Saturday, April 16, 2022

Stranger notices father and daughter struggling with wheelchair, offers to build them accessibility ramp for free

by FarahR

For most teenagers, getting home after a busy day at school is the highlight of their day, but the opposite is true for one High Point Central High School freshman named Almay Belton.

Although the 14-year-old from North Carolina looks forward to coming home every day, her routine is not the same as everyone else’s.

While most of her classmates can go dashing toward their front door when they get off the school bus, it’s not as easy for Almay because she uses a wheelchair.

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Every day, her father, Anthony Belton, would wait for her to come home so he could help her get up their front steps that do not have an accessibility ramp.

“Basically when she gets off the bus she has a little frown on her face, like here we go, about to go up these steps,” Anthony said. “At the same time it’s hard on me, dealing with my back and I’m getting older, not younger.”

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Joe Hill, the owner of Premier Waterproofing, happened to be in Almay’s neighborhood late last year to do some work. While there, he observed how Anthony would help his daughter off the bus and lift her wheelchair over the stairs every day because they do not have an accessibility ramp.

Joe wanted to help, so he knocked on the family’s door and made them an offer.

“He goes, ‘I was wondering, would you mind if I came out here and built you a ramp for nothing?’ and I kind of looked at him funny and said, ‘yeah OK there’s got to be a catch.’ Nothing is for nothing,” Anthony said.

But as Anthony would soon find out, the kind stranger meant every word he said. On December 13, he returned with his team to build the accessibility ramp for Almay. And the best part is that they did it all for free!

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Once it was done, Joe and Anthony waited together to surprise Almay. When the teen got off the bus, she couldn’t help but flash a huge grin upon seeing the ramp.

“To see her smile, as soon as the door opened and she got there she just started smiling. All I can say is nothing in the world that can put a smile on dad’s face like seeing his kids smile,” Anthony said of Almay’s reaction.

It was also Joe’s favorite thing about all of this.

“The smile did it for me,” he said. “And knowing she can do it pretty much by herself, so it’s a little more independence for her.”

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Almay won’t have to go through her old frustrations anymore now that she can get inside the house herself using the accessibility ramp.

Anthony is amazed at just how everything came to be. After all, it’s not every day that you meet someone like Joe, who offered to help their family in such a beautiful way without expecting anything in return.

“Never knew each other. Never met. That was my first time meeting him. And for him to pull up and say that. At first, I was like ‘why is that truck in my driveway its kind of weird.’ But then we got to talking and there was a connection and I was like ok he has a big heart,” Anthony said.

Joe said he had a soft spot for children and felt the need to do something when he saw Almay and Anthony struggling.

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“I saw a need, knew I could take care of it and it went from there,” Hill said.

While Joe came up with the idea for the project, he said it wouldn’t have been a reality without the help of his team, Jaland, Malik, Rob, and Chad Leggett’s crew from CVC Services.

“We need to have more Samaritans out here doing the same thing,” Anthony said. “Helping each other instead of putting each other down. We need to be there for each other. And by him doing that, it shows you there are people in the world that do have hearts. People that do care about other people.”

Learn more about this heartwarming story of kindness in the video below. 

 
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Couple In Their 80s Weds After Finding Love In Bible Study Class

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‘You are so special:’ Florida WWII veteran who kept going after hospice celebrates 100th birthday

Joseph Spadaro, who is kindly referred to by family and friends as “Papa Joe,” turned 100 years old Thursday at an Oviedo restaurant surrounded by loved ones.

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Friday, April 15, 2022

Colorado’s public guardianship program gets approval to expand despite 14 deaths of wards in past two years

The legislature’s Joint Budget Committee voted 4-2 to expand the pilot program beyond Denver despite a House vote to stop it. 
 
by Jennifer Brown

The Colorado State Capitol on Dec. 10, 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

A controversial public guardianship program created to make health and legal decisions for people with no family or friends will expand beyond Denver this summer, a legislative committee decided Wednesday. 

The vote by the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee settles a tumultuous few weeks of debate about the Office of Public Guardianship, which had asked for an extra $770,000 to hire additional guardians and expand operations to La Junta and Montrose. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers argued that the office didn’t deserve more funding, citing 14 deaths of wards in the last two years and conflict between Denver Health staff and guardians who were assigned to hospitalized patients.

 The House had stripped money for the expansion to two additional judicial districts, the Senate restored it and a debate among the budget committee Wednesday settled on the side of allowing the program to expand. It’s likely the end of the conversation, although it’s not officially over until the legislature approves the $36.4 billion state budget in the coming days. 

The Joint Budget Committee voted 4-2 to allow the program to expand, with Republicans Rep. Kim Ransom of Douglas County and Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale voting against it. 

“It’s so typical of how government programs just grow, no matter what we do,” said Rankin, warning that lawmakers were voting to expand a program for which they have no evidence of success. “I think we need to be very cautious.” 

But others on the budget committee, including Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, said the program should expand in order for lawmakers to see how it functions not just in Denver but in other judicial districts. After they have that data, legislators will decide whether to end the program or work toward making it statewide.

The Office of Public Guardianship, which began taking wards in 2020, is now making decisions for about 70 people who are unable to care for themselves because of age, disabilities or medical conditions. The program has so far operated only in Denver, but now can expand to the three counties in the judicial district based in La Junta and the six counties in the district based in Montrose. 

The original legislation that set up the pilot program called for a report, due in January, that will help lawmakers determine whether to move from a pilot program to a permanent one. The bill called for installing public guardians in three districts, but, until now, the program had been stalled by the pandemic and funding issues. 

The additional funds headed for approval this year will allow the office to expand its staff to 11 from seven, including hiring guardians in southeast and southwest Colorado. The new funding is set to come July 1, at the start of the state fiscal year, and only six months before the office is required by law to submit its report to the legislature.

In addition to the deaths, some lawmakers were concerned about complaints from Denver Health that paid public guardians ignored requests to visit wards in the hospital and had abandoned wards after they died. One guardian was escorted from the hospital because of belligerent behavior with staff, Denver Health officials said.

The guardianship office told The Sun the deaths were due to medical conditions, and the median age of wards who died was 67.

A state survey taken before the guardianship office was created found that 1,000 to 1,300 adult guardianship cases were filed in courts across Colorado each year. Colorado law says a person who is concerned about another’s welfare can petition for guardianship. If a judge is convinced a person needs a guardian, the judge can appoint one who is then responsible for financial, medical and other decisions for their ward. But often, no relatives or friends are found. 

Without a public guardianship office, hospitals, long-term care facilities and others must seek guardianship for their abandoned patients through probate court. 

The legislature approved the pilot program in 2017, then funded the Office of Public Guardianship in 2018. The office hired an executive director at the end of 2019 and began taking on wards in April 2020.

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Nursing student charged with stealing elderly patient's credit cards

by TENA LEE

Kerwenlie Paul
A Vanderbilt University Medical Center nursing student has been charged by Hendersonville police for stealing an elderly patient’s credit cards and using them at various Hendersonville locations.

Kerwenlie Paul, 22 of Nashville, was arrested and charged on April 9 with Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Person after calling police a day earlier and confessing to the crime, according to a police affidavit filed in Sumner County General Sessions Court. The crime is a Class E felony.

A woman called HPD on March 11 on behalf of her 73-year-old father and reported that two of her father’s credit cards had been stolen from Vanderbilt and were used at a Target and a Twice Daily in Hendersonville. The woman also reported on March 17 that one of the credit cards had been used at the Chick-Fil-A in Glenbrook.

The woman’s father, a cancer patient who spent nearly two weeks in Vanderbilt in February, confirmed that the transactions totaling more than $800 were made without his permission.

Paul contacted an HPD officer on April 8 and confessed to stealing and using the victim’s credit cards, according to the affidavit.

She was arrested the next day and was released on a $3,000 bond. Paul is scheduled to appear in General Sessions Court at 9 a.m. on May 11.

Online court records in Davidson County show the nursing student was charged in that county on April 10 with theft and identity theft for incidents that occurred in September of 2020 and October of 2021.

Paul had been in a nursing program since 2020 and had worked at multiple hospitals in Middle Tennessee, according to Hendersonville police.

They say there may be more victims and encourage anyone with information on this case or who may have been a victim of a similar crime to report that information to local law enforcement. Information can be reported to the Hendersonville Police Criminal Investigation Division at (615) 264-5303 or the Hendersonville Crime Stoppers at (615) 594-4113. Tips may also be submitted using the P3 Tips Mobile Application.

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Woman charged with exploitation or intimidation of the elderly

FLOYD COUNTY JAIL RECORDS

A Rome woman is accused of hitting two elderly residents of a nursing home.

According to the arrest warrant, on both occasions, the cognitively impaired residents were being difficult and attempted to strike 24-year-old Aaliya Denise Thrash, who in turn struck them with an open hand.

Thrash is charged with the exploitation and intimidation of the elderly.

Source:   

 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Long-Awaited NASEM Report Provides Blueprint to Transform Nursing Homes

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released much-anticipated nursing home recommendations in The National Imperative to Improve Nursing Home Quality: Honoring Our Commitment to Residents, Families, and Staff. The evidence-based recommendations underscore the need for critical changes to the way America finances, delivers and regulates care in nursing homes.

With major sponsorship from JAHF, the report from the Committee on the Quality of Care in Nursing Homes identifies seven goals, which provide the overarching framework for a comprehensive approach to improving the quality of care in nursing homes. The committee presents an interrelated set of recommendations to achieve each of these goals, including by:

Bolstering nursing home staff

  • Residents of nursing homes need better care—and the people caring for them do, as well. The committee report is clear that good-quality resident care will not be realized until investments are made in bedside staff. A well-paid, well-trained, empowered workforce is required.

Ensuring equitable, person-centered care

  • All nursing home residents deserve access to physical, behavioral, social and culturally appropriate care that prioritizes what matters most to them. This means ensuring adequate resources are allocated by federal and state governments, along with investments by nursing home operators, to ensure person-centered care is offered to all residents.

Redesign quality measures

  • Nursing home residents and their families require transparent, up-to-date, accurate data on nursing home quality and performance. This includes measuring the implementation of residents’ care plans and ensuring they align with what matters to them. Data on palliative care and end-of-life care, staff well-being and satisfaction, and resident demographics that track any disparities in care are also needed.

The report makes clear: the time for planning is over. The NASEM recommendations can help move society from reimagining to transforming nursing homes.

All stakeholders, including legislators, regulators, nursing home owners and operators, experts, advocates and community-based organizations, must use this report to create nursing homes of the future that protect residents and staff.

To learn more:

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Suit: Ex-pros­e­cutor worked for judge in Texas woman's case

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Arizona Seniors Swindled Out of $27 Million, Among Worst in the Country

by Elias Weiss
 

Attorney General Mark Brnovich - Gage Skidmore

With sunny weather year-round, a dry climate, and slow-paced small towns nestled into iconic Southwestern scenery, there’s a reason Arizona is the third-most desirable retirement destination in the country.

In fact, one in four Arizona residents is over the age of 60.


Those in their golden years tend to have more gold in the bank than younger people.


But that just makes Arizona seniors a plum target for a slew of financial crimes, including extortion and identity theft.


A study released this month by NiceRx, an online pharmacy and medical clearinghouse based in the United Kingdom, ranked Arizona ninth in the U.S. among states where elder fraud is most rampant. The study is based on data from a 2020 FBI report on elder fraud.


“Elder abuse is a serious problem,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement. “Older adults may become vulnerable due to isolation, physical or mental disabilities and dependence on others for assistance.”


Since 2020, more than 3,000 Arizona residents over the age of 60 have been defrauded out of more than $27 million, according to the NiceRx study.


Brnovich suspects that the actual number of victims is as many as 6,900, but that “elderly victims are often reluctant to report abuse because they feel ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, afraid, and may even defend the abuser.”


Three out of four victims of elder abuse in Arizona are white women, like 71-year-old Flora, who was scammed so badly she filed bankruptcy in 2020, and whose full name we are withholding to protect her privacy


It was just four months before the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office published an official warning regarding the scourge of elder fraud in Arizona.


Flora flew from Illinois to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport thinking she was meeting her fiancé.

No one showed up from the airport.


Instead, the scammers convinced her to empty her bank account at a Walmart register. She was instructed to buy pre-loaded gift cards and send back photos of the 16-digit number embossed in raised lettering on the front of the card, giving scammers access to the balance.


Scammers favor gift cards “because they are easy for people to find and buy, and they have fewer protections for buyers compared to some other payment options,” the Federal Trade Commission said in a December statement.


Scammers cash out quickly and anonymously, and the transaction is largely irreversible.


Gift cards can even resell above face value on the secondary market, according to Mountain View, California-based NortonLifeLock, a Fortune 500 cybersecurity company.

Flora, who lives near Chicago, was completely broke and stranded in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert after purchasing the gift cards there.

She couldn't even afford one night at a nearby hotel, a police report revealed.


“As soon as you provide the gift card number and any sort of security code that's present on the card, the scammer can access those funds,” Gilbert Police Department spokesperson Brenda Carrasco said. “In addition, it’s important to note that scams can also be cyclical such as during holiday and tax seasons.”


The elderly scam victim spent 24 hours inside a Subway restaurant near Power and Ray roads before Gilbert Police Officer Adam Walicke bought her a plane ticket home and drove her to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Police later determined that the California driver’s license for the no-show fiancĂ© was counterfeit. No such person exists.

The usual protocol for a situation like that one would involve transporting the victim to a homeless shelter.

“Flora was stuck in Arizona with no means to survive,” Walicke said.

Romance scams rank seventh among the most prevalent crimes against people over 60, claiming about 6,800 victims in the U.S. last year, according to the NiceRx study.


However, romance scams are the most costly. Those 6,800 victims doled out more than $281 million last year — an average loss of more than $41,000 per victim.


“Playing on the vulnerabilities and even the good nature of the elderly victims, romance scams use personal relationships to secure payments and even fraudulent investments,” the study’s authors wrote. “These relationships may involve the criminal impersonating a loved one or may involve them creating an online persona to win the trust of a victim.”

Flora sent her faux beau money consistently for more than a year before flying to Phoenix, according to a Gilbert Police Department investigation report.


“Scammers will create a sense of urgency and indicate there will be consequences if fees are not paid,” Carrasco said. “Victims can be instructed to make several purchases at different stores. Some scammers may keep their victims on the phone while they complete the task.”


Fraud cases in Gilbert jumped more than 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to police records.


Although local cops never determined if the charlatans in Flora's case were operating their scam in metro Phoenix, the U.S. Department of Justice later nabbed a Phoenix woman in a “nationwide grandparent fraud scam.”


In October 2020, the Justice Department vowed to curb the financial exploitation of elderly Arizonans with a $1.5 million injection into two anti-fraud organizations in Tempe and Whiteriver in Navajo County.


“With lockdowns in place across the country, older adults are especially vulnerable to fraud, neglect, and abuse, and criminals have not hesitated to take full advantage,” then-Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General Katharine Sullivan said in Phoenix at the time. “These grants will help to turn the tide of deception and predation and restore victims to fiscal security and physical safety.”


In August 2021, a federal grand jury indicted eight people, including a Phoenix woman, in a $2 million scam that victimized people over 70 by feeding them phony stories that their grandchildren were in trouble and needed quick cash.


“This scheme has left many elderly victims financially and emotionally devastated,” Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement. “It is unconscionable to target the elderly and exploit their love for their grandchildren. Elder fraud is a serious crime against some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.”


Lyda Harris, from Laveen Village in Phoenix, was arrested last year hiding out in Albania. Federal prosecutors are seeking her extradition back to the United States.


Harris is accused in federal district court in Southern California of posing as a distressed grandchild, using a well-rehearsed script to convince victims that she was in dire legal trouble.


The scam generated as much as $57,000 per day, according to the indictment.


The scammers “took elaborate steps to conceal their true identities from victims and law enforcement,” federal prosecutors said.


They used fake names, rented cars and apartments to receive and pick up cash, which they would then convert to untraceable cryptocurrency within minutes, according to the indictment.


Harris’ co-defendants would play other actorial roles in the scam, including lawyers, bail agents, and medical workers.


“I know some victims may be reluctant to come forward because they feel embarrassed that they fell for this hoax,” Grossman said. “But I want to assure victims that it is not your fault. You are one of many, many people who were deceived by a sophisticated criminal organization whose members concocted a number of plausible storylines and conspired together to trick you. These are unscrupulous manipulators who prey on the elderly. They are to blame, not you.”


Popular YouTube channels churn out videos where pranksters waste the time of potential scammers and lead them on a series of ludicrous diversions. The increasing popularity of such videos could have had a hand in the increased awareness of fraud and scams, especially those targeting elderly people.


In 2021, the term “elder fraud” saw a 32 percent increase in searches, with 6,120 such queries in the U.S. compared to 4,620 in 2020, according to data taken from Google Keywords Planner for the NiceRX study.


Still, elder fraud is up more than 150 percent in Arizona since 2019.


More than half of elder fraud victims in Arizona are duped at the hands of trusted family members, friends, and neighbors, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.


Authorities agree that educating elderly loved ones is the best way to combat the most pervasive cons — extortion, phishing, and tech support scams.


“We encourage our community members who may have family members at risk of falling for these scams to check in on them routinely,” said Carrasco, the police spokesperson. “Establish a system where they notify a trusted contact immediately should someone ask for their personal and financial information.”

 
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Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Butte woman admits stealing more than $600,000 from victim under her guardianship

 

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Montana
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, April 11, 2022


Butte woman admits stealing more than $600,000 from victim under her guardianship

MISSOULA — A Butte woman accused of embezzling more than $600,000 from a woman who was under her guardianship and using the money to buy a house on Canyon Ferry, a vehicle and other items admitted to fraud charges today, U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said.

Debra Gean Roeber, 66, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and to money laundering as charged in an information during an initial appearance hearing. Roeber faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the wire fraud count.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen L. DeSoto presided. A sentencing date was set for Aug. 10 before U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen. The court will determine a sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other sentencing factors. Roeber was released pending further proceedings.

The government alleged in court documents that Roeber was a guardian and had power of attorney for the victim, identified as Jane Doe, who was unable to care for herself or her financial needs without assistance because she was blind. Roeber served as a fiduciary for Jane Doe. From about January 2017 until June 2020, Roeber allegedly embezzled approximately $681,549 from Jane Doe. Bank records showed that Roeber used Jane Doe’s money to purchase a home and shop on Canyon Ferry, construction costs, vehicles, furniture and a pontoon boat, none of which was authorized. When interviewed by agents, Roeber admitted she took advantage of Jane Doe “a lot,” including lying to the victim about her finances, and that she stole from Jane Doe. Jane Doe is now deceased.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan G. Weldon is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation.

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Disbarred attorney says PNC should have caught ex-employee's embezzlement

By David Thomas


(Reuters) - A prominent Washington, D.C., criminal defense lawyer who was disbarred last year is suing PNC Bank NA, alleging it failed to stop his ex-employee from embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from him and his law firm.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in D.C. federal court, Bernard Grimm alleged PNC's failure to follow federal law and industry standards allowed his firm's former employee, Katherine Ross, to cash forged checks and transfer client money out of accounts his firm maintained.

In March 2020, PNC notified D.C. disciplinary officials that a check from one of Grimm's client trust accounts bounced, the lawsuit said. That kicked off an ethics investigation that "eventually caused plaintiff to surrender his license to practice," Grimm said.

The D.C. Court of Appeals' June order disbarring Grimm did not detail the underlying claims against him, but a court filing showed authorities were prepared to bring claims against Grimm including "failing to keep complete records, commingling and misappropriation" and "charging an unreasonable fee."

Grimm's lawsuit on Monday alleged he informed PNC multiple times of a fraudulent check scheme involving his accounts, but the bank still allowed Ross to make withdrawals and ignored other safeguards.

"It is difficult to imagine a bank being more incompetent than knowing that is being used as an instrument in criminal fraud scheme and taking no action to stop it," the lawsuit said.

A spokesperson for PNC Bank did not respond to a request for comment.

Ross pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud in April 2021, stipulating to embezzling at least $320,000 from Grimm's law firm. Grimm alleged in his lawsuit that Ross embezzled at least $725,000 from him "through various methods ... none of which would have succeeded but for" PNC's failures.

In May 2021, Grimm consented to his disbarment, admitting that he violated bar rules requiring lawyers to safeguard client funds.

Grimm said in his lawsuit against PNC that the disciplinary process cost him more than $18,000 in legal fees, which he has been unable to pay.

Ross was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $320,000 in restitution to Grimm's law firm. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Grimm is represented in the PNC lawsuit by Barry Coburn of Washington's Coburn & Greenbaum. Coburn declined to comment.

The case is Grimm v. PNC Bank NA, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:22-cv-01006.

For Bernard Grimm: Barry Coburn of Coburn & Greenbaum

For PNC Bank: Not available

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Advocates eager to pass future legislation addressing Alzheimer’s-related issues

By MetroNews Staff

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Advocates are excited about possible future legislation addressing the needs of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders after the state Legislature approved a bill on police training during this year’s regular legislative session.

Gov. Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 570 on March 23. The law establishes a training curriculum for law enforcement; the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services and the West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association will work with state officials on designing courses on identifying people with neurological disorders and addressing matters like elder abuse.

Sharon Covert, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s West Virginia chapter, said lawmakers have already contacted her organization about other issues and passing impactful measures.

“Our Legislature is interested and willing. They asked us, ‘What else?'” she told MetroNews. “We try to give them the best information that’s out there and really hear from the people in West Virginia and the national level about where should we be and what we should be doing.”

The organization worked with lawmakers as well as law enforcement to draft Senate Bill 570. Covert noted the organization has held training events with agencies before the legislation about identifying people with disorders and appropriate treatment of these individuals.

“We’ve been really fortunate in this state in a lot of ways,” she said. “We haven’t made the news on any encounters with law enforcement. That’s not to say they haven’t happened, but we can now avoid anything in the future if we get this done.”

According to Covert, Gov. Jim Justice will hold a ceremonial bill signing event later this month. The legislation will go into effect on June 9.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Britney Spears’ lawyer shares real reason he took on conservatorship case

Britney Spears’ lawyer shares real reason he took on conservatorship case

Britney Spears’ attorney explains the real reason he decided to take her conservatorship case, despite it being ‘utterly out of the ordinary’.

During his interview with THR, Mathew Rosengart was quoted saying, “I was concerned, even before getting involved, about why this woman appeared to have some of her fundamental rights and civil liberties stripped away.”

“As a former federal prosecutor, I had experience with criminal defendants who were charged with committing heinous crimes, and they had the right to choose their own counsel, yet Britney did not have that right.”

In terms of his personal reasons for taking the case in the first place, Mr Rosengart admitted, “I’ve always detested bullying, even growing up. Bullying a woman is even more unacceptable and abhorrent.”

“It was troubling to me both personally and professionally, and I felt I could help stop it, as a lawyer and otherwise. That’s a pledge I made, and it was really rewarding to be able to help.”

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Bear Lake County prosecutor resigns, is disbarred over conduct violations

by Kalama Hines

Bear Lake County Courthouse | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

PARIS — After admitting to what the Idaho State Bar Counsel called “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice,” Bear Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph R. Hayes has resigned from his position.

In a published discipline notice, the bar counsel says that Hayes resigned in place of disciplinary proceedings after engaging in sexual conduct with people involved in multiple cases he was connected to between February 2019 and October 2021.

Hayes has also been disbarred and cannot reapply for admission to the state bar for no less than five years.

“By the terms of the Idaho Supreme Court’s Order, Mr. Hayes’s name was stricken from the records of the Idaho Supreme Court and his right to practice law before the courts in the State of Idaho was terminated on April 4, 2022,” the notice reads.

According to the notice, Hayes was first accused of acts creating a conflict of interest in May 2019, when he sent sexually explicit messages to a client he was representing in guardianship and divorce cases. He also made inappropriate sexual comments to the client, the notice continues.

Hayes was implicated in similar circumstances in December 2020, when he sent sexually explicit messages to a client he was representing in cases regarding protection orders, divorce and property division. The notice says that the two engaged in sexual conduct on one occasion.

Then, after being sworn in as the county prosecutor in January 2021, Hayes again exchanged sexually explicit messages with a woman who made allegations of domestic violence.

Hayes filed four felony charges against the woman’s husband, the documents show, then engaged in sexual conduct with her “on several occasions” in his law office.

The documents show that Hayes admitted to all allegations.

Bear Lake County Commissioners Bradley Jensen and Rex Payne both told EastIdahoNews.com that they were unaware of the allegations until they received official letters from the state.

“I was pretty shocked,” Jensen said, “because I know Joe Hayes had wanted that job really bad. … All I got from him was a letter that said he was resigning. Since then, I’ve heard that he’s been disbarred.”

Payne said that not only were the commissioners unaware of the circumstances that led to Hayes’ resignation and disbarment, they were never clued into the investigation at any point.

“We really didn’t get into it, as county commissioners. It was handled more by the state bar — it really wasn’t anything to do with us directly,” Payne said. “We were probably the last ones to really have any idea what was going on and didn’t really know until some of these official notices came out the last few days.”

Despite never being involved in the investigation, the commission is now tasked with finding Hayes’ replacement.

“This position is left to the county commissioners (to fill),” Jensen said. “What we will do is appoint somebody for a period of time, or maybe the whole term, what’s left of the term, then it, of course, goes back to election.”

For now, Adam McKenzie, who was appointed as deputy prosecuting attorney by Hayes before his resignation, will serve as the county’s lead prosecutor.

But, in time, the commission will field applications and vet applicants as it prepares to tap a new county attorney. When that decision is made, Jensen said, the commission will have the power to select whether the temporary prosecutor will serve for the remaining three years of what was to be Hayes’ term or a lesser period.

According to Payne, applications have already been received. But, there is no definite timetable for the selection process.

“We haven’t decided when we’re going to actually make that decision, but it will be made in a public meeting, in a county commissioners’ meeting,” Payne said. 

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Florida Task Force Recommends Changes to Guardianship Laws


by Seth Ellis

The Florida Guardianship Improvement Task Force has released its recommendations to improve the state’s guardianship system. Staffed and sponsored by the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers Association, the task force assessed the vulnerabilities and how the state can better protect the best interests of wards.

The task force was assembled in the summer of 2021 amidst the media attention to the #freebritany movement and other abuses of the system. One of the most notable cases is that of Rebecca Fierle, a professional guardian with hundreds of wards across several Florida counties. She has been arrested and charged with abuse and neglect after the death of one of her wards, and is currently awaiting trial. Many of her wards’ family members are also accusing her of stealing from her ward’s estate and calling for an investigation of her financial records, but to date, she has not been charged with any financial crimes.

There is also concern over a bill making its way through the Florida legislature, the Guardianship Jurisdiction Act. The proposed law would make a Florida judge’s orders take precedence over guardianships in other states. While proponents argue that the law would prevent costly legal battles over jurisdictions, others argue that it makes it easier for wards to fall prey to predatory guardians such as Rebecca Fierle and can trap visitors against their will who fall ill while visiting the state.

While there are certainly legitimate cases where an incapacitated individual needs a guardian to represent their interests, there is much work to be done to prevent wards from being exploited and abused by court-appointed guardians.

The Guardianship Improvement Task Force’s Recommendations

In their report, the task force made the following recommendations to improve Florida’s guardianship system:

Creation of a Statewide Database. A data collection system for all guardianship cases in the state will provide objective data for improvements to the system, as well as increase public trust and transparency. There has already been some movement on implementing this recommendation, with a new bill proposed by Representative Linda Chaney, R-St. Petersburg.

Forming a Guardianship Task Force. A permanent and multidisciplinary task force will be responsible for continually assessing the system and suggesting improvements to prevent abuse.

Increasing the Education and Training of Guardians and Creating a Professional Guardian Database. This proposal will create more stringent requirements for becoming a professional guardian and to better track the wards assigned to each guardian to prevent abuse of wards. The database will be available to the public and will include each guardian’s disciplinary history.

Adopting Uniformity in Forms. A uniform guardianship form that is required across the state will help with data collection and tracking when wards are moved.

Education of Judges. Judges should be more fully educated on advance directives, power of attorney, and estate planning.

What To Do If You Have Questions About Guardianship

There is a multitude of laws regarding the guardianship system in Florida, and big changes seem to be underway. If you have questions about a current or potential guardianship situation, a guardianship attorney will have the most up-to-date information and will be able to provide recommendations.

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Monday, April 11, 2022

Former professional guardian abandoned wards' mail, committed crimes: Inspector General report

Investigators reviewed 1,700 documents

 
By: Adam Walser

A new report outlines how former professional guardian Traci Hudson failed to protect elderly people under her care.

A year-long investigation by the Pinellas County Inspector General's Office led to criminal charges and identified new concerns about how Hudson treated her clients.

It's been almost two-and-a-half years since professional guardian Traci Hudson was arrested, accused of using a power of attorney agreement to take $541,000 from a 92-year-old man under her care.

First page of status report from Pinellas County Office of Inspector General.png

She is currently out of bond awaiting trial.

“She’s still walking the streets," advocate for people in guardianship Hillary Hogue said. "She is still free to go. She has not been held accountable.”

Hogue also served on the Florida Guardianship Improvement Task Force.

Investigators allege Hudson used her ill-gotten gains to make payments on a 4,888 square-foot Riverview home, buy Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets and go on shopping sprees.

Investigators identify red flags leading to charges

“That case that she’s charged with is a power of attorney case, so totally different than our guardianship cases,” Pinellas County Probate Judge Pam Campbell said in a Nov. 2019 hearing a few days after Hudson’s arrest. “If there are any red flags that are brought to our attention, then we’ll address that at that point in time."

On February 14, 2020, Campbell ordered the Pinellas County Inspector General's Office to investigate all of Hudson's 45 guardianship cases and identify any concerns involving the healthcare or financial matters related to wards under her care.

It turns out there were lots of red flags.

The IG’s Office identified criminal activity in three other cases, leading to 17 new felony charges last year.

One of the alleged victims was Robert Moore.

“She totally destroyed my family,” Moore’s son Ryan Moore said in an interview last year.

Ryan Moore

Ryan Moore said while acting as his dad's guardian, Hudson limited his ability to see his father.

Investigators said she sold Moore's guns at pawn shops, didn’t include them in an inventory of his property and kept the money.

“I asked her about the guns and she said all of the guns were stolen except for one and it was in a police evidence room somewhere,” Ryan Moore said.

“It just destroyed us”

“It was a tough, tough lesson,” Gedi Pakalnis said of the five years he spent fighting the guardianship system.

His great-aunt Genyte Dirse was put into guardianship after selling Pakalnis part of a St. Pete Beach hotel at a below-market rate.

Adam Walser and photojournalist Randy Wright interview Gedi Pakalnis.png
Adam Walser and photojournalist Randy Wright interview Gedi Pakalnis
Genyte Dirse credit Gedi Pakalnis.png
Genyte Dirse

A realtor, who previously asked Dirse to list or sell her property, petitioned the court to have Dirse put into guardianship.

Hudson was appointed her guardian by the court.

Pakalnis said during the guardianship, Dirse was abused by a caregiver Hudson hired, then moved into an assisted living facility where she later died due to COVID-19.

Hudson obtained a court order preventing Pakalnis from seeing or talking to his great aunt.

“It just destroyed us,"Pakalnis said. "Not only destroyed our family but physically cost us health-wise, and of course financially."

After interviewing dozens of people and reviewing more than 1,700 pages of bank records, real estate transactions and other transactions, investigators drafted reports on 19 of 21 Hudson’s cases they reviewed.

“Fortunately we have someone who’s working to stay on top of this and digging into this and we’re glad to have the people doing their job,” Pakalnis said.

More than a thousand pieces of wards’ mail abandoned

According to the report, investigators collected and delivered 933 pieces of mail belonging to former wards that were delivered to a PO box at a UPS store in St. Petersburg that Hudson abandoned.

Hudson's criminal attorney, Richard McKyton, told us his client was not allowed to access her PO box after she was removed from her cases, which lead to a mix-up in mail being forwarded to the wards' new guardians.

That mail could have included bills, medical documents, tax information and other important items necessary to provide appropriate care for the wards.

The report says 86 mail items were delivered to the home of another ward but never collected.

“If you have almost a thousand pieces of mail you haven’t retrieved from your PO box, it says you haven’t been doing much,” Hillary Hogue said.

“If I could just say one thing to the community at large… please don't even think about initiating a guardianship concerning your loved ones. And if you hear the word guardianship, run,” she said.

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Sunday, April 10, 2022

World War II survivors who became best friends at labor camp unexpectedly reunite after 79 years

by FarahR

Two men who became friends at a labor camp during the Holocaust were unexpectedly reunited after 79 years.

Jack Waksal and Sam Ron endured slave labor together in the Pionki Labor Camp in Poland and were separated after the former fled into the forest. Sam was moved into a different camp and was ultimately freed.

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Neither knew if the other had survived until Jack attended a dinner in South Florida hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Sam was the honorary speaker at the event held in Boca Raton, where there were other Holocaust survivors in attendance.

When he arrived and saw Sam, Jack said that he thought he knew him from somewhere but couldn’t place it.

“He was standing to the side,” he recalled. “And I said to somebody, ‘I know this guy.’”

Jack Waksal | WPBF

When the event started, a video about Sam’s life and the many camps he survived was shown. It mentioned that he was in Camp Pionki and that his original name was Shmuel Rakowski. That’s when Jack finally realized why he looked so familiar—they were old camp comrades in Pionki.

Jack hurriedly went over to Sam’s table and said, “Sam! You are alive!”

“This one guy jumped out from the house and came over to kiss me. ‘You’re my brother! You’re my brother!’” Sam said of the emotional moment.

“Oh, I was all excited,” he recalled. “This was unusual. It’s 79 years now. We’re 97 years old!”

To find someone else who went through exactly what they did was significant.

Sam Ron | WPBF

“What we went through in our life is so hard to describe,” Jack explained. “There are not many more survivors left. We are just a few survivors.”

Jack and Sam were only teenagers when they worked together in Pionki.

“We were pushing coal to the oven to make heat to make power, and Jack said he worked at the same place!” Sam described their time in the camp. “Hard work, bad conditions, cold, hunger, hundreds of people died. It wasn’t uncommon to wake up in the morning and find the person next to you cold.”

He also remembered the fear of being randomly selected to be sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and the time he had to go without food for over two weeks. People were forced to eat the bark off trees to survive.

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Jack said there were days he had to be on his feet for 24 hours or risk being shot. Eventually, he escaped to the forest.

Sam said hunger was the “worst thing” at the concentration camps. In total, he survived five different camps during the war, including the one in Poland.

Both managed to immigrate to the United States, specifically Ohio, where they lived for many years before moving to South Florida. They were unaware of each other’s existence until that fateful dinner.

Sam occasionally makes school appearances to share his experiences with the younger generation.

“I try to teach them not to hate, and to have a lot of hope and believe in yourself, this is what I did, this is how I survived because I believe in myself,” he said.

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Ari Odzer, an NBC reporter, said the pair have avenged themselves against Adolf Hitler by living long, successful lives, running businesses, and enjoying the love of their families.

“It’s an amazing story. I was so taken by this,” Sam said of their reunion. “It got me a lot of hope. I was very excited about it.”

“You think it’s never going to happen,” Jack said. “But it did happen.”

Jack lives in Bal Harbour while Sam lives in Boca Raton. The long-lost friends are 40 miles apart but are determined to keep in touch. After all, they surely have a lot of stories to tell each other—all spanning 79 years of their lives.

Learn more about this incredible reunion in the video below.

 
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