhibits of the federal action through the Government Accountability Office that what I have been exposing over the past seven years is a nationwide epidemic. This is not an isolated circumstance.

Full Article & Source:

Illinois Panel Recommends Oak Park Lawyer Be Disbarred

By Chris Tye

CHICAGO (CBS) — An Oak Park lawyer is accused of using clients’ cash to pay for personal expenses.

Now a state panel is recommending the woman be disbarred.

CBS 2’s Chris Tye made a strange discovery in the case. One state agency continues to recommend this lawyer to help families trying to adopt.

“A danger to the public” and “behavior that defies common sense.” That’s how the state panel in charge of investigating attorney misconduct framed this officer of the court.

A truck driver awarded  $10,000 in a workers comp case back in 2013 was the first client to flag trouble. He hired Oak Park lawyer Valarie Franklin, who he said spent his money.

To investigate attorney misconduct in the state, The Illinois Supreme Court has a group of lawyers and non-lawyers known as the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission — or ARDC.

The ARDC report into Valarie Franklin “…recommended… [she] be disbarred.”

They found she “… failed to keep the funds of ten clients separate from her own and knowingly used those funds for her own purposes.” and  “…the amount she converted exceeded $122,000.”

The ARDC said she would pull money using her ATM card and used client dollars for groceries and manicures.

“…we determined that [she] falsified documents…”

Gave “…false testimony..” And that she “…presents a danger to the public.”

But the same state that admonished her still gives her prominent placement on a list she should no longer be on. The Department of Children and Family Services has a panel of attorneys named on its website to assist parents trying to adopt children in state care.

It’s called the Statewide Adoption Attorney Panel. Franklin remains one of the 100 attorneys listed, even though members can’t have been disciplined by the ARDC.

So how is she still listed?

When CBS 2 asked, the Department of Children and Family Services couldn’t answer.

The Illinois Supreme Court will decide if she should be disbarred. Ms. Franklin’s attorneys said she plans to appeal the ruling. That she should have been offered probation and all clients were eventually paid.

Her lawyers said she plans to appeal and will need to do that in the next two weeks.

DCFS responded to CBS 2 saying Franklin has been pulled from the panel after CBS 2’s questions.

The agency said she has handled hundreds of cases of families trying to adopt children over the last 18 years. But does not know how many cases she was currently handling.

Full Article & Source:

Financial Exploitation in Nursing Homes

by Danielle Trigg

Financial exploitation is just one of the many cases of abuse that the elderly experience in nursing homes. It’s a form of abuse that involves the improper or illegal use of the victim’s money or belongings for personal use. Unfortunately, financial exploitation is one of the fastest-growing forms of elder abuse.

Financial exploitation is considered a crime. However, it often goes unreported. The elderly are highly vulnerable to financial exploitation as they may be unaware of the value of their assets, and they’re less likely to use technology to help them keep track of their finances.

Who are the common victims of financial exploitation?

The common victims of financial exploitation are elderly patients with Alzheimer’s or any memory-related illnesses or cognitive difficulties.

Unfortunately, approximately 90% of these cases are committed by trusted individuals. They’re often done by either a close relative, a friend, or a caretaker.

Often, caregivers or guardians have the most control over the victim’s finances, such as cash, credit cards, and bank accounts. It’s because the majority of seniors are incapable of managing their assets. This puts them at a high risk of being taken advantage of financially by either a guardian or a caregiver.

Elder Abuse Statistics

According to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other related research studies, seniors in the U.S. are scammed out of approximately $3 billion to $37 billion a year. In 2018, the Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans received over 180,000 encounters of suspicious elder financial exploitation (EFE), involving a total of more than $6 billion since 2013.

Examples of Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation comes in many forms. Some may be more obvious than others. Here are some examples of financial exploitation that suspects commonly do:

  • They are cashing in using the older person’s check without their permission. This is commonly done by someone who was entrusted with the older person’s bank account or checkbooks. They betray their trust and take advantage of their position to make money from the victim’s bank account without their permission.
  • Theft or the blatant act of stealing the older adult’s money or their physical possessions. Since nursing homes provide very little privacy to their residents, their doors may be left open most of the time, making it easier for suspects to take advantage of them and steal their money and items. Clothes, jewelry, and cash are the most common items that suspects take.
  • They are forging an older person’s signature.
  • Deceiving the elderly into signing a document (such as important contracts, their property, or sometimes even their will)
  • Using technology to scam elderly people
  • Improper usage of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney
  • Threatening the victim into transferring assets.

Signs OF Elder Financial Abuse

If you are wondering whether your loved one is currently experiencing financial abuse, here are some warning signs that you need to watch out for:

  • Receiving letters from collection agencies or past due notice from creditors despite having no memory of purchasing expensive items
  • They have far less money in their bank accounts
  • Their credit card balance is higher than usual
  • Distress or agitation
  • Sudden lack of their basic personal needs or medication
  • Inconsistencies with their statements or financial accounts
  • They are acting worried or stressed about money
  • Odd spending habits despite having no noticeable new items or not going out
  • Having a history of “purchasing” gifts to nursing home staff or other residents without their consent

Four Steps That Will Help You Prevent, Detect, and Report Financial Exploitation

1. Know Your Rights

All federal nursing homes are subject to follow regulations and must provide the following resident’s fights and facility requirements.

Residents (or the residents’ legal representative) have the right to:

  • Access all records pertaining to himself or herself within 24 hours (excluding weekends and holidays).
  • Manage his or her financial affairs.
  • Be fully informed of available services and charges for each service.
  • To file a complaint without fear of retaliation.
  • The facility is required to:
  • Protect personal funds residents choose to deposit with the facility and place resident personal
  • funds greater than $50 into an interest-bearing account.
  • Maintain a full and separate accounting of each resident’s personal funds.
  • Make individual financial records available through quarterly statements to the resident or resident’s
  • legal representative.
  • Not charge a resident for services or items paid for by Medicare or Medicaid.

2. Plan How to Handle Your Finances

All of us will grow old at some point, which is why it is important to plan ahead while we still can to avoid being scammed in the future. Here are some things you can do to avoid being financially taken advantage of during your old age.

  • Asking someone you trust to act as your agent (for a power of attorney) make sure that this person won’t betray you in any way
  • Receive your benefits (like pension checks) via direct deposit.
  • Residents receiving Medicaid are entitled to a monthly Personal Needs Allowance (PNA). If you do not know about your PNA, ask the facility staff or the individual assisting you with your finances.
  • Tear up or shred financial documents (e.g., receipts, statements) before throwing them away.
  • Consider setting up two bank accounts – one for bill-paying that you handle and one for pocket money. They can access the smaller “pocket money” account, and you can set up automatic monthly or weekly deposits into it for their use.
  • Protect your personal information. Do not give out personal information like your Social Security or bank account numbers unless you contacted the person asking for that information.
  • Put controls on their bank account and credit cards. For example, anything over $100 needs his signature and yours, or put a lock on any transactions over a certain amount.

3. Review Your Financial Information

Make sure to regularly check your finances and benefits and observe any warning signs of financial exploitation to avoid getting scammed.

4. Report ANY Suspicion of Financial Abuse

All elderly facilities are bound by law to protect their residents from any form of abuse, including financial abuse. Financial exploitation is a serious crime. If you suspect that you or your loved one is currently being financially exploited, here are some things you can do:

  • Speak with the facility administrator, social worker, or one of the staff members your trust.
  • Call your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. Ombudspersons are trained to resolve complaints. You may visit for more information.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services (APS). APS investigates reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders and, in many states, individuals with disabilities
  • If you feel that a serious crime was committed, talk with the police immediately. The suspect may not only be targeting your loved one, but they are more likely to target others as well. Protect your elderly relatives and other potential victims by going to the police.

Seeking the assistance of an experienced elder abuse lawyer can also be another helpful tool for the victim’s family. A skilled elder abuse lawyer can serve as a helpful legal advocate and guide for your loved one. Financial exploitation is becoming a serious problem across the U.S. The elderly population has the right to be protected from these abuses.

Full Article & Source:

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Conservatorship of Britney Spears | A Lawyer's Take

Kevin takes a look at the Framing Britney Spears documentary from the New York Times. Does the #freebritney movement have a point?


Colorado Supreme Court censures judge over DUI convictions, attempts to avoid arrest

Baca County Court Judge Debra Gunkel agrees to retire as part of the discipline

 By Shelly Bradbury 

Judge Debra Gunkel
(Colorado Judicial Branch)
A part-time Colorado judge was publicly disciplined by the Colorado Supreme Court after she was twice caught driving while drunk and trying to use her position on the bench to avoid being arrested.

Baca County Court Judge Debra Gunkel agreed to retire as part of the discipline, according to the state Supreme Court’s censure, which was published Thursday.

Almost all discipline for Colorado judges happens in secret, and Gunkel is only the sixth judge in the state to be publicly disciplined since 2010 — but her censure comes as part of a recent increase in such discipline.

Three of the six Colorado judges who have been publicly censured in the last decade were disciplined in the last six months, as the judicial branch has faced increased scrutiny of its integrity and operations.

The half-dozen judges who were publicly disciplined faced censures for unbecoming or unethical conduct, not issues of law, which must be litigated through the appeals process.

Gunkel was arrested in 2018 and 2019 and charged with driving under the influence, according to the censure. Both times she was stopped, she told the arresting officers that she was a judge, and asked that they either take her home or call her husband instead of taking her to jail, according to the censure.

Gunkel, who was removed from presiding over DUI cases in court while her own cases were pending, was on probation for the 2018 offense in Colorado when she was arrested again in 2019 in Kansas. Baca County is in the far southeast corner of Colorado and abuts Oklahoma and Kansas. Gunkel pleaded guilty to both offenses.

The Supreme Court’s public censure said she’d failed “to maintain the high standards of judicial conduct required of a judge,” and violated a rule which “prohibits a judge from abusing the prestige of the judicial office.”

Gunkel’s discipline and retirement closely follow the censure and resignation of 18th Judicial District Judge Natalie Chase, who was disciplined in April in part because she used a racial slur in conversations with coworkers and while on the bench.

The other judges to be publicly disciplined were: Laurie Booras, who called another judge “the little Mexican”; Robert Rand, who made misogynistic and inappropriate comments; Lance Timbreza, who was charged with driving under the influence; and Ryan Kamada, who tipped a friend off to a federal drug investigation and was censured in December.

Full Article & Source:

"Esther's Law" Allowing Cameras In Nursing Home Rooms Passes Ohio Senate

By Karen Kasler

The Senate has okayed a bipartisan bill that allows nursing home and long-term care facility residents and their families to install cameras in their rooms to prevent abuse and neglect.

Sponsoring Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said 11 years ago, the family of 90 year old Esther Piskor was concerned about her quiet moods and unexplained bruising they saw in their visits to her northeast Ohio nursing home.

“Her family then placed videocameras in her room and caught horrific footage of her being assaulted by health care professionals," Antonio said on the Senate floor. "Unfortunately, this is not unique to Esther.”

Antonio said the state got more than 19,000 reports of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation in 2018, the most recent year for which stats are available.

The bill named for Esther, sponsored by Antonio and Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware), would allow a resident’s family to put up cameras trained on that resident, with permission from a roommate if there is one.

The bill requires that the resident’s family pay for installation and removal of the camera, which will be trained on the resident, as well as secure permission from a roommate if there is one. And it says a facility can’t discriminate or retaliate against those who use cameras.

“Esther’s Law, we believe, can provide families peace of mind by allowing them to check up on their elderly loved ones. COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the necessity of this legislation when in-person visits were not even possible.”

The bill passed the Senate unanimously. There’s a similar bill pending in the Ohio House.
Full Article & Source:

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Colorado guardianships can bleed estates with little to no oversight

“It’s a money-making machine,” says one man.
Anyone can file a petition to probate court for a guardianship in Colorado if they are concerned about the well-being of an adult. The goal of court appointed conservators or guardians is to protect the most vulnerable, but some insist they are instead draining bank accounts with little oversight.
By: Jennifer Kovaleski

DENVER – When Pat Brannigan received a settlement from the United States Postal Service (USPS) after being injured while working, he thought he’d be paying off his mother’s house. But instead, he wound up broke and lost his dog.

“It was almost like a nightmare,” Brannigan said.

Brannigan, a custodian for the post office, fell on the job and broke his hip, which led the USPS to give him a $100,000 settlement. But before he could get the money, Brannigan was placed into a court-ordered conservatorship.

He was appointed a conservator who became responsible for overseeing all his finances.

Pat’s friend — and head of Littleton’s Postal Union, David Steinbach — said social services petitioned the court and felt Brannigan couldn’t take care of the settlement money because he can’t read or write and is developmentally disabled.

“And within two years all the money was gone,” Steinbach said.

Then he said, they took more.

When Brannigan’s dog, Gerri, became ill, he said the conservator “didn’t want to deal with it” and made him give her up.

“They took that dog to break his heart,” Steinbach said.

Anyone can file a petition to probate court for a guardianship in Colorado if they are concerned about the well-being of an adult.

The goal of court appointed conservators or guardians is to protect the most vulnerable, but some insist guardians and conservators are draining bank accounts with little oversight.

“They just want my money. There’s something we’ve got to do. This isn’t right,” Brannigan said.

Britney Spears fights conservatorship

In a higher-profile case in a different state, Britney Spears has been under a court-ordered conservatorship in California ever since a public meltdown in 2008.

Her father, Jamie Spears, and some attorneys have been put in charge of much of her life including her finances. Spears is now fighting to have the conservatorship removed, which has sparked the #FreeBritney movement.

How the money quickly disappears

In Colorado, court records from Brannigan show how people’s money can quickly disappear when a conservator gets involved with someone’s estate.

“The conservator worked 29.4 hours times $210 per hour, which she charges, for a total of $6,174,” Steinbach said while reading one of Brannigan’s documents.

Records show those fees were charged to Brannigan for the conservator to pay his bills and make telephone calls on his behalf. And instead of paying off his mother’s home, a reverse mortgage was placed on it.

Family disputes often at the core

Internal disputes can lead to families losing control of their loved one’s estates through the courts. That is what happened to Greg and David Wells. The twin brothers were caught in the middle of a family legal battle, and while it played out, probate court got involved.

“Their agenda is to steal,” Greg Wells said.

Their 80-year-old mother, Sharon Wells, now has a court-appointed guardian who oversees her care, and a conservator who oversees her money. Reports from the conservator show both have drained hundreds of thousands of dollars from her estate in fees. These reports are required to be submitted to the courts.

“They separate family and then they put a restraining order against you,” David Wells said. “You have predatory attorneys who are in this for profit.”

For one 18-month period, records show the conservator charged nearly $150,000 to Sharon Wells, making up to $325 an hour for taking care of her estate.

“It’s a money-making machine,” said Greg.

Local victim now helps other families

Luanne Fleming is a victim-turned-advocate after her mother was placed in a guardianship in Colorado several years ago.

“We did eventually get my mom back, but our whole estate was gone, is gone,” Fleming said. “This is happening systematically throughout Colorado.”

Fleming now runs a weekly online radio show called F.A.C.E.U.S radio, which stands for Families Against Court Embezzlement Unethical Standards, to help other families.

“I have talked to over 160 families in Colorado,” she said. “They are telling me that their moms are being taken away from them unwarranted, their estates are being pillaged, that they are restricted from seeing their mothers.”

Adult Protective Services role

The process for a guardianship often starts with Adult Protective Services. Denver7 Investigates contacted Denver’s Office of Adult Protective Services, but the office denied an interview request.

Instead, the office sent us a statement reading in part, it considers guardianship/conservatorship “as the most restrictive intervention” and “a last resort to protect an at-risk adult.”

“The caseworker is required to independently verify if family, friends, or others are willing, available, and appropriate to act in these roles,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

Former lawmaker tried to do something

Laura Woods is a former Colorado state senator from District 19 in Jefferson County. Woods tried to pass legislation in 2017 that would have given basic rights to those placed in guardianship — including access to a cell phone, mail, and visits from family.

“If the state legislature can’t shut them down, I don’t know who can,” Woods said.

She said the bill was killed in the House because “we were going to impact the cash cow they have.”

Woods pointed to the recent a Netflix movie called “I Care a Lot,” which she said shows what’s happening in courts across Colorado.

“One-hundred percent accurate,” she said.

Woods also pushed for more accountability when she requested a state audit in 2017. It found a lack of oversight with the courts is at the root of the problem, with conservators charging rates up to $350 per hour.

Another audit six years prior identified similar problems but very little has been done since.

“Nobody knows that this is going on until they're caught up in it and then they're scrambling for help and there's none to be had,” Woods said.

Denver7 is not naming any of the guardians or conservators involved because they are doing nothing illegal, but there are no limitations to what they can charge, which critics say leaves the system ripe for abuse. 
Full Article & Source:

Judge Placey’s Judicial Discipline case will not go to trial

by: Kendra Nichols

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A Joint Stipulations of Fact in Lieu of Trial has been filed in the case against Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Placey. Legal experts say the filing indicates both sides agree on the facts of the case and there is no need for a trial.

In June of last year, the Judicial Conduct Board filed a complaint against Judge Placey, accusing him of angry outbursts in the courtroom and violating the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

In a response to the complaint, Judge Placey admitted to the charges against him saying his outbursts may be linked to concussions he suffered playing college football.

Although Placey admits to the facts of the case, he is not agreeing that he’s guilty of misconduct. That will be decided by the Pa. Court of Judicial Discipline.

In the next step in the case, both sides can file briefs arguing whether there was misconduct or not. All 8 judges on the Court of Judicial Discipline will look at the briefs and evidence and issue an opinion.

If the Court of Judicial Discipline finds there was misconduct, Placey could face several sanctions, including being barred from serving as a judge in the future, fines, loss of pension, and censure.

Placey could also be removed from the bench, but he decided not to run again and his term is over the end of this year.

Current Magisterial District Judge Kathy Silcox and Cumberland County First Assistant District Attorney Michelle Sibert are running for the open seat. Cumberland County voters will
pick their candidate on May 18.

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Attorney General Moody Highlights Senior Protection Resources for National Elder Law Month and National Older Americans Month

Attorney General Ashley Moody News Release

Attorney General Moody Highlights Senior Protection Resources for National Elder Law Month and National Older Americans Month

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Attorney General Ashley Moody is highlighting senior protection resources, as May is National Elder Law Month and National Older Americans Month. More than five million seniors call Florida home, with many moving here to retire. Protecting seniors is an important focus for Attorney General Moody, and her office offers several resources to assist seniors who have been scammed, defrauded or exploited. 
Attorney General Ashley Moody said, “Our seniors deserve peace of mind and the ability to enjoy their retirement, free of worry that deceitful scammers will exploit them. Our office is dedicated to strengthening laws and bolstering efforts to protect seniors. As your Attorney General, I will always work to protect those who call Florida home.” 
One resource the Attorney General’s Office provides to seniors is the Senior Protection Team, an intra-agency group of experts working to fight fraud. The team is comprised of leading members from the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, Consumer Protection Division, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and Office of Citizen Services. Seniors vs. Crime and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also actively assist the team with investigations and outreach efforts. The goal is to bring attorneys and investigators specialized in fighting civil, criminal and health care fraud together to develop strategies to protect Floridians 60 and older.  
To learn more about the Senior Protection Team, click here. 
The Seniors vs. Crime project is another great resource available to assist seniors. Seniors vs. Crime was founded in 1989 with the mission to help prevent crime and fraud, aid consumers in resolving disputes and assist the Attorney General’s Office with its mission through the work of Florida senior volunteers—referred to as Senior Sleuths. Since Attorney General Moody took office, Seniors vs. Crime has helped recover, refund and save more than $3.4 million for older Floridians. 
For more information about Seniors vs. Crime, please click here
Recently, Attorney General Moody announced the passage of historic senior protection legislation. Attorney General Moody worked closely with the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar, Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Colleen Burton in crafting HB 1041 to provide greater protection to seniors statewide. This law will strengthen senior protection by preventing the intentional isolation of vulnerable adults, allow for earlier intervention by law enforcement and prosecutors to prevent irreversible physical harm or financial loss to vulnerable Florida seniors, and strengthen accountability of guardians and agents under powers of attorney. The Office of Statewide Prosecution will also have additional authority to go after those who commit crimes against elderly and disabled adults.  
For more information on this legislation, please click here.  
Savvy Consumers Can Stop Fraud: A Guide for Seniors, is a resource published by the Attorney General’s Office with tips on safeguarding finances, avoiding identity theft and information on other scams that target seniors. To access the guide, click here.  
Attorney General Moody also serves as Co-Chair of the National Association of Attorneys General’s Elder Justice Committee. For more on the committee, click here.

To report instances of scams against senior citizens or non-emergency instances of senior exploitation, call 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or click here to file a complaint online.

In the case of an emergency, please call 911.

In cases of exploitation involving a vulnerable adult, please follow the mandatory reporting requirements found in section 415.1034, Fla. Stat., by reporting to the central abuse hotline at 1 (800) 962-2873.
Full Article & Source:

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Kent County Probate Court introduces TurboCourt for adult conservatorship cases

By: Bianca Cseke

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Kent County residents will now be able to file documents online for adult conservatorship cases through TurboCourt.

TurboCourt offers a series of guided interviews to help filers with completing and filing court forms online, according to a news release Monday.

Specifically, the program helps individuals with preparing:

  • Documents to initiate a conservatorship for an adult
  • Petitions to modify or terminate a conservatorship for an adult
  • Petitions regarding the sale of real estate
  • Inventories
  • Annual accounts
  • Other petitions and filings.

Officials say the online program will increase access to justice in adult conservatorship matters.

TurboCourt for adult conservatorships may be accessed here.

Full Article & Source:

Miami-Dade Judge Disciplined After Assistant's Complaint Announces Resignation

Circuit Judge Martin Zilber was at the center of a NBC 6 Investigators story over allegations of inappropriately behavior toward an assistant

A Miami-Dade circuit judge who admits getting paid for excessive days off and misusing court staff has agreed to suspension and paying a steep fine. NBC 6’s Tony Pipitone reports

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Martin Zilber, who was at the center of a NBC 6 Investigators story over allegations of inappropriately behavior toward an assistant, has announced his resignation.

In a letter dated Friday, Zilber said it was a "privilege to serve the people of Miami-Dade County."

Former judicial assistant Dixie Dent told NBC 6 investigator Tony Pipitone in April she sensed the judge was acting inappropriately shortly after being hired.

Over the next 18 months, she would later tell the state Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), she witnessed him not showing up for work, requiring her and a bailiff to do personal tasks and endure what she said was a rant from the judge after she informed him she was pregnant.

Having had previous miscarriages, she said she needed the job's health benefits and endured his behavior - even when he required her to wheel his heavy chair up several floors to his courtroom bench while she was pregnant, which Zilber admitted doing.

"I had to put up with it," she said in an exclusive interview, "but what I saw, (was) injustice to the constituents of Miami-Dade County."

In the end, the JQC found probable cause to support most of her allegations and Zilber entered into a stipulation where he admitted his behavior was “intemperate, inappropriate and damaged the public’s perception of the judiciary.”

He also agreed to the recommended discipline: a 60-day suspension without pay from his $161,000-a-year job and a $30,000 fine, calculated to cover the proceeds of 51 days he was absent from the courthouse without notifying court administration he was taking leave.

Attorney Deborah Baker, who said she spoke to Zilber's lawyer after NBC 6 inquired about the judge, volunteered that she had "never seen him treat a woman any different than a man" and, as far as she could tell from years of practicing before him, there "wasn't a sexist bone in his body."

In recommending the discipline to the Florida Supreme Court, the JQC notes Zilber "immediately accepted responsibility (and) expressed remorse for his intemperate treatment and misuse of his court staff."

He admitted requiring his staff to do more than help run the courtroom, including at times doing his online shopping, registering his car, working on his scrap book and picking up his Art Basel tickets.

Dent said it did not take her long to realize "he wasn’t being honest with his time sheet. It was made very clear to me that the most important thing was to hold up the appearance that he was there, but in reality that wasn’t happening."

Not there on many Mondays and Fridays, she said, and not there for a week last August when he vacationed in Malibu without taking leave, the judge subsequently admitted, though he said he did do some work while in California.

"There’s a lot of good judges on the bench who don't behave this way, and it’s guys like this that are abusing their power, taking advantage of people like Dixie," said attorney Bruce Jacobs, who has his own long-running beef with the judge over contentious foreclosure litigation.

He is helping Dent challenge the deal Zilber reached with the JQC, which only recommends discipline to the state Supreme Court, which has final say.

"We’re asking that the Florida Supreme Court reject the JQC’s recommendation, which we think is a slap on the wrist, and we want him removed from the bench and disbarred," Jacobs said.

Dent said she is glad he is accepting responsibility, but one personal attack, she said, still hurts.

"The moment I told him I was pregnant, he said, 'Oh geez. This is such an inconvenience. This is going to ruin all my plans. This is the worst possible time for you to be pregnant,'" she recalled.

Soon after, Zilber was "requiring his pregnant JA to wheel his chair up several floors to the courtroom and then lift it onto the dais prior to hearings," the JQC found and Zilber admitted, later telling an investigator he made other arrangements "once the issue was brought to his attention."

"I simply could not do it because it was so heavy and I wasn’t going to risk the baby," Dent said.

After having her daughter and returning from leave, Dent said the final straw came in August when Zilber berated her over a Zoom session witnessed by her other children. She submitted her resignation the next day.

Full Article & Source:

EXCLUSIVE: Video shows man jump in to save older woman during assault, carjacking at SF Safeway

By Dion Lim

A recent college graduate had the ultimate adrenaline rush after saving a 75-year-old woman, who was attacked and carjacked at a Safeway in San Francisco's Richmond District.

 SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A recent college graduate had the ultimate adrenaline rush after saving a 75-year-old woman, who was attacked and carjacked at a Safeway in San Francisco's Richmond District.

"I could barely sleep that night!" beamed the young man, who did not want to be identified.

Surveillance video from a witness shows the moments the Good Samaritan realized something was very wrong after walking out of the shop around 5 p.m. on Thursday.

"I'm walking across the parking lot and I see this old woman being dragged across by her head, these girls are punching her and kicking and stomped on."

According to SFPD, a 75-year old woman, walking back to her red Lexus was attacked by three young women who took her keys and purse and tried to carjack her. That's when the young man jumped in to action, dropping his jug of almond milk and jumping on the back of the vehicle.

"Honestly, I'm still trying to find out why I did this one... but I just punched through the back window and it was loud. It was loud enough and kind of scary enough to freak them out," he says.

Video shows the suspects get out of the car and briskly make their way to a nearby waiting vehicle. The young man then makes his way to the woman to comfort her.

The white-haired senior was described to ABC7 News anchor Dion Lim by a witness as "tough as nails," declining treatment at the hospital.

The Good Samaritan said that, before leaving the scene, "she thanked me and she said I don't have to pay for her windshield her back window, so that's really nice."

In the end, one of the women was arrested a couple days later and SFPD continue their investigation. The young man is happy he didn't forget to pick up his almond milk saying "that stuff's not cheap!" and wishes the senior a speedy recovery and sends her this message.

"I think I would say...stay strong, the community has your back!" 

Full Article & Source:

Monday, May 17, 2021

Rice Woman Found Guilty of Theft While Acting as a Guardian

by Lee Voss

FOLEY -- A Benton County jury has found a Rice woman guilty of illegally obtaining medical assistance while acting as the guardian and conservator for a man who was hurt in a car crash.

Fifty-four-year-old Sheila Burski was also charged with two counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult for taking social security payments intended for that man, 69-year-old Norman Meinert.

Burski was found guilty on all three charges following a three-day trial this week.

Burski was appointed Meinert's guardian in December 2013. She listed Meinert had no assets when filing for medical assistance for him. From 2013 until Meinert's death in the fall of 2017, the county and state paid approximately $132,000 in medical assistance payments.

Upon his death, Burski completed a final accounting of Meinert's estate and court records show several discrepancies, including a real estate sale from Meinert to Burski and her husband in the amount of $510,000 in 2005.

In 2011, records show the contract for deed was satisfied somehow. Based on the monthly payments, Burski would have paid just over $162,000 of the $510,000. It's unknown if the nearly $350,000 remaining on the property was ever paid to Meinert.

The charges alleged Burski didn't disclose the property sale.

The contract for deed was satisfied in 2011 and with Meinert's accident occurring in 2013, the money fell within the 5-year look-back window to disclose assets. It ultimately would have prevented Meinert from qualifying for the medical assistance payments.

Burski was also charged with taking Meinert's social security payments, cashing them through her own bank account and failing to disclose those payments over a three-month span in 2017 prior to Meinert's death.

She'll be sentenced on June 30th. 

Full Article & Source:
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An Orlando lawyer stole $111,000 from clients, Bar says, got suspended and ignored it

By David J. Neal

An emergency suspension after an auditor looked into two client complaints about $111,001 of stolen money didn’t stop an Orlando attorney from filing a case in probate court the next day.

The violations in the above paragraph are why the state Supreme Court has disbarred Orlando lawyer Stephen Jones, the managing member of SMJ Law Firm PLLC.

Jones had been admitted to the Florida Bar in 2015. A Miami Herald reporter left a message for Jones at the phone number on his Florida Bar profile.

The referee’s report says Jones never filed an answer to the Bar’s Nov. 3 emergency suspension petition. About 20 minutes before a Nov. 23, 2020 case management conference, Jones sent an email to the referee and Bar’s attorney that he wouldn’t be available and asking that no hearings on the case be scheduled the first, third or fourth weeks of December. He also said his responses, including a motion to quash, would be coming on Nov. 25.

That’s the last the referee or the Bar heard from Jones.

Full Article & Source:

Crystal Lake man charged with sexually assaulting incapacitated family member

By Sam Borcia

Yazmani Diaz-Montero, 38, of Crystal Lake.

A Crystal Lake man wanted for sexually assaulting a family member was arrested by the U.S. Marshals earlier this month.

Yazmani Diaz-Montero, 38, of the 300 block of West Terra Cotta Avenue in Crystal Lake, was charged with criminal sexual assault, a Class 1 felony, and sexual relations within families, a Class 3 felony.

A criminal complaint filed in McHenry County Circuit Court alleges that Diaz-Montero committed the sexual assault on September 10.

The complaint says that the victim, who is a family member of Diaz-Montero, was unable to give consent to the act.

The incident was investigated by detectives with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.

A McHenry County judge issued an arrest warrant on April 26 carrying a $100,000 bond.

The United States Marshals Service arrested Diaz-Montero on May 4 and transported him to the McHenry County Jail.

Diaz-Montero remains held in the jail and would need to post $10,000 cash in order to be released.

Diaz-Montero, who was appointed a public defender, is scheduled to appear in court again on May 28 for a preliminary hearing, court records show.

Full Article & Source:

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Plaintiff's Claim Based on Threatening Statements Barred by Illinois' Absolute Litigation Privilege

Bedin v. Northwestern Memorial Hosp., 2021 IL App (1st) 190723-U

Brief Summary

An Illinois appellate court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claim based on the absolute litigation privilege. The court agreed that defendant's alleged threatening statements directed at causing plaintiff financial, physical, and emotional hardship were related to the potential or ongoing guardianship claim concerning plaintiff's mother. The alleged statements were thus absolutely privileged.

Complete Summary

In 2010, plaintiff's mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While plaintiff's mother was in defendant hospital's care, plaintiff was told that her mother could not walk without assistance. Later that day, a physician informed plaintiff that her mother could walk without assistance, that Medicare would no longer pay for her hospitalization, and that plaintiff would be charged $2,500/day if she did not agree to discharge her mother. Defendant also allegedly stated that plaintiff's mother would lose her home to satisfy the hospital bills and that if plaintiff did not discharge her mother, defendant would seek to have a public guardian assigned to make all decisions for the mother. Defendant eventually filed petitions for temporary guardianship, appointment of a guardian for a disabled person, and to invalidate plaintiff's power of attorney.

Plaintiff further alleged that defendant's representatives made several other threatening remarks throughout this process, such as: that defendant "had powerful attorneys that could destroy her;" that plaintiff's mother would never see her children again; that defendant would place plaintiff's mother "in a nursing home in South Chicago, and would leave her there until she died," that plaintiff would not know her mother was dead until after the fact; that they would take plaintiff's brother from his home and put him in a facility for "adults with Down Syndrome;" and that defendant "would have a Sheriff arrest [plaintiff's mother], evict her from the hospital, and put her on the street in a wheelchair."

Plaintiff later filed claims for abuse of process and IIED. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the two-year statute of limitations governing claims for abuse of process and IIED barred their claims, and that the IIED claim was also barred by absolute litigation privilege. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, finding that the two-year statute of limitations started to run when the agreed order in the guardianship proceeding was entered, and that plaintiff did not file the complaint until over two years later. The trial court did not address defendant's argument regarding the absolute litigation privilege.

The appellate court upheld the trial court's decision that the abuse of process claim was time-barred. However, it held that plaintiff's IIED claim was not barred because defendant allegedly made additional threats when plaintiff's mother was discharged and at the guardianship proceedings.

On remand, defendant filed another motion to dismiss, arguing that the IIED claim was barred by the absolute litigation privilege because the claim was based entirely on defendant's filing the petitions in the guardianship action. The trial court again granted defendant's motion to dismiss.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that defendant did not offer evidence to demonstrate that the threatening statements were made pursuant to the guardianship litigation or in contemplation of that action. The appellate court disagreed and held that the statements were sufficiently related to the guardianship action to be barred by the absolute litigation privilege.

The court noted that the absolute litigation privilege is an affirmative defense that permits the use of defamatory statements during all communications made before, during, or after litigation, and that it applies "regardless of the defendant's motive or the unreasonableness of his conduct." The only requirement for the privilege to apply "is that the communication must pertain to proposed or pending litigation." The court reasoned that defendant's statements were "sufficiently related and pertinent to the guardianship action, which defendant thought was necessary to affect discharge planning and placement." The court stated that plaintiff was contesting defendant's finding that her mother should be discharged, and any statements regarding Medicare and the financial consequences for failing to discharge her mother were in contemplation of any future guardianship action.

Further, the privilege also covered alleged statements to plaintiff's mother asking her if she wanted to "die in peace instead of on a machine" because the statements were an attempt to persuade plaintiff's mother to cancel plaintiff's power of attorney related to the pending guardianship action. The court concluded that defendant "is not liable for statements that have any bearing to the guardianship action regardless of its motive or the unreasonableness of its conduct." Thus, the absolute litigation privilege applied and barred plaintiff's IIED claim.

Significance of Decision

This case demonstrates that the absolute litigation privilege will protect any statements—however harsh or unreasonable—so long as they relate to proposed or pending litigation.