Tuesday, November 28, 2023

From the Osage Native Americans to Britney Spears, the U.S.’ Guardianship System Is Corrupt and Abusive


It is shockingly easy to declare a person incompetent and take their money.

by Diane Dimond 

Ginger Franklin, a fortysomething single woman in Hendersonville, Tennessee, fell down the stairs of her condo and lapsed into a coma. When she awoke she discovered a court had declared her “an incapacitated ward of the court” and assigned a stranger, a professional guardian, to take over her life.

The guardian quickly sold Ginger’s condo and car and placed her in a group home where she was put to work servicing other residents. Even after Ginger had fully recovered, the judge overseeing her case refused to end the guardianship for several more years.

In Staten Island, New York, a medical mishap at the birth of Michael Liguori caused him to develop cerebral palsy. His parents won a $1.9 million malpractice settlement against the hospital and, as the law required, the infant was assigned a guardian to safeguard the money until Michael turned 18.

As a stellar high school student, Michael wanted to go to college but his guardian refused to pay for it on the false grounds that he was profoundly disabled. A judge agreed to keep the guardianship in place allowing his court appointee to continue charging monthly fees until Michael was 24 years old.

Angela Woodhull and her mother, Louise, visited an attorney for advice on what to do to protect the elderly woman’s substantial estate from a conniving relative. Before they knew it, that lawyer surreptitiously filed a Petition for Guardianship of Louise in a Gainesville, Florida court. The judge quickly approved it—without seeing Louise or her daughter.

The appointed guardian took control of Louise’s money and quickly relegated her to a nursing home. Louise died there just three months later with several strong opioids in her system. What happened to Louise’s million-dollar-plus estate remains a mystery. Angela inherited nothing and she insists her mother was murdered.

For those who thought guardianship (called conservatorship in some states) only affected the elderly with memory issues—or the occasional off-the-rails celebrity like Britney Spears who endured nearly 14 years under court control—think again.

Perhaps Martin Scorsese’s latest epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, left the public with the idea that emotionally abusive and financially devastating guardianships were a thing of the past—unforgivably forced on the entire Osage Indian tribe in the 1920s as a way for the greedy white man to take control of the tribe’s massive oil wealth.

Sadly, Scorsese failed to explain why, just five minutes into the film, an Osage woman named Molly Kyle (wondrously portrayed by actress Lily Gladstone) sits before a self-important white man, declares herself to be “incompetent,” utters the phrase “282 allotment” and asks for release of some of her money to pay medical bills. Scorsese could have added a bit of dialogue explaining what prompted the government’s unconscionable guardianship move, but he didn’t.

It was a missed opportunity to highlight how the system, ostensibly created to “protect” the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, has always been a playground for predators. Today it has morphed into a predatory program that routinely allows bad actors to prey on an ever-increasing victim pool. Judges could stop them, but they don’t.

Britney and the Osage may be free now, but there are an estimated 2 million Americans currently living under guardianship or conservatorship.

They are almost always immediately declared incapacitated, stripped of their civil rights, all their assets are seized and put into the name of whoever is appointed guardian. Astonishingly, state courts seize a collective $50 billion of ward’s assets every year.

The newly minted “protected person” no longer has the right to hire their own attorney to fight for them. They cannot vote, sign a contract, marry, decide what doctors they will see, or where they will live. They are not allowed to drive, spend their own money, use a credit card or have a passport. If their family member complains about a court appointee’s actions, they can be banned from visiting the ward—permanently. (Isolation and overmedication of a ward are red flag warnings of a predatory court appointee.)

With billions up for grabs in this secretive, ill-regulated, and largely unsupervised system is it any wonder that the criminally minded would gravitate to work within?

Today, unscrupulous players target all sorts of victims, including: those who have won sizeable workers’ compensation or malpractice settlements; young people who have earned or inherited considerable money; military veterans or disabled Americans receiving generous monthly government checks; citizens of means who suffer from mental health issues or the aftermath of a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other temporary health problems.

Once they recover, just like Ginger Franklin did, they often find themselves trapped. It is next to impossible to escape from guardianship.

How Does It Work?

It is remarkably easy for one person to guardianize another, they just have to find a willing lawyer to draw up an official Petition for Guardianship and present it to the court.

The petitioner could be a worried relative, an angry ex-business partner, a neighbor, or a former lover. Petitions have been initiated by financial institutions (as in the case of talk show host Wendy Williams) and hospitals looking to move out a patient whose insurance is about to lapse. Landlords have guardianized rent controlled tenants. Real estate agents have successfully guardianized landowners in a bid to get valuable property. The common denominator in these cases? The potential ward has attractive assets.

There is no shortage of lawyers willing to create these fee generating petitions. My years-long investigation into the system reveals many petitions are frequently full of exaggerations (“He always forgets to take his medicines and pay his bills …”) or downright lies (“Her daughter stole $100,000,000 from her mother’s accounts…”), and overworked or uncaring judges routinely accept the petition’s contents as gospel.

Courts that hear guardianship or conservatorship cases don’t operate under standard rules. They are “equity courts” where there is no guarantee of due process, no trials, and no meaningful opportunity for the targeted person to launch a defense. In fact, judges often never lay eyes on the potential ward before deciding to declare them incapacitated and turn their fate and future over to someone else. Courtroom doors are usually closed to the public, case files are sealed, gag orders are not unusual, and unscrupulous players explain the secrecy as necessary under federal HIPAA medical privacy laws.

Many court ordered guardianships proceed just fine, especially if a trusted family member is appointed as the guardian. And many professional guardians and conservators operate with compassion and integrity.

As a society we obviously need a system to help at-risk citizens who truly have no one to assist them. But we don’t need a system in which judges routinely ignore family members seeking guardian status and instead tap for-profit professionals who can charge the ward up to $600 an hour. And we don’t need a system whereby court appointees can engage in dizzying spasms of spending and then ask the court for permission to ignore a ward’s pre-planned will, irrevocable trusts, or other estate plans so they can refresh the coffers from which they draw.

You think this can’t happen in America? It happens all the time, in states across the country. There is a nationwide cabal of judges, lawyers, guardians, conservators and others who have created a lucrative industry out of the suffering of others.

It makes one wonder why Congress hasn’t passed federal reform laws. Or why the Department of Justice hasn’t stepped in to investigate, much like it has probed civil rights allegations against police departments.

My conclusion? Powerful lobbying groups have convinced the powers that be that the status quo is working well.

It decidedly is not. You or someone you love could be next.

Full Article & Source:
From the Osage Native Americans to Britney Spears, the U.S.’ Guardianship System Is Corrupt and Abusive

Monday, November 27, 2023

GUARDIANSHIP: Professional guardian charged with embezzlement

By Mardi Link

BELLAIRE — A professional guardian, appointed to oversee the needs of at least 40 vulnerable adults in six counties, is facing an embezzlement charge following a Michigan State Police investigation.

Vicky Hamlin-Rogers of Petoskey was charged in 86th District Court with a misdemeanor count of embezzlement of more than $200 and less than $1,000 from a vulnerable adult.

Hamlin-Rogers is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 5, court records show.

The Unguarded series

Unguarded is a Traverse City Record-Eagle special project that, through nine months of reporting from courthouses spread across Michigan, prov…

The family of a 77-year-old Elmira man has for two years been at odds with Hamlin-Rogers concerning expenses and $23,000 they say hasn’t been accounted for following the sale of a portion of their father’s land.

The Dobrzelewski family, some of whom live in Ohio, previously filed paperwork with the Antrim County Probate Court, records show, questioning expenses Hamlin-Rogers incurred when she served as their father’s court-appointed conservator.

“I don’t know anything yet,” Hamlin-Rogers said in a text message Wednesday, when asked about the charge.

She previously denied any wrongdoing.

The Record-Eagle also reached out to Robert Banner, an Emmet County attorney who previously represented Hamlin-Rogers in an unrelated contested guardianship in Charlevoix County, although Banner’s office said he was not representing Hamlin-Rogers in the Antrim County case.

Last year, Antrim County Prosecutor James Rossiter said he was reviewing a state police investigation into accusations of embezzlement, passed to his office in October 2021, to determine whether to press criminal charges in the case.

Staff with Rossiter’s office confirmed Wednesday that an assistant prosecutor, Angela Ferrara, was handling the case. Ferrara did not return calls seeking comment.

The expenses questioned by the Dobrzelewski family include home repairs and shopping trips to Walmart, as previously reported, and which only came to light when Hamlin-Rogers was removed as conservator in favor of one of the elderly man’s adult children.

The Dobrzelewskis have so far declined to comment publicly on the specifics of the case, but said they continue to hope their father’s guardianship ordeal might be instructive for fixing the state’s broken probate court system.

“The current system provides easy opportunity for the exploitation of our most vulnerable population by the very courts and conservators and/or guardians charged with protecting them,” the family previously told the Record-Eagle in an emailed statement.

“Many of the most vulnerable have no capability to challenge the fiduciary decisions and accountings made by conservators and/or guardians,” the family said.

Their father is medically vulnerable, court records show, and the Record-Eagle is not naming him in this story to protect his privacy.

Hamlin-Rogers is a professional guardian based in Emmet County. She has more than 40 wards between Emmet, Otsego, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Grand Traverse and Antrim probate courts.

In Charlevoix, the Record-Eagle previously found Hamlin-Rogers had expensed $20,000 for “home repairs” in another conservatorship, as previously reported — not unlike some of the expenses flagged by the Dobrzelewskis in Antrim County.

Record-Eagle reporters in August 2021, as part of the Unguarded project, began examining records in more than a dozen Michigan’s probate courts, finding a steady stream of issues ranging from family isolation to outright theft.

Previously reported stories in the continuing Unguarded series involved a range of people of means and those on fixed incomes, people who live independently and those who require residential care, those with close family members and those without, but all had one fact in common: A judicial decision meant to protect the individual by the appointment of a guardian or conservator.

Many guardians and conservators serve in those roles without ever running afoul of the law, but the vulnerable adults involved have little control over some of the most important decisions in their lives — such as where they live, who they can see, and how their savings are spent.

Decades of reform attempts by governors, attorneys general and legislators previously failed to alter the Michigan judiciary, which is charged with overseeing these guardianships.

That may be changing, however.

In October, Michigan’s House of Representatives passed a package of legislation to create an Office of State Guardian in what supporters say would be a first step toward reforming a problematic probate court system.

A state guardian, with appropriate staff and funding, could provide a layer of needed oversight, Rep. Betsy Coffia, D-Traverse City, a sponsor of one of the guardianship bills, previously said.

“While many guardians and conservators act in good faith, the truth is 73,000 seniors and vulnerable adults are financially and otherwise abused each year — including some disturbing cases in northern Michigan,” Coffia said.

Adding an Office of State Guardian was also one of the recommendations of the Elder Abuse Task Force, members of which were appointed by state Attorney General Dana Nessel and pulled from more than 50 organizations and state offices.

The bills are expected to be considered by the state Senate when it returns in January.

Full Article & Source:
GUARDIANSHIP: Professional guardian charged with embezzlement

Virginia Man Convicted in Delaware County Guardianship Fraud; Accomplice Pleads Guilty

By Mary Roberts

Hampton, VА. — A federal jury has convicted Hampton, Virginia resident Carlton Rembert, 69, for his involvement in a scheme to embezzle funds from court-appointed guardianships. The elaborate fraud involved funneling money through a network of shell companies. Rembert faces charges of conspiracy, bank fraud, and wire fraud following a four-day trial in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Gloria Byars, a 62-year-old Aldan woman, chose to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and filing a false income tax return. Alesha Mitchell, 42, of Suffolk, Virginia, had previously pleaded guilty in 2022 to conspiracy to commit bank fraud for her role in the $1.2 million scheme.

The trio illicitly obtained over $1.2 million from incapacitated wards through unauthorized checks, manipulating the funds through various shell corporations. Byars, entrusted with managing assets for elderly individuals, abused her role as a guardian, diverting funds for personal use.

The complex financial fraud involved fraudulent checks, shell companies such as Global Guardian Services LLC, ICU Records & Billing, CWR Medical Services, and ACC Medical Billing LLC. Funds were stolen by Rembert and Mitchell, who deposited cashier’s checks into Byars’ accounts.

Byars spent the embezzled funds on personal luxuries, including vacations, clothing, vehicles, gifts, and parties. The investigation revealed that the fraud extended to the Church of the Overcomer, where the Collins, who serve as pastors, faced state charges in connection with the same scheme.

Byars and her co-conspirators collectively stole over $1 million from at least 120 incapacitated individuals. Sentencing for Mitchell is scheduled for December 5, Byars on February 20, and Rembert on February 29. Each faces up to 30 years in prison and substantial fines for their roles in the
conspiracy. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tiwana Wright and Samuel Dalke.

West Michigan man told he owes $84,000 back to Social Security, later told he would lose Social Security entirely


Dave Wilder received a letter from Social Security that stated he was overpaid during the pandemic and must pay $84,000, along with having his payments cut.

West Michigan man told he owes $84,000 back to Social Security, later told he would lose Social Security entirely

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Caregiver Charged in Freezing Death of Elderly Woman

LANSING – Today, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has announced that Colleen Kelly O’Connor, 58, of East Lansing, was charged in the 65A District Court in Clinton County with Second-Degree Vulnerable Adult Abuse related to the December 2022 death by exposure of an 82-year-old woman. The charge is a 4-year felony.   

At the time she died, the victim was under O’Connor’s care at Vista Springs Imperial Park at Timber Ridge, an assisted living facility in Clinton County where O’Connor was employed.   

“Caregivers have a responsibility under the law to act in the face of grave danger to a vulnerable person in their care,” said Nessel. “I want to thank the Bath Township Police Department for their partnership during the investigation of this tragic case.” 

The People allege that during the very early morning hours of December 23, 2022, O’Connor twice observed the victim attempt to go outside without appropriate attire into a blizzard with single-digit temperatures, subzero windchill, and blowing and drifting snow. A snowplow driver found the victim in the parking lot around 7 a.m., partially buried in snow. It is unknown precisely how long she was outside before she was found. The victim was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital but died due to hypothermia shortly after arrival. 

The charge against O’Connor alleges that, as a caregiver, O’Connor recklessly failed to act to prevent the victim from going outdoors into the storm, resulting in her death. 

O’Connor was arraigned on November 20th before Magistrate Nikki Maneval and granted a $5,000 cash/surety bond. The case is scheduled for a probable cause conference before Judge Michael Clarizio on November 30th at 10:00 a.m. 

The Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Division (HCFD) handled this case for the Department. The HCFD is the federally certified Medicaid Fraud Control Unit for Michigan, and it receives 75% of its funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a grant award totaling $5,541,992 for the fiscal year 2024. The remaining 25% percent, totaling $1,847,326 is funded by the State of Michigan.


Please note: For all criminal proceedings, a criminal charge is merely an allegation. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The Department does not provide booking photos.

Caregiver Charged in Freezing Death of Elderly Woman

Be aware of elder financial abuse this holiday season

Elder financial abuse is a crime that is on the rise, according to Clint Smith, region president for Zions Bank located in Logan.

His team sees more counterfeit bills, fraudulent checks and elderly folks who are being taken advantage of during the holiday season.

Most financial abuse committed against older individuals is perpetrated by someone that is close to the individual, Smith said. Often that’s a caretaker or a family member. But sometimes its perpetrators outside of the United States involved in fraud schemes.

“It can take all forms,” Smith said. “But when we’re speaking about elder abuse, I think it’s most narrowly defined as somebody who’s in a position of trust who takes advantage of an older person. And for the most part, that is people that are close to them.”

Smith said elder financial abuse is something bank employees deal with regularly, and it’s something they are pretty adept at spotting. According to him, one in five Americans over the age of 65 have been a victim of this kind of abuse. In Cache Valley, one in 10 residents are 65 and older.

“It’s affecting a large portion of our populace here in the valley,” Smith said.

This time of year, the issue significantly increases, he said. While Smith doesn’t know the exact reason, he thinks it may be because people are strapped for cash this time of year and are looking to have money to buy presents or for other reasons.

“I just know that in our industry, we’re on high alert November and December in terms of losses, these are our highest months for losses,” he said. “We’re extra vigilant this time of year because there’s so much going around.”

Smith said it is extremely important for an elderly person to have somebody in their life who they can trust. This could be a trusted friend or family member who can help them review their statements on a monthly basis.

“That can go a really long way in helping to spot those trends that are emerging before they get out of control,” he said.

Elderly individuals and those with older people in their lives should be educated on this issue, Smith said. An individual should never trust someone they do not know personally about their financial information. The only person an individual should really trust with financial information is their bank’s employees.

“Bring your questions to your bank,” Smith said. “Ask your banker if something feels off, and always give your bank the truth because the questions that we’re asking are to protect you.”

Those with older folks in their lives should be on the lookout for signs of financial exploitation, he said. The signs they look for in a bank setting can include transactions that are out of the normal and physical indications such as strange interactions between elderly people and family members, physical abuse or intimidation.

“Really being on the lookout for anything that looks out of the normal for a family member or a neighbor can help us to spot that abuse and protect them,” Smith said.

Full Article & Source:
Be aware of elder financial abuse this holiday season

Saturday, November 25, 2023

NYC Senior Wins Guardianship Battle

An Upper West Side woman has been liberated from her court appointed guardianship. Sarah Wallace reporting.

NYC Senior Wins Guardianship Battle

Elderly man facing homelessness after Social Security orders $60,000 repayment

by KCTV/CNN/CNN Newsource

PECULIAR, Mo. (KCTV/CNN/CNN Newsource/WKRC) - An elderly man is facing homelessness after Social Security ordered him to repay over $60,000.

According to KCTV, Tim Middaugh of Peculiar, Missouri has been a recipient of Social Security for years. Recently, Middaugh told the outlet that he was mailed a letter from the agency saying he was overpaid and owed more than $62,000.

“There’s no way,” Middaugh told the outlet. “The scary part of this is, I’m just one step away from being homeless.”

According to the federal government, Middaugh isn't alone. More than 65 million Americans receive benefits from Social Security, but about a million each year get notification letters saying they were overpaid.

Although some of the overpayments were from a decade ago, the government said, by law, the money had to be paid back.

The issue has gotten attention on Capitol Hill, where the head of the Social Security Administration recently testified that they were reviewing the overpayments.

Middaugh said in the meantime, he has been forced to sell anything he can to stay afloat, which included his jewelry, his guns and personal treasures. 

“I sold a Snap-on toolbox that I’ve had since I was 18 years old,” Middaugh told KCTV. “It was my pride and joy. It’s gone.”

Full Article & Source:
Elderly man facing homelessness after Social Security orders $60,000 repayment

Self-described nurse arrested in the death of elderly woman in Huntington Beach

By Sara Cardine

A Huntington Beach woman was arrested on suspicion of murder Friday, after police responding to a call for service at a residence on the 6000 block of Tyndall Drive found the body of an elderly woman inside.

Christine Ann Lamphier, 48, was being held on $1-million bail Monday and due to appear in court Monday for an arraignment hearing, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Mike Woodroof.

A self-described nurse, Lamphier was taken into custody by Huntington Beach police and booked on suspicion of murder at 4:49 a.m. Friday, according to an arrest log maintained by HBPD.

The name of the victim, whom detectives believe to be an individual known to Lamphier, had still not been released by the coroner’s office Tuesday pending full confirmation of the woman’s identity, Woodroof reported.

In a criminal complaint filed Monday by the Orange County district attorney’s office, prosecutors allege Lamphier “did unlawfully and with malice aforethought kill Jane Doe, a human.”

“The offense involved great violence, great bodily harm, threat of great bodily harm and other acts disclosing a high degree of cruelty, viciousness, and callousness,” the complaint reads.

“It is further alleged that [Lamphier] has engaged in violent conduct which indicates a serious danger to society.”

In social media posts a woman named Christine Lamphier, who previously went by the surname Pettner, describes herself as a student of the now-defunct Santa Ana trade school Newbridge College, which reportedly dissolved in the years following a 2009 lawsuit filed by several former students.

Lamphier listed medical assistance and phlebotomy as courses of study on a Linkedin.com profile and also mentioned studying photography and photojournalism at Cal State Fullerton. It is unclear whether the relationship between Lamphier and the victim may have involved nursing or caregiving.

Orange County Superior Court records indicate Lamphier was previously at the center of a handful of hearings involving a mental health conservatorship in 2019, although the outcome of those proceedings, or whether Lamphier is or was the subject of public guardianship, are unknown.

She was arrested in August 2011 for driving under the influence of alcohol and later pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge and was fined and sentenced to 15 days in jail followed by three year’s probation, according to court records.

Investigators with HBPD’s Crimes Against Person Unit said in a release issued Saturday they believe Friday’s incident was isolated and does not present a threat to public safety. Anyone with information related to this crime is asked to contact Sgt. Anthony Pham at (714) 878-5640.


4:38 p.m. Nov. 21, 2023: This story was updated with information from a criminal complaint filed Monday by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and confirmation from the sheriff’s department Tuesday that the victim’s identity had still not been fully confirmed.

Full Article & Source:
Self-described nurse arrested in the death of elderly woman in Huntington Beach

Friday, November 24, 2023

Former Cook County judge accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from elderly man faces theft, money laundering charges

by Rebecca Johnson and Madeline Buckley

CHICAGO — A former Cook County judge accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the bank accounts of an elderly former Tuskegee Airman to purchase cryptocurrency has been indicted on seven felony counts of theft, money laundering and financial exploitation of an elderly person.

The felony charges were lodged Nov. 9 against Patricia Martin, who stepped down in 2020 as presiding judge in the Child Protection Division of Cook County Circuit Court. She’s allowed to live in Missouri while she awaits her next court date in December, according to court records.

“She had a long and distinguished career, and we expect her to be vindicated,” said Martin’s attorney, Michael Leonard.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which handles allegations of lawyer misconduct, said in a May 31 fraud complaint that Martin stole from Oscar Wilkerson, an elderly man whose financial affairs she was supposed to manage. They alleged she used the money for her own benefit, including buying more than $100,000 in cryptocurrency in her own name.

Wilkerson died in February at 97.

In total, the attorney discipline complaint alleged Martin took $246,203.80 of Wilkerson’s money during about a two-year period. It also accused her of lying to Wilkerson and his doctor and failing to cooperate with an investigation.

Lawyers for Wilkerson also filed a lawsuit against Martin last year where a judge ordered a $1.1 million default judgment due to Martin’s “continued unresponsiveness” to court hearings and orders. Martin has already been disbarred.

Martin’s attorneys are appealing the default judgment.

Martin filed a motion in July to dismiss the judgment, arguing, among other issues, that Wilkerson’s death in February left the case without a proper plaintiff.

Mary Wisniewski, a spokesperson for Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office, said in a statement that “neither judges nor employees … can comment on pending or impending cases, under Illinois Supreme Court ethical rules.”

Full Article & Source:
Former Cook County judge accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from elderly man faces theft, money laundering charges

New Jersey duo arrested in Washington County, Tenn. scam investigation

by Caleb Perhne

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. — A New Jersey duo are in the Washington County, Tennessee jail, accused of scamming a resident in our region out of more than $100,000.

Chinagorom Onwumere and Salma Abdalkareem are each facing numerous charges, including multiple counts of extortion, financial exploitation of an elderly person, theft over $60,000, and criminal impersonation.

Lt. Vince Walters said it's the only time he's seen an alleged scammer caught in his 27 years.

“We put as much resources into every case we have,” Walters said. “The difference in this case was the evidence was there. We were able to follow the money, and it led us to the New Jersey duo and we were able to make an arrest.”

Investigators said the two New Jersey residents pretended to be with the FBI and scammed a Washington County, Tennessee resident out of more than $100,000. They said the suspects threatened the victim with arrest and court if the victim didn't pay thousands of dollars through checks and gift cards.

Investigators said that's a red flag, something law enforcement will never do.

“They're not going to put out an arrest warrant and let you know over the phone that they've put an arrest warrant out,” Walters said. “And there's no way that you can pay to get out of it.”

The suspects are now in jail, each on $500,000 bonds. They're due back in court November 30.

“We're not going to set on the sidelines and put up with it,” Walters said. “Our citizens are valued. Our citizens of the United States are valued. Our money is hard-earned, and we are vigilant in finding these individuals.”

Full Article & Source:
New Jersey duo arrested in Washington County, Tenn. scam investigation

Winnebago County nurse indicted on theft, drug charges

By Meghan Schobinger

WINNEBAGO, Ill. (WIFR) - A grand jury indicted a 62-year-old nurse Tuesday on federal charges including theft, financial exploitation of the elderly, and possession of a controlled substance.

Jane Biller, 62, is due for an arraignment hearing at 10 a.m. on Dec. 12.

The charges stem from an investigation in October at Prairie View Assisted Living Facility on McNair Road. Police were called to the facility to investigate missing narcotic prescription medication. Investigators found several instances where patient medications had been unaccounted for over a months-long period.

Biller, worked as a nurse at the facility at the time, and during the investigation was developed as a suspect.

Full Article & Source:
Winnebago County nurse indicted on theft, drug charges

Thursday, November 23, 2023


Maggie [7 years old] knocks on Joni Benson's door before entering her apartment.

“Okay, what are you going to read to grandma?” Joni asks.

Joni isn’t really Maggie’s grandma; it just feels that way when the two are sharing a book.

Over the next couple hours, the process will be repeated multiple times. Maggie walks from apartment to apartment, knocking on doors, as residents of Good Samaritan Society Heritage Grove senior living invite her in to read to them.

Maggie’s mother, Tiffany Kuznia, works at Heritage Grove. On snow days, Maggie would go with her mother to work.

Last winter, Maggie was packing her bag for the day, when her mother reminded her to bring her Nintendo Switch.

“I'm not bringing that today,” Maggie responded. “I'm going to bring books and I'm going to read to the residents.”

Full Article and Source:
First Grader Goes Door to Door With Offer to Read to Seniors

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

A Visually Impaired Engineer Invents a SMART Cane That Guides Blind People Using Google Maps

While the more recent innovations were designed for entertainment, some companies are taking technology to the next level by incorporating a high level of help and hopefully, to make a difference to the lives of people who need it the most.

“Unfortunately I cannot name a single city as a perfectly disabled-friendly city that is why we are trying to provide this independence for visually impaired people” shared Kurtsat Ceylan on CNN.

The WeWALK smart cane for blind people was born from a visually impaired engineer named Kursat Ceylan. He is also the CEO and co-founder of a non-profit called the Young Guru Academy (YGA), the one responsible for making WeWALK come to life.

As someone who faces the daily challenges of being blind, Kursat Ceylan knew the limitations of the current technology that people like him have to make do of. Knowing this, he created the WeWALK in hopes of changing the lives of the blind.

This innovative cane includes a built-in speakers, voice assistance, Google Maps Chrome, a Bluetooth system that makes syncing to other devices possible, and high-end sensors that alerts the user through vibrations when above chest level obstacles are within proximity—something a regular cane cannot provide.

Full Article and Source:
A Visually Impaired Engineer Invents a SMART Cane That Guides Blind People Using Google Maps

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Scams targeting seniors are climbing. AI will only make it worse.

Opinion by Steve Weisman, opinion contributor

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel report for 2022, older Americans reported more than $1.6 billion in losses to frauds and scams. This number is undoubtedly lower than the actual figure because many seniors, for a variety of reasons, including embarrassment, shame or naivete, fail to report the scams perpetrated against them. FTC estimates that in 2022 the actual amount lost by seniors to scams could be as high as $48.4 billion.

Now, the scams are getting worse, as AI has become a sophisticated weapon that can be deployed by even the most unsophisticated of scammers.

In 2022, older Americans had higher reported losses to scams than younger people and those ages 80 and older reported the highest individual median losses among all age groups. Since many seniors may have accumulated a lifetime of savings, they are often coveted targets. Coupled with studies which suggest seniors are more susceptible to scams as they tend to be more trusting, and there is a recipe for disaster.

AI is also helping scammers get better through some of their tried and true methods that have already been so devastating to victims. Through the use of AI, scammers can create more sophisticated and effective spear phishing emails to convince a targeted victim to provide personal information that can lead to identity theft or click on that link downloading dangerous malware. For scams originating overseas where English is not the primary language, improper grammar, syntax or spelling were reliable giveaways. AI has solved these problems for foreign scammers, making their phishing emails harder to recognize.

Scammers have always mined social media for personal information that they can leverage to scam their victims. In the past, the gathering of personal information through social media was a time consuming effort for scammers, but now through AI vast amounts of information can be gathered to craft effective scams. 

Regulation of AI is a critical element to protect people from AI-enhanced scams; President Biden’s recent executive order will help by providing protection from AI related scams by setting standards and best practices for the detection of AI generated content and authenticating official government content. In addition, the FTC has regulatory authority over AI through Section 5 of the FTC Act, and Congress also will have a role to play in crafting appropriate regulation. The Stop Senior Scams Act, championed by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) as chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, is a great step in the right direction, particularly as it applies to steps toward reducing the use of gift cards and wire transfers, which are preferred methods of payments to scammers.

Undoubtedly, scammers are likely to ignore new regulations, just as they ignore existing ones. So, regulators should also focus on AI-detection and content authentication guidance, which will enable consumers to identify whether they are seeing or hearing authentic content or AI-generated, and possibly fraudulent, content. 

Alerting the public as to telltale signs of scams and how to recognize them is a key element in protecting seniors. When it comes to protecting seniors from the daunting challenge of AI-enhanced scams, the time is now to do the best we can.

Steve Weisman is a Senior Lecturer in Law, Taxation and Financial Planning at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. He is also the author and creator of www.scamicide.com. He testified on Nov. 16 in a hearing for the Senate Committee on Aging on the proliferation of scams targeting seniors.

Full Article & Source:
Scams targeting seniors are climbing. AI will only make it worse.

LittleVids ep 22: Coma Woman Whispers

After suffering seizures and falling into a coma for twelve days, the unthinkable happened. 

LittleVids ep 22: Coma Woman Whispers

Rome Man Jailed for Exploiting Elderly

David Allen Jenkins, 31 of Rome, was arrested this week after reports said he defrauded and stole thousands of dollars from an elderly victim.

Report said that Jenkins was supposed to be the victim’s caretaker when he used his money to make numerous online purchases from July 2023 to October 2023.

Jenkins is charged with exploitation of the elderly.

Full Article & Source:
Rome Man Jailed for Exploiting Elderly

Monday, November 20, 2023

Power of attorney charged with misuse of $125K

HONEY GROVE — A 42-year-old woman is facing charges of exploitation after police said she misused funds while acting as a power of attorney.

Trisha Jean Santos-Villalobo, of Honey Grove, was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Tracy Powell Friday on charges of financial exploitation and theft by deception.

According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause, Santos Villalobo wes power of attorney of an individual between January and September 2022 and caused him more than $125,000 in loss.

During this time, police said she emptied the individual’s savings account, had the victim buy her a vehicle, sold the victim’s vehicle, failed to pay his bills and used the victim’s checking account for personal purchases.

Court documents also state that Santos-Villalobo also failed to pay attorney fees and take the victim to court hearings, causing him to be incarcerated.

In a police interview, the victim said his previous power of attorney passed away and that Santos-Villalobo asked to become the new power of attorney.

The report states that the victim bought her a Dodge Challenger, then eventually traded it in for a truck.

Police said Santos-Villalobo would give the victim $60-100 each week to use and believed the rest was going into his bank account and to pay his bills. Court documents state that Santos-Villalobo had his paychecks switched from direct deposit to being placed onto a debit card he did not have access to.

In the interview, the victim said Santos-Villalobo told him in September 2022 that he was running out of money and had to sell the Dodge Charger to get caught up on bills. The victim also said he lost power to his house and had the water shut off due to Santos-Villalobo not paying his bills.

Santos-Villalobo was held in Mifflin County Correctional Facility, unable to post $50,000 bail. She is awaiting a preliminary hearing set for 11 a.m. Dec. 6.

Full Article & Source:
Power of attorney charged with misuse of $125K

Elderly Victims Defrauded of Over $100,000 in Wire Fraud Scheme: A Disturbing Trend

By Alan Caldwell

Camden, N.J. – Elderly individuals have become the unfortunate targets of a rising trend in fraudulent schemes, as exemplified by the recent case of Victoria Crosby. U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced today that Crosby, a resident of Atlantic City, New Jersey, admitted to engaging in wire fraud and defrauding elderly victims of over $100,000. The scheme involved exploiting vulnerable individuals who had recently lost their spouses or family members.

Using a prepaid cellular phone, Crosby would contact these grieving victims, posing as an employee from a retirement benefit office or a life insurance company. Taking advantage of their vulnerable state, Crosby would inform them that their deceased family member’s life insurance policy was in arrears. To rectify this, victims were coerced into purchasing prepaid cards, providing Crosby with the 10-digit codes on the back.

Once Crosby had access to the codes, she swiftly transferred the funds from the victims’ prepaid card accounts to her own. Furthermore, she withdrew the ill-gotten money from various ATMs across Atlantic City and neighboring areas. This calculated scheme allowed Crosby to fraudulently accumulate $110,380 into her bank account between January and December 2020.

This distressing case took an even more disheartening turn, as it was revealed that Crosby was receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits from the Social Security Administration, Medicaid Benefits, and living in public housing in Atlantic City with housing assistance through HUD’s Public and Indian Housing Program. Had agencies such as the SSA or HUD been aware of her income, Crosby would have been rendered ineligible for these government assistance programs.

The consequences of such fraudulent activities are severe. Crosby now faces a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for March 28, 2024.

This case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of safeguarding our elderly population from financial exploitation. It highlights the need for increased awareness, vigilance, and protective measures in place to prevent individuals like Crosby from targeting our most vulnerable citizens.


  1. What is wire fraud?
  2. Wire fraud refers to any fraudulent scheme that involves electronic communication, such as phone calls or emails, to deceive victims and manipulate financial transactions.

  3. How can I protect myself or a loved one from falling victim to similar schemes?
  4. Some measures to protect against fraud include being cautious when sharing personal information, verifying the legitimacy of any unexpected requests for funds or sensitive information, and staying informed about common types of scams targeting the elderly.

  5. What should I do if I suspect someone is being targeted by a fraudster?
  6. If you suspect someone is being targeted, it is important to report it to local law enforcement and relevant authorities, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the local branch of the Social Security Administration.

Full Article & Source:
Elderly Victims Defrauded of Over $100,000 in Wire Fraud Scheme: A Disturbing Trend

Horry County caregiver accused of abuse, trying to escape from police custody

by: Dennis Bright

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — A woman hired to care for another person is facing abuse charges after allegedly hitting the person in the face during an argument and also assaulting them “over a prolonged period of time.”

Horry County police charged Melanie K. Campbell, 41, with abuse of a vulnerable adult and escape after an incident on Tuesday at a home on Minsteris Drive near Conway.

According to a police report, a witness told police that they saw Campbell hit the victim with “an open hand across the left side of the face” during an argument. The victim later told officers that Cambell had been “assaulting and not providing necessary care over a prolonged period of time when [Campbell) was intoxicated.”

The victim also told officers that there had been problems with Campbell since she was hired as a caregiver, the police report said.

After Cambell was arrested, the police report said she slipped out of her handcuffs and tried to open the door of the police cruiser while she was being taken to jail. She also made several allegations that officers were raping her and said that officers at the scene were not real law enforcement officers.

Campbell was previously arrested in October by Horry County police in October and charged with third-degree domestic violence. She posted a $1,000 bond and was released. However, she remains in the J. Reuben Long Detention Center following her most recent arrest.

Full Article & Source:
Horry County caregiver accused of abuse, trying to escape from police custody

Sunday, November 19, 2023

UnitedHealth sued for allegedly using AI to deny elderly patients care

A lawsuit says UnitedHealth used an artificial intelligence algorithm to systematically deny patients the care they needed.

By Alex Arger 

UnitedHealth Group is being sued for allegedly using an artificial intelligence algorithm to systematically deny elderly patients rehabilitative care.

The class action lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Minnesota district court, says the defendants — UnitedHealth Group, UnitedHealthCare and NaviHealth — illegally used an AI model called nH Predict in place of medical professionals despite knowing it had a 90% error rate. This helped the group continuously deny Medicare Advantage Plan patients the care their doctors said was necessary, such as nursing facility stays, by "predicting" what a patient "should" require instead of what they actually do, the lawsuit states.

It also says the defendants intentionally limited "their employees' discretion to deviate" from nH Predict, forcing them to meet dedicated targets of use or be disciplined and terminated.

More than 90% of patients who appealed the nH Predict's claim denial had the decision overturned, according to the lawsuit.

But the plaintiffs claim the health care companies knew only a tiny group of policyholders would appeal the denied claims and that most would either pay out-of-pocket for the care or forgo it altogether. This would create higher profit for the company while patients deplete their savings to continue care "all because an AI model 'disagrees' with their real live doctors' determinations," it states.

"Defendants bank on the patients' impaired conditions, lack of knowledge and lack of resources to appeal the erroneous AI-powered decisions," the lawsuit says.

UnitedHealth Group is the largest insurance company in the U.S. with more than 52.9 million customers. 

Two of those customers are the plaintiffs: Gene Lokken and Dale Henry Tetzloff, who are now both deceased.

Both plaintiffs were covered by a Medicare Advantage Plan provided by the defendants. This plan is supposed to cover post-acute care, which is medically necessary care for patients recovering from serious illnesses and injuries. This could include skilled care, therapy and other home health services, skilled nursing facilities, inpatient rehabilitation facilities and long-term care facilities.

But the plaintiffs say they were forced to pay out-of-pocket for the post-acute care their doctors deemed necessary for their health, prompting the lawsuit that seeks to stop the practice with a court order and award patients damages.

Their attorneys are pushing to represent tens of thousands of people who have similar stories, according to Reuters, which could amount to damage claims reaching billions of dollars.

UnitedHealth denied all claims that nH Predict is used for coverage determinations, according to HealthCare Drive.

Full Article & Source:
UnitedHealth sued for allegedly using AI to deny elderly patients care

Protecting Seniors from Scams

by Alyson Diaz, Korinne Dunn, and Saba Mengesha

Scholars discuss how senior citizens should be protected from various forms of elder fraud.

Last year, over 88,000 seniors reported being victims of elder fraud. Together, these victims lost over $3 billion.

And the number of victims is likely higher. Seniors might not report abuse due to fear of being perceived as incapable of managing their affairs or being uncertain about where to report suspected fraud.

The elderly are disproportionately the most common targets for different forms of abuse and fraud, including financial, cyber, and romantic scams. Seniors are frequent targets for financial fraud because they are more likely to have high credit scores and own multiple assets. These scammers exploit seniors’ inexperience with the internet, loneliness, and physical or cognitive impairments.

Romance scams are all too common as well, with seniors collectively losing over a billion dollars in these scams in 2022. For example, a recently widowed senior repeatedly sent tens of thousands of dollars to someone she had fallen in love with to pay for their nonexistent medical procedure.

State agencies are the primary institutions resolving elder exploitation. In 2010, Congress passed the Elder Justice Act, allocating funds for state Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies to combat elder abuse.

Most APS agencies require individuals working in social services, law enforcement, financial services, and the medical profession to be mandatory reporters of suspected fraudulent activity against seniors. Once a report is filed, case workers counsel the victim and refer criminal cases to state law enforcement.

To help law enforcement officials catch scammers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created the Consumer Sentinel Network. This network provides state enforcement agencies with access to consumer complaints across jurisdictions, enabling them to coordinate efforts to stop common offenders.

Because of the prevalence of scams against the elderly and the difficulty in recuperating lost assets, federal agencies focus on prevention initiatives. The FTC, for example, issues public warnings recommending that victims to end communications with potential scammers, and elders search the internet for others who may have been targeted in the same way.

Advocates for more federal regulations tailored to curtailing elder fraud argue that, given seniors’ vulnerability and wealth, they need legal protection from predators. In particular, these advocates call for greater federal government involvement in investigating reports of elder exploitation and more cooperation across agencies to address all forms of abuse.

In this week’s Saturday Seminar, The Regulatory Review summarizes the work of scholars who offer varying suggestions on protecting elders from abuse.

  • In an article for the University of Michigan Journal of Law ReformDavid Adam Friedman of Willamette University College of Law examines solutions to mitigate harm posed by “impostor scams.” These scams involve individuals who pretend to be someone else for personal gain and are the most frequently reported category of consumer fraud, explains Friedman. Friedman suggests that policymakers shield victims from these scams by implementing a “least-cost avoider” approach. Friedman explains that such an approach would force intermediaries through which scammers act—for example, social media platforms and telecommunications providers—to absorb the costs. This kind of regulatory framework would protect victims, including the elderly, from financial harm, argues Friedman.
  • Policymakers must work to protect elders from power of attorney abuse, argues Genevieve Mann of Gonzaga University School of Law in an article in the Maryland Law Review. The power of attorney—a legal document that allows a person to make decisions on behalf of another—as well as individuals who wield this power, are subject to little oversight, explains Mann. Mann argues that regulatory changes should include stricter supervision of agents through a centralized power of attorney registry, a system for notifying elders of actions that their agents take on their behalf, and a mechanism by which elders receive periodic financial accounting.
  • Regulators should include romance scams in the statutory definition of elder financial exploitation to allow financial institutions to distinguish acceptable transactions from scams, urges Milteva Andonellis from Kirkland & Ellis LLP in an article for The Elder Law Journal. Banks can observe financial exploitation but are unlikely to report it because of the ambiguous definition of elder financial exploitation, contends Andonellis. Adonellis explains seniors voluntarily send funds to a romance scammer through wire transfer, usually to an overseas account. The inclusion of romance scams in the definition of elder exploitation should acknowledge that even though banks require the sender to verify the recipient’s name, scammers take advantage of the senior’s romantic feelings to justify any discrepancies, warns Andonellis. Andonellis argues that recognizing romance scams under the statutory definition of elder financial exploitation will allow financial institutions to distinguish acceptable transactions from scams.
  • In an article for the Iowa Law Review, Katrice Bridges Copeland of Pennsylvania State Law describes how the more relaxed rules for telemedicine services during the pandemic could make Medicare recipients more vulnerable to fraud. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services eliminated certain restrictions on telehealth, including giving reimbursements for telehealth visits for rural and urban patients and allowing telephone-only visits, explains Copeland. One of the most harmful rule changes, argues Copeland, allows seniors to receive telemedicine services from medical providers with whom they have no prior relationship. These providers can then easily prescribe medical equipment, drugs, and tests without regard to medical necessity and subsequently profit from the Medicare payments for such tests, warns Copeland.
  • The FTC’s suggestion for consumers to install spam blocker apps is an insufficient safeguard against harassing calls, argues Nicole Egan from Cohu in an article for the University of Massachusetts Law Review. Consumers, particularly senior citizens and individuals who are cognitively impaired, are often targeted by fraudulent phone calls or texts, resulting in financial and psychological harms, explains Egan. In 2020, the FTC received over three million complaints from people who still received robocalls despite listing their numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, notes Egan. Stricter identification requirements for phone number user registration and bans on the sale of personal data could provide better protection, suggests Egan.
  • In an article for The Elder Law JournalJames S. Spaulding from Koya Law LLC argues that since the elderly are “prime targets” of predatory vacation rental property sales and resale tactics, greater legal protections are needed. Spaulding notes that “high-pressure sales tactics” for vacation rentals are pervasive, and the difficulty purchasers face in recuperating lost assets makes them attractive to scammers. Federal legislation should protect consumers, especially the elderly, against predatory sales and resale practices for vacation rental properties by mandating public reporting of suspected fraud, insists Spaulding.

Full Article & Source:
Protecting Seniors from Scams

Man pretends to be 94-year-old woman’s son to exploit her in Miami-Dade, prosecutors say

Andrew Perez, Reporter
Andrea Torres, Digital Journalis

Police officers arrested Alejandro F. Diaz Torriente on Friday in Miami-Dade County. (MDCR)

– A 65-year-old man is facing charges on Friday for allegedly defrauding a 94-year-old woman out of her home and social security benefits in Miami-Dade County, prosecutors said.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced that a four-month investigation resulted in the arrest of Alejandro F. Diaz Torriente.

“It just breaks your heart to see what people are willing to do to another human being,” Fernandez Rundle said.

The victim purchased the home, valued at about $600,000, over four decades ago in Miami-Dade, according to prosecutors.

Diaz Torriente met the woman in 2020, and after she became incompetent, her neighbor’s daughter became her legal guardian last year, according to Fernandez Rundle.

Diaz Torriente allegedly lied about being the woman’s son. After a visit by The Florida Department of Children and Families in July, Diaz Torriente moved into the woman’s home and changed the locks, according to prosecutors.

Investigators found he had stolen nearly $20,000 in social security benefits and earlier this year filed a fraudulent title to add himself as a joint tenant with a right of survivorship to her home, according to Fernandez Rundle.

Diaz Torriente is facing charges of an organized scheme to defraud, first-degree exploitation of an elderly person, second-degree exploitation of an elderly person, and grand theft of a person over 65.

Fernandez Rundle asked anyone with information about elderly abuse and exploitation cases in Miami-Dade to call the county’s task force at 786-804-6723.

Full Article & Source:
Man pretends to be 94-year-old woman’s son to exploit her in Miami-Dade, prosecutors say