Saturday, November 13, 2021

'The system has failed' | Loopholes + lack of guidance are hurting those limited conservatorships are supposed to protect: People with disabilities

Many know of conservatorships from Britney Spears, but what isn't known is there are different types. One created to assist those with disabilities can hurt them.

Author: Andie Judson

CALIFORNIA, USA — Martin Bùi was born in 1980. The youngest of 11 children from a family with refugee heritage as they came to the United States from Vietnam in 1975.

Martin and his siblings grew up in Chicago, Illinois.

"He was born with a traumatic brain injury and was later diagnosed with autism," said James Bùi.

James is Martin Bùi's brother and ninth in their sibling line.

"My sister and I are very close to him. Not just approximately in age, but also just taking care of him," said James. "I guess typical in a sense of coming from a very Vietnamese, close-knit family."

A big part of home is community -- especially for their family.

"The family was talking about, 'Why not move to California?' Because there's a large Vietnamese community, largest community outside of Vietnam," said James.

But another important factor of a California move, specifically for Martin, was the Golden State's laws.

"Then you look at what's stated (in) California policy and law around disability," said James. "It sounds wonderful, right? It sounds like this is game changing in many ways."

California was especially appealing because of our probate code, the laws that oversee our conservatorship system, as Martin was under a conservatorship due to his disability.

While many have become more familiar with California's complex conservatorship system due to Britney Spears, what many don't know is there are different types of conservatorships.

There are three general types of conservatorships in California. The first is the most widely known, general conservatorship.

"Those are primarily utilized for adults that have aged or are experiencing Alzheimer's or dementia and just aren't able to manage their finances or affairs any longer," said doctoral researcher Barbara Imle. "Then you have LPS conservatorships."

Lanterman Petris Short (LPS) conservatorships are designed for people with mental health issues and allow someone to be what's known as "51/50'd" or placed in a psychiatric facility, even if it's against their will.

The third type is a limited conservatorship. These types of conservatorships are for adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

While specifics on conservatorships are limited due to a lack of legal mandates required to track them by state agencies or courts, the most recent data available from the two largest counties in California, as reported by the Spectrum Institute to the California Supreme Court in 2019, indicated "there are considerably fewer general conservatorships than limited." 

"Limited conservatorships are unique in how they were designed to specifically limit the power of conservators," Imle said. 

That's why when a limited conservatorship is proposed, seven separate powers are considered to be stripped from a conservatee and granted to their conservator - the person legally appointed to act on their behalf.

These seven powers include:

(1) The right to choose living arrangements

(2) Having access to confidential records

(3) The right to contract

(4) The right to give or withhold consent to medical treatment

(5) Make educational decisions

(6) Power over social and sexual relationships

(7) The right to marry

"It was really designed to be specific to the need of the person... and not be overly broad and take too many powers away where they don't need assistance," said Imle.

Imle knows this system through-and-through. She previously spent nearly a decade working in multiple regional centers - agencies spread throughout California to provide services to individuals with disabilities and their families.

But Imle said she continued to feel like she was "running into walls" and restrictions at work, especially regarding conservatorships. That's why she turned to researching these centers, trying to figure out why the system wasn't working the way she thought it would.

She is the first person to conduct research specifically on limited conservatorships and regional centers. 

What she found were some serious concerns. It's also what the Bùi family experienced after moving to California.

"The system itself looks great, but in reality, we had a very, totally different experience," said James.

Regional centers are required, by law, to submit an assessment of the proposed conservatee to the court.

"This is specifically for limited conservatorships," said Imle. "The regional center is tasked with a review of the appropriateness of the conservatorship... is it needed? Is the proposed conservator an appropriate assignment?"

But Imle found that the laws weren't translating and not "panning out in reality." She said with the 21 regional centers, there were 21 different ways of doing things.

"There's really no overall discussion of what's expected, how they're going to do it and what's going to be done," said Imle. "There's just nothing."

Since there's no overall guidance helping governing and guiding regional centers in their approaches and involvement in the limited conservatorship process, despite playing such an important role in the decision to strip someone of their rights, someone' chance of being conserved could depend simply on who they meet with and what regional center they're at.

"And it should depend on the person and their needs, not the bureaucracy guiding the process," said Imle.

Even more concerning, in some centers the proposed conservatee isn't even part of the conversation taking place on their behalf, as it's not always required for the regional center coordinator writing the report that'll be submitted to the court to meet with them.

"They do not require in-person meetings, and a lot of assessments are written just based off reading the chart and the notes in the computer system," said Imle.

If and when an assessment does make it to the court, more issues can bubble to the surface.

"While regional centers are required to the this assessment, the courts are not obligated to follow the recommendation that the regional centers make," said Imle.

Imle said a lot of the courts complain the regional center's assessments are too generic and not detailed enough. But even if a thorough assessment is provided, judges don't always include it in their decision making.

"The judge would just flip to the last page of the assessment and say, 'Okay the regional center agrees. Done and done.' But didn't actually read the report," said Imle. "Other (conservatorship petitions) have been approved without a regional center assessment being sent in."

It adds to the concern of conservatees not being a part of the decision making process for their own life. She also noted that if the proposed conservatee does attend their own hearing, they're often not even spoken to.

Imle sums it up simply: "There is a total disregard for the client's desires."

Her research has also found a lack of individualization for those being placed under the conservatorship, despite limited conservatorships being designed specifically for this, resulting in more power being taken from them.

"My thesis research found that around 60% of all requests were for seven out of seven powers," said Imle. "Which that alone is showing it's not being individualized."

But even more power is taken through a loophole Imle found: general conservatorships being appointed for some people with disabilities, rather than limited ones as intended.

"One regional center had 187 requests for general conservatorships compared to 58 for limited. That was in one year," said Imle.

When a general conservatorship is petitioned for, rather than a limited, an assessment from the regional center isn't required - meaning less work for the proposed conservator.

"(It) cuts out one extra agency that's going to be involved and increases the ease, flow, convenience of the whole process," said Imle.

She said her main concern about having a general conservatorship enacted instead of a limited one is the overall impact to people with intellection and developmental disabilities.

"It is just a sweeping assumption that the person is completely incompetent as a whole," said Imle.

Not considering the conservatee themselves is a sentiment James Bùi understands on behalf of his brother.

"We would not wish this on anybody... (it's not) how we thought California would be," said Bùi . "It failed. I think the system has failed."

Full Article & Source:
See Also: 

Jurors get ethics case against Georgia district attorney

COLUMBUS, Ga. A prosecutor asked jurors in closing arguments Thursday to convict a Georgia district attorney on charges that he acted unethically, saying the acts imperiled justice, while his defense lawyer argued that none of the acts violate any laws and prosecutors didn't prove their case. Jurors got the case against District Attorney Mark Jones on Thursday, and must decide whether he tried to influence a police officer's testimony, offered bribes to prosecutors and tried to pressure a crime victim to drop a complaint. Jones took office in January overseeing a circuit including Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Marion, Talbot and Taylor counties in west Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp suspended Jones after he was indicted and he would be removed if convicted.

Local news outlets report testimony in the trial began Tuesday, with witnesses including two assistant district attorneys who said Jones improperly offered them $1,000 bonuses if they won murder convictions or took murder cases to trial. Jurors saw video of a profanity-laced argument Jones had with a Columbus police detective over the detective's conclusion that a shooting death was an accident and not a murder.

A district attorney's investigator said Jones prepared, but did not seek, an indictment against a witness in a murder case because he wanted the witness jailed. Jurors also heard from the nephew of a shooting victim who filed a complaint against Jones for violating the Georgia Crime Victims Bill of Rights for not notifying relatives before a man charged with involuntary manslaughter in the uncle's shooting was released on bail. Prosecutors argue Jones improperly pressured the man to drop the complaint. “Prosecutors must be above-board. Otherwise, bad things happen,” Deputy Attorney General John Fowler, who is prosecuting the case for the attorney general’s office, told jurors according to the Ledger-Enquirer. Fowler, said “justice is for everyone," but argued Jones was not motivated by the impartial pursuit of justice. “For Mark Jones, it’s not about justice," Fowler told jurors. "It’s all about him.”

Jones did not testify and his defense called no witnesses. Attorney Katonga Wright argued that prosecutors had not proved their case. “If the facts don’t fit, you must acquit Mr. Jones,” she said in closing arguments, repeating a line from her opening statement Tuesday. Wright argued Jones was not trying to pressure the nephew, and said he was too distant a relative to file a complaint under the law anyway. She said Jones was new to the job when he offered the prosecutors $1,000 bonuses and had a different understanding of how prosecutors may be compensated for their work. She said the argument with the detective was not an attempt to get the officer to lie under oath, but simply an conversation she characterized as “drunk talk.” Charges against Jones for damaging government property in a May 2020 campaign video were already dismissed. The video included stunt driving moves, including cars driving in doughnuts with smoking tires in the parking lot of the Columbus Civic Center. Jones is charged in another unrelated case with DUI, reckless driving and causing injury following a November 2019 crash in which police said Jones was driving drunk. That case is pending.
Full Article & Source:

Two Arrests Made in Fraud Exploitation of Elderly Dallas Woman

The Dallas Police Department's Fugitive Unit arrested two people on Thursday after attempts were made to withdraw money from banks from an elderly victim.

On October 9, 2021, a 74-year old elderly victim and the arrestee 66-year-old Carlos Costello entered a bank at the 3900 block of South Polk Street and attempted to withdraw $240,000, according to the Dallas Police Department.

The bank manager thought this transaction was suspicious and declined it. The bank staff convinced the victim to only withdraw $10,000.

On October 11, 2021, the victim and the same suspect entered a bank at the 3500 block West Camp Wisdom Road and attempted to withdraw $240,000. Bank staff contacted the staff at the Polk Street location regarding the transaction and declined it.

On October 12, 2021, the victim and the second suspect, 46-year-old Danita Costello entered a bank at the 3900 block of South Polk Street and attempted to withdraw $150,000. This transaction was also declined.

The bank manager had known the victim for years and contacted the victim's daughter to alert her about the activity. The victim's daughter then went to the Southeast Patrol Division to have a report made and was also able to recover most of the $10,000 that was withdrawn on October 9th.

Financial Crimes Detectives were able to gain evidence of the three withdrawal attempts and interviewed the victim. The victim had no recollection of going to the bank at all with either of the two suspects. She was shown the evidence and became extremely upset, according to detectives.

According to police, the male suspect had been "leading on" the elderly victim as if they were in a romantic relationship, and had even proposed to her. The victim was under the impression that the female suspect was the male suspect's daughter.

Financial Crimes Detectives obtained warrants for both suspects.

On November 9, 2021, the Dallas Police Department's Fugitive Unit arrested the male suspect and arrested the female suspect on November 11, 2021.

The Dallas Police Department asks if feel like you or a family member has been a victim of fraud to email the Financial Crimes Unit.

Full Article & Source:

Friday, November 12, 2021

Being able to choose your own attorney is a constitutional right. But it's not happening in California's probate courts.

A new bill hopes to change that come 2022. 

Author: Andie Judson

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After 13 years under a conservatorship, a judge allowed Britney Spears to choose her own attorney.

This came in July 2021 after her former court-appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, resigned. He was one of many connected to the case who abruptly distanced themselves amidst growing heat from a movement of fans as the "Free Britney" movement garnered the spotlight of media attention.

Spears was quick to select Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor turned prominent Los Angeles attorney. Since enlisting Rosengart in her corner, Spears' life has changed drastically with her father's removal as conservator of estate, an engagement to longtime boyfriend Sam Asghari and Spears' increasingly using her own voice and denouncing the conservatorship.

It's something that seems like a basic right for anyone, let alone a superstar, being able to choose your own legal counsel — someone who will stand for you and you alone.

"Ethically and by law, you are supposed to advocate for the expressed wishes of your client," said Thomas F. Coleman, an attorney as well as Executive & Legal Director of Spectrum Institute, an organization dedicated to conservatorship reform.

The right to counsel is part of the United States Constitution, as due process protects the right to choose your own attorney. It's also written in California's probate code, the regulations that guide conservatorship proceedings. 

Yet, despite being a basic right, ABC10's nearly two-year and ongoing investigation into conservatorships found that the right to choose your counsel, and even have counsel, doesn't always happen in many conservatorship cases across California.

Coleman believes the reason attorneys are appointed through the court rather than adhering to a client's wishes is part of something ABC10 has covered previously in our investigation: the "Good Old Boys' Club."

"I think sometimes it happens because the attorney that the person brings in to represent them isn't part of the 'good old boys' network... isn't part of the system," Coleman said. "And so the judge is thinking, 'Oh boy, this attorney is going to make waves.'"

Making waves in court could mean a number of things, including demanding hearings and/or demanding jury trials. All of those take time, something that judges don't have.

Probate courts throughout California are overloaded. Conservatorship petitions are often cycled through, being appointed and taking away someone's rights, in just minutes. 

"The best way to make them go away is to have the attorneys surrender the rights, rubber stamp it, feed them into a conservatorship and go on to the next case," Coleman said.

But on Jan. 1, 2022, this process should change.

"Governor Newsom has just signed AB 1194 [which] deals with conservatorship reform. Part of that deals with attorney reform," Coleman said. "It requires judges to allow the person to have the attorney of their choice. No ifs, ands or buts."

Some individuals who may be placed under a conservatorship sometimes lack the money or mental capacity to hire their own attorney. AB 1194 would change that, too.

"The next thing it says (is) if the person doesn't have an attorney of their choice, the court must appoint an attorney," Coleman said, adding prior to this, it was "discretionary" courts appoint an attorney, despite being written into the probate code.

It's one of the many things the conservatorship bill aims at reforming. Other changes include creating communication between courts and the Professional Fiduciary Bureau, the only state-agency entrusted in overseeing fiduciaries — including ones that serve as conservators.

The bill will also require more transparency, like requiring more specific data on the number of conservatorships statewide to be reported. And more requirements will be demanded from court investigators, like talking to first-degree family members prior to the appointment of a conservatorship.

But it's not the first piece of legislation that has made an attempt to create change in this multi-billion dollar industry that controls the lives and money of others. 

In 2007, a reform act was passed in California, and was nearly identical in many ways to AB 1194, but failed to change anything. Additionally, multiple former court investigators who spoke with ABC10 for our initial Price of Care investigation said the reform act put too many additional responsibilities on investigators making their jobs more difficult and allowed conservatorship cases to slip through the cracks.

And changes haven't been attempted to this system only in California. In fact, the American Bar Association said since 2011, U.S. states have enacted approximately 343 adult guardianship bills.

But issues continue to arise, something that has been spotlighted by Spears and the movement behind her, educating many for the first time on what exactly conservatorships are and how powerful they can be.

"I must confess, this issue was put back onto our radar when the Free Britney documentary was released," Assemblymember Evan Low said when presenting his bill, AB 1194, to the California Assembly Business and Professions Committee, a committee tasked with overseeing the Professional Fiduciary Bureau.

Low went on to say after conducting their own research on conservatorship laws, his office found the 2007 reform effort did not create change due to the "toxic economic recession that started in 2008."

When asked how his bill, AB 1194, would implement the needed change to this system, Low said, "As part of the legislative proposals that we have too is ensuring we have the policies that are supported and making sure the resources to empower local communities to implement the law."

For other activists, they believe it's a step in the right direction, but the first of many needed.

"There's no magic wand approach. It's not instant reform," Coleman said. "AB 1194 is a tool that's going to help those of us that are committed to this reform keep pushing, step by step."

To learn more about the conservatorship process, you can watch ABC10's year-long investigation, The Price of Care: Investigating California Conservatorships here. For more information on how to protect yourself and your loved ones, ensuring your wishes are conducted the way you desire, you can access our resources article here.

Full Article & Source:

Daughter of artist Peter Max says guardianship has cost her father $16 million

Guardians Aren't Above Prosecution Act introduced


By: Adam Walser
ST PETERSBURG, Fla. — U.S. Representative Charlie Crist (D-FL) announced the introduction of his new bill, the Guardians Aren’t Above Prosecution Act, during a virtual press conference Wednesday.

Crist said the legislation shines a light on the lack of judicial action commonly taken against bad actors who abuse and defraud vulnerable persons within a guardianship or conservatorship and spurs prosecution against those bad actors.

“It’s shameful that some of our most vulnerable Americans in conservatorships or guardianships have so few safeguards to protect them from malicious fraudsters,” Crist said. “It’s simply unacceptable.”

He believes prosecuting guardians who break the law will send a message that exploitation and theft by guardians and their attorneys will no longer be tolerated.

“It’s the kind of thing that’s going to help an awful lot of people get their dignity back and get their lives restored to a place that it should have always been,” Crist said, noting there have been many recent cases of guardianship abuse in the Tampa Bay area in recent years.

Over the past eight years, ABC Action News has been exposing those problems through our award-winning series The Price of Protection.

Crist said the bill has bipartisan support and will allow guardians who commit fraud or abuse to be prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

Joining him for the announcement were guardianship reform advocates, including an attorney involved in the "Free Britney" movement and the daughter of world-famous pop artist Peter Max.

Max is a German immigrant who became famous in the 1960s for his colorful pop art. His contemporary paintings have been featured on U.S. postage stamps, have been displayed in the White House and are on display in museums throughout the world.

Max now suffers from dementia. He was put into guardianship in 2016 after a court ruled he was abused by his second wife Mary, who committed suicide in 2019.

His daughter Libra said she has been fighting to have him freed from guardianship for the past several years. She said guardians and attorneys have so far spent more than $16 million of her dad's fortune.

Max said there are currently two guardians, a court-ordered attorney and three additional attorneys who are working to prevent her father’s release from guardianship.

“As a family, we’ve been fighting six attorneys who are actively using my father’s hard-earned money to fight against his own family to keep him isolated, which is not what he wants. If any other citizen was doing this to an elder, they would be criminally prosecuted,” Max said at the press conference.

She hopes the new law will help create criminal penalties that will enable families to hold predatory guardians accountable.

“My father’s civil liberties and human rights are being egregiously violated and his life has been stolen from him. We desperately need legislation like the GAAP Act so that crimes committed by guardians can be fully prosecuted under federal criminal law,” Libra Max said.

Crist previously introduced the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation (FREE) Act with Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC) and the Guardianship Accountability Act with Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

Full Article & Source:
See Also: 

Couple working as caregivers in Hoover arrested

A Hoover resident came forward to report some property and cash had been stolen from the home. The victim had been using a caregiving service to help around the home.(WRDW)

HOOVER, Ala. (WBRC) - Two people working as caregivers in Hoover are in jail.

At the end of October, a Hoover resident came forward to report some property and cash had been stolen from the home. The victim had been using a caregiving service to help around the home.

Authorities determined some of the property had been pawned at several stores.

Two caregivers were arrested Tuesday in Hoover.
Two caregivers were arrested Tuesday in Hoover.(Hoover PD)

Donterra Shapree Jones, 30, of Birmingham is charged with first-degree theft of property in Shelby County and two counts of first-degree receiving stolen property in Jefferson County.

Jeffery Wayne Keeth, 27, of Birmingham is charged with first-degree receiving stolen property in Jefferson County.

Jones and Keeth were arrested Tuesday.

Full Article & Source:
Couple working as caregivers in Hoover arrested


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Investigators Say Virginia Needs Stronger Safeguards for People Like Britney Spears

By Sandy Hausman

About 12,000 Virginians are under legal guardianship according to legislative analyst Joe McMahon.

“These tend to be adults who have severe illness or disability, traumatic injury, aging adults with dementia," he explains. "They are unable to make decisions and care for themselves.”

When these people are called to the attention of a court, a relative, friend or lawyer is appointed to oversee their affairs, and guardians must fill out a form annually.

“Right now it’s seven questions. They’re all pretty broad. At most it’s the front and back of a piece of paper,” McMahon says.

He oversaw a detailed investigation that did not turn up anything like the case of Britney Spears.

“We didn’t come across anything that felt that striking in Virginia," he admits, "but of course part of the problem is we can’t say that for sure. There are 12,000 adults in guardianship.”

So the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee would like to see more detailed reports and suggests local social service agencies take a closer look.

“You provide local departments with the resources they need to actually go out and visit a sample of adults under guardianship in their locality each year to see what their condition is like, potentially talk to some of the care providers and just have a better sense of how that person is doing.”

There is a small state-run guardianship program which McMahon says is more effectively monitored, but when it comes to private guardians like Britney Spears’ father, he says more training is needed for judges and lawyers who oversee these arrangements, and Virginia law should clarify when a guardian can prevent visitation by others. 
Full Article & Source:

Disbarred Armonk lawyer indicted on charges she stole $3.5 million from clients

by Jonathan Bandler

An Armonk lawyer who was disbarred over allegations she stole millions from clients by keeping the money from their real estate closings has been indicted on criminal charges.

Laurianne DeLitta, 50, of Briarcliff Manor pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of second-degree grand larceny, accused of stealing $3.5 million from eight clients or their estates between 2017 and this March. 

She is also charged with unlawful practice of a profession after she allegedly continued to act as a lawyer despite the disciplinary proceedings against her. She was disbarred in May, seven months after agreeing to resign as a lawyer because she had no defense to the misconduct claims that the grievance committee of the 9th Judicial District was investigating.

One of the six lawsuits against DeLitta alleged that she kept $495,000 from a sale of a Bronx property in late January when she should not have been conducting any real estate transactions based on her agreement.

In some cases, DeLitta was a lawyer for multiple generations of a family and the alleged thefts occurred when she assisted in the sale of the home after her original client had died. 

The lawsuits against her detail extensive efforts to get the money from the closings and her empty promises to turn over what the clients were owed. Details of what DeLitta spent their money on was not provided by the Westchester District Attorney's Office but clients and their lawyers have said they were aware that she had a special needs child.

DeLitta could not be reached Wednesday evening. A lawyer representing her, Steven Siegel, called her the "finest" lawyer he had ever worked with and said "major efforts are being undertaken to unwind the escrow issue." He would not elaborate.

Full Article & Source:

State's home care program has big problems, advocates say


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Advocates for people with disabilities gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to protest what they say is the eroding quality of home care services under Pennsylvania's new managed care system, problems being accelerated by the pandemic.

Part of the problem, they say, is the increased difficulty in getting direct care workers and the need to pay them more through the state's Medicaid reimbursement system.

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration and lawmakers, they say, should use federal dollars approved by Congress, as well as higher federal reimbursement rates, to boost wages for direct care workers.

“They have new possibilities for using this money in ways that are effective,” said Shona Eakin, CEO of Voices for Independence, an Erie-based home care services provider.

Wolf's administration is awaiting approval from the federal government on its plan to use a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate for home-based care under the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March.

The plan for the money includes increasing reimbursement rates and direct care worker wages while the money lasts, Wolf's administration said.

While the administration was unable to give details about the boost in the pay, the administration wants to use state dollars to make the increases permanent, said Jamie Buchenauer, a deputy secretary for long-term living in Wolf's Department of Human Services.

Buchenauer could not immediately say how much money that might require, although it would require approval by lawmakers.

Low pay and high turnover have long been the reality for the ranks of direct care workers in home care settings and nursing homes.

But finding direct care workers is harder now because of the pandemic, they say. The average home care worker makes $12 an hour, and many direct care workers took a break during the pandemic and never returned, Eakin said.

Eakin's workforce went from 1,069 before the pandemic to 763 now, while her overtime costs shot up from $227,000 in 2019 to $573,000 this year to care for about 800 people, she said.

Overtime costs aren't reimbursed by Medicaid, and neither is personal protective equipment, paid days off or double-time pay on holidays, Eakin said. Meanwhile, direct care workers are so hard to find that Eakin has had to turn away 40% of the people who contact her agency seeking home care services, she said.

Wolf’s administration, over the past few years, put home care services for tens of thousands of elderly and disabled under managed care contractors in an effort to save money.

The plan involved moving thousands of people back into their homes and out of the more expensive settings of nursing homes.

But people trying to transition out of nursing homes are enduring months-long waits for a home care worker to be found and assigned to them, advocates for the disabled say.

Others are seeing their hours of home care being cut by managed care companies that are now running the program under contract with the state, they say.

Wolf’s Department of Human Services said that 90% of people in the program are receiving the same level of services or more after they were assessed, which managed care organizations are required to do annually.

The department said reviews by its Office of Long-Term Living has generally found that service reductions were appropriate and not a risk to health and safety.

Lauren Alden, a manager with Liberty Resources, a Philadelphia-based center for independent living, said the organization is finding legal help for clients who are seeing care hours cut back, and trying to help them appeal.

“We've seen drastic cuts, and these are folks who have not had any changes in need,” Alden said.

The community-based program was designed to get people out of institutional care and back into homes, but cutting direct care hours could have the opposite effect, Eakin said.

“How long before someone buckles and says, ‘I have to get cared for,’” Eakin said.

Full Article & Source:

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

New York lawmakers back bill ad­dressing elder abuse

By Nick Reisman

State lawmakers on Friday are calling for the passage of a bill that would provide elderly New Yorkers with greater protections for who would inherit their estate.  

The bill, backed by state Sen. Samra Brouk and Assemblyman Harry Bronson, is meant to address concerns over the current law when a New Yorker dies without leaving a will. The law does not consider whether a person's next-of-kin, in line to receive their estate, has been abusing them.

"With the support of our local advocates and leaders in government, we know that legislation like ours can help move the needle on elder abuse, both here in our community and across New York State," Brouk said. "Our elders are treasured members of our community, and we must do everything in our power to protect them."

The proposal would change the existing law with the goal of preventing a person convicted of elder abuse from inheriting estates. 

“As the former Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Aging, one of my top priorities continues to be protecting our older New Yorkers," Bronson said. "While we have made many strides, we are not done in our efforts to fully implement New York as an age-friendly state." 

Full Article & Source:

Alex Murdaugh denied bond as he faces charges of taking $3M from housekeeper's death settlement

by Ryan W. Miller

Alex Murdaugh, the embattled South Carolina attorney at the center of multiple investigations following the deaths of his wife and son in June, was ordered held without bond pending a psychiatric evaluation as he faces charges related to mishandling funds in a former housekeeper's wrongful death lawsuit.

"There is no amount of bond that the court can set that can safely provide protection to Mr. Murdaugh, to the community," Judge Clifton Newman said during Tuesday a hearing.

Murdaugh faces two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses tied to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the sons of his former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. The lawyer was arrested last week in Orlando after his release from a drug rehabilitation center.

Prosecutors argued Murdaugh duped Satterfield's family when he arranged settlement payments from the wrongful death lawsuit to be paid to a bank account he controlled under the guise of a legitimate company. They also argued the lawyer presented a danger to himself and others following his alleged scheme to arrange his murder last month in order for an insurance payout to be made to his son.

The two new charges Murdaugh faces represent "the tip of the iceberg," said Creighton Waters, a prosecutor for the state attorney general office. More will be revealed as the investigations around Murdaugh continue, Waters said.

Newman said he was not considering a personal recognizance bond for Murdaugh after prosecutors and attorneys for Satterfield's family made their case the lawyer had violated the family's trust.

Murdaugh had for years been a staple in the South Carolina legal community and had recently completed a drug rehabilitation program for an opioid addiction that fueled his misconduct, Murdaugh's defense attorneys said.

Murdaugh arranged for at least two payments – one for nearly $3 million and the other for more than $400,0000 – to be made to an account he set up to look like a legitimate settlement planning company after an attorney he recommended to the Satterfield family reached a settlement in their mother's wrongful death lawsuit without their knowledge, according to affidavits from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Waters mentioned at least one other check worth $118,000 Murdaugh misappropriated and suggested other crimes may have occurred.

"We have never seen such a breach of trust: a man who stole money from the very family of the housekeeper that helped raise his kids," added Satterfield family attorney Eric Bland.

Satterfield died after falling at Murdaugh's home in February 2018, which state police have said they are also investigating. Satterfield's death was ruled due to "natural" causes at the time, but the Hampton County coroner recently wrote a letter to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division urging it to open an investigation because her death was not reported at the time and an autopsy was not performed.

Money, murder, mystery:Another twist unfolds in case of former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh

Murdaugh told the Satterfield family to hire attorney Cory Fleming to represent them, arrest affidavits say. Murdaugh was a defendant in the family's lawsuit, but directed the family to hire Fleming, a close friend to Murdaugh, prosecutors allege.

Satterfield's sons, Michael "Tony" Satterfield and Brian Harriott, are also suing Murdaugh over the wrongful death settlement funds. The brothers said they were never paid "a dime," according to court documents filed earlier this month.

Each charge of obtaining property by false pretenses could bring up to a 10 year prison sentence for Murdaugh. His attorney, Dick Harpootlian, said last week Murdaugh has accepted he will likely spend some time in prison from the various charges he faces.

Full Article & Source:

Christian radio host sentenced to three life sentences for Ponzi scheme bilking millions from elderly listeners

FORT WORTH, Texas — A Texas radio host was sentenced to three life prison sentences Monday for a Ponzi scheme in which he bilked elderly listeners out of millions of dollars.

William Neil “Doc” Gallagher also got a 30-year prison sentence from state District Judge Elizabeth Beach for his August guilty pleas. The sentences are to be served concurrently.

The sentencing came after more than a dozen senior victims testified during a three-hour court hearing about losing anywhere from $50,000 to $600,000 invested in the Gallagher Financial Group. Some said they had to sell their homes, borrow money from their children or take part-time jobs to supplement their Social Security benefits.

Image: William Neil  “Doc” Gallagher
William Neil “Doc” Gallagher. 
Dallas County Sheriff's Department 
via AP file / AP

“Doc Gallagher is one of the worst offenders I have seen,” said Lori Varnell, chief of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Elder Financial Fraud team.

Gallagher, 80, and his Gallagher Financial Group advertised on Christian radio with the tagline, “See you in church on Sunday.” He promoted his investment business in books, such as “Jesus Christ, Money Master,” and on Christian radio broadcasts.

Gallagher has been behind bars since his March 2019 arrest on similar charges filed in Dallas County. In 2020, he pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was indicted in Tarrant County in August 2019.

“He ruthlessly stole from his clients who trusted him for almost a decade. He amassed $32 million in loss to all of his clients and exploited many elder individuals. He worked his way around churches preying on people who believed he was a Christian,” Varnell said in a statement.

Full Article & Source:

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

A man with severe autism weighed just 85 pounds when he died in taxpayer-supported care. An investigation was ‘inconclusive.’ His mother wants answers

His main caregiver had an out-of-state felony conviction and should not have been allowed to care for him, WFAA found.

Author: Tanya Eiserer, Jason Trahan, Lourdes Vazquez (WFAA)
Like any mother of a growing boy, Maria Covarrubias spent a lot of time in the kitchen. 

Her son, Raul Olguin, loved to eat.  

“With me, he always wanted to eat,” she said in Spanish. “With me, always.” 

Raul had the intellect of a toddler. He was severely autistic and needed constant supervision. He lived with his mother for most of his life – except for his final 71 days, when he was placed with a caregiver in a Garland home. 

By the time the 24-year-old died in April 2019, an autopsy showed he weighed 85 pounds. The pathologist found that he was malnourished and that lack of food contributed to his death.  

Credit: Courtesy
Raul Olguin

A two-year WFAA investigation into Raul’s case found his caregiver – licensed by the state – had a federal criminal conviction and should never have been looking after him or any other disabled people. The caregiver managed to make it through a loophole in Texas’ criminal background check process. Yet, another loophole allowed her to continue taking care of vulnerable individuals while under investigation for neglect, WFAA found. 

“Many people failed him,” said Ana Ortiz, Raul Olguin’s former caseworker who knew him and his mother well. “Someone needs to be held accountable for what happened to him.” 

The removal 

In late January 2019, Raul was removed from his mother’s care. She’d been accused of neglect. Records show an investigation soon cleared her, but not before he was placed in the Garland home of Sharita Brandon. 

“Mom never got to see a healthy Raul after that point,” Ortiz said. 

Brandon was a caretaker working as a contractor for Paso a Paso, a company paid by the state of Texas to find and help supervise foster homes for the intellectually disabled. 

Records show Paso a Paso officials periodically checked on Raul at Brandon’s home. They noted that he was losing weight, according to state records obtained by WFAA. 

“The caregiver [Brandon] would say he won't eat, but when we witnessed him eating, he would gobble up his food like he had not eaten,” Paso a Paso’s program manager told state investigators looking into Raul’s death. “He inhaled his food. Raul was grabbing at the sandwich of other clients.” 

The program manager told investigators that Raul “did have weight issues while under his mother's care. … but he was never under 100 pounds, and he always had an appetite.”  

A Paso a Paso nurse described similar concerns. Records show she visited the house on March 25, 2019. Brandon told her that Raul would not eat his breakfast. She said she asked Brandon to bring it back out. 

“A bowl of oatmeal (warmed up) was brought…,” according to an investigation into Raul’s death. "And he ate it all,” records show. 

Workers at a “day hab” facility Raul attended when he lived with Brandon told state investigators that his appetite was good in the beginning. But, they said, Raul stopped wanting to eat and began losing weight rapidly.  

In her interview with state investigators, Brandon reported that “Raul had bad eating habits.” 

“I could not get him to eat,” Brandon told state investigators. “Raul would eat, but not like he should.” She said she notified Paso a Paso that Raul was not eating and blamed the company for not giving her the support she needed. 

Arnulfo Gonzales, co-owner of Paso a Paso, said his company had a coordinator and two nurses involved in Raul’s care. 

He said Paso a Paso employees are not on-site day and night to monitor foster care hosts like Brandon. “We provide them with the training we’re required to provide,” he said. “As far as what happens 24-7, it’s hard to say.”  

Text messages 

Raul’s mother, Maria Covarrubias, provided WFAA her text messages with Sharita Brandon.  

Over and over, Covarrubias asked about Raul’s well-being. In the texts, Brandon never gave a hint she was having issue with Raul eating. In fact, her texts gave the opposite impression.  

In one text, shortly after Raul came under her care, Brandon wrote: “I guess he likes chicken and shrimp alfredo.”  

In a March 1, 2019, text, Brandon said, “He is doing so good. I believe he really likes it here! We just came from [Chuck E. Cheese].” 

A month later, Brandon texted, “He is doing so good…. I love Raul so so sweet.” The next day, April 1, 2019, Brandon sent a photo of Raul. He appeared emaciated.  

“He was always a very tall and thin young man,” Ortiz said about the picture. “But that's a completely different person. I couldn't even recognize him.” 

Records show Brandon took Raul to a medical clinic three times in the days before he died.  He was seen by two different nurse practitioners. Neither noted weight loss as an issue.  

‘Well nourished’ 

On his final visit, April 8, 2019, the nurse practitioner described him as “well nourished.” 

Two days after that doctor visit, Paso a Paso officials removed Raul from Brandon’s home. 

On the way to the home of his new caretaker, Raul ate “chicken strips, fries and a burger,” according to state records. 

His new caregiver told state investigators that, when Raul arrived at his home on the evening of April 10, he “looked very emaciated, malnourished and his bones were visible,” state records show. 

The new caretaker told investigators Raul “ate everything he fed him.” 

The next day, Raul collapsed in the front yard of the Dallas home. He was “vomiting black material,” according to Dallas County Medical Examiner records. 

Paramedics rushed Raul to Methodist Dallas Medical Center. He was dead on arrival. Hospital records show staff checked “yes” on his paperwork that they suspected he had been neglected.  

A hospital nurse stated Raul “did not appeared cared for well,” according to investigator’s notes from the medical examiner’s office. 

An autopsy found the main cause of death was aspiration pneumonia. It also said that malnutrition contributed to his death. “As it is uncertain to what extent his malnutrition contributed to his death, the manner of death will be classified as undetermined,” the autopsy report states. 


The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigated Raul’s death. The agency completed its investigation two years after Raul died. 

The final result? “Inconclusive.” 

“It could not be determined if there was a negligent act or omission,” the report stated.  

Investigators cited several factors in their decision: 

  • A day hab staff member told investigators that Brandon sent Raul to their facility with food. 

  • A Paso a Paso staff member had seen Brandon feed Raul during their visits to her home. 

  • Medical clinic staff had described Raul as “well nourished” when Brandon brought him for check-ups. 

Gonzalez with Paso a Paso said he is unsure whether Raul was neglected, but said his company did all it could. 

“To say whether I think he was neglected or abused, that is a very fine line,” he said. “I cannot really say. That’s why it involved Adult Protective Services, and let them determine that based on whatever facts they obtain.”  

He said when his staff noticed Raul’s weight loss, they acted. “When we started noticing the weight loss, our nurses and coordinator conducted unannounced visits to see what they would find. They never found anything out of the ordinary,” he said.  

He said doctors who saw Raul never sounded an alarm. “There was a lot of conflicting information on some of the doctor’s notes. We would see weight loss, but then on their summary, they would say ‘he’s doing great,’ ‘he’s looks great.’ He’s losing weight but he’s looking great?” 

“It was one of those cases, unfortunately, they fall through the cracks,” he said. “By the time you want to do something, it’s too late.” 

Clay Boatright, a disability rights advocate and father of twin daughters with severe autism, said Raul’s death is an avoidable tragedy. 

Credit: WFAA
Clay Boatright

“For someone to deteriorate, and to ultimately die, in a way that people can't draw conclusion, or where there's confusion, makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “It's not like he was isolated for days and someone found him days later. People saw him every single day.” 

Sharita Brandon declined to do an on-camera interview but provided WFAA videos of her feeding Raul. One video shows him eating chicken strips. 

“I wasn’t there when he died,” Brandon told WFAA via text. “He walked out of my house normal.” 

Brandon said she did nothing wrong in Raul’s case, and that she did all she could to get him to eat.  

Credit: WFAA
Maria Covarrubias

Raul’s mother said she can’t understand how Raul got into such a poor physical condition that he died the way he did.  

“If he was here with me, he would have been better,” his mother said.  

Criminal history overlooked 

WFAA’s investigation also found that Brandon should never have been working with people like Raul. 

In 2004, while living in Arkansas, she pleaded guilty to stealing money from a federal program that provided funds to the state to pay for day care for “children whose parents were receiving welfare and returning to work or school,” according to court records.  

Documents in the criminal case say Brandon was a state contract worker who contacted day care providers and “solicited them to participate in submitting fraudulent vouchers” to the state.  A federal judge ordered her and several accomplices to pay back more than $880,000.  

Four years later, Brandon had paid $817.05, court records show. A judge revoked her supervised release after finding she violated the conditions of her release. 

He sentenced her to one year and one day in prison.  

Brandon later moved to Texas.  

Records show that in 2016, a child care business ran a fingerprint background check on her, as required by state law. That search found her federal conviction. 

But background checks done by companies taking care of intellectually disabled individuals did not. That’s because those companies were only required to check her name in the Texas Department of Public Safety’s database, which contains only convictions in Texas state courts. 

Her federal conviction did not show up in there because it was in an Arkansas federal court. 

“Why would you not perform (a fingerprint background check) for caregivers who are going to be working with adults who are as vulnerable as the children in daycare?” Boatright said. 

The state’s 13 state-supported living centers take care of the same population of people as Raul. By state law, fingerprint background checks must be done on the employees who work there. 

Checking an individual’s name in the DPS database costs $1. Having a fingerprint background check conducted costs $38.25. 

“It’s a classic case of pennywise and pound foolish,” said Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities 

Credit: WFAA
Dennis Borel

Both Borel and Boatright said the root cause of the problem is a system that is drastically underfunded. Texas typically ranks near the bottom of states in funding the system that’s supposed to help protect the intellectually and physically disabled. Borel said companies that hire caretakers have been paid virtually the same rate for years, even as costs have gone up. Caretakers, he said, can make more money working at a fast-food restaurant.  

“In other words, there hasn’t been much extra money going their way,” Borel said. “So, they’ll tell you, we have to cut corners where we can because the state inadequately funds us.” 

Arnulfo Gonzalez with Paso a Paso said his company performed the level of background check through Texas DPS required by state law. 

“We entered her name and her date of birth, and the results we obtained was ‘no matching records.’ When we get that kind of return back, then that clears us to contract with that person,” he told WFAA. “As far as missing any other information, if that information was not in the system, I don’t know who’s at fault for that, because we go by whatever we obtain once we enter that information in that search.” 

He said the state should re-evaluate the types of background checks required in his industry. 

“I’m sure, just like Sharita (the caretaker), I’m sure there’s plenty of others out there that are being missed or falling through the cracks,” he said. “I think there needs to be some changes. I think a lot of lives could be saved. I think that a lot of fraud could be prevented.” 

Texas Health and Human Services officials said they have no plans to make changes to the background check process, and that it is up to lawmakers to change the rules. 

Last summer, months after WFAA first brought Brandon’s federal conviction to the state’s attention, the Texas Health and Human Service Commission’s Office of the Inspector General concluded Brandon “concealed” her “conviction history” from the companies that hired her to take care of the disabled. 

That investigation resulted in her being barred from working with people like Raul. 

Brandon told WFAA she didn’t think her conviction was relevant. 

Arkansas officials told WFAA that Brandon has not paid federal restitution in more than a decade. She and her accomplices still owe more than $700,000. 

WFAA has repeatedly asked Texas HHSC officials for an on-camera interview to discuss gaps in the background check process. All requests have been denied. 

Another loophole 

WFAA also found that for more than six months after Raul’s death – while the state investigated whether abuse or neglect was involved – Brandon continued to take care of another disabled man.  

She was able to do so because there is no way under state law to prevent a caretaker under investigation for serious misconduct from taking care of the disabled.  

Under current law, state regulators also have no authority to suspend a caretaker found to have abused, neglected or exploited their intellectually disabled client while they appeal that finding. (We highlighted this problem in a past story.) Two Dallas area lawmakers – State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), and Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) – have filed bills during the last two legislative sessions attempting to give the state the power to do so. None have became law. 

“Clearly, that system is set up to protect the caregiver in question,” Boatright said. “It's not set up to protect the person with a developmental disability.”  

Brandon told WFAA that the other disabled man was eventually removed from her care as a result of the inspector general’s investigation into her criminal history. 

In addition to Brandon being barred, one of Paso a Paso’s nurses was reprimanded for Raul’s death. An investigation found she “failed to intervene.” She was ordered to take remedial classes. When contacted by WFAA, she said she was not Raul’s primary nurse. “Just because I was the one reprimanded doesn’t mean I’m the one that had anything to do with it. [It] just means I was the last nurse to see him... I feel very bad for his mom and the whole situation...”   

For Maria Covarrubias, the death of her son Raul is a loss she will never get over. She said she will never understand how the people paid to protect him failed to keep him alive. 

“He would eat everything, everything,” she said through tears. “I don’t understand how this happened.”

Full Article & Source: