Saturday, May 20, 2023

She’s 90 and wants to live at home. A guardian put her house up for sale. What’s next?

By Douglas Hanks

Ela Avila, a 90-year-old retired uniform maker on food stamps, is in the second year of her fight against a court-appointed guardian who controls Avila’s money, housing decisions and medical care. 

It’s a battle over small decisions — like when Avila says she can’t get enough cash to visit a hair stylist. And big ones — like when the guardian, Zaidis Alvarez, listed Avila’s Little Havana home for sale last year against her wishes. 

“I don’t want her,” Avila said in Spanish during a recent interview with the Miami Herald in her home of 35 years. “I get sick every time she comes here.”

While Avila doesn’t want a guardian, she may end up paying for one. In March, Alvarez asked for court permission to use the divorced grandmother’s assets to pay a $21,000 legal bill from Alex Cuello, a lawyer charging $525 an hour to work for Alvarez in the guardianship case.

Ela Avila outside the Little Havana house where she has lived for nearly 40 years. She’s 90 and under the authority of a court-appointed guardian after a judge decided Avila had lost the mental capacity to make decisions for herself. Pedro Portal

Probate lawyers and advocates for elders’ rights say Avila’s case is an example of the high-stakes consequences that can be lurking for an elderly person facing allegations of losing cognitive abilities even while they’re living at home, attending to everyday tasks and remaining well aware of their circumstances. 

“One of the things I preach is guardianship avoidance,” said Collett Small, an elder-law attorney in the Pembroke Pines office of the Slater and Small law firm. “It can be a very scary process. Imagine someone knocks on your door and says, ‘I am here to evaluate you.’” 

The case started in 2021 when Avila’s daughter, Rosa Hernandez, asked a court to name her guardian of her mother’s assets. A judge briefly approved that arrangement, then shifted to the appointment of an independent, professional guardian in 2022 after Avila’s son, Rogelio Hernandez, objected to his sister filling the role.

Alvarez is registered with the state Elder Affairs Department to serve as a court-appointed guardian for people deemed mentally incapacitated and unable to make decisions on their own. To become guardians, applicants must pass criminal history and credit checks and a state exam after completing a 40-hour course. 

Alvarez and Cuello have not responded to requests for comment.

Under guardianship, Avila, a Cuban immigrant, has lost her right to vote, travel, accept medical treatment, make decisions on where she lives or sign contracts, according to an April 7, 2022 court order obtained by the Miami Herald. 

The judge in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court case, Bertila Soto, appointed Alvarez on March 8, 2022, and instructed her to take charge of Avila’s money. Alvarez must submit budgets to Soto and get court approval for any big changes in Avila’s affairs.

Once fighting each other in court, both of Avila’s children now are united in asking Soto to restore their mother’s independence. Last month, they filed a joint motion asking Soto to end a guardianship they say is sapping the family’s cash. 

“My mom used to have a lawyer. When the turmoil started getting bad, he wanted more money. We couldn’t pay him,” Rosa Hernandez said. “My brother and I are trying to do our best.” 

A court fight for independence 

While lacking a lawyer of her own, Avila is being asked to pay for the one behind the guardianship that has her an involuntary “ward” in the Miami-Dade case. On March 13, Alvarez filed a notice with the court saying she approved Cuello’s $21,054 legal bill for services he provided for the prior 12 months. The bill is to be paid “from the Ward’s assets,” according to the form, if a judge agrees to the fees. 

The court records don’t show an order related to the fees, suggesting they remain unpaid. The Cuello bill shows a string of tasks the lawyer preformed for Alvarez, including attending hearings, reviewing court filings and communicating with lenders on a possible reverse mortgage.

Florida law requires three professionals, including at least one doctor, examine a person for mental capacity before a judge can declare them incapacitated and needing a guardian’s authority. Florida law dictates many guardianship documents remain off-limits to the public. Court clerks haven’t publicly released most filings in the Avila case, including the basis for her guardianship and medical reports. Avila and her family say they don’t have those reports. 

Though Avila is described as an “incapacitated person” in court papers, at least two medical professionals weighed in positively on her mental state. 

In December, a nurse practitioner filled out a court form saying Avila had the “full capacity to live independently.”

Last year, a nurse working in the elder-abuse unit for Miami-Dade prosecutors went to Avila’s house after she and her son called asking for help, according to a summary provided by the State Attorney’s Office. The nurse, Carmen Duran, “did a quick assessment on Ms. Avila requesting her to answer basic orientation questions. Ms. Avila responded to all questions correctly and clearly,” according to the summary of the May 17, 2022, meeting. 

Alvarez and Cuello also attended the meeting. Duran said she asked about Avila’s mental examinations and “was informed that Ms. Avila had not been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s.” 

In a prior conversation with Avila, Duran said it was clear Avila felt the court was ignoring her ability to live independently and that Avila wanted nothing to do with an assisted living facility or any other option forcing her to move.

“Ms. Avila also expressed frustration that she maintained a standard of self-care and grooming and yet was being denied her own money to maintain her hairdresser appointments and social schedule,” the summary said. 

Rosa Hernandez said her mother initially agreed to have her become guardian as a way to stabilize a rocky financial situation amid trouble with tenants who were then living in the flat attached to Avila’s house and paying enough rent to cover the mortgage. The $1,500 rent payments stopped altogether in the summer of 2021, according to court records from an eviction proceeding, leading to a financial slide that now has Avila facing foreclosure because she’s behind on mortgage payments. 

Avila signed documents saying she wants to put a reverse mortgage on the house, a financial arrangement that can let an older person remain in their home indefinitely but often leaves no equity for heirs as unpaid interest compounds and eats away at the value of the house. Rogelio Hernandez said he’s been pushing Alvarez to help secure a reverse mortgage, but the guardian won’t cooperate.

“Look at her. She’s fine. She’s well,” Rogelio said in an interview at the kitchen table. He lives in the house with his mother and a caretaker he says he pays $400 a week after Alvarez raised concerns about Avila being left alone while he works overnight shifts as a forklift operator at Miami International Airport. “I don’t want her to live in a home.” 

Tidy bedroom, Cuban coffee in kitchen 

Born in Cuba, Avila came to the United States in the 1960s, married, had two children and worked for a Miami uniform maker that clothed local police officers and firefighters. 

In a tour of her home as Spanish-language morning news played in the background, Avila brought out a wind chime with a porcelain officer, gun and police dog she said was given to her as a retirement gift. When a charcoal portrait of a woman in pearls and a blouse caught a visitor’s attention, Avila explained a cousin drew that of her mother. 

Then she walked into her bedroom, pointing out another portrait by the cousin: a framed rendering of Jesus hanging over the tidy bed that Avila said she makes each morning. 

“And I wash the dishes,” she said.

She still has two sewing machines in her kitchen, where she offers to make Cuban coffee for visitors on a recent weekday. “Amargo o dulce?” she asked in Spanish as she set up the pot on the electric stove’s burner. 

Guardianship laws are designed to give court protection and supervision to people who lose the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. 

Probate lawyers call it a legal last resort and often the result of a person waiting too long to make arrangements for how they want their affairs managed if they lose mental capacity during a medical crisis or due to old age.

Without setting up a legal pathway for long-term care decisions and finances, a person can be the victim of the high costs of having a judge make those decisions in a contested guardianship proceeding where family members are fighting over an older relative’s next steps.

“It’s a very expensive and invasive way to resolve family disagreements,” said Heather Samuels, an elder-law attorney with Samuels Wood in Boca Raton. “The really experienced litigators are getting $450 and $500 an hour. That devastates people’s nest eggs.” 

Billing records Alvarez submitted to the court show her contacting Avila’s bank, lender and healthcare providers as she worked to modify the home’s mortgage to prevent foreclosure and manage both the guardianship case and Avila’s needs. That included multiple calls with Avila, and coordinating with a real estate agent when Alvarez was preparing to list Avila’s house for sale in the spring of 2022. 

Alvarez’s bill for a year’s work was $8,488, on top of the $21,000 billed by Cuello, Alvarez’s lawyer. The Alvarez bill also is charged against Avila’s assets, another obligation that could reduce money available to her after a home sale or refinancing through a reverse mortgage.

Avila’s case isn’t related to the Guardianship Program of Dade County, a nonprofit that handles thousands of guardianship cases but does not charge people for legal services. Instead, it pays its lawyers and staff with about $6 million a year from Florida and Miami-Dade County funding. The nonprofit came under scrutiny after WLRN raised questions about some of its home sales on behalf of incapacitated people.

Precarious finances and foreclosure threat 

On April 27, 2022, Avila signed a motion prepared by a family friend with legal experience asking a judge to order a doctor’s evaluation of her mental state in order to end the “frivolous” guardianship proceedings. The motion said Avila was representing herself, with no lawyer in her corner. 

Avila said she wanted the right to decide on putting a reverse mortgage on the home she’s owned since 1988. “The reverse mortgage on my own home,” the typed motion read, “is no one’s decision other than my own.” 

A reverse mortgage is a financing arrangement that generally allows an older homeowner to borrow against a property’s value while continuing to live at home without making loan payments. The borrower cashes out equity in the house and typically receives a monthly payment from the lender. Property taxes, insurance bills and maintenance still come out of the homeowner’s pocket, though the monthly income from the mortgage can cover those bills.

While the borrower isn’t paying anything to the lender, interest is being charged and the loan amount continues to grow. When the person dies or must move to long-term care, the balance of the loan comes due and heirs can pay it off, sell the house or turn over the property to the lender. 

“It will pay off her existing loan that’s in foreclosure,” said Joshua Orlan, the mortgage broker trying to close the reverse mortgage for Avila. He said he hasn’t received the needed court approval for the transaction. “She’ll be able to stay in her house. And she never has to make a mortgage payment.” 

When Avila asked for a reverse mortgage last year, Alvarez instead secured court permission to put the house up for sale.

“When making this decision, the Court considered, not only the recommendation from the Guardian, but also, the fact that the mortgage owed for said property is $106,000, it has not been paid for more than a year, is more than $30,000 in arrears and could be foreclosed upon at any time,” Soto wrote in the May 9, 2022, ruling.

“The Court is concerned that if the house is not sold immediately, the Ward’s sole asset will be wasted further.” 

Soto laid out Avila’s tight budget: $838 a month in Social Security income, about $200 in food stamps for groceries and the $1,500 her son is being charged for rent. 

Short-sighted financial decisions aren’t enough to impose a guardianship on somebody, lawyers said. Instead, the laws are designed to take over financial decisions for someone once it’s proven he or she no longer has the ability to make decisions for themselves.

“I make bad decisions all the time. We all do,” said Jim Berchtold, senior staff attorney with Justice in Aging, a national organization that advocates for older people in the court system. “The question really is does she [Avila] have the capacity to decide this issue. If she understands what a reverse mortgage is — and understands the ramifications of it — why shouldn’t she be able to make a decision about it?” 

In conversations with Duran, the nurse from the State Attorney’s Office, Avila said it wasn’t fair for her to have no control over the legal bills accumulating in her name and no say in signing the loan needed to stabilize her finances. 

“Ms. Avila expressed dismay that she was behind in mortgage payments and yet her assets were being used to pay the fees for both the guardian and the guardian’s attorney,” according to the Duran account in the summary.
While online real estate records show Avila’s house was listed for $650,000 in 2022, the property never sold or went under contract. The sale stalled after Duran’s intervention, according to records and interviews. Duran asked Soto to consider the reverse-mortgage alternative and the judge agreed, according to the summary from the State Attorney. But the reverse mortgage still hasn’t happened a year later. 

“I just haven’t gotten anywhere with the guardian,” said Orlan, the mortgage broker. 

At issue is Avila’s mental. state. Her son provided a copy of a Miami-Dade Circuit Court form filled out by Yeneysi Notario, a nurse practitioner, who on Dec. 19 wrote of Avila: “Patient Independent” and “alert and oriented ... with full capacity to live independently.” 

In a section asking for a physician’s opinion on whether the patient requires court supervision, Notario checked the box stating Avila “does not continue to need the assistance of a guardian.”

The form does not have markings showing it was filed in Avila’s case, and the public court docket doesn’t indicate whether it was submitted to Soto. Horacio Sosa, the lawyer representing Avila’s children in the request to lift their mother’s guardianship, did not respond to questions. 

While the actual documents remain confidential, the court docket and Cuello’s billing records show the case has been contentious. 

On May 10, 2022, a Cuello paralegal billed an hour for preparing an emergency motion to “remove” Rogelio Hernandez from the property. The docket shows Soto issued an order six days later that didn’t bar Hernandez from his mother’s home but stated he couldn’t interfere with visitation by Alvarez. 

Alvarez makes regular visits to Avila’s house and there have been signs of friction.

“GM Roger how are you? [How] is your mom doing?” Alvarez wrote to Rogelio Hernandez in an August 2022 text exchange he provided to the Herald. “Do you have the rest of the rent for this month?” In an undated exchange, Alvarez said she plans to swing by the next day to visit with Avila. “My mom doesn’t want to see you,” Hernandez responded. “She gets agitated.” 

At one point, Alvarez responded: “I have to see her and don’t understand why she gets agitated when the only thing I’m doing is trying to help and save her home.” 

Hernandez said he stopped paying rent several months ago because he couldn’t afford it after his hours were reduced at work. 

“It was too much,” he said. “I’m already paying $1,600 a month for the caretaker.”

While Avila’s motion last year didn’t end her guardianship, her children may be making more progress. After filing their motion to lift the guardianship in late April, Soto on May 11 signed an order instructing a doctor to examine Avila and file a report on her mental state within 20 days. 

A hearing on the possibility of ending the guardianship is scheduled for July 11.

Full Article & Source:
She’s 90 and wants to live at home. A guardian put her house up for sale. What’s next?

‘System in Crisis’: US Senate Hearing Calls for More Funding, Staffing for Nursing Home Inspections

By Zahida Siddiqi

The nursing home inspections system is underfunded and understaffed and needs federal assistance for alleviating inspection backlogs, or residents will remain in peril, experts and legislators said at a U.S. Senate hearing on Thursday.

Officials from the long-term care ombudsman program as well as leaders from state inspections and regulatory bodies were among those who testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, following the release of its investigative report.

“The report paints a picture of a system in crisis,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn), who blamed a shortage of inspectors and low funding as factors that are jeopardizing the annual nursing home inspections process. “The result is that nursing home residents are being put at risk because of this problem … My fear is that the trail is going cold for too many residents before nursing home inspectors can arrive on the scene.”

The report titled, “Uninspected and Neglected,” was commissioned by Sen. Casey to investigate the efficacy of state inspection agencies across the nation.

“My investigation reveals unacceptable rates of vacancies at state survey agencies, threatening the safety and health of nursing home residents as their complaints collect dust while inspectors struggle to meet the demand,” Casey said.

Inspection backlogs

As a result of fewer inspectors, most states have nursing home inspection backlogs.

The report found 31 states and the District of Columbia had inspection staff vacancy rates above 20% on average, and nine were short-staffed by 50% or more. Meanwhile, the highest vacancy rates were in Kentucky at 83%, Alabama at 80% and Idaho at 71%.

Severe staffing shortages and high turnover rates driven by inadequate salary compensation for state inspectors hampered the annual survey process and prompt reporting of complaints, the report found. Given this scenario, the report called into question the timeliness and accuracy of the Care Compare tool used by prospective residents to evaluate nursing homes.

Since inspectors are registered nurses, pharmacists, social workers and dieticians, competition with jobs in the private sector impacts their recruitment and retention rates.

Meanwhile, much of the funding for inspections is aided by federal dollars, and while the last three administrations have requested this funding, it has yet to be approved by Congress.

“Survey agencies have not received a meaningful increase in federal funding to complete these critical oversight responsibilities since 2015, yet the cost to recruit and retain survey staff, the volume of work and additional work expected of survey agencies has significantly increased,” said Shelly Williamson, president of the board of directors for the Association of Health Facility Survey Agencies (AHFSA). “These factors have resulted in many survey agencies being unable to complete recertification and complaint surveys timely, leaving nursing home residents at risk of substandard care.”

Williamson is also administrator of the Section for Long-Term Care Regulation at Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Since 2015, Congress increased that spending by a meager 2.5%, while the budget for inspections will need to be increased 30% to keep up with inflation.

Williamson said that since states have recently increased their budgets to fund surveys and salary increases for inspectors, the federal government will need to step up funding for these endeavors.

The Senate report also suggests that the Biden administration’s proposed nursing home regulations might not succeed unless the problems in the inspections process are addressed.

Greater visibility of staffing roles, numbers

During the hearing, staffing shortages at nursing homes were also cited by experts as being important for better health outcomes, especially as they relate to mental health concerns of residents.

“I think one of the things that we continually need to address are the nursing home staffing shortages, so that we can get back to those [social] activities … The ombudsmen have seen firsthand that the activities are still lacking and are not quite what they should be,” said Leah McMahon, director at Colorado State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in Denver. Ombudsmen are authorized by federal and state law to settle disputes and resolve resident problems.

To improve the process of choosing a nursing home, McMahon said it was important to enforce more transparency on quality of staffing.

“We’re talking about potentially wanting to know staffing levels. How many nurses are in the building at any given time? Who is the medical director that is overseeing and coordinating the overall care, and maybe any instances of abuse and neglect that have happened?” McMahon said. “I think those are really important things to know.”

Improving the visibility of the activities of the medical director, and perhaps putting limits on how many residents can be overseen by each medical director should be an important goal, McMahon said.

“I do believe that requiring nursing homes to report their medical directors to CMS and state survey agencies could increase quality of care in nursing homes,” McMahon said.

Sometimes medical directors are spread too thinly as they oversee several nursing homes within a chain, she said.

“Often medical directors are absent from the nursing home for long periods of time. It is rare that you will see a medical director physically in a nursing home,” she said. “By increasing accountability for medical directors, it could ensure they’re fulfilling their critical obligations under the regulations. And when that doesn’t happen, ombudsmen have another tool to take to the survey agency as a concern.”

Other experts who testified at the Senate hearing sought to improve the pool of inspectors by increasing training and recruitment efforts at colleges.

Advocates’ push against staffing mandate

Advocacy groups for nursing homes said the Senate committee’s work underlines a widespread staffing crisis within the sector. They renewed calls to resist the forthcoming proposed minimum staffing mandate and improve funding.

“We appreciate the Senate Committee on Aging’s focus on this important issue and share concerns surrounding the backlog of nursing home surveys. Conducting timely surveys of nursing homes is important for consistency in the regulatory process,” said Holly Harmon, senior vice president of Quality, Regulatory, and Clinical Services at AHCA/NCAL, in a statement. However, Harmon also said, “The shortage of state surveyors is indicative of a larger workforce crisis facing the entire long term care profession. As the committee’s report signals, addressing this labor crisis requires significant investments, not mandates. We need a concerted, supportive effort to help recruit more individuals to serve our nation’s seniors.”

Moreover, Harmon said the oversight process needs to be more resident-driven.

“We need to focus on the science of quality improvement by recognizing good faith efforts, leveraging continuous learning, and effectively remedying identified issues,” Harmon said. “Enforcement alone will not transform America’s nursing homes.”

Need for consensus

In closing, Sen. Casey compared the current findings to work of the Senate committee on nursing home oversight almost four decades ago, and said, “We heard similar warnings today and these warnings must not be ignored.”

Aside from more funding, Casey recommended adding more transparency to the survey process and scrutiny of independent contractors as well as boosting the health care workforce.

“The [Senate] Aging committee’s oversight in the 1980s paved the way for landmark nursing home reforms that President Reagan signed into law. Today’s hearing and the committee’s investigation provide another opportunity to find common ground to make sure nursing home residents are kept safe and receive the care that they and their families deserve and have a right to expect,” Casey said.

Full Article & Source:
‘System in Crisis’: US Senate Hearing Calls for More Funding, Staffing for Nursing Home Inspections

Fence friend Mary O'Neill celebrates 100th birthday with 2-year-old best friend by her side

The over-the-fence friendship between Mary and Benjamin has been featured in print and video worldwide. 

Fence friend Mary O'Neill celebrates 100th birthday with 2-year-old best friend by her side

Friday, May 19, 2023

State moves to pull license of Walnut Creek care home where resident died after drinking cleaner

Two residents at Peninsula home also owned by Atria died in same month

By Rick Hurd

WALNUT CREEK — Authorities are seeking to revoke the license of an East Bay senior-care home where a resident died after drinking cleaning liquid — after two residents died in similar fashion at a Peninsula home owned by the same company.

The Atria Walnut Creek home on Montego may lose its permission to operate following a filing by the state’s Department of Social Services. The DSS filed the legal action against the home, owned by Kentucky-based Atria Senior Living, on April 27.

Constantine Canoun, 94, died in August 2022, eight days after he mistakenly drank EcoLab 14 Plus Antibacterial All Purpose Cleaner. A coroner’s report found that he died of injuries consistent with drinking a caustic cleaning agent; authorities said the man got the liquid because a facility employee failed to supervise him properly.

The agency already had filed a legal action to pull the license of Atria Park of San Mateo. Two residents in their 90s died and another was injured at that facility — also in August 2022 — after they were mistakenly served industrial-grade dishwater liquid.

Both facilities are challenging the revocations. They are legally allowed to remain open while pursuing the appeals.

“We disagree with the Department of Social Services’ decision and have filed a notice of contest to appeal that decision,” the company said in a statement. “We are committed to working with them to reach a resolution of that appeal.  Atria Walnut Creek will remain open during this process. Our employees remain focused on providing a safe and welcoming environment for all our residents.”

A judge will hear the facilities’ challenges and could allow the revocation to stand, order that the facilities go on a probationary period, or order their licenses restored in full, according to DSS spokesperson Jason Montiel.

The DSS, in a report dated April 18, said video showed Canoun wandered into the dining room facility after staff failed to lock the doors to the kitchen. He later told a staffer he’d been poisoned.

“Based on observation, interviews and records review by the department, it was determined that R1 was not adequately supervised, resulting in R1 being injured and expiring due to ingestion of a caustic cleaning agent,” the report said.

Contra Costa County prosecutors filed a single charge of felony elder abuse resulting in death against facility employee Lateshia Starling, 54, of San Pablo. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Bray Courthouse in Martinez.

“Our hearts continue to be with the family and loved ones of the resident affected by this tragedy,” the statement from Atria said. “As always, we are committed to the safety, health, and well-being of all our residents.”

Full Article & Source:
State moves to pull license of Walnut Creek care home where resident died after drinking cleaner

Former Mental Health and Community Residence Facility Director Sentenced for Financial Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult and Elderly Person


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

Friday, May 12, 2023

Former Mental Health and Community Residence Facility Director Sentenced for Financial Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult and Elderly Person

            WASHINGTON –Latonja Dashawn Carrera, also known as Latonja Dashawn Martin, 48, of Camp Springs, Maryland, was sentenced today to twelve months incarceration, ten months suspended, and three years of probation for a felony charge of financial exploitation of a vulnerable or elderly adult in violation of D.C. Code §§ 22-933.01(a)(3) and 22-936.01(a)(1).

            The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves and Inspector General for the District of Columbia Daniel W. Lucas.

            According to facts admitted in her guilty plea, Carrera was the owner and administrator of M&M Residential Services, Inc., a Mental Health Community Residence Facility licensed by the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH).  Carrera admitted that within a 16-day period in January 2019, she made five separate transactions totaling $3,090.14 from the bank accounts of a 73-year-old vulnerable adult under her care, which she in turn used to pay for her own personal utility and credit card bills. 

            Carrera was arrested in December 2020, and pleaded guilty on December 6, 2022.  In addition to the prison term and probation, D.C. Superior Court Judge Michael O’Keefe, ordered Carrera to undergo a mental health evaluation and pay $1,565.78 in restitution to the victim, in addition to a $100 fine paid to the victims compensation fund  As a condition of probation, Carrera is also prohibited from serving in any fiduciary role for any individual other than her immediate family members.

            This prosecution is part of the Office’s wider efforts to combat crimes against seniors and vulnerable adults.  In 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia launched an initiative to address the abuse and exploitation of older adults.  The Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Initiative at the U.S. Attorney’s Office expanded its response to criminal and civil violations targeting older adults. The initiative has enabled the U.S. Attorney’s Office to develop and coordinate further its prosecution of these cases and enhance its overall support of older or vulnerable victims.  The team consists of experienced prosecutors and victim advocates from across the Office, to include the Superior Court, Criminal, and Civil Divisions, as well as the Victim Witness Assistance Unit.

            The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Initiative partners with the D.C. Office of the Inspector General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), which is statutorily responsible for investigating and prosecuting District Medicaid provider fraud as well as abuse or neglect of residents in health care facilities and board and care facilities and of District Medicaid beneficiaries in noninstitutional or other settings.

            This prosecution is indicative of the continued collaboration between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the D.C. Office of the Inspector General to investigate and prosecute cases of this kind.  The government urges the public to provide tips and assistance to stop health care fraud. If you have information about individuals committing health care fraud, please call the D.C. Office of the Inspector General at 202-724-TIPS [202-724-8477].

            In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Graves and Inspector General Lucas commended the work of those who investigated and prosecuted the case from the Major Crimes Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Office of Inspector General’s MFCU.  They also acknowledged the efforts of Special Assistant United States Attorney Jason Facci, on detail from the Office of the Inspector General, who prosecuted the case, and MFCU Special Agent Jonathan Rich, who investigated the matter.  They also recognized the work of the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, which initiated this case, and the D.C. Adult Protective Services, which referred this matter for investigation.

Former Mental Health and Community Residence Facility Director Sentenced for Financial Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult and Elderly Person

Man charged with elder abuse for physically assaulting wife: Mobile Police

A man was arrested after he allegedly physically abused his bedridden wife, according to a release from the Mobile Police Department.

Man charged with elder abuse for physically assaulting wife: Mobile Police

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Complaints about Colorado judges jump 25% amid effort to reform judicial discipline

Shelly Bradbury - The Greeley Tribune 5/13/23

By Shelly Bradbury

The organization responsible for disciplining Colorado judges for professional misconduct saw a 25% increase in the number of complaints it received in 2022 compared to 2021, according to a newly published annual report.

The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline authorized formal disciplinary proceedings against judges in five cases in the last 18 months, which the agency says is more such proceedings than in the last 12 years combined — showing an uptick in serious, credible complaints against the state’s judges.

The surge came as the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline underwent an unprecedented reform effort that wrapped up in the legislature this week and is now headed to Colorado voters, who will in 2024 decide whether to amend the state’s constitution to make the discipline process more transparent.

The Commission on Judicial Discipline received 249 requests for evaluation — complaints — about judges’ behavior in 2022, up from 200 received in 2021 and 199 in 2020, according to the annual report. Nearly all of those complaints — 94% — were dismissed without investigation because the complaints did not fall under the commission’s jurisdiction, were frivolous or did not allege actual misconduct.

That’s consistent with past years. The commission is not able to consider complaints about judges’ legal rulings and only considers allegations about violations of the professional code of conduct, like allegations of rude or racist behavior, sexual harassment or unduly slow rulings.

Chris Forsyth, executive director of the Judicial Integrity Project, which has long advocated for reforms to the discipline system, said Thursday that the high dismissal rate shows the system still isn’t working.

“The same old, same old,” he said. “…I can tell you that a lot of people, attorneys, have given up on filing discipline complaints because they knew nothing would be done. It’s a waste of time and it would just make the judge mad. And that really hasn’t changed; they’re still dismissing most of the complaints.”

Just 14 complaints made it past the initial screen-out in 2022, according to the annual report. After additional investigation, the commission dismissed 11 because there wasn’t strong enough evidence of wrongdoing. In the remaining three cases, two were dropped with the commission issuing “expression(s) of concern” to the judges, and in one case a judge was privately disciplined. In an additional case that started in 2021 and carried over into 2022, a single judge was publicly disciplined.

The judges who were privately disciplined or issued expressions of concern were not named in the annual report.

The judge who was privately disciplined was reprimanded for failing to rule on a straightforward motion for a year and four months, according to the report. The judge, who had been previously privately reprimanded by the commission for a similar delay, retired while the disciplinary case was ongoing, according to the report.

The two “expression of concern” dismissals involved one judge who hadn’t promptly registered to vote in the county where the judge lived, as well as a judge who unintentionally carried out a meandering personal conversation while the courtroom’s recording equipment was still active and taking down every word for the formal court record.

The commission oversees discipline investigations for about 330 judges across the state. In 2022, the commission received complaints about judges in every judicial district in the state, with the most complaints about judges in the 18th and Fourth judicial districts, which cover Arapahoe, Douglas, El Paso, Teller, Elbert and Lincoln counties. About 40% of all complaints received by the commission came from those large jurisdictions, according to the report.

The commission’s executive director, Chris Gregory, declined to comment on the report. In legislative hearings, commission members have suggested the spike in complaints is tied to more public awareness about the commission and its function, rather than a sudden increase in judicial misconduct.

Forsyth suggested the commission is receiving similar allegations to those received in the past, but has started to take more public disciplinary action on those complaints as a result of the reform effort and public outcry.

“They’re trying to claim they are doing more now and getting more serious cases now, so public pressure appears to be working,” Forsyth said. “But I don’t really buy they’re getting more serious cases now; they’re just being a little bit more active since they’re in the public eye.”

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Complaints about Colorado judges jump 25% amid effort to reform judicial discipline

Executive salaries in senior living, nursing homes would be limited under proposed ordinance

by Kathleen Steele Gaivin

The annual salaries of executives in senior living, nursing homes and other healthcare entities in Los Angeles would be capped at $450,000 under an ordinance proposed by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West.

The limit, backers say, would ensure that the annual pay for executives, managers and administrators of privately owned healthcare facilities and hospitals in the city would not exceed the annual pay of the president of the United States, according to the initiative.

According to the proposed Limit Excessive Healthcare Executive Compensation Ordinance, “the compensation paid to CEOs, executives, managers, and administrators of hospitals and other healthcare facilities often is excessive, unnecessary, and inconsistent with the mission of providing high-quality, affordable medical care for all.”

In addition to skilled nursing facilities and residential care facilities for the elderly, the ordinance would apply to licensed general acute care hospitals and acute psychiatric hospitals, as well as facilities that are part of an integrated healthcare delivery system, defined as “a system that includes one or more hospitals and covered physician groups, healthcare service plans, medical foundation clinics, or other facilities or entities, where the hospital or hospitals and other facilities or entities are related through.”

“If passed, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and residential care facilities will need to consult with qualified counsel about how best to structure executive compensation packages to attract and retain qualified executive talent,” attorneys at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman wrote. “They will also need to carefully comply with annual reporting obligations, which will require certifications under penalty of perjury.”

Pay rates for healthcare workers are lagging behind rates for workers in other fields, according to SIEU-UHW.

“While many healthcare workers receive less than $25 an hour, healthcare executive salaries and bonuses have continued to rise,” the union stated.

A California bill that proposes increasing the minimum wage to $25 from its current $15.50 for direct care workers and support staff members has met with criticism from senior living industry advocates.

According to law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, “If the [proposed SIEU-UHW] initiative officially qualifies for the ballot, the Los Angeles City Council will choose whether to adopt the initiative outright as an ordinance or instead refer it to voters for the 2024 ballot.”

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Executive salaries in senior living, nursing homes would be limited under proposed ordinance

2 arrested for robbery, elder abuse in San Bernardino County

by: Josh DuBose

An adult and a juvenile male have been arrested on charges of robbery and elder abuse, officials with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced late last week.  

The robbery occurred at around 6:50 p.m. on April 25 in the parking lot of a Stater Bros. shopping center, located in the 28900 block of Greenspot Road in Highland, according to a SBSD news release.  

While the victim was loading grocery bags at the rear of the vehicle, the two suspects, one identified as 21-year-old Peter Perez and another only as a 17-year-old male juvenile, both from San Bernardino, parked their vehicle directly behind the victim and exited the car.  

Authorities say the two suspects then pushed the victim to the ground and took the victim’s purse. As they attempted to flee the scene, they collided with another vehicle and then took off again.  

The victim suffered several injuries during the robbery. Officials did not say if the victim was taken to the hospital or treated at the scene.  

A little more than a week later, on May 3, investigators from the Highland Sheriff’s Station were able to identify several of the suspects, authorities said. A search warrant was then executed at a residence in the 1200 block of Lomita Road in San Bernardino where both Perez and the male juvenile were arrested. 

The 21-year-old suspect was booked at the West Valley Detention Center, while the 17-year-old was booked at the San Bernardino County Juvenile Detention Center. Both were charged with robbery and elder abuse.  

Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact the Highland Sheriff’s Station at 909-452-9793. Callers wishing to remain anonymous can contact the We-Tip Hotline at 800-782-7463 or online at WeTip.  

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2 arrested for robbery, elder abuse in San Bernardino County

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Gov. Hobbs signs bill for Arizona probate reform

State lawmakers have been working on two probate reform bills this session, one of which has already been signed into law by Gov. Katie Hobbs.

By Susan Campbell

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Advocates for probate reform in Arizona are celebrating a victory, after Governor Katie Hobbs signed a bill that will create a new probate advisory panel. It will require the panel to hold public hearings on how to improve adult guardianship and conservatorship in the state.

“I was really excited, and I was more excited, too, that the governor saw the importance of the panel because it gives the people a voice directly to the legislators,” said long-time advocate Sherry Lund. Another proposed law that would amend probate procedures to ensure people are informed of their rights through the probate process and protect their ability to have contact with family and friends is still being considered by lawmakers.

For Bill Chalmers, that means the fight for change continues. Years ago, Chalmers’ own attorney recommended a conservator to help get through a messy divorce. “I was like, ‘OK. If you guys can help me get money, I’ll actually acquiesce. It’s only temporary. We’ll get through this.’ But then all of a sudden, as soon as they got their hooks in me, the whole story changed,” Chalmers told On Your Side. “They put me into a guardianship. They took me from my home. Put me in a hotel. Took away my phone. Took away my computers. They took away everything I had.”

Thursday, Chalmers attended the state’s fiduciary board hearing and learned the fiduciary that handled his case, East Valley Fiduciary Services (EVFS), is being censured and put on probation for its handling of Chalmers’ case. EVFS will be eligible to get off of probation in less than year, according to the board. “One of the violations that occurred in my case was while they were still under probation, so they clearly don’t respect probation as a restriction in any way. They don’t feel compelled to follow the ethical guidelines,” Chalmers objected to the board. “Why would the board simply allow them to just get away with terminating their probationary period early? I think it’s just outrageous.” EVFS will also undergo a compliance audit.

Mark Dangerfield, an attorney for East Valley Fiduciary Services, said EVFS does not agree with the findings. “EVFS takes its role as a fiduciary seriously. EVFS does not agree with the CLD’s findings in this matter, has not had the chance to formally respond to them, and the findings have not been examined in any contested legal proceeding where EVFS could present evidence and call and cross-examine witnesses regarding the allegations,” Dangerfield said in a statement to On Your Side. “Nonetheless, EVFS believes it best to resolve the allegations through the approved Consent Agreement due to the complexity of the case, the fact that the events happened several years ago, and the additional time and expense that would be required to pursue the issues through a hearing and possible appeal through the courts.”

Currently, there are 40 complaints under investigation by the fiduciary board. Many of the cases are older than year. People who are pushing for probate reform say these complaints prove the system is broken. “When there is a complaint filed, it should be an immediate action,” Lund said. Some changes are already underway. “We’re hiring another investigator. That’s a lot of the issue, is the time it takes to get through an investigation,” said Aaron Nash, the director of the fiduciary board. “We went from two and a half positions in 2021 to four now, five hopefully by June 1, and maybe six with funding we just got from the legislature.”

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Gov. Hobbs signs bill for Arizona probate reform

Georgia nurses accused of having fake diplomas say their degrees are legitimate

By Justin Gray

ATLANTA — Georgia nurses alleged to have purchased bogus nursing degrees and fake transcripts are maintaining their innocence.

Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Justin Gray broke the story Monday that the FBI informed state investigators that 22 nurses practicing in Georgia allegedly obtained their licenses with fake diplomas or transcripts.

The Georgia Board of Nursing sent letters to those nurses asking them to voluntarily surrender their nursing licenses within 30 days.

Gray spoke exclusively Wednesday to Hahnah Williams, an attorney representing five of those nurses.

Williams told Gray her clients will not surrender their licenses and maintained they have done nothing wrong.

“My clients maintain that they are legitimate,” Williams said.

The Georgia nurses are allegedly among the thousands who paid $15,000 each for a bogus diploma from three south Florida nursing schools.

The FBI and Department of Justice announced the bust of the $100 million nationwide fraud ring last week. They call it Operation Nightingale.

Federal prosecutors say instead of going to class, the nurses bought degrees and transcripts.

Williams, a nurse herself, counters that not everyone with a degree from those schools bought a bogus degree.

For years, prosecutors acknowledge the schools were real, accredited nursing schools. Williams maintains that her clients earned their degrees.

“Look, nobody wants a fraudulent nurse taking care of them or their loved ones. However, in this case what we have are allegations and an investigation. We have to allow that process to play out before we rush to judgment,” Williams said.

The surrender letters were sent on Jan. 17 and so far none of the nurses has surrendered their licenses.

“It’s concerning and alarming,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Gray.

Raffensperger’s office oversees the Nursing Board.

“Our job is to make sure that our people in Georgia, our patients know they have credentialed nurses that are practicing there,” Raffensperger said.

“The fact of the matter is the nursing candidates had done no work for these diplomas,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe.

“Within days of learning of this nationwide scheme, we removed three nurses from patient care at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Their removal is very unfortunate but patient safety is and must be our primary responsibility at VA,” said VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes.

Secretary Raffensperger says state investigators are now working with the FBI to get the evidence needed to revoke the licenses of any of the nurses who refuse to surrender them voluntarily.

Williams says her clients are eager to defend their licenses and reputations through the proper channels.

“There’s been no determination of wrongdoing by any type of judicial body. So to rush to judgment and start firing nurses just because they went to an accredited school that’s been implicated in criminal activity is just wrong,” Williams told Gray.

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Georgia nurses accused of having fake diplomas say their degrees are legitimate

An elderly man was scammed out of millions. Could the bank have done more to prevent fraud?

by Amritpal Kaur Sandhu-Longoria

Why would 76-year-old Larry Cook transfer over $3.6 million out of the country just before his death? 

That was tickling the mind of Janine Satterfield as she was mourning her beloved uncle. A decorated veteran who served with the U.S. Navy as commander for 24 years until 1992, he lived alone and had no children or spouse. 

Satterfield discovered this mystery when she needed to find his Social Security number to bury her uncle. A neighbor she asked to go into his home in Virginia for his documents instead sent photos of international wire transfers he made in amounts as large as $49,500, most of them to Thailand.  

Through her uncle’s meticulous records, Satterfield discovered he had become a victim of a scam that started in October 2020 and continued until March 2021. 

He died a month later. 

After his death, his niece's looming thought: Why did the banks allow all of these large transfers to go through?  

The lawsuit against Wells Fargo and Navy Federal Credit Union

Satterfield filed a suit against Wells Fargo and the Navy Federal Credit Union, claiming the institutions failed to protect her uncle from being swindled out of $3.6 million.   

Cook made 75 international transfers to possible scammers abroad, and most of the wires amounted to $49,500 each, according to the complaint filed in Virginia. In total, he used Wells Fargo once to send $49,500 and the Navy Federal Credit Union 74 times to send a total of $3,631,200. According to the wire records, Cook wrote that the purpose of the transfer was for a “loan repayment.” 

According to the complaint, Cook’s credit union reported him to adult protective services in mid-December but still allowed 42 more international wires to process. 

Satterfield alleged in the complaint that both institutions acted in bad faith by failing to investigate the suspicious wires and is suing both banks for the money Cook lost in the scam – Wells Fargo for $49,500 and Navy Federal Credit Union for $3,633,050, which includes $1,850 in wire fees. 

She also alleged Cook’s credit union was negligent for not stopping the numerous wires and “undertook the duty” to protect him after the voluntary report they made to Fairfax County Adult Protective Services and should have taken internal steps to stop the wires. The credit union continued processing the wires even after APS confirmed with them on Jan. 28, 2021, that Cook needed services and was at risk of being abused, neglected and exploited. 

Though APS didn’t stop the wires, it asked the credit union to continue to monitor his accounts. 

Cook had suffered a stroke in 2019, according to the complaint, and when he was discharged from rehabilitation, the staff there noted Cook had “poor insight into his condition, lacked insight into his deficits,” and was concerned about going back to work as a consultant for the Navy and being cleared to drive. He had no family support. 

Representatives for Wells Fargo and the Navy Federal Credit Union did not comment because of the pending litigation, but both gave USA TODAY prepared statements.  

“Our members are always our first priority and we handle all member transactions with great care,” a Navy Federal Credit Union spokesperson said. 

“Wells Fargo takes financial exploitation very seriously. We are committed to helping our customers avoid fraud and scams through various resources, including ongoing education efforts,” a Wells Fargo spokesperson said. 

Court documents show the family's lawsuit was dismissed just this Monday.

According to the APS reports presented to the court, Navy Federal Credit Union warned Cook numerous times that he was a victim of a scam, but Cook still wanted to continue with the wires. The APS reports state that Cook refused to meet on several occasions, so they closed out their investigation Feb. 1, 2021 and documented: "Needs Protective Services - Refused.” Satterfield had argued that the credit union “undertook the duty” to protect Cook after making a voluntary report to APS, but there is no law in Virginia that recognizes that.

There's no word yet on what the family plans to do next.

According to The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a division of the U.S. Treasury Department, financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse but remains widely unreported. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in 2020, financial institutions filed more than 62,000 reports involving elder financial exploitation worth $3.4 billion.

The scam

It started with a phishing email. 

On Oct. 5, 2020, Cook got an email that said his iPad and PlayStation from Amazon were on the way, and if he had questions, he should call “Order Help-Desk.”  

The sender’s email address didn’t appear to be associated with Amazon, but records show Cook contacted the sender and had received a cancellation form, which gave vague instructions for a refund that involved his bank. 

The next day, he wired $49,500 to someone in Singapore through his Wells Fargo account. 

Wire records show he sent money to different people at different addresses for the purpose of a “loan repayment.” The complaint doesn’t offer additional details about the scammers. 

Luckily, Cook wasn’t the type of person to throw away anything. He knew how to keep records – letters, invitations, tax records, bills and payments.  

Satterfield gets emotional when she talks about finding items that held sentimental value to her uncle − his Christmas stocking, a Boy Scouts cap, buttons from his uniforms, and ribbons from state fairs. 

“He threw away nothing. It all mattered to him,” Satterfield said. 

That very habit of record-keeping would lead Cook’s family to the folders that held documents for the international wires. 

In November 2020, Cook tried a second time to wire money through Wells Fargo but was denied. According to the complaint, Wells Fargo didn’t give a reason. But Cook instead wired the money from his Wells Fargo account into his credit union account and sent the money abroad. 

On Dec. 15, 2020, a credit union representative reported Cook to Fairfax County Adult Protective Services, saying the transfers were “indicative of possible elder financial exploitation.” 

The representative reported that Cook had been warned about being a victim of a scam but still wanted to proceed with the transactions and appeared to be “mentally competent.” 

According to Satterfield’s complaint, Cook was a conservative spender, so sending exorbitant amounts of money to foreign banks was out of the ordinary for him.  

“The act itself shows he wasn’t competent,” said Paula Williamson, Satterfield’s sister. 

They still don’t know who the scammers are, but bringing those people to justice is important, too, Kimberley Ann Murphy, Satterfield’s lawyer, said. 

What is a bank's responsibility?

Naomi Cahn, professor at University of Virginia School of Law and expert in family law, estates, trusts and aging, said that before the move to online banking, people went into banks often, which helped them develop a relationship with their bank. In turn, it gave banks an opportunity to observe changes in their customers. 

But with Cook's age, should the bank have done more to protect him?  

“Do you want to make assumptions about everybody over a certain age? Should bank tellers be assessing competence every time a customer comes in?” Cahn asked. 

Though it’s unknown what type of relationship Cook had with each of his banks, he had been a customer at both since the 1970s, according to the complaint.  

And though some states, like California, have mandatory reporting when they suspect elder financial abuse, Virginia has voluntary reporting, Cahn said.  

“We all expect secrecy with our bank accounts, and it’s protected,” she said. “But this is an exception to secrecy with respect to bank accounts.” 

In 2018, Congress passed the Senior Safe Act, which provided financial institutions and employees who reported elder financial exploitation with immunity from liability in any civil or administrative proceeding. To qualify for immunity, a report should have been made to a qualified agency like law enforcement, local adult protective services, state financial regulatory agency, or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. And only financial institutions that were either credit unions, depository institutions, investment advisers, broker dealers, transfer agents or insurance companies qualified for the immunity. In addition, only employees who were trained on how to identify and report elder financial exploitation qualified for immunity.

In 2022, Virginia also strengthened reporting laws, more than a year after Cook’s death. The new rules allow financial institution staff to delay or refuse to disburse and execute transfers if they suspect exploitation. 

While Cook’s credit union filed the APS report and APS officials communicated with the credit union, Cahn said questions remain on what happened after and whether the bank or social service should have stopped the 42 international wires that continued until March 2021.   

Murphy, Satterfield’s lawyer, said it’s a question they’ve been pondering, too.  

“What is a financial institution supposed to do? How are they protecting their customers, how are they protecting themselves, and where is that money actually going?” Murphy asked.

When USA TODAY asked, Wells Fargo and Navy Federal Credit Union would not offer further comment on their internal process in cases of suspected elder fraud exploitation.

Murphy said scams come at a high cost to an elderly person – especially one who is incapacitated – who end up losing their life savings.

Satterfield said this scam her uncle fell for was “beyond human judgment" and that legislative changes need to be in place before another elderly victim is scammed.

"We're literally all one click away," Satterfield said.

Watching out for elder financial exploitation

Experiencing an elderly loved one mentally declining can be hard for family members and caregivers, so it's important to prepare ahead of time to prevent financial exploitation by having a conversation about their finances sooner rather than later.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has advice and tips on how people can prepare should they experience a decline in their capacity to manage their money:

  • Organize important documents. Organize information for bank and brokerage statements, mortgage and credit information, insurance policies, pension or benefit summaries, Social Security payment information, and contacts for doctors and lawyers, and store them in a safe and easy accessible location.
  • Designate a trusted contact person. Add a trusted contact person to your brokerage account in case your broker has trouble contacting you or believes you are being scammed. The trusted contact person doesn't have access to the account holder's money.
  • Social Security Advance Designation. The Social Security Advance Designation allows people to designate up to three people to serve as a "representative payee" should there be a need.
  • Create a durable financial power of attorney. The durable power of attorney allows an agent, someone who has the legal authority to make financial decisions if you become incapacitated. It can be changed or canceled if you still have decision-making capability.
  • Ask for help. Involve a trusted friend, relative or professional in talks about your finances.
  • Keep things updated. Be sure to keep accounts current and notify trusted contacts of any changes.

And if you suspect elder financial exploitation, call your local police department or sheriff to report it. If you suspect the financial abuse is stemming from brokers or investment advisers, here is whom to call:

Full Article & Source:
An elderly man was scammed out of millions. Could the bank have done more to prevent fraud?

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

I-Team: Guardianship courts at capacity

by Danielle DaRos

The 15th Circuit, which covers Palm Beach County, has 3,000 active guardianship cases, and just two probate judges to oversee all of them. (WPEC)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — The CBS12 News I-Team continues its investigation into court-appointed guardianships by examining the workload probate judges carry in Palm Beach County.

Judges are in charge of overseeing guardians, keeping tabs on their spending, and making sure decisions are made in the best interest of their wards.

Too often, guardians have been caught abusing, neglecting, and stealing from the people they are being paid to protect -- which calls into the question the amount of oversight and surveillance these cases receive going through the courts.

In Palm Beach County, there are an estimated 3,000 active guardianship cases, but only two probate judges to oversee all of them. 

It's the smallest number out of any circuit in South Florida. On the Treasure Coast, there are four judges who hear guardianship cases, in addition to family court cases.

"That's a problem because if you have a judge that is not watching your case, not on top of your case, you have no way of getting justice," said Zoraida Navarro, whose father was recently in a guardianship in Palm Beach County. "You definitely need more oversight." 

The CBS12 News I-Team continues its investigation into court-appointed guardianships by examining the workload probate judges carry in Palm Beach County. (WPEC)

Zoraida's father, Benito, was trapped in what was supposed to be an emergency, temporary guardianship, for years. As the I-Team reported earlier this year, Benito's daughters, who are medical doctors, petitioned to be his guardians to get him out of a romance scam. Instead of appointing them, a judge in Palm Beach County appointed a professional guardian -- a stranger -- who made all of his financial and medical decisions.

The daughters disagreed with the guardian's decisions, and worried that their father's health and finances were in trouble. The judge continued to extend the emergency order and even threatened the daughters with kidnapping charges for taking their father to lunch, and to the hospital, without the guardian's permission.

Through a rare legal maneuver, they were able to a get a new judge -- the only other probate judge in the county -- on their father's case, and he viewed the situation very differently, dismissing the professional guardian and reuniting Benito with his daughters.

"At no time did anyone on this case show concern for my dad's welfare, or for what he wanted," Zoraida told the I-Team.

She thinks having more judges as options in the county gives families more opportunities for fairness -- and could also keep cases from dragging on for years, like their father's did.

The Chief Judge of the 15th Circuit Court, which covers Palm Beach County, acknowledges the probate division had been bogged down.

Chief Judge Glenn Kelley told the I-Team improving efficiency has been a priority for him.

There used to be nine judges in Palm Beach County that heard guardianship cases -- but they also heard other types of family court cases, too.

He decided to split probate cases and other family court cases into two separate specialties, and appointed two judges to hear probate cases only.

Kelley says this has led to judges putting out orders faster in the probate division.

When asked how two judges could handle 3,000 guardianship cases, Kelley said not all 3,000 are complicated cases that involve professional guardians overseeing large sums of money.

Still, families who have been through the system think there need to be more guard rails to detect and prevent abuse and fraud.

Right now, there are a handful of employees at the Palm Beach Clerk of Courts office that assist judges with this oversight.

Chief Guardianship Investigator Anthony Palmieri tells the I-Team his office within the Clerk's office investigates complaints made against guardians. There are four staff members in the Clerk's office that perform audits and investigate these complaints, reviewing the entire case file, conducting interviews, and reviewing financial reports. He said investigating a single case can require hundreds of hours of manpower and thousands of documents to determine if a guardian has broken the law.

Additionally, there are five "operational auditors" within the Clerk's office who review the annual guardianship plan and annual accounting for each ward -- ensuring an extra set of eyes on a case just once a year.

"More resources, either at the Clerk's office or in the judiciary [would] better the services that can be provided to protect people even more so," Palmieri said. 

Judge Kelley said the 15th Circuit could benefit from more judges, and under a state formula for judicial need, should qualify for at least one, if not 2-3 more. It is up to the legislature to fund those appointments, and Judge Kelley said for the last 15 years, they have not funded additional judges for Palm Beach County.  

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I-Team: Guardianship courts at capacity

Fiduciary board determines final punishment for East Valley Fiduciary Services

The fiduciary board met Thursday to determine the final punishment for East Valley Fiduciary Services.

Fiduciary board determines final punishment for East Valley Fiduciary Services

Elder Abuse | Burke County man accused of punching 72-year-old mother

by: D.V. Wise

BURKE COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) – A Burke County man was arrested after allegedly beating his mother.

According to a police report, 43-year-old Chadwick Washington of Girard, demanded his mother come to his room to help him. When she said no, he reportedly came to the living room and told her he “was going to show her what he could do.”

That’s when the woman stood up and Washington allegedly punch her in the face. She told police he wrapped his hands around her throat, and then punched her repeatedly on both sides of her chest. The woman says her son took her cell phone to keep her from calling the police.

The report goes on to say that throughout the night, Washington would come hit his mother on the head and legs with a pillow, to prevent her from sleeping.

The victim told police she waited until Washington left the home the next day to escape to her other son’s home and call police.

She says Washington suffers from Bipolar and Schizophrenia and uses drugs.

Washington has been arrested and charged with:

  • Simple Battery
  • Exploitation of the Elderly
  • Obstruction of 911 Call

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Elder Abuse | Burke County man accused of punching 72-year-old mother