Saturday, July 16, 2022
SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla. -- A former Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office lieutenant took a plea deal Tuesday in his elderly exploitation case.
Authorities announced in January that Scott Haines, who was in charge of an elderly woman's finances, fraudulently obtained over $10,000 by depositing the woman's rental payments into his own personal bank account.
Appearing in Santa Rosa County court Tuesday, Haines pleaded no contest to 29 counts of unauthorized use of a computer system. As part of the deal, his five elderly exploitation charges were dropped.
Haines was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay nearly $47,000 in fees. He was also ordered to relinquish his criminal justice certification.
Haines will appear in federal court on Wednesday.
Assistant State Prosecutor Guillermo Vallejo tells Channel 3 that as part of a plea deal, Haines will plead no contest to lying to the FBI (making false statements). In turn, his wire fraud charges will be dropped.
crimes allegedly happened between Between Jan. 1, 2015 and May 12,
2021. Haines was charged with four counts of wire fraud, as well as with
making fraudulent statements that he never took part in any of the
The indictment stated that Haines escorted the
elderly woman to the office of her attorney while in his Santa Rosa
County Sheriff's Office uniform. He was then appointed Power of
Haines allegedly designated himself as the "Payable on Death" beneficiary for the victim's personal bank account, deposited rental payments into his own personal bank account and more.Following a December 2019 investigation, Haines was demoted from captain to lieutenant within the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office following a sexual harassment investigation.
Friday, July 15, 2022
In Major Victory for Britney Spears, Judge Orders Jamie Spears to Be Deposed and Produce Surveillance Records
A judge ruled that Britney Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, must sit for a deposition and produce all documents that are being requested by the pop star’s team. The judge ordered Spears’ father will be deposed within the next 30 days in Los Angeles.
Judge Brenda Penny ordered Spears’ father to produce all documents related to electronic surveillance. This move favors the singer, and indicates that the court believes it has reason to further inquire into shocking allegations that Jamie Spears had hired a security firm that put his daughter under surveillance throughout her conservatorship, with allegations of monitoring her phone and bugging her bedroom to record her private conversations.Prior to the judge’s ruling on these motions, Jamie Spears’ attorney, Alex Weingarten, asked the judge to give his team access to documents from the singer’s team to help prepare for his client’s deposition.
“It’s a deposition. Not an ambush,” Weingarten said in the courtroom, before Judge Penny ruled against his request.
The hearing at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse was heated with fiery debate among Weingarten and the pop star’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart.
Wednesday’s hearing marked a big victory for the singer, who has been fighting against her father in a continuous legal battle ever since her conservatorship was terminated last year.
Spears was put under a court-ordered conservatorship in 2008 by her father, who acted as her sole conservator for most of the 13 years. After more than a decade of fighting against the arrangement, Spears’ father was suspended by the court in September 2021, and the conservatorship was ultimately terminated in November 2021. Despite the singer’s newfound freedom, her legal team’s battle has remained messy with no resolution from either side.
Still on the table after Wednesday’s hearing is whether the singer will be deposed by her father’s team.
The judge nearly reached a decision on that matter, first giving a tentative order to deny Jamie Spears’ motion to depose his daughter, but then decided to continue the motion, asking the attorneys on both sides to present their arguments to the court on why the singer should or should not sit for a deposition, ahead of the July 27 hearing.
“You don’t sit down a victim for a deposition to be deposed by the victimizer,” Rosengart argued in the courtroom, telling the judge that sitting for a deposition would be “re-traumatizing” to the singer.
Last month, Weingarten filed documents on behalf of Jamie Spears, requesting to depose his daughter, in light of her social media posts. Rosengart blasted the request, calling it a “revenge” and “sham.”
In court on Wednesday, Weingarten said that having Spears sit for a deposition is par for the course, since she is a party in the case. Rosengart firmly disagreed, arguing that Spears’ father should have all the information he needs, given that he was the one who was running her conservatorship and making decisions about her life.
“Ms. Spears was in a conservatorship for 13 years that was run by her father,” Rosengart told the judge. “Mr. Spears is the individual who has documentation and first hand knowledge…Mr. Spears and the documentation serve as the evidence…Ms. Spears has no knowledge or documents,” Rosengart continued, telling the judge that she is the victim in this situation. “She’s not the accuser. She’s not the alleger,” he said. “Ms. Spears is not a plaintiff here. Ms. Spears is not a defendant here.”
Rosengart told the judge that his client’s father is only filing motions to “drive up fees,” instead of letting his daughter “move on with her life.”
“She is free, and Mr. Spears wants to suck her back into the conservatorship” for “improper, immoral reasons,” Rosengart said.
At one point, pleading with the judge to allow his team to depose the pop star, Weingarten said that “unfortunately” there are documents under seal and “court orders regarding” the electronic surveillance. “Based on what I know,” he said, “I suspect that Ms. Spears will be a treasure trove of information.”
Weingarten said that if the judge decides the singer does not have to sit for a deposition, her father will not have his “fair day in court.” The attorney said he is being held to a “different standard” than other parties in the case, based on “unproven allegations.”
“I appreciate that it’s en vogue to trash Jamie Spears,” Weingarten told the judge “But he has rights…In this country, you’re innocent until proven guilty.”
“You do not put a victim back in front of the victimizer. It’s the wrong thing to do,” Rosengart shot back. “That would be wrong, whether my client was Britney Spears or Jane Doe.”
“The mere deposition itself is harassment,” Rosengart told the judge.
Rosengart has been fighting against Jamie Spears and the singer’s former business manager, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment, ever since he was retained by Spears in summer 2021. He has accused the company of “stonewalling” his attempts to obtain information for his client, refusing to cooperate and avoiding deposition. Spears’ legal team said they have been requesting to depose the elder Spears for nine months, and claimed he has evaded those requests. At Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Penny moved in favor of the star, agreeing that her father has failed to appear for his deposition.
Earlier this month, in bombshell court documents, Rosengart claimed that his client’s father and Tri Star were in cahoots to create the conservatorship and reap the benefits by taking millions of the superstar’s hard-earned money, rather than looking out for her best interest, which they deny. (Tri Star and its founder, Lou Taylor, served as the superstar’s business managers from 2008 through 2020, and the company was hired by Spears’ father around the time he placed her under a conservatorship.) Rosengart claimed that Tri Star was directly involved in creating the conservatorship and received at least $18 million throughout it.
Lawyers for Tri Star denied these claims, stating, “As all the evidence makes abundantly clear, the conservatorship was set up on the recommendation of legal counsel, not Tri Star, and approved by the Court for more than 12 years.”
Spears’ father and Tri Star have denied all claims of improper behavior, despite been the subject of damning accusations. While the surveillance allegations have largely focused on Spears’ father and Black Box, the security team he was alleged to have hired, Tri Star has been at the center of extensive claims of financial mismanagement.
A report in the New York Times alleged the star was under surveillance from a security team hired by her father and that Tri Star was involved in monitoring the singer’s phone. At the time, a lawyer for Tri Star told the Times, “These allegations are not true.” Earlier this month, Weingarten filed a sworn declaration from Jamie Spears, denying having any awareness of his adult daughter’s private bedroom being bugged or authorizing surveillance of the pop star. “I am informed of the allegation by Britney’s counsel that a listening device or ‘bug’ was placed her bedroom as surveillance during the Conservatorship,” the declaration stated. “This allegation is false.”
Weingarten did not speak to members of the media after the hearing on Wednesday, but outside of the courthouse, Rosengart told reporters that his client wants to simply “move on.”
“Mr. Spears, if he loves his daughter, as he professes he does, should leave her alone,” Rosengart told reporters, including Variety. “He should get on with his life, instead of continuing to litigate against his daughter.”
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Supreme Court has permanently disbarred Jason R. McLellan of Kingsport from the practice of law.
It was effective on Wednesday.
According to a news release from the court’s Board of Professional Responsibility, McLellan consented to permanent disbarment because he could not successfully defend the charges alleged in a petition for discipline, supplemental petition for discipline and complaints filed against him in two files.
In the pending disciplinary matters, the release said McLellan misappropriated estate funds in the representation of a client and attempted to conceal the misappropriation; made misrepresentations to a court; engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation; failed to abide by a client’s decision regarding the dismissal of a pending lawsuit; failed to reasonably consult with a client about the means by which the client’s objectives were to be accomplished; and failed to obtain the client’s informed consent before taking action.
He also failed to keep client information confidential; failed to withdraw after a conflict of interest developed; allowed a third person to direct his professional judgment; failed to comply with his ethical requirements upon discharge from representation; and failed to comply with the requirements of a suspended attorney.
Finally, he failed to comply with court orders and failed to respond to disciplinary complaints.
conduct violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2 (scope of
representation), 1.3 (diligence), 1.4(a) (communication), 1.5 (fees),
1.6 (confidentiality of information), 1.7(a) (conflict of interest),
1.15 (safekeeping property and funds), 1.16 (declining or terminating
employment), 3.2 (expediting litigation), 3.3(a) (candor toward the
tribunal), 3.4© (fairness to opposing party and counsel), 5.4
(professional independence of a lawyer), 5.5(a) and (b)(2) (unauthorized
practice of law), 8.1(a) and (b) (bar admission and disciplinary
matters), 8.4(a) (misconduct), 8.4(b) (committing a criminal act), 8.4©
(engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, or deceit), 8.4(d)
(conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) and 8.4(g)
(knowing failure to comply with a final court order).
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A man is behind bars in Shelby County, accused of abusing a disabled person.
The alleged abuse occurred at a home on Greendale Avenue in late June.
According to the arrest affidavit, the victim is under a conservatorship due to her mental disability.
Cordarius Black was working as the woman’s caregiver. The woman told police Black hit her on the head and pulled a ponytail from her hair.
Black is charged with abuse of a vulnerable adult.
Thursday, July 14, 2022
|Libra Max, the daughter of famed artist Peter Max, is fighting to free her father from what she claims is an 'irrational' guardianship case. (Courtesy)|
(New York Jewish Week) — The latest chapter of the surreal saga over who is making decisions for the aged pop artist Peter Max is pitting two children of Holocaust survivors against each other.
One is Libra Max, Peter Max’s daughter. The other is Barbara Lissner, an attorney who represents Holocaust survivors, including in their efforts to secure restitution. She became Peter Max’s guardian in 2019, shortly after the New York Times first reported alleged abuse by Max’s previous guardian and exploitation by his business associates.
Libra Max is suing Lissner in federal court, saying that Lissner has blocked her access to her father, allowed the artist to be overmedicated, improperly disbursed more than $16 million from Peter’s estate — and even took away his rescue cats.
Lissner, meanwhile, has sued Libra Max for defamation, saying that Libra baselessly accused her of kidnapping Peter Max. Among Lissner’s supporters is Adam Max, Peter Max’s son and Libra’s brother.
The protracted saga has been playing out in court for years and reached a new milestone Monday when Peter’s guardianship judge refused Libra’s request to hear medical testimony about Peter’s need for oxygen. According to Libra’s attorney, Jeffrey Eilender, the judge “refused Libra’s request to hold an evidentiary hearing… before the potentially life-and-death decision is made about the removal of [his] oxygen.”
Lissner’s law firm, Lissner and Lissner, was started by her husband’s family to provide legal services to Holocaust survivors, according to its web site. Lissner is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, including her father, who was rescued by Oskar Schindler. Among the firm’s services are what it calls Victim of Nazi Persecution Restitution Trusts, through which eligible candidates are able to preserve their assets in the event that they require long-term health care. The firm also offers estate planning, asset protection, Medicaid planning and guardianship proceedings.
After the Times report, Max’s second wife, Mary Balkin — who first sought a guardianship to take over her impaired husband’s business — committed suicide. Within 24 hours, Lissner was appointed by New York State Supreme Court to oversee the artist’s business affairs under a guardianship arrangement that Libra Max at first supported.
In 2020, Libra, along with 17 of Peter’s cousins, attempted to remove Lissner as Peter’s guardian in filings submitted to the New York State Supreme Court. She also started a website called Free Peter Max, where thousands of friends, associates and others have signed in support of ending Lissner’s guardianship over the artist.
Libra Max alleges that Lissner has confiscated Peter’s phone, refuses to share medical information with the family and isolated Peter in his Upper West Side apartment, where Libra was born and raised. “The pain of this all for me has been watching my father suffer,” Libra said. “These last three years should have been warm, beautiful and loving. We’ll never get the time back.”
Lissner did not respond to requests for comment.
“This is about my father’s human rights,” Libra added. “Why is this man, this beautiful, traditional, Jewish immigrant man, who survived, who came here, who became the American dream, why is he being locked up by the government?”
Peter Max was born Peter Max Finkelstein in 1937, and fled with his family from Berlin to Shanghai in 1939. The family later lived in Haifa and Paris before settling in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. After attending the Art Students League of New York, he began producing posters, flyers, album covers and even TV commercials featuring kaleidoscopic, counterculture imagery. In 1969 he was featured on the cover of Life magazine, for a profile titled “Portrait of the artist as a very rich man.”
In more recent years he was asked to paint everything from a race car to a cruise ship to a section of the Berlin Wall.
For Libra, her father’s case is an indictment of “abusive” guardianship laws in which elderly or impaired people are isolated from family members and medication is administered as a form of control. In many such cases, she and other critics of the system assert, guardians liquidate their clients’ assets and then intimidate family members and loved ones.
“If you have an ethical person coming in as guardian, even a court-appointed one, the system can actually work,” Libra said. “There were two guardians for a few years [before Lissner] and they did not interfere with our family at all.”
According to Goldfarb Abrand & Salzman, a New York law firm specializing in work with senior citizens, adult guardianships can be an effective legal tool in assisting incapacitated adults who are unable to care for themselves or whose families need assistance to manage their property and financial affairs.
Guardianship cases are brought under the New York Mental Hygiene Law, which is intended to meet the needs of incapacitated adults.
But Libra said that guardianship has been “a welcoming ground for predators,” with the courts and doctors and lawyers all involved.
“It’s a whole money-making process,” Libra said. “They will just put somebody into guardianship. Your estate is completely wiped out, you have less rights than a convicted felon, you can’t even choose your own attorney.”
Beverly Newman, who said her own Holocaust survivor father, Al Katz, was abused under a guardianship arrangement, told the New York Jewish Week that Holocaust survivors are “easy targets.”
“They do not have families or large families,” Newman said. The families “were killed off or diminished decades ago. They are also non-combative. These are people who just want to live their lives. They don’t want to fight. They don’t want to litigate.”
She now runs the Al Katz Center, based in Florida, which advocates for elders in similar situations nationwide.
The guardianship system, she alleges, is an entire network of guardians, judges, attorneys and service providers working together to prey upon susceptible individuals.
“There is a code of silence,” Katz said. “If you break that code of silence, you will be punished. My dad passed away in 2010 and they are still trying to get his property, still keeping open his estate, which was completely insolvent, and they’re doing that to punish us.”
The Center for Estate Administration Reform has advised on over 3,000 cases nationwide of guardianship abuse since 2014.
“Libra is not just fighting for herself, her father and her family,” Eilender said. “She’s fighting for all the people who are suffering because of an abusive guardianship.”
Adam Max did not respond to requests for comment.
Now Libra is countersuing in New York State Court: In a filing on June 17, she alleges that Lissner has caused severe emotional distress while lying to the court as well as violating anti-SLAPP laws, which are meant to prevent frivolous lawsuits intended to silence or suppress free speech.
Libra said videos from 2019 show her father in “great health” and saying that he only wants her and her brother making medical decisions for him.
In another video, Peter asks Libra to come upstairs. When she says she cannot because of the guardianship laws, Peter responds saying,“Can I talk to the judge?”
“It’s very clear what his wishes are,” Libra said.
A former metro attorney has been recently disbarred after continuing to run his law firm from jail.
By WAFF 48 Digital Staff
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Deta Jo Wright was arrested and charged with financial exploitation of the elderly 1st degree, theft in the 1st degree, and fraudulent use of a credit/debit card.
According to the Florence Police Department, Wright stole $8,780.77 from an 88-year-old woman she cared for. Wright used the victim’s car to make personal purchases at local Shoals businesses and purchase multiple gift cards.
Wright is being held at the Lauderdale County Detention Center on a $151,000 bond.
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Florida Grandmother Graduates College at 96 Years Old, Reportedly the Oldest Black Woman to Earn a Degree
A South Florida woman shy of 100 years old is being celebrated as the oldest Black woman to graduate from college in the U.S.
Violet Edwards, 96, is the fifth-oldest person in the world to receive a college degree. She broke the record at Mercy College in New York on June 25, graduating with an associate’s degree and 4.0 GPA, all while fighting cancer, according to reports.
|Violet Edwards receives a proclamation from the Jamaican Consulate General for her academic achievement. (YouTube/Bark Di Trute)|
Edwards said she wanted to finish the degree she started decades ago before her 100th birthday. Financial roadblocks stalled her past attempts to earn a degree, and a hurdle even impaired her current attempt, but a determined Edwards pressed on, reports show.
Born on October 25, 1925, in Jamaica, education was always pivotal in Edwards’ life. She was the first person in her village to attend her high school on a full academic scholarship. She took her final exams for graduation during World Word II when she feared the test would not make it back and forth to England, where it had to be sent for grading, according to reports.
However, Edwards did not have the money to pay for higher education, so she began a career in the island’s postal service. She made history there as the first appointed female regional inspector before retiring and moving to New York in 1973, according to reports.
Edwards then changed her focus to helping her daughter through medical school. After her daughter Christine started her medical career, Edwards decided to enroll in the College of New Rochelle in the early 1980s but stopped one year before completing her bachelor’s degree because of financial challenges, according to reports. She spent several years after that helping her daughter build her private practice and caring for her grandchildren.
Christine is now the medical director for Florida Perinatal Center, LLC.
Upon deciding to return to the College of New Rochelle, Edwards discovered the school had been closed. Mercy College in New York had taken over the New Rochelle’s records, but 84 of Edwards’ credits were nontransferable. So she opted to complete her associate’s in science online, reports show.
Edward was diagnosed with cancer in her last year of college,
according to reports. She underwent surgery and had her final radiation
treatment on July 5. Reports show that she graduated from Mercy College
last month and is now also the oldest person in Florida to achieve the
|Tina Marie Kessel, 47. (Credit: Naples Police Department)|
A woman has been arrested by Naples police and is accused of stealing from a 93-year-old in her care.
Police say in January, the 93-year-old victim reported that 16 fraudulent charges were made using their banking information. Police say the charges were made over several weeks and totaled $805.63.
On Sunday, 47-year-old Tina Marie Kessel was arrested by Naples police. An investigation by the Naples Police Department determined that Kessel was responsible for making the fraudulent charges.
According to police, Kessel, who had been hired by the victim for in-home care, used the victim’s banking information to buy groceries and alcohol through Instacart.
Kessel is facing charges of grand theft from a person 65 or older, exploitation of an elderly adult, and a scheme to defraud.
Tuesday, July 12, 2022
As Wendy Williams Attempts Comeback Following Talk Show's End, Her Brother Explains Why The Situation Is 'Very Heart-Wrenching' For Him
There have been lots of scary reports thrown around regarding Wendy Williams and the state of her health over the past year or so. The former talk show host was absent for the entirety of the final season of The Wendy Williams Show, with people around her at one point saying the media personality was struggling with simple tasks including eating and getting out of bed. Now, as she attempts to make a comeback — not to television, but rather podcasting — her brother has spoken out with some more troubling statements about her condition.
Tommy Williams spoke with Good Day DC about his sister following an interview she did with TMZ, in which she revealed she was done with TV following the cancellation of her talk show that is being replaced by Sherri Shepherd's Sherri. Wendy Williams also spoke about her battle with lymphedema, which she said has left her with just 5 percent feeling in her feet. Despite her claims that she’s not letting any of that hold her back, her brother described a “very heart-wrenching” situation that paints a bleak picture. He said:
Wendy Williams has been getting out and about more in recent months, even making an appearance at the Met Gala afterparty. However, Tommy Williams makes it sound like his sister actually needs more help than she’s letting on and is reluctant to admit that to those around her. Wendy Williams is certainly headstrong, and that attitude is part of what’s attracted fans to her over her nearly four-decade career on TV and radio, but it sounds like the circumstances are quite frustrating and heart-breaking for her loved ones.
The former talk show host has reportedly been “on the mend” for months, and she had been talking about a return to TV sooner rather than later, even amid the series finale of The Wendy Williams Show, which did not include the namesake host. In fact, Wendy Williams’ ex-husband Kevin Hunter called the show’s final episode “a travesty.” Fans were dealt an additional blow when the show’s official YouTube channel was scrubbed, along with other domains that included clips and interviews from The Wendy Williams Show.
like her many fans, look forward to whatever project comes next for
Wendy Williams, but her physical and mental health should definitely be
the priority. We continue to hope that she is getting whatever help she
needs. While we wait for updates — maybe about that podcast she
mentioned — stay tuned to our 2022 TV schedule to see what new and returning shows are premiering soon.
By: Nikita Biryukov
Disciplinary investigations against New Jersey lawyers declined in 2021, but the court branch tasked with probing alleged attorney misconduct wasn’t spared some of the delays that plagued the courts during the pandemic.
New investigations conducted by the Office of Attorney Ethics declined 12% in 2021, dropping to 768 from the 869 recorded in 2020. The number of formal complaints and other charging documents filed by the office and the 18 ethics committees it oversees saw a sharper 30% decline, falling to 166. That figure was 237 in 2020.
The overall number of attorneys disciplined also fell, dropping 26% to 124 from the 167 recorded in 2020. At the same time, the number of attorneys disbarred for misconduct edged up to 25.
Seven of those attorneys agreed to be disbarred. Among them was Elizabeth Valandingham, who agreed to give up her law license as part of a guilty plea for her role in an alleged pay-to-play scheme in a few New Jersey towns. She was sentenced to three years’ probation in November and fined $75,000.
Another 27 attorneys were suspended, including five who won’t be able to practice law for three years, and 17 others were suspended as part of an emergent matter outside the office’s regular disciplinary investigation process.
At the same time, the ethics watchdog’s case backlog rose, in some cases stretching past time goals set by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
In 2020, 27% of cases exceeded the six-month time goal for attorney ethics investigations. That number rose to 38% last year.
The office’s average investigation backlog rose to 38%, from 27% in 2020, while the ethics committee saw a smaller increase in average backlogged cases, from 39% in 2020 to 43% in 2021.
The pandemic and staffing changes within the Office of Attorney Ethics had contributed to the delays, the office’s director, Charles Centinaro, said.
“Now that the pandemic appears to be under control, we hope, absent unusual circumstances, to see increasing improvements in case processing,” Centinaro said in a brief message attached to the annual report.
Bari Sklar faces charges of abuse of an elderly person, resisting an
officer without violence and animal cruelty. (St. Lucie Sheriff's
ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. (CBS12) — A Family Medicine Specialist from New York was arrested on charges of elder abuse and animal cruelty in Fort Pierce.
Dr. Bari Sklar, 57, was arrested after a deputy responded to a call on May 27 over concerns of dead animals and a neglected elderly woman inside the home.
Outside the property, the deputy immediately noted the smell of urine and saw feces through the window. According to the arrest report, Sklar first denied the officer entry but after speaking to the elderly victim, Sklar allowed the deputy inside.
The deputy said the smell was so overwhelming he could hardly breathe—gagging at the odor. Inspecting the home, the walls and floors were covered with animal hair, insects, mold and feces, the sheriff's office said.
The deputy spoke to the elderly woman and noticed the severe state of neglect she was in. She was in clothes covered in feces, sitting on a couch surrounded by trash and mold, the sheriff's office said. The animals inside the home were also neglected—their fur being matted and their food covered in mold.
The sheriff's office said the house was found to be uninhabitable—with no power or running water. The elderly woman was removed from the home and taken to Tradition Hospital. Animal Control was also contacted and removed the 11 cats and one dog from the residence and taken to the vet for further evaluation.
Sklar was arrested and her bond was set at $3,000. She was set to appear in court Monday morning, but the hearing was canceled.
Monday, July 11, 2022
The marvelous Betty Winstanley died in 2019, just shy of her 98th birthday in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She died in the captivity of a court-sanctioned guardianship that haunted her final years. Her life never should have ended that way.
Winstanley was an elegant, eloquent, remarkable woman. In an era when women were undereducated, she became a trained chemist. She was married for 72 years to her loving and supportive husband and was the mother of his three children. After Dr. Robert Winstanley died in 2014, Betty wanted to leave their retirement home in Pennsylvania and find another place in Maryland, closer to her two youngest children. The estranged oldest son protested and took the matter to the courtroom of Judge Jay Hoberg. Hoberg spent almost no time before declaring Betty to be "incapacitated." He appointed strangers to take control of all of Betty's life decisions. The legal battle, which lasted nearly four years, ate away at the $1.9 million nest egg the Winstanleys had worked so hard to amass. Betty hated every minute she was under court control.
Hers was the first guardianship story I ever wrote about, back in early 2016. I almost couldn't believe that a judge could declare an American citizen "incapacitated" and a "ward of the court" without so much as having a meaningful conversation with the elder person. I soon learned it was a frequent occurrence.
In an instant, elders lose their civil rights and all ability to make their own decisions. Suddenly, they have no say on how their money is spent, where they live, which doctors or friends they can see. And once the court decides the family is "dysfunctional," fee-earning outsiders who make their living in this oftentimes questionable profession take control. If family members question a guardian's actions, the court appointee can ban them from seeing their loved ones simply because they "upset" the elder.
Since telling readers about Betty's plight, I have written tens of thousands of words exposing this shameful practice. Several journalists have also written extensively on this court-sanctioned exploitation of older adults. Yet it still takes place in courtrooms across the country, with a concentration on sunny, retirement-friendly states like Florida, California, Nevada, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Horrifying cases of court-ordered guardians mistreating their wards and siphoning off massive amounts of estate money have also been reported in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Alabama, Oregon, Maine, Michigan and many more states. Honestly, I could write a horror story a day about what is happening to elderly Americans victimized by the very system that is supposed to protect them.
How much power do these guardians have, and how bad does it get? Take the case of Rebecca Fierle, a Central Florida guardian with more than 100 wards who allegedly placed "Do Not Resuscitate" orders on many of them without their consent. Those wards apparently had no idea that their assisted living residence or hospital would not be allowed to save their life in an emergency. In May, Navy veteran Steven Stryker's friends and family begged the probate judge to lift his unauthorized DNR. Stryker, 75, died a few days later while doctors and nurses in a Tampa hospital helplessly stood by.
Now, in a rare move, Circuit Court Judge Janet Thorpe has ordered Fierle removed from almost 100 cases. Judge Thorpe found that Fierle had "abused her powers," with all those DNRs, and that she allegedly never told the court that she was taking Medicaid payments in addition to her hourly guardian fees. What happens next to Fierle is anybody's guess. Involuntary manslaughter charges, maybe?
That's how bad it gets. But still, local law enforcement, district attorneys and state attorneys general say they cannot act because it is a civil, not a criminal, matter once a probate judge has ruled. Holding seniors against their will and fraudulently taking their money sounds criminal to me.
Following Stryker's death, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised he would "vigorously" investigate the state's guardianship system. Voters there have heard it all before. Florida, with the largest percentage of those over 65, has been the scene of decades of complaints about corrupt guardians, yet not one unethical guardian has ever been prosecuted. Governors, state legislators and members of Congress promise new, meaningful laws, but they never materialize.
Betty Winstanley, a woman with whom I had many fascinating conversations, needed hearing aids. But, in my opinion, she was not incapacitated. Steven Stryker, who moved to Florida to take care of his elderly parents, had trouble swallowing, but he wasn't incapacitated either, according to his family and friends. The judges and guardians who failed to act in their best interests should be ashamed. Betty, Steven and the countless other seniors caught up in this demeaning system deserve better.
You know why judges, lawyers, guardians and those who operate residential senior facilities get away with mistreating seniors this way? Because so few are ever prosecuted. It is way past time to change that.
To find out more about Diane
Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book,
"Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box," is available on
MIAMI — A Tallahassee personal injury attorney already under emergency suspension for not turning over records of his trust account as the Florida Bar investigated client grievances decided, officially, to give up.
The Soto Injury Law Firm’s Gus Soto, a 65-year-old admitted to the Bar in 1984, gave up his career by applying for disciplinary revocation without leave to seek readmission. Soto’s application, which was accepted by the state Supreme Court, also says he’ll give up $396,931 in restitution to five clients who allege Soto misappropriated their settlement funds.
As the state Supreme Court states, “disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment. " The attorney petitions for the action, either with leave to reapply in five years or without leave to reapply in five years. As far as professional discipline, the pending discipline cases disappear. Disciplinary revocation has no effect, however, on any civil or criminal matters borne from the attorney’s actions.
The state Supreme Court suspended Soto in May after Bar subpoenas for records from Jan. 1, 2018 through Aug. 31, 2021 didn’t produce “records for (Soto’s) Regions Bank trust account, closing statements, settlement agreements, client ledgers and documentation evidencing the whereabouts of remaining balances of clients’ settlement funds.”
A total of seven grievances had been filed. Soto’s application and the state Supreme Court’s acceptance of that application says, in 60 days, Soto must pay $86,500.00 to David Wofford; $20,000.00 to Tevin McCollough on behalf of Velma Bickers’ estate; $146,189.63 to James Surber; $137,875.00 to Daniel Hirsh; and $6,367.00 to William Nealy.
— David J. Neal Miami Herald (TNS)
NAVARE, Fla. (WALA) - A Navarre woman is facing charges after the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said she defrauded a woman in her 90s out of more than half a million dollars over an 18 month period.
Forty-five-year-old Sheena Russell was a arrested and is charged with theft over $100,000, organized scheme to defraud more than $50,000 and elderly exploitation. She was later released on bond later Thursday.
OCSO investigator Mike Kruger said the thefts from the victim’s trust and bank accounts took place between March 30, 2020 and Sept. 22, 2021 and exceeded $582,647.
The victim is now 99 years old. Russell, who knew the victim and her late husband for a number of years, had served them as a waitress at a Fort Walton Beach restaurant and started doing errands for the victim after her husband passed away, authorities said.
The OCSO investigation began after a complaint by the victim’s brother, who lives out of state.
According to the sheriff’s office, Russell claimed she and the victim had a joint business venture, while the victim said she did not give Russell consent to withdraw or transfer any money from her accounts.
said the investigation shows that among other things, Russell used
funds from the victim to help pay off her mortgage, buy a vehicle, and
fund trips to Walt Disney World, Pigeon Forge Tennessee, the Atlantis
Resort in the Bahamas, and Washington, D.C., as well as a ski trip to
Sunday, July 10, 2022
‘Star Trek’ Actress Nichelle Nichols Struggling With Dementia, Trapped in Conservatorship Battle: Report
Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played the beloved Nyota Uhura in Star Trek, is caught at the center of a years-long conservatorship battle made worse by her bout with dementia, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Kyle Johnson, her only child, claimed his mother could be exploited due to her dementia and sought a petition for her conservatorship, which he won, in 2018. Johnson alleges that Gilbert Bell, Nichols’ former manager, has used his used his influence to take control of Nichols’ assets and personal affairs. Bell, in turn, has filed a lawsuit against Johnson claiming he is orchestrating an “aggressive” attempt to remove him from Nichols’ guest home. (In a countersuit, Johnson accuses Nichols of taking “control over Ms. Nichols’ assets and personal affairs” as her dementia worsened.)
Angelique Fawcette, a friend of Nichols whom the actress named as her successor, claims that Bell left the home in a state of “disrepair” even as he took care of Nichols’ meals and medical appointments—and that Bell proposed that he marry Nichols, prompting concern from her family and friends. However, Fawcette objected to Johnson’s petition for conservatorship as she believes the former actress can manage her own affairs.
Convicted felon sentenced in brutal attack
Roseville, Calif.- On July 7, 2022, the Honorable Judge Gini sentenced Anthony Pintarelli, age 25, to 13 years and eight months in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
On December 3, 2020, while on probation, Pintarelli assaulted an elderly man and took the victim’s personal items when he attempted to call 9-1-1 to report Pintarelli’s reckless driving. Even after being brutally attacked and injured, the victim was able to provide dispatch with his attacker’s license plate number. Using this information, the Lincoln Police Department was able to quickly arrest Pintarelli for the assault.
Due to the bravery of the victim, his ability to provide critical details about the assault, and the thorough investigation conducted by the Lincoln Police Department, the defendant entered a plea to robbery and admitted additional allegations that the offense was committed on a vulnerable victim over the age of 65. He also admitted that he has a prior strike conviction for felony residential burglary.
“While all violent crimes are abhorrent, crimes against our senior citizens are particularly heinous,” said Deputy District Attorney Shannon Quigley. “This defendant chose to brutally attack and rob a vulnerable elderly man. It is because of the victim’s bravery and composure in the wake of a violent attack that we were able to successfully prosecute this case and hold the defendant accountable for his actions. In Placer County, we will not tolerate any abuse committed against our elderly citizens.”
Placer County District Attorney’s Office has a dedicated task force comprised of county partners called Placer PROTECT.
This multi-disciplinary task force team seeks to empower seniors in and
out of the courtroom with dedicated elder abuse investigations, victim
support, and community awareness.