Saturday, August 28, 2021

Thousands of elderly residents neglected, abused yearly in North Texas, investigators say

By Domingo Ramirez Jr.

Plastic lids filled with cat food are scattered throughout the Fort Worth home of 66-year-old Raymond Gotautas and his 96-year-old mother, Eugenia Strouse.

Small boxes of Imperial raisins litter a coffee table and a dining room table, and cat fur lies undisturbed in all rooms of the home.

The house smells of the three cats who have a run of the home in south Fort Worth.

This is life on a hot summer day for Gotautas, who is blind, and his mother, who uses a cane to slowly get around the house.

They’re among the sometimes forgotten and neglected residents of North Texas. And they aren’t alone as sizzling temperatures and heat advisories return to the region.

There are more than 3.3 million Texans over the age of 65, and more than 1.7 million are adults with disabilities, according to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

In 2020, Adult Protective Services, a division of TDFPS, completed 86,614 investigations on residents over 65 in Texas, finding that 52,506 were confirmed victims of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. Of the total investigations in the state, 16,501 were in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and 10,108 were confirmed cases of neglect or abuse.

The most common reports received by Adult Protective Services are physical neglect, which can or has led to starvation, dehydration, over- and under-medicating, unsanitary living conditions or lack of personal hygiene. Neglected adults also may not have heat, air conditioning, running water, electricity or medical care, and oftentimes it is self-neglect, according to state officials.

“People tend to think neglect only happens in poor families and poor neighborhoods,” said Delicia King, who has been an Adult Protective Services investigator for more than three years in North Texas. “Now that people are living longer, neglect does not have a prospective person or race. You can’t look at a home and determine if someone is being neglected.”

Take Gotautas and Strouse for example.

Their home sits in south Fort Worth surrounded by residences with manicured lawns. All of Strouse and Gotautas’ family live in Poland.

For years, only a few friends and an investigator with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have kept an eye out for them.

Gotautus had been a watch maker for 35 years, but he became blind just a few years ago. His mother has had to use a cane to get around for several years.

“They’re the best,” Gotautus said, referring to TDFPS on a recent visit. “I trust them.”

In Texas, TDFPS provided services for 66,616 clients in 2020, including 12,240 in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

“It all depends on the support system for that person and whether or not family and friends are actively involved in the person’s life,” King said. “It is also common for our clients to have moved here from another country and not have anyone here to help them as they grow older. The biggest challenge is when these clients have lost capacity and there is no one here to help them make important decisions, like possible long-term care placement and/or finances.”

The department also provides services to younger clients with disabilities.

Every day, Prince Starr, who has a disability, faces the challenge head-on. The 38-year-old Fort Worth man had to have his leg amputated from the knee down after an infection on the bottom of his foot.

Prince Starr had to have two amputations on his left leg, but he says he meets the challenge head-on. Domingo Ramirez Jr.

In 2017, Starr and his family visited a water park at Six Flags St. Louis. Starr wore water shoes most of the day, but by that night he developed a small pain on the bottom of his foot.

The pain turned into an infection, which led to Starr having two amputations, causing him to lose his job and financial stability. Just after his amputations, Starr’s father died from cancer.

“I’ve never struggled,” said Starr, who lives in west Fort Worth. “Right now, I have an 11-year-old boy that looks at me and says, ‘That’s my dad. My dad is strong’.”

Starr said his son pushes him to be strong.

TDFPS officials stepped in to help Starr when he discovered his apartment complex had no porch lights or wheelchair ramps.

Starr said he has to leave at 4 a.m. to go to Dallas for physical rehabilitation.

“I see others living here in wheelchairs,” Starr said. “So there is a need for lights and ramps.”

As for Gotautas and his mother , TDFPS made arrangements for their home in south Fort Worth to be cleaned out. There also is a plan for pests to be exterminated.

“The most important thing is to stay involved with the elderly,” King said.

King said friends, family and neighbors should make home visits, and offer to take them to lunch or a day movie.

“Some will say anything to prevent someone from knowing what they are actually going through,” the TDFPS investigator said. “They have pride and they do not want to let others know they need help. Sometimes it takes that trusted someone to step in to start the process.”

For information on the signs of neglect and how to report elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, go to or call 1-800-252-5400.

Full Article & Source:

Omaha attorney is disbarred, in prison after his latest legal trouble

by Todd Cooper

The Nebraska Supreme Court has disbarred an Omaha attorney who will spend more time in prison than he did in the practice of law.

David J. Young
David J. Young surrendered his law license and was disbarred late last week after he stole from his father, terrorized his girlfriend, took thousands of dollars in fees from a client without doing any legal work and was accused of groping a client.

According to the Supreme Court and the Douglas County District Court:

In 2005, a jury acquitted Young, the son of an attorney, on a charge that he had raped a college-age woman in Omaha.

After his acquittal, Young, who is 36, went on to graduate from the University of Tulsa Law School and receive his law license in 2010. Within 15 months, he was accused of inviting a 19-year-old DUI client behind his desk at his law office, pulling her onto his lap and touching her inappropriately. He also kept $1,500 from that client, even after his law partner took over her case. Young told the law partner that he had done her legal work for free. The DUI client told the law partner that she had paid Young $1,500.

At the time, the high court suspended Young’s law license and said he could be reinstated if he followed certain guidelines. He never got that far.

He obtained power of attorney after his father, Omaha attorney Thomas Young, suffered a stroke. In 2017, he wrote himself checks out of his dad’s account and took $11,000. For that theft, Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon placed Young on three years of probation.

In April 2019, he took $13,000 to represent someone, though his law license was still suspended.

Then, in June 2020, Young’s girlfriend alleged that he tore up her home near 120th and Blondo streets, tried to set fire to her belongings, grabbed her by the neck and threw her against a door. She said he then chased her around the house with a broken banister and a cast-iron skillet. The girlfriend alleged that he told her that he was going to kill her.

Prosecutors filed a probation violation and three charges, including two counts of theft and one of terroristic threats. Young pleaded no contest. Bataillon sentenced him to seven to 10 years in prison, a term that is cut in half under state law.

Young’s sentence began in May. He will be eligible for parole in December 2023. Absent parole, he would be released in June 2025.

Full Article & Source:

4 vulnerable adults reported missing found safe in Tacoma

The six individuals went missing Monday after one caregiver expressed safety concerns for herself and those housed at the adult family home in Spanaway.

Credit: KING
The caregivers and the four vulnerable adults were found at a Tacoma hotel after alerting DSHS to their location.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) found four vulnerable individuals and their two caregivers at a Tacoma hotel Wednesday after they had gone missing Monday. 

The caregivers were initially arrested and booked into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of kidnapping and criminal mistreatment, but they will not be charged by the Pierce County Prosecutor's office. 

According to PCSD, the four vulnerable adults had last been seen Monday just before 3 p.m. at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) office in Tacoma. The missing adults were seen in a vehicle with the two caregivers from their Spanaway adult family home.

They were located Wednesday after one of the caregivers emailed DSHS saying that they were at the hotel, PCSD said. 

One caregiver claimed she feared for her patients' safety which is what led the group to leave the adult family home, according to PCSD. Previously, during a group visit to DSHS on Monday, one of the caregivers expressed concerns about her safety and the safety of the vulnerable clients at the home.

The four adults are doing well and are now back in the custody of DSHS, according to PCSD.
Full Article & Source:

Friday, August 27, 2021

Aegis Living settles staffing lawsuit for $16.25 million despite ‘fervently disputed’ allegations

by Kimberly Bonvissuto

Aegis Living says it has agreed to the $16.25 million settlement of a lawsuit alleging that staffing decisions were based on budgets rather than resident care needs so that it can focus on “what matters most —  our residents, their families and our team.”

A federal judge on Monday signed off on the settlement, which resolves claims that the Bellevue, WA-based company in Washington state and California made staffing decisions based on budgets rather than resident care needs. Aegis continues to deny any wrongdoing.

“The core of our mission and culture is to provide the highest level of care for our residents. From the beginning, we have fervently disputed the allegations in this case,” Aegis Living General Counsel Elizabeth Chambers told McKnight’s Senior Living on Tuesday. “After several years of aggressively litigating, we made the decision to stop fighting, collaborate with the plaintiff’s attorneys, and put an end to this case so we can continue focusing our full attention on what matters most —  our residents, their families and our team.”

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White approved the deal, according to Law360; it resolves two lawsuits against the senior living company in California federal and Washington state courts.

The two class action suits alleged that Aegis made misleading statements or omitted information about how resident assessment information would inform staffing levels. The lawsuit claimed that Aegis based staffing levels on “predetermined labor budgets, regardless of change in the overall care needs and assessed carepoints of current residents.” The suit argued the practice violated elder abuse and consumer protection laws, and left facilities understaffed and residents’ needs unmet.

The settlement includes $6.35 million in attorney fees and $1.17 million in expense and costs, leaving about $8.4 million for residents, according to Law360. California residents who were part of the suit and lived at one of 15 Aegis Living assisted living communities there between April 12, 2012, and Oct. 30, 2020, will receive approximately $950 each. Washington residents who were part of the suit and lived in one of 18 Aegis Living assisted living communities there between March 8, 2014, and Oct. 30 2020, will receive approximately $1,550 each.

Under the settlement, Aegis Living is required for three years to set staffing levels based on the amount of resources “reasonably required” to perform the care tasks needed by residents, as determined by the company’s assessment procedures.

Similar legal action against other senior living companies also resulted in settlements. The former Emeritus Corp., which merged with Brookdale Senior Living in 2014, settled a class action lawsuit in 2016 for $13.5 million. The suit alleged that Emeritus misled assisted living residents about the use of a computerized system to evaluate residents and determine sufficient staffing and care levels. 

Atria Senior Living settled a similar lawsuit for $6.4 million that same year, and Oakmont Senior Living settled a class action lawsuit for $9 million earlier this year. A similar lawsuit against Sunrise Senior Living is pending.

Full Article & Source:

Attorney Disbarred For Ethics Violations, Lying To Washington State Bar

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) – A personal injury lawyer who practiced in Everett has been disbarred for violating a restraining order, lying to the state bar association and other ethical violations.

The Daily Herald reports Eric Hoort was disbarred last week after working as an attorney in Washington state for over 20 years.

In 2018 and 2019, Island County sheriff’s deputies responded to calls about fights between Hoort and the woman at their home on Camano Island.

Police incident reports show the woman reported Hoort had been using drugs and stealing her prescription medications.

The state bar association says Hoort also violated a temporary protection by emailing the woman repeatedly.

The newspaper tried unsuccessfully to reach Hoort for comment.

Full Article & Source:

Guardianship task force focuses on reforming a broken system

Group plans to recommend legislative changes
By: Adam Walser
LARGO, Fla. — A new statewide task force will soon make recommendations to improve Florida’s troubled guardianship system.

The ABC Action News I-Team has been exposing serious problems with guardianship in Florida for eight years.

We had an opportunity to engage in frank conversations with key players who say they’re seeking solutions to those problems to better protect vulnerable seniors.

Guardianship is the process in which judges remove rights from people who are determined to be incapacitated.

They can appoint family members, or even strangers, called professional guardians to manage their health, finances and personal affairs.

Big expectations filled the room full of court clerks, lawyers, guardians and advocates.

"We’re nowhere near getting it right yet"

It was the first in-person meeting of Florida’s Guardianship Improvement Task Force, which was formed earlier this year by the Florida Clerks & Comptrollers Association.

“What we’re hoping to accomplish is to make the system better. The purpose of this is to make legislative recommendations that will be enacted and protect the wards,” said Pinellas County Clerk of Courts Ken Burke, who chairs the task force.

“There have been problems. We constantly revisit it. We constantly try to improve the system. But we’re nowhere near getting it right yet,” Burke said.

The I-Team has done dozens of stories documenting how guardians isolate, exploit and abuse seniors under their care.

“We want to make sure there are systems in place to catch those bad actors and not let them wreak havoc on somebody’s life,” said Okaloosa County Clerk of Courts J.D. Peacock,II.

Peacock’s office investigated Rebecca Fierle, who is accused of causing the death of a man under her care by removing his feeding tube and putting a Do Not Resuscitate order in place without getting permission from a judge or family.

“With a case like Fierle that went statewide, a lot of people see that. A lot of players in the system see that. Certainly, the court sees that,” Peacock said.

Fierle is free on bond awaiting trial.

The I-Team learned that multiple prior complaints about Fierle had been filed with the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, the state watchdog office charged with policing professional guardians.

No action was taken against her as a result of the prior complaints.

"Everything isn’t perfect"

In fact, during its first five years, OPPG did not successfully revoke a single guardian's registration and had a backlog of more than 100 cases awaiting completion in early 2019.

“That just doesn’t strike me as being acceptable,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in February 2019.

At the Governor’s request, OPPG’s then executive director and several staff members resigned. DeSantis appointed attorney Chante’ Jones to head the office in 2020.

“Everything isn’t perfect. It’s not where I’d like it to be. It’s not where our citizens will be happy. But I think they would be happy with knowing some of the improvements that we’ve done,” Jones said.

She says her office is more responsive to complaints and has changed processes to move more quickly to identify problem guardians.

She says she also wants to make sure wards are more likely to be exploited by guardians in certain counties, including Pinellas County, which has been called a “hot spot” by guardianship advocates.

“We want to eliminate those hot spots you know, and whatever part we can play. I think this task force, it will help us do that,” Jones said.

Full Article & Source:

Thursday, August 26, 2021

I-Team: Getting out of guardianship, one former ward's story

by Danielle DaRos

Michael Lincoln-McCreight tells the CBS12 News I-Team how he got out of his court-ordered guardianship (WPEC).
At 26 years old, Michael Lincoln-McCreight has done what few people in a guardianship have been able to do: get out.

After losing all of his rights, becoming a ward of the state for two years, and then successfully fighting to get his rights restored, Lincoln-McCreight is sharing his story with the CBS12 News I-Team in the hopes that other wards can take the same steps and live freely again.

"There is always a way to get out," he said. "You sometimes have to out-smart the system. There are a lot of cracks in the guardianship world."

Guardianship is supposed to be a last resort to protect our most vulnerable when they can no longer care for themselves. It's a system designed for the elderly and disabled who do not have the capacity to make their own decisions and manage their affairs.

Family members can become court-appointed guardians, and so can professional guardians who can charge their wards' money to manage their lives. Once they're appointed, guardians, also known as conservators, can exercise complete control over an individual, making all of their decisions and even charging wards money to do the work.

The CBS12 News I-Team is investigating guardianship in Florida and found numerous cases of guardians exploiting their wards and stealing their money.

Lincoln-McCreight had never heard about a guardianship before he was in one. It happened when he turned 18 and aged out of the foster care system.

He says he was put into a group home, and "that's when the fishiness began."

Doctors, psychiatrists, and lawyers started to meet with him and ask him questions, but he says no one explained the purpose of the visits. It wasn't until he was appearing before a judge that he learned someone petitioned the court to declare him "incapacitated" and unable to care for himself.

Lincoln-McCreight has a disability but knew it was wrong when a judge declared he didn't have the capacity to live independently and put him under the control of a public guardian.

From there, he was placed into a group home for adults with behavioral health issues. For two years, he says he lived like an inmate: cut off from his phone and internet, unable to go anywhere or talk to anyone without permission, unable to access his own money.

"It was really wrong, and it was really annoying," he said. He found himself asking, "Why am I here? Why did I deserve this?"

One day, a friend's mother suggested he reach out to a group called Disability Rights Florida for advice. But getting into contact with them wouldn't be easy.

Lincoln-McCreight decided to ask his guardian for $60 so he could pretend to buy a book, but he secretly used the money to buy a cheap cellphone. He told CBS12 News he hid it in a closet to make his first phone call to Disability Rights Florida, and ask for help.

"Mike's experience really goes to show and speaks to what an amazing advocate he is," said Viviana Bonilla Lopez, a lawyer with Disability Rights Florida. "He realized this is not what I want, and was determined to get out of it."

A different lawyer with Disability Rights Florida took on Lincoln-McCreight's case and petitioned a judge to reconsider the capacity declaration.

A new court evaluator met with Lincoln-McCreight and determined he did have capacity. When a different judge reviewed the report, he opted to end the guardianship and enter him into a less-restrictive arrangement called "Supported Decision Making."

As Bonilla Lopez explains, Supported Decision Making is a model that gives a person all of their rights back and allows them to be the chief decision-maker for themselves. When making certain decisions, like financial decisions, the individual can turn to a designated team of "supporters" for advice and guidance.

In Lincoln-McCreight's case, his supporters are his pastor and two trusted adult friends.

Not only did Lincoln-McCreight win his freedom -- he charted a new path for other wards. He is the first person in the state of Florida to get out of guardianship using the Supported Decision Making model.

Since winning his case, Disability Rights Florida has gotten two other wards out of their guardianships using SDM.

And now, with the help of Lincoln-McCreight, they are working on a piece of new legislation that would require judges in Florida to consider SDM before putting people into restrictive guardianships.

"We are hoping it will take a lot of people out of the system of guardianship, for whom there are better alternatives," said Bonilla Lopez. "We are encouraged that there are so many stakeholders who are recognizing that Florida's guardianship law needs to be fixed and recognize that we are facing a crisis in guardianship."

In addition to working on disability rights advocacy, Lincoln-McCreight works as a security officer in St. Lucie County. He loves spending time with friends, going to church, and volunteering. He lives on his own and has made it his mission to help others.

"I'm just proud," he said. "Proud to be where I'm at. They told me I would never get my rights back. Just look at me now."

Full Article & Source:

Attorneys And Doctors In New York Charged With Defrauding Businesses And Insurance Companies Of More Than $31 Million Through Trip-And-Fall Fraud Scheme

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Attorneys And Doctors In New York Charged With Defrauding Businesses And Insurance Companies Of More Than $31 Million Through Trip-And-Fall Fraud Scheme

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of an Indictment charging GEORGE CONSTANTINE, MARC ELEFANT, ANDREW DOWD, and SADY RIBEIRO with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to obtain fraudulent insurance reimbursements and other compensation for fraudulent trip-and-fall accidents.  ELEFANT, DOWD, and RIBEIRO were arrested earlier this morning and will be presented today before United States Magistrate Kevin Nathaniel Fox in Manhattan federal court.  CONSTANTINE is expected to surrender and be presented in Manhattan federal court tomorrow.  The case has been assigned to United States District Judge Loretta A. Preska.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As alleged, the defendants abused their professional licenses and positions of trust to steal millions of dollars from New York City businesses and their insurance companies through a massive trip-and-fall fraud scheme.  In carrying out the scheme, the defendants allegedly preyed upon the most vulnerable members of society.  Now, thanks to the FBI, the defendants are in custody and facing federal charges.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said: “The scheme allegedly carried about by the defendants charged today highlights the extent to which some are willing to go in the name of money.  Licensed attorneys are well aware of their obligation to uphold the law.  As we allege today, they did just the opposite, stealing from business owners and preying upon other vulnerable victims who were coerced into risking their own personal health and safety.  This alleged conduct is beyond reprehensible, and something we won’t let people get away with.”

As alleged in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court[1]:

From in or about January 2013, up to and including in or about April 2018, the defendants engaged in an extensive fraud scheme through which the defendants defrauded businesses and insurance companies by staging trip-and-fall accidents and filing fraudulent lawsuits arising from those staged trip-and-fall accidents.  In or about 2015, certain members of the fraud scheme split from the original conspiracy and formed a separate conspiracy that operated in substantially the same manner.  GEORGE CONSTANTINE was the primary attorney who filed fraudulent lawsuits in the original conspiracy starting in 2013.  MARC ELEFANT was the primary attorney who filed fraudulent lawsuits in the separate conspiracy, formed in or about 2015.

Fraud scheme participants recruited individuals (the “Patients”) to stage or falsely claim to have suffered trip-and-fall accidents at particular locations throughout the New York City area (the “Accident Sites”).  In the course of the fraud scheme, scheme participants recruited more than 400 Patients.  In the beginning, scheme participants would instruct Patients to claim they had tripped and fallen at a particular location, when in fact the Patients had suffered no such accidents.  Eventually, at the direction of the lawyers who filed fraudulent lawsuits on behalf of the Patients, scheme participants began to instruct Patients to stage trip-and-fall accidents, i.e., to go to a location and deliberately fall.  Common Accident Sites used during the fraud scheme included cellar doors, cracks in concrete sidewalks, and purported “potholes.”

After the staged trip-and-fall accidents, Patients were referred to specific attorneys, including GEORGE CONSTANTINE and MARC ELEFANT, who would file personal injury lawsuits (the “Fraudulent Lawsuits”) against the owners of the Accident Sites and/or insurance companies of the owners of the accident sites (the “Victims”).  The Fraudulent Lawsuits did not disclose that the Patients had deliberately fallen at the accident sites or, in some cases, had not fallen at all.  During the course of the fraud scheme, the defendants, together with others known and unknown, attempted to defraud the Victims of more than $31,000,000.

The Patients were also instructed to receive ongoing chiropractic and medical treatment from certain chiropractors and doctors, including ANDREW DOWD and SADY RIBEIRO.  The fraud scheme participants advised the Patients that if they intended to continue with their lawsuits, they were required to undergo surgery.  As an incentive to getting surgery, the recruited Patients were offered a payment of typically between $1,000 and $1,500 after they completed surgery (“Post-Surgery Payments”).  Patients generally were told to undergo two surgeries.

Doctors in the fraud scheme, including DOWD and RIBEIRO, were expected to, and in fact did, conduct these surgeries regardless of the legitimate medical needs of the Patients.  For example, in a March 2016 email, before DOWD examined the shoulder of a particular Patient who had staged a trip-and-fall accident (“Patient-2”), one of the scheme organizers asked DOWD to “write us an additional report today stating that [Patient-2’s] Lt. shoulder has worsened [so that I can] book this surgery for you.”  DOWD provided the requested report and recommended that Patient-2 undergo arthroscopic surgery. 

Likewise, in an August 2015 email from RIBEIRO to the owner of a litigation funding company, in which RIBEIRO described the services that he performed, RIBEIRO wrote, “I will play very honest ‘game’ with you . . . I see the patient and I generate a very good dictation that justifies the treatment-there is a cost for that and I hope a profit.”

Members of the fraud scheme often recruited individuals who were extremely poor as Patients – individuals desperate enough to submit to surgeries in exchange for the small Post-Surgery Payments.  For example, it was common for Patients to ask for food when they would appear for their intake meetings with the lawyers.  Many of the Patients did not have sufficient clothing to keep them warm during the wintertime and had poor-quality shoes.  Members of the fraud scheme also recruited Patients who were drug addicts.  It was also common for scheme participants to recruit Patients from homeless shelters in New York City.

The Patients’ legal and medical fees were usually paid for by litigation funding companies (the “Funding Companies”), even if the Patient maintained medical coverage through an insurance company or a government-subsidized program.  The Funding Companies also paid the fraud scheme organizers and participants referral fees, typically $1,000 to $2,500, for each Patient who signed a funding agreement.  In exchange for funding Patients’ medical and legal costs, the Funding Companies charged the Patients high interest rates, sometimes up to 50% on medical loans and up to 100% on personal loans.  The interest rates were so high that oftentimes the majority (if not all) of the proceeds that were awarded in the Fraudulent Lawsuits were paid to the Funding Companies, CONSTANTINE, ELEFANT, DOWD, RIBEIRO, and others, with the Patients receiving a much smaller percentage of the remaining recovery.

GEORGE CONSTANTINE, 58, and MARC ELEFANT, 49, are New York-licensed attorneys who represented hundreds of Patients and filed Fraudulent Lawsuits on their behalf as part of the fraud scheme.

ANDREW DOWD, 45, is a New York-licensed orthopedic surgeon who performed hundreds of knee and shoulder surgeries on Patients as part of the fraud scheme, earning approximately $9,500 per surgery.

SADY RIBEIRO, 51, is a New York-licensed pain management doctor and surgeon who performed back surgeries, among other medical procedures, on Patients.  RIBEIRO paid participants cash kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals and treated nearly 200 Patients during the fraud scheme.

GEORGE CONSTANTINE, MARC ELEFANT, ANDREW DOWD, and SADY RIBEIRO are each charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, mail fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  DOWD and RIBEIRO are also charged with one additional count each of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

*                      *                     *           

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the New York FBI.  Ms. Strauss also thanked the National Insurance Crime Bureau for their assistance in the investigation. 

This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Nicholas Chiuchiolo, Nicholas Folly, and Alexandra Rothman are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.                       


[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment, and the description of the Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation. 


How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One

Britney Spears' conservatorship is an extreme case, but abuse and neglect can happen to anyone in these legal arrangements. 
by Emma Kerr
The conservator is court appointed and may be responsible for financial decisions such as retirement planning, the purchase or sale of property and the movement of any other financial assets. (Getty Images)

A conservatorship can be a welcomed safety net or a tool of abuse and neglect. 

In the now-famous case of pop star Britney Spears, experts agree the conservatorship arrangement created around Spears is far from typical. But conservatorships and guardianships aren't just a reality of life in the spotlight. These arrangements are common among average citizens, are often a standard element included in the larger estate planning process and can lead to similarly contentious and painful situations for those subjected to them.

"Once you have a conservator in place, the burden is on you to prove you no longer need a conservatorship," says Russel Morgan, estate planning attorney and principal of Morgan Legal Group P.C. in New York. "I've seen all sides of it. The biggest issue in most cases is abuse of power or neglect. Either (the conservator) is doing something self-serving like spending money on something they shouldn't be or spending on themselves, or the alternative, where they're doing absolutely nothing – not helping the conservatee or providing the care they need."

Conservatorships and guardianships can be entered into when an individual is 18 years old or as an individual ages and loved ones find that other estate planning documents have fallen short. The laws guiding these arrangements can vary significantly across states. A conservatorship or guardianship is typically necessitated by a disability or injury that prevents an individual from caring for themselves.

Before creating one or naming one in your estate planning documents, learn more about these legal arrangements and how to protect yourself. 

What Is a Conservatorship?

A conservatorship is created to allow one individual to manage another's finances.

The conservator is court appointed and may be responsible for financial decisions such as retirement planning, the purchase or sale of property and the movement of any other financial assets. 

Estate planning attorneys may recommend a conservator or guardian be named in standard estate planning documents, such as the power of attorney. A conservator can be any adult, possibly a family member, who can be trusted with the responsibility of managing one's finances.

"Since a Conservator would be in charge of a person's assets, we nominate the same people who we nominate to serve as attorney-in-fact," Jennifer D. Taddeo, estate planning attorney and partner at Conn Kavanaugh in Boston, wrote in an email. "However, since a Guardian is in charge of the person themselves, we nominate the same people who are nominated to serve as health care agents in the client's health care proxy. Sometimes, these are the same, but if they're different, it is important for that difference to be reflected."


What Is a Guardianship?

A guardianship is created in cases where an individual cannot take care of themselves and requires another person to make some or all of their personal decisions. These might include decisions about one's medical care, support services, housing or finances, according to Scott Sparks, founder and CEO of Sparks Financial, a Northwestern Mutual Private Client Group in Colorado.

"Although a court appoints both a conservator and a guardian, a conservatorship is generally limited to financial decisions, while a guardianship covers personal decisions, such as medical care, and may, in some cases, also cover financial decisions," Scott Sparks wrote in an email.

A guardianship can be thought of as similar to a parent-child relationship.

Avoiding a Conservatorship or Guardianship

Most states also have laws in place meant to protect those placed in a conservatorship or guardianship. Guardianships in New York, for example, require that the individual meet certain medical requirements to be determined unable to care for oneself and the burden of proof to meet such restrictions is high, Morgan says.

Beyond such legal protections, individuals can seek professional help in preparing for future circumstances that may prevent them from managing their finances and personal affairs. Common estate planning documents such as wills, powers of attorney, beneficiary forms and health care proxies can help individuals avoid being placed into a conservatorship or guardianship as well as protect themselves and their loved ones.

"Without prior financial and estate planning, if you become unable to handle your financial affairs or make healthcare decisions, a court may need to appoint someone (a conservator or guardian) to act on your behalf," Taven Sparks, principal and private wealth advisor for Sparks Financial, wrote in an email. "With some planning, you can help ensure your wishes are followed, and your loved ones may be able to avoid the need for a court to intervene (and the cost and stress of such proceedings during an already trying time)."

A financial advisor and attorney can work together to determine whether a particular situation merits a conservatorship or guardianship and put plans in place to avoid these legal arrangements.

"Don't be afraid to revisit your financial and estate plan and alter it based on your values, goals, and changing life circumstances," Taven says. "Your financial advisor can help you navigate those changes and help you think through the financial impact of various life events."
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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

NO MORE MANSION RHOBH star Erika Jayne’s ex Tom Girardi, 82, resurfaces at nursing home amid claims he stole millions from his clients

by Jorge Solis 

REAL Housewives of Beverly Hill star Erika Jayne's ex-husband Tom Girardi, 82, resurfaced at a nursing home amid the claims that he had stolen millions from his clients

Tom was spotted outside of the facility somewhere in Los Angeles.

At the senior living home, the former high-powered attorney wore an oversized purple sweater and white pants.

He had his face mask under his chin before putting it back on.

After taking in the air and views, Tom re-entered the rest home.

Recently, on the Emily Show podcast, host Emily D. Baker reported that the 82-year-old's federal disbarment was handed down by a judge.

Emily wrote on Twitter: "It's official. A Federal Judge disbarred Tom Girardi yesterday. Girardi was already suspended from the practice to practice and the State Bar was pushing to Disbar him, he did not contest the disbarment."

She followed up with another tweet: "The State Bar Disbarment is still pending. This is the Federal Court Disbarment. Girardi has not responded to either action yet."

Back in June, Tom’s younger brother Robert Girardi had been appointed as the former lawyer’s conservator.

Erika’s ex was designated a conservator due to his dementia diagnosis.

According to PEOPLE, Tom originally opposed the conservatorship "all together" and shared his plan to have it “dissolved" in court.

However, the former lawyer never contested the decision.


The RHOBH star filed for divorce from Tom back in November after about 21 years of marriage.

After their split was confirmed, the former couple was hit with a number of lawsuits.

Despite claiming she was not aware of Tom’s wrongdoings, the Bravo star has found herself at the center of the legal drama.

Erika, 50, was accused of “hiding her bank statements," as a trustee's special litigation counsel confirmed that Tom’s law firm transferred about $20 million to the Bravo star's many businesses.


Erika and Tom’s legal drama became a hot topic issue during the latest season of the Bravo show.

Even the RHOBH cast got involved and confronted her about the claims.

In a teaser clip,  Kyle Richards, 52, asked her fellow Bravo stars if they thought Erika knew what Tom was up to.

Sutton Stracke, 49, responded: “I don’t think ignorance is an excuse.”

When Erika joined the group, Sutton asked: “Are you really that afraid of me?”

She asked Erika why “the paper is saying that $20 million went into your LLC?”

Kyle added: “Did you know any of this?”

Erika remained silent as the other cast members appeared uncomfortable.

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Tuscola County judge talks about alleged stalking case

by Mary Drier 
Circuit Judge Amy Grace Gierhart
Although two Tuscola County judges were at Thursday’s commissioners’ meeting to explain the proposed purchase of an audio and video recording system for the courts, the discussion veered to a recent incident at the courthouse.

Circuit Judge Amy Grace Gierhart addressed the issue of Misty Leann Thompson’s arrest for the alleged stalking of key court personnel and having a loaded gun.

“I’m here to tell you … you might have been at funerals today," Gierhart said as her voice cracked with emotion. "That is how close it was. It was the closest call that we have ever had. It’s hard for me to talk about it. This has been a really scary time for us. You need to know that.

“The situation was as close as we are right here, and one in the chamber.”

When Gierhart said that she was standing at the podium in the board meeting room a few feet away from commissioners.

The judge was referring to the arrest of Thompson, 39, of Caro, on Aug. 5, by Tuscola County sheriff deputies in the courthouse parking lot.

Thompson is charged with five felony counts. She is charged with carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, carrying a concealed weapon, aggravated stalking and two counts of possession of a firearm while committing or attempting to commit a felony.

The first three counts carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison while the felony firearm counts which carry a maximum sentence of two years each.

Thompson is involved in a custody dispute in probate court, which is overseen by Judge Nancy Thane, and she has also had issues with court referee Tara Hofmeister, and attorney Lisa Blanton.

According to Gierhart, there is a lot more to the situation than what has been in area newspapers.

“We know more than that," she said. "We have been dealing with that situation for a month. (Thompson) left the building, sat in the back, and then left. She then came back at 4:30 p.m. We assembled the entire courthouse staff to walk out together with 10 deputies. Even with that she came in parked next to our cars. That is when she was arrested."

Thompson had been in and out of the courthouse several times over the last month.

“She has been harassing and threatening various individuals in the courthouse," said Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene. "We are feeling very fortunate she was taken into custody at the time she was, and the loaded weapon she had was located. It could have resulted in an incalculable tragedy but was stopped.”

Besides having a loaded gun with a round in the chamber, according to court records Thompson also had binoculars, a telescope, a baseball bat, and knives in her vehicle.

“This situation could have been a big deal,” Gierhart noted. “I think what has happened lately is just the beginning of it. There have been a lot of them lately. I want you to know and be aware it was luck (that nothing happened).”

Gierhart said she could talk about the matter because courthouse staff are disqualified from dealing with the matter.

“The general public, let alone commissioners, don't get a lot of feedback so we don’t know the magnitude," said commission Chair Thom Bardwell. "There is always more than what is written. I don’t know what is going on in this county related to things like this. There is a high level of concern, and I hope residents begin to understand what you are going through, and what some of the potential issues are.”

Also, the judge pointed out that Thompson had been on the commissioners committee of the whole agenda.

“We each have a role," she said. "We are judicial, you role legislative. What concerns me about this recent situation is that people don’t understand the distinction and look to you (commissioners) for remedies in situations which are judicial in nature. When someone has an issue with a judicial decision, and that happens every day, there is a process for that. There is the appellate court.”

Thompson also took her issues to the county’s Controller-Administrator Clayette Zechmeister.

“She came into my office. I tried to make it clear to her that commissioners have no jurisdiction over judicial,” said Zechmeister, noting Thompson said she had concerns and documents regarding her issue with the county’s wanting to get equipment to do video and audio recordings of court proceedings. “The documents didn’t appear to have anything to do with that.”

Bardwell concurred Thompson had been on the agenda and was subsequently removed. She was arrested three days before the county meeting.

“I want to comment about her being on the agenda," Bardwell said. "We had discussions with our legal team. In the board rules, it has been a privilege to allow people to present to us, and we’ve had presentations that we didn’t need. The situation was very concerning to the point it was taken off the agenda. It also puts us on high alert because we are the most fluid here where people can just walk in. So we seriously understand your concerns.

“After reviewing her attachments (documents). It could have been a disaster. You know you have been through it."

“We were counseled on what to do and what not to do,” Bardwell added.

The situation is having commissioners rethink how they conduct public business.

“I think there has been too much deference to it," Bardwell said. "So now no one will be on the agenda — just in public comment, which we can’t stop. Going forward, that is what we are doing here. We recognize that issue now. Even public comment could be risky. We have been rather loose when someone wants to address the board. We don’t have to do that — only in public comment. That is what we got from our legal counsel."

“This (situation) has set us back," Bardwell said. "There was a different intention than what was portrayed to be on the agenda. I read the documents just before the meeting. I knew what had happened. Your concerns are ringing with me. Think things will get worse and we need to work together."

Commissioner Dan Grimshaw said he understood the situation and has run into instances where some people fail to recognize legal authority and cannot be reasoned with discussion.

“It’s a movement that is out there that started in Huron County," Grimshaw said, referring to The Base, a white nationalist group that was attempting to establish itself in Bad Axe. "That has been the biggest area where it has come from. It is scary because their perception is they are not regulated by the laws of Michigan because they are free citizens, a separate nation unto themselves.

“I understand your fear judge.”

After that discussion, the original issue of purchasing a Justice Audio and Video System from Justice AV Solutions Inc., was addressed. The system would record both audio as well as video of court proceedings in circuit, district, probate, magistrate, as well as the referee hearing room on a DVD. The fee to obtain a DVD is expected to be $20, which is much cheaper that a traditional court transcript.

A traditional transcript of a two day hearing could cost $1,500 to $2,000, so it is advantageous for citizens. Gierhart also explained the DVD would be an official record.

The electronic system would replace the traditional court recorder position, which would save about $80,000 in wages. The system has been discussed at length over the last couple of county meetings. After another disunion of the advantages of the DVD recording system, commissioners approved the $294,619 with 50% being paid over two budget years in payments of $147,310, and to use American Rescue Plan Act funds it is possible to fund the purchase.

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21-year-old with cerebral palsy dies after caregiver leaves her in hot car, NC cops say

By Hayley Fowler 

A woman with cerebral palsy died this month after she was left in a hot car for five hours, police in North Carolina said.

Now her caregiver has been arrested.

Briea D. Askew, 29, was charged Monday with second-degree murder, the High Point Police Department said in a news release. She is being held in jail under a $200,000 secured bond.

Police said Askew was the caregiver for a 21-year-old from Jamestown with cerebral palsy — a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination — who was brought to a hospital on Aug. 10 “with an extremely elevated temperature of over 110 degrees.”

The woman was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Officers were called to Wake Forest Baptist Health High Point Medical Center around 2:30 p.m. that day to investigate, according to the release.

“During the course of the investigation, it was determined that the victim was left outside in a vehicle unattended for approximately five hours,” police said. “Excessive heat and humidity contributed to the death, along with the vehicle not having air conditioning.”

Askew was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Looking out for elders: Volunteers sought to aid, monitor long-term care

By Dan McKay 

Dennis Ryan, a resident at Vecino Sanos assisted living facility in Santa Rosa, said he’s seen improvements at the facility recently. The key to any good facility, he said, is to have enough staff on hand to ensure residents get plenty of social interaction. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA ROSA – As a former certified nursing assistant, Dennis Ryan understands the importance of adequate staffing to help care for residents in nursing homes.

Sometimes, he said, a person wants more than just help addressing physical needs.

“There’s nothing wrong with sitting on the edge of the bed and shooting the bull,” he said in a recent interview.

Ryan, 75, is a resident at Vecino Sanos Assisted Living Center in Guadalupe County, where a confidential complaint in June, state officials say, raised concerns about health and safety. Since then, residents interviewed by the Journal say they’ve seen improvements.

State officials cite the changes at Vecino Sanos – including the appointment of a temporary administrator to complement the existing staff – as an example of the importance of getting more eyes and ears inside facilities that care for some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable residents, especially as the state’s population of older adults grows.

Margaret Booth, a caretaker at Vecino Sanos assisted living facility in Santa Rosa, talks to a resident in July. New Mexico is looking for volunteer ombudsmen to help comfort residents and to monitor conditions inside long-term care facilities.

They are hoping that as New Mexicans visit friends and relatives in nursing homes and similar facilities, they’ll alert the state to any potential problems.

To support that effort, the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department is aiming to expand its network of volunteer ombudsmen from 50 to 200 to help better cover the state.

Once trained, volunteers are assigned to a specific facility within their area and asked to commit to three hours a week.

The ombudsmen serve dual roles – comforting residents while strengthening accountability at long-term care facilities, officials say.

Changes at Vecino Sanos, for example, came after a complaint came through the ombudsman program, state officials said.

“Volunteers are an essential aspect of the ombudsman program,” said Gigi Greco of the ombudsman program. “… If you see something, say something.”

When complaints come in, the Department of Health investigates by reviewing records, conducting interviews and doing observations. The person who filed the complaint isn’t identified in any statement of regulatory violations issued to the facility, according to the state.

The state has the option of pursuing receivership, a legal process that allows the Department of Health to take over a facility temporarily.

That wasn’t the case for Vecino Sanos, where the governing board agreed voluntarily to make changes, according to state officials.

In fact, Rebecca Maes, administrator at Vecino Sanos, said she sought help from state agencies before the June incident that triggered a broader state response. (Click to continue reading)

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Estate Planner Indicted, Charged in TBI Financial Exploitation Case

Michael David Verble
– Special agents from the TBI’s Medicaid Fraud Control Division have obtained indictments charging a Nashville man accused of financially exploiting an elderly client.

TBI began its investigation into Michael David Verble (DOB 12-19-1955) in November, after receiving information from the Tennessee Department of Human Services Adult Protective Services. During the investigation, agents determined Verble, an estate planner, gained the confidence of an elderly client and manipulated a trust account that was established.

On August 4th, the Rutherford County Grand Jury returned indictments, charging Verble with one count of Financial Exploitation of an Elderly or Vulnerable Adult and one count of Theft. On Thursday, agents arrested him and booked him into the Rutherford County Jail.

Note: The TBI’s Medicaid Fraud Control Division receives 75 percent of its funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a grant award totaling $6,862,935.00 for federal Fiscal Year 2020. The remaining 25 percent, totaling $2,287,645.00 for FY 2021, is funded by the State of Tennessee.

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Caregiver Arrested For Using Stun-Gun On Elderly, Special Needs People

Timothy Tovera has worked at other facilities in the past and is believed to have more victims. Serene Branson reports.


Monday, August 23, 2021

Pick for conservator of Britney’s estate was once denied guardianship of own mom

By Eileen Reslen

Britney Spears’ legal team wants to replace Jamie Spears as the pop star’s conservator with a man who was once denied guardianship of his own mother, Page Six has exclusively learned.

According to court documents obtained by Page Six, Jason Rubin filed a petition in early 2020 to become a temporary guardian — and eventually, the permanent guardian — of his mother Ida Rubin, citing mental health issues.

The forensics accounting expert requested guardianship over both Ida’s estate and her person. A source confirmed to us that Jason’s mother has a trust that was also in dispute; the exact sums in the case were not disclosed.

Rubin alleged in court documents that “Ida suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and that her mental health was declining.”

However, both Ida and Jason’s brother, Mark Rubin, objected to the request. Ida told the courts she was “competent enough to handle [her] own medical and financial affairs.”

To back up his claims, Jason provided call logs from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department — as well as incident reports from the security team at Ida’s residence — that allegedly show she asked officers to perform “nonsensical acts.”

He also provided a physician’s certificate prepared by Dr. Gregory P. Brown, who wrote that the events he reviewed “strongly suggest the presence of psychosis [a substantial break in the perception of consensual reality],” according to court documents.

He stated in the records that Ida’s “delusional beliefs … placed her at risk of harm [either to self or others].”

Rubin would be Spears’ team’s choice to replace Jamie Spears (above).

But after more than a year of litigation, a judge dismissed Jason’s petition based on Brown’s certificate.

According to records, the court found that Dr. Brown never conducted an in-person evaluation of Ida and only made his medical assumptions based on the LVMPD’s call logs and email correspondence with Ida’s security team.

“Further, although Dr. Brown expressed concern that Ida’s mental illness may cause her to be a danger to herself or others, he provided no facts and the record does not support that Ida’s safety is in jeopardy,” the court papers said.

“In fact, the police call logs state that Ida is ‘ok but delusional’ and that she is ‘able to care for [her] self and [that her] house was clean.'”

The district court ruled that Jason could “refile the petition if he was able to obtain a physician’s certificate.”

The court ultimately decided that Ida has “suffered from mental illness for some time,” but “remains capable of caring for herself and handling her day-to-day activities.”

We’re told at one point, Jason filed an appeal at the Nevada Supreme Court, but the district court’s rulings were upheld.

Mark’s attorney, Jason Aivaz, confirmed to us that the case was dismissed “without prejudice,” and that Jason could re-file should he obtain a new, “valid” physician’s certificate.

Aivaz also noted that because his client, Mark, is the “nominated agent under Ida’s power” of attorney, should Ida ever be deemed incapacitated by a court or a doctor, his client is “ideally, at least [in] Ida’s preference, to step in and take her place” — not Jason. The attorney adds that it was always Mark’s belief that guardianship is “not necessary.”

Britney’s legal team requested in July that Jason be named conservator of the “Toxic” singer’s multimillion-dollar estate, which court documents listed as containing $2.7 million in liquid assets along with $56.3 million in investments and real estate.

According to Newsweek, Jason’s appointment would give him “the power and authorization to pursue opportunities related to professional commitments and activities including but not limited to performing, recording, videos, tours, TV shows, and other similar activities as long as they are approved by the conservator of the person [and] the conservatee’s medical team.”

Spears’ attorney Mathew Rosengart called the conservatorship a “kafkaesque nightmare” for the singer.

Spears’ attorney, Matthew Rosengart, has said that he is moving “aggressively” to remove Jamie, 69, from the conservatorship and terminate it altogether after 13-plus years.

And a source close to the situation told Page Six on Friday that it was not Rosengart who selected Jason as a potential candidate to replace Jamie; the rationale for his selection was not initially reported.

In August, Jamie said he would be willing to step down as conservator “when the time is right,” but added that he “intends to work with the Court and his daughter’s new attorney to prepare for an orderly transition to a new conservator.”

The next status hearing in the case is scheduled for September 29.

Jason’s attorney, Justin Gold, staunchly defended his client in a statement to Page Six, saying that it was “unfortunate that anyone would try to smear him in this way.”

“Jason Rubin is a highly-esteemed, court-approved licensed fiduciary, forensic accountant, and CPA with an extremely strong professional track record,” Gold said.

“It is unfortunate that based upon numerous incidents, reflected in many police reports and home owner’s association reports and the email below, [and] after very careful consideration and consulting with physicians who believed she had ‘psychotic’ issues that were also consistent with schizophrenia, as well as an involuntary psychiatric hold in 2014, Jason felt he had no choice but to seek a guardianship for his mother, for her protection and that of others,” Gold said.

He concluded, “This in no way whatsoever reflects on Mr. Rubin’s ability to properly manage and protect an individual’s assets, based upon his strong track record; it simply reflects that his elderly mother was having very serious health issues and he was trying to take legal steps to protect her.”

Rosengart and Ida Rubin’s attorney did not immediately return Page Six’s request for comment.

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