Saturday, May 28, 2022

Wendy Williams is Closer to Gaining Access to Her Funds From Wells Fargo Bank

by Cedric 'BIG CED' Thornton

(Image: Associated Press/Invision/Omar Vega)

Former talk show Wendy Williams‘ battle with Wells Fargo to unfreeze and grant her access to her funds may soon be over. A judge in New York has appointed a financial guardian to oversee her finances, The U.S. Sun reports.

Williams may have access to her money as early as this summer, according to a close source. She now has a guardian who will decide how to handle financial circumstances going forward. A source explained, “The guardianship process is complete, which means the court [officially] appointed a financial guardian. Now it’s up to the guardian, Wendy, and the court as to how she will be accessing her money.”

For the first time since she went down with health issues, Williams will have a say in how her finances are used. Wells Fargo is no longer involved in the court proceedings and will be acting at the recommendation of the newly appointed guardian and the 57-year-old herself.

Williams has had a temporary guardian since March. A source has also told The Sun: “The court can eventually decide to give Wendy back full control over her accounts and end the guardianship—but that is up to the court.”

Until then, she still has “a voice and she still has a say” in terms of her finances, and while “she doesn’t have 100 percent control right now, that could all change soon depending on what the court decides.”

Less than two weeks ago, Williams claimed to only have two dollars to her name after having her bank accounts frozen.

In February, Williams filed a legal letter saying Wells Fargo has “several million dollars” belonging to her in its possession, as noted by People. The bank claimed the assets were frozen because “[Williams] is the victim of undue influence and financial exploitation.”

Williams was talk show royalty until she suffered an array of health issues, causing her to miss a swath of shows. Then in February, according to People, the decision to end The Wendy Williams Show was made, with producers announcing a daytime series hosted by Sherri Shepherd, Williams’s former guest host, taking its place.

Full Article & Source:

Oskaloosa lawyer suspended after Court finds lack of competence, rule violations

By Sarah Motter

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - An Oskaloosa lawyer has been suspended from the practice of law for two years after the Kansas Supreme Court found she violated various rules and made false statements that challenged a judge’s integrity.

The Kansas Supreme Court says in the matter of Donna L. Huffman, it has suspended her from the practice of law for two years with the possibility of probation after 90 days.

The Court noted that the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys found that Huffman violated various Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct while she represented clients in a mortgage dispute.

According to court records, the case dealt with a husband and wife couple after a loan was obtained to purchase their home. However, when the loan was refinanced and closed, the husband never actually signed closing documents while the loan was mistakenly considered closed by the bank. Eventually, the couple sued and as the bank attempted to foreclose the property, it was held off due to the pending litigation. 

During this case, the Court found that Huffman demonstrated a lack of competence as a litigator as she consistently filed late pleadings, failed to follow the rules, was unable to abide by the court request that she stop raising issues already resolved, was unable to supply documents requested by the court, filed clearly meritless claims, did not understand the legal concept of res judicata and made arguments to the Court of Appeals that were “woefully inadequate, made no sense and was hard to follow,” and was “unsupported by the record.”

The Court also found that Huffman violated rules when she opened a new lawsuit based on the facts of a pending lawsuit and continued to file and amend responsive pleadings after the case had been dismissed and repeatedly sought reconsideration of previously decided matters.

Court records indicate that Huffman further violated the rules of the court as she repeatedly relitigated previously decided issues and made false statements that challenged the judge in the case’s integrity.

Therefore, the Court said it ordered Huffman to be suspended for two years, however, the suspension could be stayed after 90 days if she enters a practice supervision plan approved by the Disciplinary Administrator’s office which will cover the remaining period of time. 

To read the Court’s full opinion, click HERE.

Full Article & Source:
Oskaloosa lawyer suspended after Court finds lack of competence, rule violations 

Florida woman stole over $400K from hospitalized cancer patient, report says

(Courtesy of the Miami-Dade Jail)

by: Zachary Winiecki

MIAMI, Fla. (WFLA) — A woman was arrested Friday in Miami-Dade County after it was reported she stole over $437,000 from a hospitalized elderly cancer patient.

WPLG reported Ana Nunez posed as the 70-year-old patient’s daughters in order to visit her in the hospital. During that visit Nunez allegedly manipulated the patient into signing documents giving her power of attorney.

According to Local 10, the patient signed over everything she owned to Nunez, including her house and bank accounts.

Nunez’s son, Pablo Figueroa, was arrested earlier in May for his involvement in the scheme.

Nunez was arrested on charges of organized fraud, exploitation of the elderly and theft from the elderly of more than $50,000.

Nunez has prior convictions including grand theft and forging documents.

Full Article & Source:

Friday, May 27, 2022

Addressing Conservatorship Abuse Or Overreach

Ben Gettinger
By Ben Gettinger

A few high-profile cases have recently brought public attention to conservatorships and the potential for conservatorship abuse or overreach. Connecticut probate courts have a number of procedures and safeguards in place to prevent, identify and remedy such abuse or overreach. This column will highlight some of the procedures and safeguards in place for involuntary conservatorships.

In Connecticut, all conservatorship hearings are recorded and all witnesses are put under oath. The initial hearing cannot take place unless the subject of the involuntary conservatorship hearing (known as the “respondent”) has at least a 10-day notice. The notice of the hearing must be served on the respondent to confirm the notice requirement has been met. The hearing cannot take place unless the hearing notice was properly and timely served.

In general, the hearing cannot take place unless the respondent was examined by a physician no earlier than 45 days prior to the hearing. The physician must submit a report detailing their medical findings and answer a number of questions about the respondent to assist the court in determining if a conservatorship is appropriate.

Unlike in some states, the respondent is guaranteed the opportunity to have an attorney throughout the entire involuntary conservatorship process. If the respondent is indigent or otherwise cannot afford an attorney, the attorney will get paid through the probate court administration fund. The attorney will advocate on behalf of the respondent at the initial hearing and throughout the process if an involuntary conservatorship is ordered.

If a conservatorship is ordered, it will be subject to court review in a year and then every three years. The purpose of the review is to determine if the conservatorship is still appropriate. In addition, the conservator of the person must file a conservator’s report at least once a year. The conservator of the estate must file a financial report after the first year and then every three years and must keep all supporting documentation, such as bank statements, invoices and canceled checks.

If a conservator of the estate is ordered, the court will generally order a bond if the total assets are over $20,000 or there is over $10,000 in unrestricted assets. The conservatorship may also be subject to a random financial audit.

There are also restrictions on the conservator’s powers. For example, a conservator must get court approval before placing the respondent in an institution for long term care, changing the respondent’s residence, terminating the respondent’s lease, disposing of the respondent’s furnishing, selling the respondent’s real estate or consenting to psychiatric medication.

Finally, the respondent has the right to try to terminate the conservatorship. The respondent may request termination at any time. A hearing must be held within 30 days of the request. The respondent does not need to submit medical evidence. The respondent also has a lower burden of proof than the initial burden of proof needed to grant the conservatorship. The burden of proof to terminate is a “preponderance of the evidence” that the respondent is capable, whereas the burden of proof needed to grant an involuntary conservatorship is “clear and convincing evidence” that the respondent is incapable.

Even with these procedures and safeguards in place, involuntary conservatorships in Connecticut are not infallible. Please feel free to call the Milford-Orange Probate Court at 203-783-3205 if you have any concerns, suggestions or general questions about conservatorships.

Ben Gettinger is the probate judge for the Milford-Orange Probate Court.

Full Article & Source:

Paterson judge was ineligible to serve, says NJ Supreme Court. Will she stay on the bench?

by Joe Malinconico

PATERSON — The New Jersey Supreme Court disciplined Paterson Municipal Judge Cecilia Sardina Guzman with a public censure last week for hearing city cases while she was ineligible to practice law.

It's the second time the judge has been rebuked by the state's highest court. Guzman previously came under censure from the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Review Board for lapses in her private law practice in handling two divorce cases.

The censure announced last week — essentially a public reprimand — said Guzman violated codes of judicial conduct, but it did not require her removal from her role as one of Paterson’s judges. City officials could not be reached for comment about Guzman’s status in the Municipal Court.

Her lawyer, Robert Ramsey, said Guzman has decided to give up her private law practice in order to focus on her work as a city judge.

“She’s thrilled to put this behind her and move on with her professional life,” Ramsey said.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said in February 2021 that Guzman's tenure was under review. 

“We will let this matter continue in its proper course," he said at the time. "Judge Guzman is entitled to due process and a fair hearing, and we respect her rights in that regard.”

“To date,” the mayor added, “there has been no known impact or effect on Paterson Municipal Court cases or operations. We will continue to monitor the progress of this case.”

Guzman’s salary as a city judge is $45,900, according to recent payroll records. She was appointed to the position in 2014. She is one of six municipal judges in Paterson.

She previously served in the same role in Dover in Morris County. Her lawyer said she was replaced in Dover as part of the changing of the political guard in that town’s municipal government.

Guzman lost her eligibility to practice law from Oct. 22, 2018, until Oct. 17, 2019, because she failed to properly register a trust fund used to deposit clients' money, according to court records. In February 2021, she filed a three-page response with the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct in which she admitted all 20 claims made by the state Supreme Court panel in its two-count disciplinary complaint.

Ramsey said Guzman had not known about her ineligibility to practice law and properly registered the trust fund within 48 hours of finding out to get her status restored.

Guzman has been the target of double-barrel disciplinary proceedings. In addition to the complaint by the Judicial Conduct committee, she also has been censured by the Supreme Court's Disciplinary Review Board, which oversees complaints about lawyers' conduct and ethics.

The review board decision said Guzman committed "gross neglect," "lack of diligence" and "failure to communicate with the client" in those cases. The decision also cited "recordkeeping violations and negligent misappropriation of client funds."

Full Article & Source:

Chatfield pair charged for taking about $100k from vulnerable adult

Bruce Lyn Amundson, 68, and Deborah Lane Amundson, 66, are both facing six charges of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and a summons has been issued for them to appear before District Judge Pamela King July 7. No attorney is listed for the pair.


By Mark Wasson

CHATFIELD — A Chatfield man and woman have been charged in Olmsted County District Court with stealing about $100,000 dollars from a vulnerable adult under their care, according to court records.

Bruce Lyn Amundson, 68, and Deborah Lane Amundson, 66, are both facing six charges of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and a summons has been issued for them to appear before District Judge Pamela King on July 7. No attorney is listed for the pair.

According to the criminal complaint:

The Amundson’s transferred $98,191.15 between January 2018 and December 2020 from a person that Bruce Amundson had a power of attorney over.

Law enforcement found bank slips from a Rochester bank where the deposits and withdrawals happened.

The pair told law enforcement the transfers were approved by the victim in exchange for the pair caring for the vulnerable adult. They were not able to furnish a contract authorizing the transactions.

The pair told law enforcement they put the vulnerable adult into a nursing home facility in April 2018.

The investigation was initially started after an Olmsted County adult protection social worker submitted a report to law enforcement about potential abuse. At the time the report was submitted, the victim had an outstanding bill of around $28,578 at the Rochester care facility.

Full Article & Source:

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Elder Abuse Symposium by North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force

Collaboration between law enforcement and the private sector are helping investigators get results and prosecute elder abuse cases by more sophisticated means. These methods are growing more necessary as scammers become sophisticated and savvy in their approaches to our older generations.

These partnerships were on display Wednesday at the Rome Civic Center as local legislators and law enforcement met with senior citizen advocates for a symposium hosted by the Northwest Georgia Area Agency on Aging. The senior advocacy group communicated with the local population and found transportation for the audience of more than 100 people.

Three Floyd County Police investigators were presented awards for their work in solving elder abuse cases as well as a prosecutor, judge and a civilian bank teller from Synovus. The North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force made the special presentations. Investigators Misty Pledger and Brittany Werner were awarded the Pat King Award of Excellence for their determination in solving a missing person case from Armuchee, which later found that a man assaulted his elderly grandmother and stowed her away in a freezer. Their resilience led police to arrest Robert Tincher III for the murder of his grandmother.

“Not only did they exhibit empathy and caring for an elderly victim, but they also showed amazing investigative knowledge and skill,” stated Jeff Jones, commander of the FCPD investigative division in his letter of nomination for the duo. The Pat King Award of Excellence is named for a nurse who dedicated her professional life as an advocate for senior citizens by rallying support and fighting all forms of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. She died in 2021 but was instrumental in fighting many cases of abuse.

Investigator Amber Lopez also won the Pat King Award of Excellence for her work in helping a 75- year-old woman recover $60,000 from a scammer who instructed her in how to send money by wire transfer. The case was discovered when the victim contacted a friend J. Edward Hulsey Jr, who is also a Tallapoosa Circuit Judge. He notified Natalee Staats from the Rome District Attorney Office and she worked with Investigator Lopez to initiate the criminal case. Hulsey and Staats were also recognized for their work to notify law enforcement..

In addition to the police and legal officials who were recognized, the task force also recognized a bank teller from Synovus, Brandon Trapp, who initially stalled the victim from making a withdrawal because the large withdrawal seemed suspicious. His work to delay the transaction gave time for authorities to stop the wire transfer, which is often impossible. His proactive work resulted in his selection for the Pat King Award.

Georgia Representatives Katie Dempsey and Eddie Lumsden were honored guests and offered remarks to constituents. Director Vic Reynolds, of the GBI, followed up with candid lessons in fraud and scams to the audience. He borrowed examples from his experience as a prosecutor in Cobb County and also as the head of the state’s investigative agency.
According to Reynolds, persons who are 65 and older are among the fastest growing demographic in the United States. They represent a group called “silent victims” because they are slow to report crimes of fraud because of embarrassment. This group spends their lives saving for retirement but fall to sophisticated charlatans who prey on their trust and loneliness.
Reynolds said that three in four cases of financial exploitation involve a suspect is found to be someone the victim knows; in 60 percent of those cases it is a family member. Advice from law enforcement for the audience of senior citizens includes:

 Open your own mail. Do not trust a third party to your private papers.

 Always use direct deposit for income. Work to develop a relationship with your local bank and get to know the employees; these are the people who can quickly identify scams.

 Do not send money to anyone you have never met, and you should never spend money to receive award money.

Crimes of elder abuse that police often encounter are physical, financial and institutional. The Floyd County Police Department is here for our senior citizens and is eager to investigate and help them resolve crimes that may occur against them.

Full Article & Source:

Miami-Dade leaders announce task force to investigate abuse of those in elder and vulnerable care

By Raphael Pires, Tavares Jones

MIAMI (WSVN) - Group home horror has landed three employees in hot water, and this, as well as other cases, has led to the formation of a new task force.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle released surveillance video of the employees back in December struggling to restrain a patient at the group home known as the Family Tree Concept, Wednesday.

The video showed them aggressively taking him down, putting the patient in a choke-hold, which ultimately ended his life.

“He was lifeless, and they basically choked hold him to death,” said Rundle. “The group home staff appeared to have little training on how to actually deal with problems related to mental illnesses or training on how to restrain a person without injuring them or killing them.”

Katherine Hair, Terrence Nelson Jr. and Derrick Coley have all been charged with manslaughter and aggravated abuse in connection with the man’s death.

Rundle, along with the county’s mayor and several other officials, gathered Wednesday afternoon to announce the formation of the Elder and Vulnerable Abuse Work Group with the goal to stop incidents like this from happening again.

“We need to do more to fight elder and vulnerable adult exploitation abuse,” said Rundle.

7News stopped by the facility at 1370 NE 138th St. in North Miami to try get some answers, but no one wanted to talk.

The group also spoke about several other cases involving elderly abuse and exploitation, including one where a woman allegedly pretended to be someone else online to gain the trust of an elderly victim and was able to swindle her out of large sums of money.

Another example is a case where a woman in Doral, pretended to be the daughter of an elderly cancer patient to sneak into a hospital and scam her out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. That suspect has not been arrested, although her son has a connection to the crime.

“We are going to get to work protecting our older adults, our vulnerable population from abuse, fraud and exploitation,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Florida ranks second in the nation for the number of victims of crime against those age 60 and older. Miami-Dade County ranks number one in the state.

“Sadly, of course, the problem hasn’t gotten better, it has only gotten worse,” said Levine Cava.

The multiple agencies working together said they are in need of the public’s help because they rely on reports filed. Then, they are able to pursue the people responsible.

The three employees are due back in court on June 23.

Full Article & Source:

Man arrested on suspicion of abusing 81-year-old woman in Victorville

by Rene Ray De La Cruz

A man was arrested on suspicion of slapping and physically restraining an 81-year-old woman in a Victorville home near Center Street Park.

Mark Greenard, 65, of Victorville, remained at the High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto on Friday, with bail set at $75,000, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s booking records showed.

Greenard is due to appear on Monday in Victorville Superior Court, sheriff’s officials said.

Victorville Sheriff’s Station officials said that at 6:45 a.m. on Monday, deputies were dispatched for a priority welfare check at a home in the 16000 block of Lacy Street.

Upon arrival, deputies discovered an elderly woman with minor injuries who reported that Greenard had physically restrained and slapped her, and prevented her from calling 911.

Greenard was arrested and booked at the HDDC on suspicion of causing harm to an elder, damage to a communications device with intent to prevent her from requesting help and false imprisonment.

Sheriff's officials did not reveal how Greenard and the woman were associated.

Anyone with information about this investigation is asked by the Sheriff’s Department to contact the Victorville Sheriff’s Station at 760-241-2911 or Sheriff’s Dispatch at 760-956-5001.

Callers wishing to remain anonymous are urged to call the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-78CRIME (27463) or you may leave information on the We-Tip website at

Full Article & Source:

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Editorial: One guiding principle to untangle guardianship flaws

We wish for heroes and villains.

We need people to inspire us onward in a flawed world; we need people to blame for the flaws.

But our desire for clarity can create polarity. Our search for simplicity can miss the point.

The Record-Eagle’s nine-month dive into Michigan’s guardianship and conservator system found few heroes or villains, and fewer simple answers.

The more reporters investigated, the more tangles they found.

Many working in the system had both insight into its flaws and also reasons for them — changed policies, realities of funding and staffing, jurisdiction issues, delineation of duties, client privacy, fragmentation and more.

Those in the system juggle these, with the responsibility to decide what’s best for someone else, while walking a tightrope between ardent family members who disagree with each other on what “best” is. The difficulties are no doubt immense.

But we let one faction guide our reporting: The people for whom the system is built.

Vulnerable adults. The elderly. Those incapacitated by circumstance and illness. The guardian/conservator system is meant to serve them — not those orbiting around them.

But time, and time again, we found the system serving itself, the absence of the voices of the individuals in question creating both a vacuum and an opportunity for exploitation; a lack of accountability and transparency allowing repeated and unnecessary incompetence and abuse.

“Unguarded’s” findings bear repeating:

  • Probate courts aren’t built to audit and monitor what guardians do with their wards.
  • Protocol changes by the state judiciary, made in the name of reform, weakened state oversight.
  • Three employees in the Attorney General’s office are tasked with keeping a watchful eye on more than 1,600 vulnerable individuals who have no family members interested in their well-being.
  • Reform efforts have come and gone with little to show, the result of repeated efforts by judges and professional guardians to resist oversight changes. Those efforts are being revived today.
  • “Good” guardians are sorely needed, but the job often pays pennies and encourages professional guardians to oversee as many wards as possible.

Progress is possible, and long overdue.

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force — a body of 100 officials, lawyers, elder advocates and politicians — put forward several fixes to improve life for the state’s elderly.

Of nine, two have been realized — banks must now report suspected fraud of vulnerable adults and there’s a new form for law enforcement to use when reporting that fraud.

The other seven stalled in the House, “revised” by special interest-influence to dilute caps on the number of wards a guardian can be appointed to serve, remove requirements for guardians to personally visit their wards and debate certifications for guardians and conservators, including requirements for minimum training and professional standards.

Lobby groups for those in the system, like for judges and guardians, opposed the initial recommendations.

This isn’t the end of the story, as all of us will be needed to fix what is broken.

We will continue our reporting on every side of this complicated problem.

But the answers can be simple if we let one principle guide us — who does the system serve and how does it serve them?

Full Article & Source:
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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Conservator says she's targeted by AG task force

By Luca Powell

Jessica Englebrecht sits on the porch of her parents' home, where she and her children Parker, 7, and Sebastian, 5, had to move after Englebrecht, a conservator, was accused of embezzling money from 11 different vulnerable adults.
Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael Stump

LUDINGTON — In September, lawyers from the office of the attorney general of the state of Michigan will attempt to show a judge in Ludington that a conservator stole thousands of dollars from her wards.

The conservator in question is Jessica Englebrecht, a Mason County woman who was given 11 wards on court assignments. She served as their conservator and guardian, managing money and medical decisions for wards with schizophrenia, dementia, and developmental disabilities. A 1,330-page police investigation details how she moved money and property and provides the foundation for the state’s prosecution.

Conversely, Englebrecht has said that she overstretched herself trying to help wards who had nowhere else to turn. Englebrecht says that, if anything, she lost money caring for her clients, and that Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office is unfairly prosecuting her in search of a “win” in the AG’s campaign against elder abuse.

Shortly after taking office, Nessel announced the creation of an Elder Abuse Task Force. Separately, her financial crimes division has opened more than 185 cases into suspected financial exploitation since 2019. Englebrecht’s case is among a handful that have been drawn out into litigation.

Investigations began into Englebrecht’s conduct in 2019, when caretakers at Krystal Manor Adult Foster Care flagged concerns about the finances of one of their residents. A complaint was filed with Adult Protective Services, the state agency charged with caring for vulnerable adults, by the AFC’s owner Susan Myers.

A resident with developmental disabilities had become frustrated with how Englebrecht was managing his guardianship. The resident, whose name was redacted by records officers at the Michigan State Police, said Englebrecht regularly hid his receipts and bank statements.

In one instance, he said Englebrecht removed money from a Christmas savings account — a $50 nest-egg that was meant for him to buy gifts for his family.

“However, that money is no longer there and believed [sic] Jessica had taken it out without giving [REDACTED] an explanation,” the report states. An employee with APS further advised that there were “direct transfers from [REDACTED]’s bank account to Jessica’s bank account,” and that the transfers are “not normal practice for guardians.”

The investigation quickly expanded. Medicaid payments for some of the home’s residents were going unpaid. In addition, a resident’s car, a 2006 Kia Rio, had Englebrecht listed on the title, and a bag of $3,000 of her wards’ funds and personal information had gone missing in a motel room in Ann Arbor.

In interviews, Englebrecht’s wards complained to police that she rarely picked up her phone, explained her purchases, or helped her wards with paperwork they needed for things like job applications.

However, in Michigan, conservators and guardians aren’t legally required to do any of these tasks. Courts require one accounting of expenses annually and haven’t required probate courts to audit conservator’s receipts since 2001.

Englebrecht adamantly denies the perception of her being cast by the Michigan State Police report. In an interview with the Record-Eagle, she said she’d missed some filing deadlines with the court, but that she’d taken on so many wards after being begged to do so by Mason County Probate Registrar Linda Clifford.

Clifford referred all questions regarding the case to her court administrator, Charles Gunsell, who has not responded to a request for comment.

Englebrecht says proof of her innocence is in the numbers, which don’t add up: Most of her wards had little to no money in their names. Englebrecht said that her wards were so poor that she declined to charge an allowable $83 in monthly guardianship fees. Court records substantiate her claims.

More of than not, Englebrecht said she lost money caring for all 11 of her clients pro-bono.

“I’m the one that took them on and now I’m the one that is being accused of stealing from them,” Englebrecht said. “Nobody wanted to lift a finger for these people.”

She said the car was transferred to her name at her client’s request, that the bag of money genuinely did go missing, and that she was never offered training or guidance by the Mason County Probate Court on commingling funds and accounts, which she said is a common practice in Mason County.

“They dropped 12 people on her within a couple of weeks and gave her no training whatsoever,” said Suzanne Lange, Englebrecht’s mother. Lange runs an AFC home in Scottville, Country Care AFC. “The court needs to be held responsible for that.”

It’s not unusual for residents of AFC homes — many of whom are classified by the state as vulnerable adults — to have guardians. Lange said many guardians for her residents rarely interact with the adults they are charged with caring for. She said Englebrecht became a guardian because she wanted to do things differently.

Lange and Englebrecht both said that the wards the court assigned Englebrecht had long been neglected by the previous guardians. In one instance, Englebrecht said she was the first arrange care for a ward’s decaying eyesight, which she said her ward’s prior guardian had not thought to do.

  • “I was handed a shtshow,” Englebrecht said. “When I got her, I got her set up with one of the best eye doctors in the state. And I took her to those appointments myself.”

Lange has operated her AFC for more than 20 years. She described a lax oversight attitude at the court where elected officials have historically favored guardians that are ready and willing to take vulnerable adults off their court dockets.

“When I first got into it, there were other guardians that we’re doing things very illegal, and nobody wanted to question it because, when I took it to the judge, the judge says, ‘Well we don’t want to ruffle any feathers, because we like them, they take these clients on,’” Lange said.

Clifford declined to comment, citing the case as an ongoing trial. Probate registrars are often charged with picking and choosing guardians, although Michigan has no requirements for who can serve in the position beyond an 18-year-old age minimum.

Probate Judge Jeffrey C. Nellis also declined to comment on the case when Record-Eagle reporters went to Mason County to look through Englebrecht’s case files. Nellis swiftly removed Englebrecht from all her court assignments after hearing of the developing police investigation.

Meanwhile, Englebrecht’s case is headed to a jury trial in the fall. Her case is being tried by Dan Gunderson, a lawyer with the Attorney General’s Financial Crimes Division.

On the strength of the 1,330 page police report, Gunderson will seek to prove 10 misdemeanor charges of embezzlement as well as one charge for commingling funds with vulnerable adults.

The charges carry penalties of one to two years in prison.

For embezzlement, Englebrecht is liable to pay up to three times the amount in question, while the commingling charge carries a $25,000 penalty.

Lynsey Mukomel, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, said that Gunderson could not comment on an open case.

When Nessel first announced the charges, she said that cases like Englebrecht’s are “precisely why my office has a unit specifically charged with evaluating reports of elder abuse and why there are a number of assistant attorneys general and investigators assigned to pursue bad actors,” Nessel said in a press release.

Englebrecht maintains that Nessel’s lawyers are trying to prosecute a caricature of a bad guardian, without paying attention to the realities of her struggle to learn the job while working as a single mother.

“That movie, ‘I Care a Lot’ that’s what they try to depict me as. And it’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Englebrecht said, referencing a 2020 Netflix movie in which a crooked guardian drains the bank accounts of her elderly wards.

“They need someone to point the finger at,” Englebrecht said.

Lange said she was frustrated that the Attorney General had gotten involved, but that she looked forward to testifying to Jessica’s defense.

“People need to know that she was not out there just scamming these people — she was spending her own money, taking people out to doctor’s appointments, taking them shopping, doing things for them” said Lange. “It will come out in her trial.”

Full Article & Source:

Monday, May 23, 2022

Isolated by guardianship

George Pappas and his daughter, Mary Hilliard, in a photo taken in the 1950s and preserved in a family photo album.
Maria Sterlini/Special to the Record-Eagle

BAD AXE — It was June 2021 and by the way she describes it, every bone in Maria Sterlini’s body told her the solution to a family emergency seemed obvious.

Five years earlier, a Huron County probate court judge deemed Sterlini’s cousin, Mary Hilliard, 68, incapacitated because of a mental health diagnosis. In 2016, the judge appointed Hilliard’s elderly mother, Rita Sniecikowski, as guardian.

But then last summer Sniecikowski, 83, was hospitalized, throwing Hilliard’s life into disarray. Hilliard’s family lost control of her care — and have since felt isolated from her.

Sterlini said she wanted to keep her family together, yet at times it seemed to her as if those in positions of authority did just the opposite.

A public guardian and staff with Adult Protective Services supported Hilliard’s emergency placement in an adult foster care home, while Sterlini and another close relative said they thought Hilliard should live with family.

This case came to light last August when Record-Eagle reporters began examining probate court records in 10 Michigan counties, as part of an ongoing probe of the state’s guardianship system.

Reporters learned, among other findings, problems can arise when family members, a judge, and social service agency staff all contend they are acting in the best interests of a vulnerable person, but disagree on what those best interests are.

Hilliard became a resident of Lauren Osantoski’s AFC in Bad Axe on June 9, 2021, and has had scant contact with some members of her family since.

“This doesn’t make sense to me,” Sterlini said. “I don’t understand why the family wasn’t included in this decision. We never wanted her in a foster care home.”

Sterlini said she and Hilliard’s father, George Pappas, of Harbor Springs, can count on one hand the number of times they’ve spoken with Hilliard in the past year.

The public guardian contends the frequency of communication is what Hilliard wants, while Sterlini and Pappas expressed concern the AFC’s phone policy, trauma experienced by Hilliard when her mother was hospitalized or stonewalling by caretakers could be responsible.

Calls to the foster care home by a reporter seeking to speak with Hilliard went to voicemail and were not returned. Osantoski, owner of the AFC home, did not return calls seeking comment. County officials confirmed the facility does not allow individual cellphones, providing instead access to a house phone.

Ashley Kidd, a case worker with Huron County’s Public Guardian office, which now oversees Hilliard’s case, said limited contact is what Hilliard has so far preferred.

“Mary does have all of their phone numbers and she is allowed to call if she wants to,” Kidd said. “She doesn’t always want that communication, at least not right at the moment.”

Pappas, 96, who owns a car and drives short distances but cannot make the 460-mile trip from Harbor Springs to Bad Axe and back, said he last spoke with his daughter in mid-April.

Sterlini and Pappas said they tried to make a conference call to Hilliard on April 24, Greek Easter, a holiday of special significance for the family, who are members of the Greek Orthodox Church. The call went to voicemail and wasn’t returned, Sterlini said.

Pappas is himself no stranger to the control a third-party court-appointment can exert over a person’s life. In 2021, an Emmet County Probate Court judge appointed him a conservator, the decision went awry and continues to be the subject of extensive reporting by the Record-Eagle.

“I feel like Mary has been stolen from us by all these people,” Pappas said, of staff with social service agencies and the probate court. “I can’t even get with her anymore on the telephone.”

Worth saving

Maria “Dolly” Sterlini, 74, lives 130 miles south of Bad Axe in Canton. When Hilliard’s mother was hospitalized, Sterlini, who lives alone, said she’d hoped Hilliard could come live with her.

Sterlini and Hilliard have always been close, Sterlini said, growing up as they did just blocks from one another in a Detroit suburb. Hilliard is artistically talented, Sterlini said, recalling summer afternoons the two spent together, painting and drawing.

“Mary is the most beautiful, heartfelt person you ever want to know,” Sterlini said. “There’s never been a cross word between us. She’s like my little sister. And she’s worth saving.”

Hilliard is one of more than 130,000 adults in Michigan who a probate judge has determined requires help managing their medical, housing or financial affairs and as a result have a court-ordered guardian, conservator or both.

When Huron County Probate Court Judge David Clabeusch appointed Hilliard’s mother as her guardian, he also appointed the county’s Public Guardian, Stephen Allen, as her co-guardian and later, her conservator. Jacilyn Geiger took over in the role when Allen retired in 2020.

Guardians make medical and housing decisions, conservators handle finances, which in Hilliard’s case included $643 in monthly social security disability benefits, records show, and $76 a month from Veterans Affairs.

A court-appointed attorney met with Hilliard on July 6, 2016, court records show, and reported back to the court that Hilliard did not drive, cook or grocery shop, but had easily recited her age, birthday and address.

The attorney said in her report that Hilliard questioned whether her mental health diagnosis was still accurate.

Sterlini said she also has questions about Hilliard’s diagnosis and treatment; annual guardian reports filed in 2017 and 2018 by Sniecikowski state Hilliard saw a psychiatrist twice annually for treatment and prescription medication refills.

Doubly Victimized

Pappas said he feels like his family has been doubly victimized by a system that has long failed to care for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Decades of reform attempts by governors, attorneys general and legislators have so far failed to alter the Michigan judiciary, which controls guardianship and conservatorship in the state’s probate courts.

But it is family members and other “persons of interest” — and not the court — who bear the responsibility of making sure appointed guardians and conservators protect the people they are assigned to serve.

Pappas and Sterlini are listed as “persons of interest” in Hilliard’s case, records show, and after APS placed Hilliard in the AFC home, Sterlini fought Hilliard’s guardianship in court.

On Aug. 6, 2021, Sterlini filed a petition in Huron County Probate Court, seeking to have herself appointed Hilliard’s guardian. The court appointed a guardian ad litem who met with Hilliard and reported back to the court, but never met with or mentioned Sterlini, records show, even though Sterlini was the petitioner.

Hilliard attended the Aug. 10, 2021 petition hearing, where Judge Clabuesch asked her where she preferred to live, at the Osantoski home or with Sterlini — who the family knows as “Dolly.”

In hundreds of pages of documents the Record-Eagle reviewed for this story, the transcript of this hearing is the only time Hilliard’s voice was evident.

“The Osantoski home is a — what’s, what is it?” Hilliard asked the judge.

“Right there, where you are,” the judge said.

“Oh, oh, oh, oh. Lauren’s,” Hilliard said.

“Lauren’s,” the judge confirmed. “Do you —”

“I, I, I think I’ll go with Dolly,” Hilliard said.

The judge asked again whether Hilliard wanted to live with Dolly and the transcript shows Hilliard said living with Dolly would alleviate pressure on her mother.

When the judge responded that he didn’t want to know about Hilliard’s mother, he wanted to know which place was best for her, Hilliard said she couldn’t make up her mind.

“All right. That’s fine,” the judge said. “That’s a sign of somebody being incapacitated.”

Sterlini’s petition was denied, court records show, the public guardian retained its appointment as co-guardian and conservator and Hilliard stayed at the AFC home.

Sniecikowski, after being hospitalized, did not return to the apartment she shared with her daughter and, records show, now lives in a nursing home. In October the court removed her as Hilliard’s co-guardian.

A Difficult Spot

In Michigan there are a handful of counties, like Huron, in the state’s thumb, which fund public guardian offices and employ staff to accept probate court appointments. Their jobs are difficult and, records show, frequently underfunded.

A county public guardian is different from a public administrator, which most counties in Michigan have. Public administrators are attorneys who handle estates when there are no heirs on record. The state also has an overall public administrator, Katharyn Barron, who acts as “person of interest” for vulnerable people who’ve been appointed a guardian or conservator, and have no family of record.

“As a county-funded office, we don’t turn down any cases,” Kidd, employed by the county’s public guardian office since 2017, explained. “We are having a growing number of people who are on our caseload and now live outside the county as there’s a lack of appropriate housing available in our area.”

Vulnerable adults the public guardian office is appointed to serve all once lived in Huron County, Kidd said, and many still do, though others are placed in facilities as far away as Rose City (117 miles), Grand Rapids (204 miles), Berrien County (260 miles) and Detroit (113 miles).

A fact Sterlini said makes placement of Hilliard into a sought-after spot in the county, instead of with family, all the more inexplicable.

The county’s public guardian office has a full-time staff of four, Kidd said, who are responsible for the well-being of about 270 people. Kidd confirmed she and others in the office have had repeated communications with Sterlini and Pappas.

“Dolly does have the right to petition the court if she feels there is a more appropriate placement or a guardianship alternative of her being the guardian,” Kidd said, of Hilliard’s case. “I get where Dolly is coming from. We empathize that she wants her family close to her. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t ever gone that way due to Mary’s wishes.”

Kidd said the staff all know Hilliard and see her frequently. Osantoski’s AFC is near the public guardian’s office and Kidd said a dozen other people the office serves as guardian or conservator also live there.

Osantoski’s AFC is one of the only facilities in the area that accepts emergency placements like Hilliard’s, whose situation was first investigated by Adult Protective Services after Sniecikowski expressed concern for her daughter to a hospital social worker.

That doesn’t explain why Sterlini and Pappas weren’t informed, or why faulty information stating Hilliard was in danger of becoming homeless, was included in an APS log documenting the complaint.

Records show Sterlini began communicating with the public guardian’s office in 2019, asking to be kept informed about Hilliard’s care. Pappas said he wasn’t initially informed his daughter was placed in an AFC home, either.

Instead, when Pappas learned his ex-wife was hospitalized and he couldn’t reach his daughter, he called police.

Records show officers from Bad Axe Police Department visited Osantoski’s AFC for a welfare check and found Hilliard safe, happy and in good health. The involvement of law enforcement, however, prompted another alarming entry in the APS complaint log.

This entry, dated June 23, 2021, referenced a call to APS from Osantoski.

“Lauren stated Mary’s dad called her on Friday night,” the entry states. “No one knew she had a father. He called police and had them come out to check on Mary ‘cause Lauren would not release any information.”

If Pappas wanted to speak with his daughter, the APS log states, he had to go through the public guardian.

Kidd said the public guardian’s office is in a difficult spot – Sterlini and Pappas would like Hilliard to live with family, while by law public guardian staff must respect Hilliard’s wishes and according to Kidd, that means staying at Osantoski’s.

“She would do OK in a home setting with family or whatnot, if that was something she desired,” Kidd said, of Hilliard. “She’s been very happy where she’s at. She has not expressed wanting to go anywhere else.”

Pappas previously expressed concern about the care Hilliard is receiving there, and while state records with the Bureau of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs show the facility is in compliance, there have also been regulatory violations.

Since October of 2019 the facility has been the subject of six special investigations by LARA licensing consultants – none have substantiated allegations or recommended the facility’s license be reviewed.

“The residents are going to be afraid to tell you the truth for fear of what will happen to them when you leave,” stated one complainant, whose name LARA redacted.

Adult foster care homes in Michigan are required to be licensed by LARA, and many of these facilities draw all or a large portion of their residents from placements by social service organizations, like APS or community mental health.

Previous reporting by the Record-Eagle has found it is common for residents of AFC homes to be appointed guardians, conservators or both. AFC home residents are often elderly, developmentally disabled, mentally ill or struggle with memory issues.

Pappas said last year he was unable to speak with his daughter on Father’s Day, and is hopeful when he calls on June 19, the result will be different.

Pappas kept a tally of his attempts to talk with his daughter, jotting down on a yellow legal pad repeated denials and excuses, including, “we’re eating lunch,” or “It’s Sunday.”

Phone calls are the only way Pappas can communicate with his daughter, he said, since he is unable to drive to the AFC home and, while he sends cards and letters, she doesn’t write back.

“That is something that we have addressed with the home,” Kidd said, reiterating Hilliard has phone numbers of family members and can make outgoing calls if she wants.

Sterlini has continued to communicate with the public guardian’s office. For example, in October she emailed the office to ask whether Hilliard received the hot pink hat, scarf and gloves Sterlini sent to her for the winter.

Last year, during one of several visits a Record-Eagle reporter made to Pappas’ apartment in Harbor Springs, Pappas put the handset for his landline on speakerphone, called Osantoski’s AFC, gave his name and asked to speak with his daughter.

The staff member who answered the phone said Pappas had to call Hilliard’s guardian.

When Pappas asked for the name of the guardian and their phone number, the call was disconnected.

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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Senate Passes Disability Protection Package

The New York State Senate passed legislative measures to enhance inclusion, access, and protections for New Yorkers living with disabilities. Included in the package are bills to recognize Supported Decision Making Agreements, greater support of individualized education programs, and increased communication with guardians when behavioral intervention is used. The package will “strengthen and streamline resources, and correct historical tropes that are both harmful and inaccurate” to the disabled community. Read the Senate Majority’s Press Release.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Protecting our loved ones with disabilities is crucial for their safety and well-being. This set of bills will help them thrive in our community and provide the tools they need to be more independent and successful in their day-to-day lives. I am proud of the Senate Majority's work to provide more rights and resources for disabled New Yorkers. I want to thank the Chair of the Disabilities Committee, Senator John Mannion, and the bill sponsors for their advocacy.”

Chair of the Committee on Disabilities, Senator John Mannion, said, “As Chairman of the Disabilities Committee, strengthening quality of life and the services available to people with disabilities is my highest priority. My bills ensure people with disabilities can have autonomy over their lives while receiving the support they need to be full members of the community. My legislation combats stigma, makes the state’s websites more accessible, and provides firm timelines for eligibility determinations. I am grateful to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for creating and valuing the Disabilities Committee and to my Senate colleagues for sharing my commitment to making our state a leader in supporting residents with disabilities.”

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California communities must show they can CARE

Andrae Gonzales

Cities across California are at the forefront of responding to the persistent crisis of homelessness.

Since 2018, when the Bakersfield City Council declared a homeless emergency shelter crisis, Bakersfield has invested in over 600 new shelter beds. Even during a global pandemic, we built the very successful Brundage Lane Navigation Center, which has moved nearly 140 individuals from the shelter into permanent housing through comprehensive case management. The 2022 Point-in-Time homeless count indicated that, for the first time in years, there were more people in shelters than on the streets this past winter.

The city continues to address issues related to encampments by investing in bio-hazard clean up teams in Downtown and Old Town Kern, Public Works Clean City Teams, the Bakersfield Homeless Center’s Jobs program, the reestablishment of the Bakersfield Police Department’s Impact Teams and Code Enforcement’s Rapid Response Teams. In 2021, the Rapid Response team alone received 6,217 complaints, cleaned up 4,690 encampments and collected over 5.93 million pounds of trash.

Bakersfield has also developed one of the Central Valley’s first housing trust funds to spur additional investment in housing production to provide permanent housing solutions to unhoused individuals. Since 2019, we’ve invested over $14 million into the fund. We’ve allocated another $10 million in ARPA funds for affordable housing, and have received millions of dollars in additional state and federal grants. As a result, over 136 new affordable housing units were completed last year, 217 units are under construction and development and 154 units are set to be rehabbed.

Yet, despite our best efforts to chip away at the problem, there are far too many people with severe mental health and addiction issues roaming our streets and living in encampments. These are our aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, cousins who are suffering from untreated schizophrenia spectrum or psychotic disorders, left on our streets to wither away.

Look around, in Bakersfield and throughout California, it’s clear that the status quo is not working. While we must continue to provide support for those seeking emergency shelter, it is obvious that more must be done. But there are limits to what city governments can do. The state must step up.

This is why I am asking that my colleagues on the City Council join me in adopting a resolution in support of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s CARE Court Model. The Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court is a new proposal to get people with mental health and substance abuse disorders the care and support they desperately need. The new CARE Court model will hold everyone accountable — individuals and local governments — with court orders for care, and consequences for not following through for both parties.

CARE Court will connect a person struggling with untreated mental illness with a court-ordered CARE plan for up to two years. Each plan can include clinically prescribed, individualized interventions with several supportive services, medication and a housing plan, and will be managed by a care team in the community.

The focus of CARE Court is on stabilizing people with the hardest-to-treat behavioral health conditions, without taking away their rights. Each person will be provided with a public defender and a new supporter, on top of their full clinical team, to provide supported decision making-not substitute decision making, as happens in conservatorships.

CARE Court is for a subset of individuals who lack medical decision-making capacity — before they get arrested and committed to a state hospital, and before they become so impaired that they end up in a Mental Health Conservatorship.

Let’s be clear: There are many reasons why people find themselves homeless. No single solution will solve this societal issue. But CARE Court is a necessary next step in helping some of the most vulnerable individuals get off of the streets and into housing with the support that they desperately need.

 Newsom is not only calling for this new approach but supporting this effort by including $65 million for initial costs to implement CARE Court.

This plan is currently moving through the Legislature.

Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh, along with California’s Big City Mayors, has endorsed this proposal. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, California Professional Firefighters, the California Medical Association and the California Hospital Association have also joined the coalition in support of CARE Courts.

California must act with urgency to address the mental health crisis on our streets. If you agree, call your state representatives and encourage them to support the CARE Court Framework.

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‘She said her husband was trying to kill her’: Neighbors say after elderly Valley woman found dead

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - More details on the death of a 72-year-old woman in East Alabama.

Her husband and daughter have been charged with elder abuse in connection to her death.

News Leader 9 spoke with a few neighbors, who said they called the police several times about her and her family’s behavior.

They say Janice Hawkins’ husband and daughter threatened them multiple times before Janice’s body was found. Both neighbors also describe the victim as frail.

“It has been one of the more gruesome cases that I’ve seen in my time,” said Valley Police Chief Mike Reynolds.

Chief Reynolds says officers found 72-year-old Janice Hawkins’ body in a cluttered, roach-infested living room in Valley, Alabama last month with stray animals around.

“You could tell that the cats did not have -- use litter boxes,” said Chief Reynolds. “The ammonia smell, the feces were on the floor, roaches everywhere in this home and especially on the body itself.”

“They opened the door and you can just smell the house from three houses away,” said a neighbor.

Over a month later, Valley Police arrested the victim’s husband, Alfred and their daughter, Christy Lee, in connection to her death. Both have been charged with first-degree elder abuse and neglect.

The husband, who was also her caregiver, is also facing manslaughter charges. Police say the day they found the victim’s body, her husband called for help.

“Initially when he called 911, he didn’t ask for an ambulance or the police. He called for the coroner,” said Chief Reynolds.

An autopsy report later revealed Janice died due to complications of diabetes, malnutrition, sunken eyes and prominent ribs.

“Our detectives found that she had not been to a doctor since 2019. And none of her medications had been refilled since 2018,” said Chief Reynolds. “We’ve been out to this residence on a numerous occasions -- I think 40 plus occasions since 2014 and a majority of that was due to domestic violence.”

Neighbors say the husband and daughter were also aggressive towards them.

“The neighbors over there -- they were just threatening the man or the woman with a hammer calling me them the N word, being nasty,” said a neighbor.

They also say Janice feared she was going to die.

“She came in our house just walked in the house at three a.m. after midnight multiple times saying she was going to be killed,” said a neighbor.

If you or anyone you know is in need of help, call Valley Police, the Department of Human resources or the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.

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‘She said her husband was trying to kill her’: Neighbors say after elderly Valley woman found dead