Saturday, December 4, 2021

Nurse who raped incapacitated patient speaks at sentencing

The former Hacienca HealthCare nurse who raped and impregnated an incapacitated woman expressed remorse during the sentencing hearing but a judge gave him the maximum sentence.
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Arizona nurse who sexually assaulted incapacitated patient sentenced to 10 years

A former Arizona nurse who sexually assaulted an incapacitated patient at a long-term care facility where she later gave birth was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday.

The man, Nathan Sutherland, was sentenced to the maximum allowed under the sexual assault charge that he pleaded guilty to in September.

The sexual assault of the woman, who was 29 at the time, was discovered after she gave birth in December 2018 at a Hacienda HealthCare facility in Phoenix, where she was a patient.

The woman had been at the long-term care facility since she was 3.

Her family has said she has significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures early in her childhood. She has some ability to move her limbs, head and neck but cannot speak.

“It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable adult than the victim in this case,” Superior Court Judge Margaret LaBianca said at sentencing.

Sutherland was also sentenced to lifetime supervised probation, and he will have to register as a sex offender, NBC affiliate KPNX of Phoenix reported.

Sutherland was arrested and charged in January 2019 after DNA evidence tied him to the child. He was fired after his arrest and pleaded guilty to sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse in September.

In court Thursday, Sutherland apologized to the victim and her family, according to The Associated Press. The victim’s mother is the child's guardian.

"To the victim, I am sorry," Sutherland said. "You didn’t deserve to be hurt no matter what was going on in my personal life and the demons I was fighting. I had no right to put you through that."

John A. Micheaels, an attorney for the victim's family, said they asked for the maximum sentence, which the judge imposed. The family did not wish to comment further Thursday.

In a written statement, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said the sentence was just and appropriate.

"This sentence honors the wishes of the victims in this case," Adel said. "I am committed to holding offenders accountable and when determining the terms of a plea agreement offered to any defendant, all factors, both mitigating and aggravating, are considered."

Bill Timmons, then the CEO of Hacienda HealthCare, resigned after the woman gave birth. The state of Arizona, Hacienda and others settled for millions of dollars in lawsuits filed by the woman’s family.

Hacienda’s current CEO, Perry Petrilli, said in a statement Thursday of Sutherland: “We are relieved that he will never again torment another innocent human being.”

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10 states with the strongest elder abuse protections

by Cailey Gleeson

Wisconsin offers the strongest protection against elder abuse in the U.S., according to an analysis released Dec. 1 by WalletHub, a personal finance website.

To identify the states with the strongest protections against elder abuse, WalletHub analysts compared the 50 states and Washington, D.C., on three dimensions: prevalence, resources and protection. Each dimension was evaluated using 16 relevant metrics ranging from frequency of assisted living facility inspections to presence of elder justice task forces. Each metric was scored on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the "best protection against elder abuse." More information on methodology is available here.

Here are the 10 states with the strongest elder abuse protections, according to the analysis: 

1. Wisconsin

2. Massachusetts

3. Vermont

4. Virginia

5. West Virginia

6. Washington

7. Iowa

8. Maine

9. Wyoming

10. North Carolina

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Friday, December 3, 2021

New bill would put Florida nursing home residents at risk | Opinion

Michael Brevda
by Michael Brevda

A recently proposed bill would greatly reduce nursing care from Florida’s nursing homes. Crazy right? Removing the nursing out of nursing homes.

SB 804, proposed by Sen. Ben Albritton (R- Wauchula), would reduce the 3.6-hour nursing care requirement to one hour. In Florida’s nursing homes, nurses serve as the captain of the ship. Other staff members look to nurses for guidance and direction. Removing the most trained and highest educated member of the care team will have disastrous consequences. This is akin to removing the surgeon from the operating room.

SB 804 would further slash basic Certified Nursing Assistant care mandates. Instead of the minimal 2.5 hours of CNA care (which is already lower than other states), Albritton’s bill would allow nursing home facilities to provide what is called 2.5 hours of “direct care,” instead.

Glaringly, “direct care” can be provided by non-nursing employees, like the activities staff. This too is dangerous since non-clinical staff members qualify as “direct care” givers, yet they lack the training and experience needed to care for such a vulnerable patient population. A similar bill was proposed earlier this year which allowed “PCA’s” with a mere eight  hours of training to replace Certified Nursing Assistants.

Reducing nurse interaction with residents, and allowing untrained, non-clinical staff to replace care givers is a formula for disaster. If this bill becomes law, this state-sanctioned understaffing will lead to bed sores, falls, and medication mistakes.

Albritton’s proposed legislation also softens the punishment on facilities that do not have adequate staff numbers.

Currently, nursing homes that fail to meet the staffing requirements for two consecutive days are banned from accepting new residents. This makes sense, because if you do not have the staff needed to care for the existing residents, you should not be allowed to take in new residents.

The ban is only lifted once the nursing home can meet the bare minimum staffing requirements for a six-day period. If SB 804 is made law, understaffed nursing homes would still be allowed to admit new residents, if they pay a small fine.

The AARP has come out publicly against this dangerous deregulation on nursing home staff numbers. AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson told Florida Politics Wednesday the bill all but removes the “nursing” requirement from Florida’s nursing homes. The AARP has formally opposed the proposed reduction in care.

The for-profit sector of Florida nursing homes has historically been understaffed and focused on its profits, not patient care. By slashing staff requirements and softening penalties for bad behavior, we are encouraging an industry plagued by poor performance to continue to harm and neglect residents.

This is entirely unacceptable. We must demand better from the corporations that care for Florida’s aging seniors.

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New Nebraska law takes action against crypto-mining company

by Martha Stoddard

State banking officials have issued a cease-and-desist order against a crypto-mining investment company after it took $725,000 from a Nebraska investor and her mother.

The order bars Satitech Mining and Machinery, an online company, from offering or selling securities in Nebraska until the securities are registered with the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance and company officials are registered as broker-dealers or broker-dealer agents under state law. The order took effect Nov. 10.

Department officials were alerted to the situation under a new state law aiming to protect elderly Nebraskans and other vulnerable adults from financial exploitation.

The law, passed this year, allows broker-dealers and investment advisers to pause transactions and notify state officials if they suspect someone is taking advantage of a vulnerable client. A similar law passed last year allows banks and credit unions to take similar action.

Claire McHenry, deputy director for the department’s securities bureau, said the recent case was the first one that led to a cease-and-desist order. But she said the department has received several reports from bankers, credit union officials, broker-dealers and investment advisers with concerns about clients.

“I am very pleased that financial firms are already using the tools provided by the Nebraska Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation Act,” she said. “This case is an example of how the financial industry and regulators are working together to protect investors.”

According to the department’s order, the recent case began when a Nebraska woman, identified as “MM,” met a person claiming to be “Stephon Lang” on a dating website. He introduced her to his friend, “Michael,” at Satitech, an online entity that offered investments in cryptocurrency mining.

Cryptocurrencies are a form of unregulated digital money that can be used to buy goods and services. They use encryption technology to make them secure. The currencies have been compared to arcade tokens or casino chips, because people exchange real money for the cryptocurrency.

The other way to get more cryptocurrency is through mining, which rewards people for using computing systems to solve extremely complex mathematical puzzles. The process is part of maintaining the technological underpinnings for cryptocurrency. Initially, mining was done on desktop computers but now involves large pools of computers.

Much of the interest in cryptocurrencies has been driven by people looking to trade them for profit, similar to stocks and other assets. Nearly 15,000 different cryptocurrencies are traded publicly, according to, a market research website.

Satitech’s website touted the entity as: “Best in crypto activities, we focus on crypto currency mining and crypto machinery sales. Be part of the world most biggest (sic) system today.”

Investors were invited to open accounts using cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. The entity was to use the money for mining more cryptocurrency and the investors would share in the profits.

The order said that MM invested $575,000 in Satitech between June 6 and July 1 this year. By late July, the company said her investment had grown to $2.3 million. They said she would need to pay an 18% “clearance fee” to get money out of the investment. She sent a total of $200,000 between July 19 and Aug. 23, which included $100,000 she got from her mother.

At that point, Satitech told MM that she could not get her money because the fee was paid in multiple transactions. The company said she needed to pay another $350,000 fee to draw out her investment.

MM’s mother went to her broker-dealer to get $250,000 of the additional fee. That’s when the broker raised concerns and, based on the new law, reported the situation to the banking department and to Adult Protective Services.

The broker’s intervention and efforts by banking officials kept MM and her mother from sending the additional fee, although they did not get the previous investments back. MM later discovered that the photo Stephon had sent her was associated with other dating site frauds.

“Unfortunately, as with most financial exploitation we come across, it’s very difficult to get the money back,” McHenry said.

State banking officials cautioned investors about doing business online with financial companies with whom they are unfamiliar. In many cases, the investor is told to wire money or send a prepaid card, often to a location outside the United States.

In other cases, investors are instructed to send bitcoin to fund their investment. Investors never receive the promised return and cannot recover their money. Furthermore, they may be asked to provide personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers, which makes them prime targets for identity theft.

State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, who sponsored the newly passed law, said he was pleased that the measure had helped protect Nebraskans.

“While the investment industry continues to evolve, I am confident that appropriate regulation can and will work to combat those that attempt to exploit others for financial gain,” he said.

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Financial exploitation arrest

By Rich Egger

A western Illinois woman is accused stealing from an elderly man while serving as his caretaker.

Anna Oller, 62, of Good Hope is charged with:

  • Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Person
  • Two counts of Felony Theft
Anna Oller
Credit McDonough County Sheriff's Department

The McDonough County Sheriff’s Department said the victim reported in August that several items were missing from his home after he returned from a hospital stay.

He suspected Oller.

The sheriff’s department said its investigation found that Oller had the missing property and that she had used the man’s finances to her own benefit.

She was arrested Tuesday, November 30, at her home.

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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Guardianship Abuse Victim Blows the Lid on Guardianship Scandal

News Provided By
November 30, 2021, 20:06 GMT 

Guardianship Abuse Victim Karilyn Montanti speaks out and blows the lid on guardianship abuse within the guardianship and court systems

Karilyn Montanti
(photo courtesy of
Christine Montanti
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, November 30, 2021 / -- Guardianship Abuse Victim Karilyn Montanti speaks out and blows the lid on guardianship abuse within the guardianship and court systems as she addresses the media for the first time publicly to help free her from further exploitation and being held as a prisoner in guardianship abuse captivity. Karilyn Montanti a 77-year-old woman and former resident of California was essentially relocated to Florida against her will by her oldest daughter and was thrown into a corrupt guardianship system where she has been subject to abuse and exploitation.

Karilyn Montanti’s victimization is not just an isolated and tragic event but is a national crisis that is happening to many aging adults at the hands of morally and mentally unfit court appointed guardians, health care surrogates and geriatric care managers. These individuals have been entrusted with protecting the interests of vulnerable adults but instead are engaging in abuse for the sole purpose of financially exploiting them and misappropriating their funds, while further incapacitating the elder.

Karilyn Montanti,
Christine Montanti
(photo courtesy
Christine Montanti)
Oftentimes, these court appointed individuals overmedicate the elder to make them appear sicker than they are to gain total control of their money, and, in many instances, the elder dies due to the physical and mental abuse. This outrageous conduct is widespread and, unbelievably, a common fate awaits the defenseless victims: they are isolated, medicated and fortunes liquidated. Although not an elder, the recent case of Britney Spears has brought national attention to the problem of conservatorship abuse taking place in this country and which is growing.

When a dispute arises among family members, some courts will use “geriatric care managers” to protect the interests of the elder. Remarkably, a number of these care managers have unwarranted familiarity with judges that preside over these cases and are given a great deal of discretion. Essentially, they then have the ability to play God over the day-to-day decisions of the elder. They will align themselves with the family members who are in control of the aging adult’s money and will immediately take the side of the family member who has control of the trust, so they can excessively bill the trust in exchange for providing a favorable outcome in court.

What is heartbreaking about Karilyn’s story is she was placed in a jail-like atmosphere and essentially cut off from communication with the outside world. The abuse has taken place at two assisted living facilities in Broward County where she was isolated without any access to a telephone, a computer and was blocked from seeing her family and only grandchild. She was not allowed to receive calls, letters, packages, food delivery or permitted to go outside the facility, not even on her balcony. Virtually, all of her property and money has been taken away from her. Karilyn was even forced to spend holidays and her birthday alone this year. Prisoners have more rights than she does!

What is even more outrageous is over the past year and a half Karilyn was overmedicated several times and suffered disabling symptoms while under the care and supervision of a health care surrogate, court appointed care manager and court appointed attorney. In addition, she was being denied her right to see her treating doctor. How could this happen when she has three individuals who are being paid from her own money, allegedly for the sole purpose of protecting her interests and ensuring her medical needs are being met? Karilyn’s freedom and basic liberties have been stripped away leaving her isolated causing severe emotional distress and suffering. Due to this isolation, and blocking and denying her right to see doctors, she has lost substantial weight (three clothing sizes) and looks as if she has aged 20 years in four months.

Karilyn has been repeatedly denied the opportunity to be heard before the court with respect to her own wishes and to have an evidentiary hearing to determine her capacity. Her numerous requests to appear in court have been denied by the court and the same attorney who was appointed to protect her interests. Since she was deprived of the right to be heard, she has decided to speak out publicly for the first time to reveal intimate details of her guardianship-type captivity in the hopes that she will find justice not only for herself but for many other victims of guardianship abuse. Karilyn has recently filed a Suggestion of Capacity Motion through her new attorney whom she personally selected so she can have her rights restored.

#standupforkarilyn #freemom

Broward County Case Number: PRC180004278

Norah Lawlor
Lawlor Media Group, Inc.
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Guardianship abuse victim Karilyn Montanti speaks out and blows the lid on her guardianship abuse captivity

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Britney Spears Wants to "Be an Advocate" for People Who Also Suffer Under the "Corrupt System"

"But, I'm not here to be a victim. I lived with victims my whole life as a child."

By Chelsey Sanchez

Credit: Anthony Harvey
Britney Spears is sharing her plans for life after her 13-year conservatorship.

The pop star's conservatorship was officially terminated last Friday following a ruling from Los Angeles judge Brenda Penny. Now, the "Toxic" singer is letting fans know what she wants to do with her newfound freedom.

"The first main question that you guys have been asking me is, What am I gonna do now that the conservatorship's over with?" Spears says in a self-filmed video that she posted to Instagram yesterday. "I've been in the conservatorship for 13 years. It's a really long time to be in a situation you don't want to be in. So I'm just grateful, honestly, for each day, and being able to have the keys to my car and being able to be independent, feel like a woman, and owning an ATM card, seeing cash for the first time, being able to buy candles. It's the little things for us women, but it makes a huge difference, and I'm grateful for that. It's nice."

She continues, "But, I'm not here to be a victim. I lived with victims my whole life as a child. That's why I got out of my house, and I worked for 20 years and worked my ass off."

Other than relishing in everyday pleasures, Spears adds that she has other ambitions on her mind—including advocating for people who may be stuck in a similar situation as she was in her own conservatorship.

"I'm here to be an advocate for people with real disabilities and real illnesses," she says. "Hopefully, my story will make an impact and make some changes in the corrupt system."

She concludes the video by thanking her fans who brought the #FreeBritney movement to the forefront of the public's attention. "You guys rock, honestly," she says. "My voice was muted and threatened for so long. I wasn't able to speak up or say anything. ... Because of you, I honestly think you guys saved my life."

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‘They have the ability to do this’: Son’s battle to free mom puts focus on emergency guardianship

By Colleen Heild

Dorris Hamilton is an iconic figure in Las Cruces.

Now 93, she left the extreme poverty of her Arkansas home to live with a teacher at age 12 and used the power of education to overcome segregation. She became the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Arkansas, received a master’s degree at age 23, met Martin Luther King Jr. before he became famous, and secured a place in New Mexico history as the state’s first Black school principal at Lynn Junior High School in Las Cruces. In her work with the NAACP, she helped lobby the New Mexico Legislature.

A lifelong saver, Hamilton had built a substantial nest egg by the time she retired in the late 1990s. She owned a home and maintained an active lifestyle.

But life as she knew it was upended two years ago when a Las Cruces judge signed a temporary emergency petition presented to him by a local attorney placing Hamilton under the care of a corporate guardian and conservator — an action her son, Rio Hamilton, says was done without their knowledge and against their wishes.

It was a fast-track legal process that resulted in Dorris Hamilton’s removal from her home, the liquidation of her possessions, and her life and finances being placed in the hands of strangers.

“This is what’s broken about guardianship,” Rio Hamilton said of his mother’s case. “They have the ability to do this.”

‘All of us at risk’

After a 22-month legal battle in which prominent Las Cruces residents appeared in court to show support for the family, Rio Hamilton was appointed as his mother’s guardian in May. He was also allowed to choose a new conservator to manage her financial affairs.

While the case isn’t formally concluded, he estimates that fees charged against his mother’s estate by lawyers and court-appointed guardians and conservators are well over $100,000. After removal from her home, she was placed in a memory care facility chosen by her guardian — not by her and her son. In late October 2019, the judge held a hearing and opted to make the corporate guardianship and conservatorship permanent.

“They’re not rescuing people who aren’t wealthy,” Rio Hamilton said of the corporate guardianship process.

The Hamiltons’ case was featured earlier this year in an extensive Searchlight New Mexico story and in a Washington Post story as recently as last week.

Beginning in late 2016, the Journal has published multiple investigative stories revealing serious issues with the state’s adult guardianship system. Lawmakers and the judiciary have since enacted changes to better protect some of the state’s most vulnerable adults.

But despite New Mexico’s recent progress injecting transparency into such cases and enhancing rights of “protected people” and their families, cases like the Hamiltons’ are continuing proof the system designed to protect vulnerable individuals is not yet fixed, guardianship reform advocates say.

In fact, scrutiny of the temporary guardianship process in New Mexico is the latest aim of a new legislative-ordered study group scheduled to meet next week.

State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, a study group member who sponsored new guardianship legislation this year, said she hopes the continuing reforms will include better protections for those who are the subject of temporary guardianships, such as the Hamiltons.

She and others were dismayed after attending one of the public court hearings in the Hamiltons’ case.

“It was, like, how could this just keep going on? She doesn’t have that many more years of her life left,” Ferrary said in a Journal interview. “Why should it happen to her or anyone who has worked so hard to save money all her life? It puts all of us at risk.”

Former state Senate President Pro-Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said she’s known Dorris Hamilton for many years.

“I just can’t believe this whole thing,” Papen said in an interview. “I find it quite scary as we all get older that they can walk in and do this even though you have children. … That they are able to take you away … I find that very frightening.”

Son blindsided

Rio Hamilton said he was blindsided by the emergency temporary petition and had no idea what a corporate guardian was that summer day in 2019. All he wanted was to obtain power of attorney so he could expedite moving his mother to a hotel while he cleaned out and repaired her home of 50 years.

But that one-hour meeting resulted in the Las Cruces lawyer filing — Rio Hamilton says without his approval or signature — a temporary emergency petition saying that Rio wanted the court to appoint a corporate guardian and conservator.

Rio Hamilton said the petition was granted by Chief District Judge Manuel Arrieta of Las Cruces before Hamilton even knew about it — effectively ending Dorris Hamilton’s way of life as she knew it and setting the stage for a long fight.

There was no prior notice to Rio Hamilton or a hearing to allow all sides to respond to the allegations in the temporary guardianship petition. And it’s all perfectly legal when there’s deemed to be an emergency.

The petition filed July 25, 2019, said that Hamilton’s son had priority under state law for appointment as guardian for his mother but that he waived that right, which he says is patently false. The petition alleged that it didn’t appear that his mother had an attorney and that she had exhibited hoarding behaviors, memory loss and vascular dementia and was in danger of harm. It also said she “may” have been the subject of financial exploitation.

Son blindsided

Rio Hamilton said he was blindsided by the emergency temporary petition and had no idea what a corporate guardian was that summer day in 2019. All he wanted was to obtain power of attorney so he could expedite moving his mother to a hotel while he cleaned out and repaired her home of 50 years.

But that one-hour meeting resulted in the Las Cruces lawyer filing — Rio Hamilton says without his approval or signature — a temporary emergency petition saying that Rio wanted the court to appoint a corporate guardian and conservator.

Rio Hamilton said the petition was granted by Chief District Judge Manuel Arrieta of Las Cruces before Hamilton even knew about it — effectively ending Dorris Hamilton’s way of life as she knew it and setting the stage for a long fight.

There was no prior notice to Rio Hamilton or a hearing to allow all sides to respond to the allegations in the temporary guardianship petition. And it’s all perfectly legal when there’s deemed to be an emergency.

The petition filed July 25, 2019, said that Hamilton’s son had priority under state law for appointment as guardian for his mother but that he waived that right, which he says is patently false. The petition alleged that it didn’t appear that his mother had an attorney and that she had exhibited hoarding behaviors, memory loss and vascular dementia and was in danger of harm. It also said she “may” have been the subject of financial exploitation.

It’s a dynamic faced by many families who oppose corporate guardianships in court.

One California man, whose struggle was profiled by the Journal in 2018, spent more than a year and $50,000 in legal fees to reverse another judge’s decision to put his elderly stepmother under a corporate guardianship in Las Cruces. That case was triggered by an emergency petition filed on behalf of a local handyman who knew the woman.

To help finance his legal fight, Hamilton mounted an online funding campaign titled “SAVE MY MOTHER FROM GUARDIANSHIP TAKEOVER,” and hired his own attorney, who declined to comment last week.

“Imagine you are 93 years old and all of a sudden you have no access to any of your money that you’ve been saving since you were 19 years old,” Rio Hamilton said. “She’s driving around town trying to pay her bills. Three weeks later, she gets a knock on her door saying we have a court order to take you to a nursing home.”

Hamilton’s mother still lives in an assisted living memory care unit of a facility in Las Cruces, but he said she would like to move back home or live in another facility.

But Rio Hamilton says he and his mother are in a sort of legal limbo.

In an unusual and publicly unexplained move, Judge Arrieta decided not to discharge the attorney who originally filed the petition in 2019 seeking to place Dorris Hamilton under the corporate guardianship. The judge, in granting Hamilton guardianship, also asked the Las Cruces-based lawyer to remain on the case for six months. The order explaining why is sealed.

The attorney, CaraLyn Banks, said in a Journal interview that the case is sequestered so she can’t explain why she is still on the case. She maintains she is only looking out for Dorris Hamilton’s best interests.

But the legal ordeal has taken an emotional and financial toll.

“My mother is a first-class lady,” said Rio Hamilton, who now lives in Las Cruces. “She does not speak badly about them. She does not speak ill. She keeps her spirits up. I’ve taken a lesson, I’ve taken notes on how to behave. There’s been times I’ve been absolutely outraged.”

No prior notice

Dorris Hamilton and her husband, a mathematician recruited to work for the military at White Sands Missile Range, settled in Las Cruces before Rio was born. The couple eventually separated.

Dorris Hamilton spent 40 years in the Las Cruces Public Schools system, 20 of those years as a principal. In her later years, she was active in the community, wearing her trademark men’s suit jacket adorned with pins. She was a regular at the Benavidez Community Center in Las Cruces and attended aerobics classes, her son said.

But under a corporate guardianship, Dorris Hamilton lost the right to oversee her personal affairs, the right to vote or see her own doctor, her son said. He wasn’t allowed to take her to church on Sundays but had to meet her there, he said.

Rio Hamilton said the guardianship ordeal would never have happened if he hadn’t taken his mother to see Banks on July 20, 2019.

“My mother was extremely stubborn about the possessions that were in her home, like most people who have a hoarding disorder. There was no reasoning with her, which is why I needed to take action,” he said of his plan to get a power of attorney that would have given him access to her bank account.

He had planned to move back to New Mexico to live in the house he grew up in, and work remotely. He recalled his mother mentioning an assisted living home in Las Cruces she might like, based on recommendations from her friends. It’s not where she is now.

The Hamiltons first tried to get power of attorney at his mother’s bank but learned Rio Hamilton’s driver’s license had expired a day earlier, so he had no valid identification to complete the form.

They then went to see Banks because, Rio Hamilton said, “she was the only lawyer we knew.”

They had first contacted Banks two years earlier about rewriting his mother’s will, but when they left her office back in 2017, “my mother decided she did not want to work with her.”

When they met with Banks on July 20, 2019, Rio Hamilton said he explained the need for the power of attorney and brought photos of the condition of his mother’s home. Banks said she knew a firm that would clean it out, he said. It happened to be the same firm that ended up as corporate guardian, Advocate Services of New Mexico. The owner, Sandy Meyer, didn’t return Journal email and phone requests seeking comment.

Rio Hamilton contends they never discussed with Banks that his mother needed more than a power of attorney or that she should be put in a guardianship, which is considered an option of last resort under the law when there are no alternatives.

Hamilton said he didn’t get power of attorney that day because an employee at Banks’ office who could notarize the document wasn’t there and he had to leave for Albuquerque. But he said Banks kept in touch about getting his mother’s home cleaned.

About two weeks later, Hamilton said, he received paperwork in the mail showing that a Las Cruces judge had placed his mother under a temporary corporate guardianship.

“I was shocked. I didn’t understand it. It had my name all over it, but there was no place for me to sign, and this wasn’t what I expected. I was expecting actually an agreement so we could just pay for the hourlong meeting we had.”

His mother was still living in her home at that point but was already complaining that she had no access to any of her bank accounts.

Accounts closed

Court records show that nine days after Doris and Rio Hamilton met with Banks, Judge Arrieta granted the temporary guardianship/conservatorship to Advocate Services, permitting the firm to close Hamilton’s bank accounts, seize her funds and transfer the money to another bank.

According to the docket sheet, it was another three weeks before the court received and approved a request for emergency evaluation and take her to a hospital. The records are sealed, so it isn’t known who requested the order.

Rio Hamilton said a Las Cruces police officer went to his mother’s home that day and “then followed her to the courthouse (allowing her to drive there in her own car). She said, ‘If a judge has decided that I’m incapable of living by myself … and I haven’t had a hearing, I want to talk to the judge.'”

So police followed her to the courthouse, and she sat inside on a bench waiting for the judge, whom she never saw.

Rio Hamilton said the officer waited for 15 to 20 minutes, and then “they put her in a police car and took her to the hospital and be admitted because they claimed she had a urinary tract infection. And she never ever returned to her home again.”

From there, he said, she was taken to a memory care facility arranged for by the corporate guardian.

The locks were changed on her home, and many possessions were sold or thrown out, Rio Hamilton said. A treasured 1927 Bible is still missing.

As for the car in which Dorris Hamilton drove herself to the courthouse? Rio Hamilton says it was taken away by the guardian and sold.

The conservator wanted to sell her house, Rio Hamilton said, but the effort fizzled after they found his name was also on the deed.

It’s gotten better

Appointment of a temporary or emergency guardian “represents a significant deprivation of liberty,” according to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, which offers a model guardianship law for states. The emergency track is a way for the court to immediately protect an individual in urgent need of such protection. But the model law contends an alleged incapacitated person needs to immediately have his or her own attorney.

It turned out Dorris Hamilton ended up with at least three attorneys at various times — only one of whom was her choice, her son said.

Although she was originally listed in records as the attorney for petitioner Rio Hamilton, CaraLyn Banks withdrew from that role in the fall of 2019. But she remained in the case representing Doris Hamilton against him, Rio Hamilton said. That was in addition to the guardian ad litem attorney, who was appointed by the judge to represent Dorris Hamilton’s best interests.

Earlier this year, the guardian ad litem left the case, and Dorris Hamilton finally got an attorney of her choice— provided free of charge by Disability Rights New Mexico.

The public court docket sheet reflects that the attorney for Disability Rights has opposed at least one motion by Banks.

Since Rio Hamilton was appointed his mother’s guardian, friends including Papen said they’ve been able to meet with Dorris for lunch. On one of their excursions, Dorris and her son hired a ride-share to take her to church. As the two were talking in the back seat, the driver asked whether she was the same Mrs. Hamilton who taught at his school.

“He was so in love with seeing her again, he almost carried her from his Jeep to the church door,” Rio Hamilton said. “She really does have that kind of legacy here.”

With the six months under Rio Hamilton’s guardianship ending this month, Judge Arrieta may soon consider whether to discharge Banks from the case. And in some ways, doing so would set his mother free, her son said.

“Things are getting better,” Dorris Hamilton told the Journal last weekend after she and her son had been out shopping for a new winter dress. “I stay on the positive side.” Without her son’s help, she said, “It wouldn’t be as good.”

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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Long-absent Macomb County probate judge announces retirement

George has served 19 years although she missed most of past two years

By Jameson Cook

Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George will retire early next year after 19 years on the bench due to the lingering impact of injuries suffered in a car crash two years ago.

George, 70, who took the bench Jan. 1, 2003 following her election, hasn’t been on the bench for a year, last serving in November 2020 shortly after she won re-election to another six-year term. She served about one-third of the working days in 2020 following the 2019 traffic accident.

George was a nurse for many years before she started a legal career and served on the Sterling Heights City Council.

“My time on the bench was the highlight of my professional career and I will greatly miss serving the people of Macomb County,” George said in a news release from the county courts.  “Unfortunately, medical issues caused by an auto accident have forced my retirement.”

Judge James Biernat Jr., chief jurist of Macomb County courts, said in a statement: “I have worked with Kathryn for many years, and I wish to offer my sincere congratulations on her retirement. I hope this next chapter in her life is a happy and fulfilling one, and I wish her all the best.”

The absence of George, who has been collecting a salary of $156,000 salary plus benefits, has placed a burden on the county courts.

Macomb Circuit Judge Carl Marlinga, a former probate judge, in September agreed to handle her wills and estates cases, which make up the bulk of probate cases. Marlinga retained his civil caseload while his civil docket has been split among the nine other circuit judges who carry a criminal/civil docket. Marlinga had been taking probate cases on and off during George’s absence.

Biernat and circuit Judge Matthew Switalski have been splitting the remaining cases involving mental incapacity and the developmentally disabled.

George is one of two judges at Macomb Probate Court; the other Judge is Sandra Harrison, who also has taken on an increased caseload.

Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George in 2017 chairs a meeting of the county Elections Commission, which also included county Treasurer Larry Rocca and then-clerk Karen Spranger.MACOMB DAILY FILE PHOTO

George’s seat will be filled by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who also is expected to appoint a replacement for retiring Macomb Circuit Judge Mark Switalski, who serves in family court, and is leaving in January with three years left in his term.

Finalists for Switalski’s position are said to be Judge Matthew Sabaugh of 37th District Court in Warren; Elizabeth Pyden, who was defeated in 2018 by Judge Julie Gatti for a newly created judgeship in Macomb County; and Teri Lynn Dennings, who ran for one of two open seats at Macomb Circuit Court in 2016 that were captured by judges Michael Servitto and Rachel Rancilio.

George for a time was chief probate judge and served as chairwoman of the county Election Commission, which among other functions approves or rejects ballot language for recall petitions.

George in her statement commended Harrison “for her collegiality and tremendous assistance” while serving.

“I also wish to thank the current and former Macomb County Probate Court and Circuit Court judges,” George said. “It has been an honor to have served alongside all of you.

“In addition, I wish to express my gratitude to my personal staff, the Macomb County Probate Court staff, and the court administrators. Their professionalism and commitment throughout my time on the bench has been exceptional. A special thanks to the Macomb County legal community for their exemplary service to Macomb County.

“Finally, I wish to thank the voters and residents of Macomb County, who provided continuous support for the last 20 years. It has been an honor to have served as your judge.”

George earned her law degree from the University of Idaho in 1988. She was appointed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board by then Governor James Blanchard and later worked as a general practitioner with an emphasis on probate and family law.

She has received awards from the Macomb County Probate Bar and the Macomb County Bar Association. In 2005, the Michigan National Guard presented her with an award for her support of U.S. military members and their families. In 2007, George was inducted into the Macomb County Hall of Fame for her outstanding community service. She received a Certification of U.S. Congress Special Recognition for valuable and dedicated assistance to Macomb County and its communities.

George grew up in Macomb County and earned a register nurse certification from Harper Hospital School of Nursing in 1973 and a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing from Oakland University in 1985, working as an acute care nurse before beginning her legal career.

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Ex-Assistant State's Attorney Indicted On 88 Charges In Baltimore

A former prosecutor in Baltimore City was indicted on charges including extortion, misconduct in office, stalking and harassment.

by Elizabeth Janney

BALTIMORE, MD — A former assistant state's attorney for Baltimore City has been indicted on charges including extortion, felony theft scheme, stalking, misconduct in office and other offenses. Prosecutors said he used his office to extort money on behalf of a friend and got private phone records of his former romantic partners in part so he could stalk them.

Adam Lane Chaudry was indicted by a grand jury on 88 charges, officials said Tuesday.

Chaudry has been an assistant state's attorney for Baltimore City since 2009, according to the indictment.

He faces 48 counts of misconduct in office for subpoenaing telephone records from of people who were not involved in any investigations or prosecutions through the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, the indictment says. The charges stem from subpoenas he issued from 2019 to 2021, according to the indictment.

Chaudry was also charged with stalking, harassment and extortion. In the extortion case, the indictment states he wrote a letter in 2018 on behalf of a personal acquaintance who believed she had loaned $10,000 to her ex-boyfriend and acted as though a criminal investigation was underway. The letter was from State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby and signed by Chaudry; however, the indictment says there was never any investigation into the allegations related to the matter.

"Our justice system, particularly the significant role and power of the grand jury, relies on the integrity of law enforcement officials—especially prosecutors," Maryland State Prosecutor Charlton T. Howard III said in a statement. "Our office will work to ensure public officials who abuse positions of trust and authority are investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted."

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Thanksgiving surprise: RI man finally meets Florida woman who's been calling him for years

by Antonia Noori Farzan

More than 20 years ago, Mike Moffitt started getting a lot of calls from a Florida phone number.

The older woman on the other end of the line was trying to reach her daughter, who lives in Maryland. But she kept dialing area code 401, instead of 410 — and getting Moffitt instead.

Finally, "I said, 'Hey, what's your name?'" Moffitt told The Providence Journal last week. "And we started hitting it off."

The woman's name was Gladys, and as time went on, she became a steady fixture in Moffitt's life. But the two had never met — until recently, when Moffitt showed up to surprise her with flowers on the day before Thanksgiving.

"Mike from Rhode Island" and "Gladys from Florida" meet for the first time.

"I just said, 'Hey, I'm Mike from Rhode Island,'" Moffitt said. "Her eyes lit up."

Moffitt, 46, is the owner of Dennis Moffitt Painting in Wakefield. After their first real conversation, he said, Gladys started calling him to ask how his family was doing, or what the weather in Rhode Island was like.

"I started doing the same," he said.

Their conversations never got too deep, and usually only lasted a few minutes. But every so often, either "Mike from Rhode Island" or "Gladys from Florida" would call to check in with the other.

"It just kind of brightens your day," Moffitt said.

The two are separated by about 30 years and thousands of miles. Gladys is Black, and Moffitt is white.

But they've struck a bond despite those differences. When Gladys' husband died, her son called Moffitt to let him know.

"She told him, 'Call Mike from Rhode Island,'" Moffitt said.

He sent flowers — and realized that their friendship had gotten serious.

Like many Rhode Islanders, Moffitt and his family periodically go down to Florida to escape the winter weather. At one point, he realized that the place where they usually stay was about 45 minutes from Gladys' home in Delray Beach.

But the moment for a visit never seemed to be quite right — with a family of five, Moffitt had a hard time getting away, and he didn't want to impose on a woman he'd never met.

The timing was finally right

This year, the family decided to spend Thanksgiving in Florida while looking at colleges for Moffitt's eldest daughter. While driving around on Wednesday, he realized that he was only 2.3 miles from Gladys' house.

"I just literally knocked on the door," he said.

Moffitt hadn't warned anyone that he was coming, not wanting Gladys to feel that she had to get the house ready for a visitor. When he walked through the door with a bouquet of flowers and explained who he was, he said, the first words out of her mouth were, "I'm blessed."

Thanksgiving visit in Florida

The visit didn't last long — Gladys was getting ready for Thanksgiving, and Moffitt didn't want to be in the way — but they shared a hug and Moffitt got to briefly meet Gladys' family.

They also took a selfie, which Moffitt posted on Facebook. "There are incredible people in this World that are a wrong number phone call away," he wrote, explaining the story.

The photo soon had hundreds of comments and likes, and Moffitt began getting calls from people he knew but hadn't spoken to in years, telling him that he was the talk of their Thanksgiving table.

Now that they've met in person, Moffitt hopes to continue to get to know Gladys better, and play an even bigger role in her life.

"She’s just a great person," he said.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

‘Pension Poachers’ Are Targeting America’s Elderly Veterans

Larry Eber’s life was derailed when middlemen pledged to help him get supplemental benefits. Similar tales of alleged manipulation are playing out for thousands of former service members and their families.

By Nick Leiber

During his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that America should serve its soldiers long after they were done serving it. Coming just weeks before final victory in a gruesome civil war that killed at least 750,000, his words would become the motto for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Today, a metal plaque marking the entrance to the agency’s headquarters recites the VA’s duty to U.S. soldiers. Its mission—as Lincoln said in 1865—is to “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”

Larry Eber was one of those soldiers. But today’s VA is having a hard time protecting veterans like him.

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Larry Eber, center, with two unidentified U.S. Army buddies, circa 1969. 
Photographer: Courtesy of Rick Eber

After serving in Vietnam, Eber returned home in 1970 to California. At first he found work stocking supermarket shelves and servicing swimming pools. But re-acclimating was difficult. He developed a drinking problem and began to suffer from schizophrenia. Sometimes he would find himself homeless.

For decades, Eber existed on society’s periphery. But at the age of 73, with his health deteriorating, he decided to make one last try for a better life. With the help of his younger brother Rick, Eber turned to the VA.

In 2016, the agency placed Larry in recovery and found him temporary housing. A staff member suggested he apply for “aid and assistance” benefits—a monthly payment for qualifying veterans in need of help with personal care and chores. To sign up, Larry was instructed to fill out forms that he later learned were from Veterans Care Coordination, a private company based outside St. Louis, Missouri, that touts itself as a go-between that helps veterans access benefits.

That’s when Larry’s plan to fix his life went sideways.

According to his brother, Larry was inundated with a flurry of documents to sign and fine print he didn’t understand. What he didn’t realize at the time was that the money would ultimately be spent on help he didn’t need, and fees for VCC. Even worse, the new benefits would eventually have dire implications for Larry’s existing government aid—leaving him worse off than when he started.

Eber’s story isn’t unique. A small but growing industry has arisen between the VA and elderly veterans—a Wild West of individuals and businesses that take an outsized cut of benefits paid to people like Larry. Initially, one major scam involved persuading veterans who exceeded the benefit’s financial threshold to manipulate their assets. Today, because of a look-back rule the VA implemented in 2018, it has evolved to focus on low-income veterans with promises to assist them with applications and then coordinate their care.

The VA said in a statement that it “actively works to prevent and identify individuals and businesses who take advantage of elderly veterans and their family members.” But when veterans are ensnared in the care coordination industry by operators which advocates label as “pension poachers,” the VA puts the onus on the veterans who signed the agreements.

The key issue raised by the VA, as well as defendants and legal experts, is the concept of undue influence—the idea of whether a company had a fiduciary relationship with an elderly veteran, what the veteran’s mental capacity was when they signed up, and whether they can prove they were manipulated.

Scripps College Psychology Professor Stacey Wood serves as a forensic neuropsychology expert, evaluating capacity and allegations of undue influence in elder abuse cases in California. She’s interviewed more than 600 victims of elder financial exploitation, including dozens of veterans.

Wood said she finds perpetrators tend to target veterans and their families in times of extreme stress. In one case, she said an elderly widow was approached in a hospital. “Someone somehow got in there to pitch one of these veteran schemes,” Wood said. Indeed, in many circumstances the victim isn’t the veteran, but family members they leave behind.

“Pension poaching” is yet another dimly lit corner of a multibillion-dollar industry built on separating America’s most vulnerable citizens from their money. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report released earlier this year shows elder financial exploitation costs run in the billions of dollars, highlighting studies from New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia that tally the abuse at $1 billion or more in each state alone. And the GAO warns the problem is only growing as the U.S. population ages. 

“So much of the abuse happens in the shadows,” said Kathy Larin, director of the GAO’s education, workforce and income security team, which produced the report. “It’s extremely difficult to get victims to report or admit that they have been exploited.”

The oldest of America’s 19 million veterans are especially at risk. Those who never knew they could obtain aid and assistance benefits on their own end up convinced the only way to get them is by paying a middleman. In a 2019 report, the GAO said older veterans are “among the most vulnerable.” Last year, more than 190,000 veterans and their survivors were paid a total of $2.8 billion in aid and assistance benefits. The GAO has urged the VA to do more, but the agency has said that “as long as beneficiaries are competent, they can spend their benefits as they see fit, including on products or services that may not be in their best interests.”

Typically, the trouble begins when veterans using so-called care coordinators are required to provide direct access to their bank account, enabling the company to bypass them when the monthly deposit arrives. The company is supposed to only withdraw what’s needed to pay for necessary home help, and a reasonable fee for its services. 

In the case of VCC—which said on its website that it’s “serviced” more than 795,000 hours of home care—Larry Eber was required to sign a one-year contract that would automatically renew until terminated, according to a copy of the document reviewed by Bloomberg. After Eber signed it, VCC applied to the VA for benefits on his behalf. According to court papers, the VA approved Eber for $1,794 per month. On the day his first payment was deposited, VCC allegedly removed all but $10.

When Larry first filled out the paperwork, the brothers said they believed he was applying to qualify for cleaning and care services covered by the VA. Rick alleged that his brother was pressured to sign blank application and bank authorization forms. They didn’t understand until much later, he said, that the VA was going to send Larry money he could use at his discretion. “We both thought the care was paid for by the VA, not us,” Rick said, explaining that no one told them otherwise.

Larry’s care provider billed for 70 hours of work per month—an average of 18 hours a week—even though Larry didn’t need that much assistance, Rick said. Larry lived in a small room without a bathroom or kitchen, so there wasn’t much to be done.

Soon after the aid and assistance funds began flowing to his account, the payments triggered cuts to other government benefits Larry was receiving—the ones he relied on to survive. He lost all of his California healthcare coverage and supplemental Social Security disability benefits. His monthly U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development housing voucher dropped from $940 to $636, and his monthly Social Security check dropped from $703 to $523, court papers show.

When Rick Eber, now 76, learned what was going on, he tried to end the contract. By that time, Eber had switched from VCC to another middleman firm, American Veterans Care Connection. 

Rick, a former National Football League player turned business consultant, said he spent years visiting and calling every government agency he could think of to get help. “I couldn’t get anybody to acknowledge what we were experiencing,” said Eber, now retired and living in Laguna Niguel, California. “I remember feeling so stranded.”

In 2019 the brothers decided to sue in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, naming VCC, AVCC  and the home-care providers they paid with Larry’s benefit money as defendants. The two men alleged VCC took advantage of Larry, abusing his “trust and confidence” by having him sign blank documents that were filled in later. They also claimed it breached a fiduciary duty to Larry, who was “particularly vulnerable due to his physical and mental conditions.” 

“It’s important to understand though that this ‘care coordination service’ is completely unnecessary,” said Jim Morgan, the attorney for the brothers. “The vet does not need anyone to ‘coordinate’ his ‘care.’ The vet can call any caregiver he wants and hire them.”

Originally set for last summer, the trial—in which the plaintiffs seek unspecified damages for fraud, conspiracy to defraud, breach of fiduciary duty and financial elder abuse—was delayed until April 2022 due to a backlog of cases related to the pandemic. 

Attorneys for VCC President Kyle Laramie didn’t return several requests for comment and AVCC owner Jeanne Mers-Asher declined to comment. The defendants all denied the allegations in court filings, with VCC contending that Larry Eber “was aware of the services and costs at issue.”

Not long after learning the consequences of his original agreement with VCC, Larry began to despair, Rick said. At one point, he tried to kill himself. My brother didn’t understand the concept of what he had signed up for at all,” Rick said. “Larry was trying to turn his life around.”

On March 31, 2020, Larry Eber died of pancreatic cancer. He was 77. 

Care coordination is a fast-growing, largely unregulated arena where anyone can call themselves a coordinator, said Prescott Cole, an attorney formerly with the nonprofit California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. He and other advocates contend many businesses that charge veterans to access VA benefits are engaged in predatory behavior. 

Some within the industry acknowledge there are “bad actors” among them, but contend most provide a necessary function in a confusing environment where senior citizens don’t know who to trust. 

Elder law attorney Victoria Collier, co-owner of Hendersonville, Tennessee-based Patriot Angels, said her business assesses veteran eligibility for benefits, but doesn’t coordinate care. She charges roughly $800 for what Collier describes as a “pre-filing consultation” and assessment of benefits and care options. “There wouldn’t be a need for private companies like ours if veterans felt that they could get adequate services elsewhere,” she said.

Patriot Angels cites on its website an endorsement by Mike Huckabee, the right-wing cable TV personality and former Republican governor of Arkansas. “It’s like having treasure buried in your own yard but being unaware it’s there,” Huckabee says. “Patriot Angels does the digging; the veteran does the living.”

Collier said Patriot Angels is “legal and ethical,” but concedes some companies do exploit veterans by charging for help with applications when they shouldn’t, offering home-help that costs more than that for non-veterans—and adding themselves to bank accounts.

“I think that’s elder abuse,” said Collier, who noted she is accredited by the VA. Separate from care coordination, there’s also a “huge practice” of financial advisers and lawyers who sometimes work together to transfer older veterans’ assets into annuities that can harm them if they later need to access the principal, she said.

St. Louis-based Veterans Home Care, which describes itself as a national leader in securing aid and attendance benefits, also condemned predatory behavior within the industry. “We find it deplorable that there are bad actors cold-calling and preying on elderly veterans,” VHC founder Bonnie Laiderman said in a statement. Her business, which says it provides free help with applications and zero-interest loans until benefits arrive, makes money by charging clients what it describes as a market rate for in-home care, adult daycare or medical alert systems.

Chantelle Smith, an Iowa assistant attorney general in Des Moines, said it is true that many veterans don’t know they’re entitled to certain benefits. What they often don’t realize is there are free alternatives for help with paperwork, including organizations with no financial stake in the outcome—such as nonprofit veterans service organizations and state and local agencies. 

But beyond New York State and Washington, few states have laws explicitly aimed at combating veteran elder fraud. Another eight—Alaska, California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Utah—require companies disclose the VA’s rules for assisting veterans with benefit applications, but not much more. 

The VA accredits individuals who work for care coordinators, but critics have labeled the certification system as easily manipulated.

Recently, the agency posted a notification on its website about “the large number of complaints that the VA accreditation program is receiving that do not fall succinctly within our jurisdiction to investigate.” Only VA-accredited attorneys and claims agents may charge claimants fees for their services, the agency said, and then only if the claimants are seeking further review or an appeal of a VA claim decision. 

It recommends victims submit complaints about individuals or organizations assisting with VA pension benefits through the Federal Trade Commission’s “complaint assistant.”  

Some of these firms get around regulations, however, by mischaracterizing their services. Anyone is allowed to provide veterans with general information about benefits, and some businesses dodge the rule about charging for more by simply omitting themselves from VA paperwork. Morgan, the Ebers’ lawyer, alleged that imposing fees for handling certain paperwork is illegal, a claim he included in his lawsuit.

The VA said in its defense that it plans to begin a “pension poaching” prevention outreach program “targeted for full implementation by end of calendar year 2021.”

But the goalposts have been moving, and the new targets of “pension poaching” are the most vulnerable of all, according to Neil Granger, chairman of California’s Department of Insurance Curriculum Board and a co-founder of the San Francisco Veterans Benefits Protection Project, which educates the public and assists in elder fraud cases. 

Low-income veterans and their families have become the focus of unscrupulous individuals and companies since 2018, Granger said, when the VA made it harder for them to target wealthier veterans under the guise of helping them obtain aid and assistance benefits.

This is now happening “to tens of thousands of people” in more precarious financial situations, he said. 

Granger, who consults for investigators, prosecutors and attorneys general in different states, said predators who target older veterans often act impervious to prosecution. “The people who are enforcing these laws, who are trying to bring these people to justice, don't understand the mechanism of the scam well enough,” he said.

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Pat Pardue is still dealing with the aftermath of an experience with a veterans’ benefit middleman that she says resulted in her losing about $12,000.
Photographer: Lauren Grabelle for Bloomberg

Pat Pardue is the 90-year-old widow of Jim Pardue, a World War II veteran. Living on her own in Columbia Falls, Montana, a small town near the Canadian border, she’s still dealing with the aftermath of an experience with VCC that she said cost her $12,000 in benefits.

The Pardues were married for 54 years, until Jim died in 2003 at the age of 74. In 2016, Pardue was starting to have trouble doing everyday chores on her own. A friend told her she was eligible for aid and assistance benefits and suggested she use VCC for help applying.

The VA approved Pardue for a $1,175 a month in December 2016. After she gave VCC access to her bank account, it allegedly withdrew the entire amount each month. At the time, Pardue didn’t realize she could have received all of the money directly and coordinated the care herself, according to Bryan Zipp, the western section chief at the Montana Veteran Affairs Division office in Kalispell. Pardue had sought Zipp’s help with the matter.

“They’re basically saying, ‘you pay us to get you the benefits and then you’re going to pay us monthly to maintain the benefits,’” said Zipp, who served in the Army for more than two decades. After about a year, Pardue said she called VCC seeking to end the agreement. When her bank cut off VCC, she started getting “mean, almost hostile” calls from the care agency, VCC and a threatening letter from its law firm, according to Zipp.

But then the VA, having been contacted by her former home-help providers, decided Pardue shouldn’t have been paid so much in the first place. The agency stopped paying her the benefit and demanded she return $12,000.

“Now I can’t afford care because I don’t have the money for it,” she said. Pardue estimates she has about $600 to live on after paying bills every month. VCC didn’t return requests for comment on her claims and the VA declined to comment.

relates to ‘Pension Poachers’ Are Targeting America’s Elderly Veterans
Pat Pardue was married to Jim Pardue, a World War II veteran, for more than a half century.
Photographer: Lauren Grabelle for Bloomberg

Since his brother died, Rick Eber has been reaching out to other veterans, explaining how aid and assistance benefits and care coordinators can spell disaster for other, crucial benefits. He’s spoken to more than a dozen so far, he said, but all were reluctant to discuss it at length. Eber said he believes it’s because they fear the repercussions. 

His lawyer, Jim Morgan, is cynical about the chances that anything will ever change. The businesses “don’t care what happens to the veterans,” Morgan said. “They just care that they signed another person up and are going to be taking money every month—for doing nothing.”

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