By Joshua Ceballos
|Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, pictured here at a press conference on Dec. 21, 2022, has called on the county to halt grant funding for the Guardianship Program of Dade County pending an independent investigation|
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on Wednesday directed the county administration to temporarily cease grant payments to the Guardianship Program of Dade County and asked for an independent investigation of the agency’s sales of properties of its clients.
Cava’s action comes a day after a WLRN investigation found that the Guardianship Program sold properties of people under its care to the same realty company since 2011. That company, Express Homes, then either quickly sold the homes for profit, renovated the homes to sell later, or kept the buildings as rental property. Gains collected from the subsequent sales did not go towards the care of the non-profit agency’s “incapacitated” clients.
The Guardianship Program, which is partially funded by county taxpayers, takes responsibility for people who are declared "incapacitated" by the court system. In some cases, the program sells the individual’s property so that the proceeds may go toward their care.
"To ensure we are doing everything possible to protect our families from harm and exploitation, I have formally requested that the Office of the Inspector General launch an investigation into these sales," Cava wrote in a memo to the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday. "While the results of that investigation are pending, I am directing the Office of Management and Budget to pause the execution of any and all pending grant payments from Miami-Dade County to the Guardianship Program until further notice."
Guardianship Program of Dade County Executive Director Carlos McDonald told WLRN that the nonprofit agency works with multiple realty companies to sell their wards’ properties, and does so with approval from the court.
Other top Miami-Dade officials have also called for a probe of the Guardianship Program’s real estate transactions.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins specifically wants county investigators to probe the agency's practices and procedures relating to the sale of real property, look into its role in property transactions related to its wards, and to create a listing of all real property transactions where it was involved in the transfer or sale of its client’s or ward’s property.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado told WLRN on Wednesday that she, too, reached out to the OIG regarding the Guardianship Program after a lawsuit was filed last week against Express Homes.
The lawsuit by a former Miami−Dade County resident alleges that Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez, her husband Carlos Morales — who owns Express Homes — used their ties to the city to make a hefty profit on a home they bought from him at "below market value."
Morales and Méndez dismissed the lawsuit allegations as false. Méndez also denied any involvement in her husband’s business in an emailed statement to WLRN. Morales, through his attorney, said that all work he does with the Guardianship Program is “above board” and within the law.
Regalado said the OIG informed her it had been investigating the Guardianship Program for several months.
OIG Deputy General Counsel Marie Perikles confirmed to WLRN that the office was “reviewing the matter” of the Guardianship Program but did not comment further.
Regalado, who is an attorney and is in the process of establishing guardianship for her adult daughter who has autism, said changes in how the county deals with guardianships are long overdue. She said better safeguards need to be in place to avoid financial abuses and to protect incapacitated people and their families.
“Clearly, we need reform,” Regalado said.
said the Florida Department of Elder Affairs is also looking into the
Guardianship Program, which also gets funding from the state agency.
Department officials did not respond to WLRN’s request for comment on
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Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava wants funding halted for Guardianship Program
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