Saturday, November 11, 2023

Our Turn


When Veterans grow old or become disabled, it's our turn to help them.  Over 40,000 Veterans are homeless.  We don't even know how many suffer elder or guardianship abuse.

It's our turn. 

HVAF: Community support required to address veteran housing insecurity, mental health

by Violet Comber-Wilen

Veterans across Indiana face challenges with mental health, food and housing insecurity. One organization offers resources and solutions to help address these issues.

Emmy Hildebrand is the CEO of Helping Veterans and Families of Indiana, an organization serving veterans throughout central Indiana. She said veterans are much more likely to experience homelessness than non-veterans.

Hildebrand said HVAF has a street outreach program, where a veteran who experienced housing insecurity goes out to speak with veterans currently experiencing homelessness.

“He goes out to various shelters, homeless camps and other places where those individuals experiencing homelessness may be – just to start to make a relationship, to build trust, share the services that we provide, and invite veterans to come in and receive those services,” she said.

Additionally, Hildebrand said the organization offers permanent supportive housing.

“We also provide 103 transitional housing beds each night. So it's temporary housing: veterans can stay usually for six to nine months,” Hildebrand said. “They work with a case manager to address all their barriers to self-sufficiency, with the goal of moving into permanent housing once they leave here. We also have a really large rental assistance program.”

She said her organization also offers a food pantry to combat food insecurity and high inflation prices. Hilderbrand said the organization also offers a therapist, as many veterans experience mental health challenges.

“What we realized is 80 percent of the veterans we serve report a mental health diagnosis and or a substance use problem,” she said. “So we know this is a huge issue for veterans and especially the veterans that we're serving.”

Hilderbrand said combating these challenges requires community help from all areas.

“What we've seen in communities around the country that have ended veteran homelessness is it takes all of us to do that,” she said. “We believe here at HVAF that no hero should be homeless on our streets.

Hildebrand said changes in funding for these types of programs also complicate these issues.

“With the end of the public health emergency in May, a lot of that funding has gone away,” she said. “So, 2020 and 2021 were turbulent, but I would say 2023 is turbulent in its own right. We’re trying to figure out how to continue to provide high-quality services, still in an era of COVID.”

Hildebrand said the organization is looking to expand its sources of funding to “better support its most vulnerable veterans.” Additionally, she said Hoosiers can help support veterans and HVAF through donations and volunteering their time.

Full Article & Source:
HVAF: Community support required to address veteran housing insecurity, mental health

Friday, November 10, 2023

Michael Oher received $138K in 'The Blind Side' proceeds from Tuohy family, documents show

by Jason Munz

Michael Oher with the Titans

The dispute between Michael Oher and the Tuohy family − whose story was the subject of the Oscar-winning film "The Blind Side" − took another turn Wednesday.

The Tuohys' lawyers filed a court-ordered financial accounting that reveals Oher received $138,311.01 from the family since 2007. That figure represents approximately one-third of the net profit the Tuohys received off the success of the movie.

The sworn document filed in Shelby County Probate Court lists 10 separate payments the Tuohys made to Oher, beginning with a $22,500 installment on June 8, 2007. The filing shows Oher received his last check from the family in April 2023.

Oher, the former Briarcrest Christian and Ole Miss star and NFL offensive lineman, filed a petition in August to end the Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy's conservatorship. Included in that filing, Oher alleged the family made millions off the movie while he didn't receive anything. The Tuohys, through their attorneys, Randy Fishman and Steven Farese Sr., pushed back against that claim.

Tax forms included in the court document show the Tuohy family made more than $432,000 in proceeds related to "The Blind Side" between 2007 and 2021.

“The Tuohys did not control any of Mr. Oher’s finances,” Farese said in August. “Mr. Oher picked his own agent. Mr. Oher signed his own contract, negotiated it through his agents. They don’t need his money. They’ve never needed his money.”

Oher has until Nov. 28 to make any objections to the document.

The central theme of Oher’s petition is the conservatorship and the fact that the Tuohys never adopted him, as he and many others were led to believe.

Full Article & Source:
Michael Oher received $138K in 'The Blind Side' proceeds from Tuohy family, documents show

See Also:
Judge ends conservatorship between Michael Oher and Tuohy family in 'Blind Side' fallout

Devastated Tuohys ready to end conservatorship for Michael Oher, lawyers say

"The Blind Side" lawsuit: Former NFL star Michael Oher sues

What is a conservatorship? The legal arrangement at the center of Michael Oher's case.

Michael Oher’s shocking conservatorship exposes court failures

Conservatorship Gone Wrong: Why Does it Seem to Happen So Often and How Can I Prevent It?

Oher’s ‘Blind Side’ Guardianship Case File Ignored for 19 Years


Justice Department intensifies efforts to protect seniors from fraud

by Mathew Richards

HOUSTON, Texas — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has reported significant strides in its year-long campaign to shield seniors from fraud and exploitation, with plans to expand its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force.

In the past year, the DOJ in collaboration with law enforcement partners, has addressed a wide range of issues, from mass-marketing scams affecting thousands of victims to local fraudsters. There have also been considerable efforts to reimburse victims of fraud. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland emphasized the department's commitment to protecting seniors, stating, “We are intensifying our efforts nationwide to protect older adults...This expansion builds on the Justice Department’s existing work to hold accountable those who steal funds from older adults, including by returning those funds to the victims where possible.”

U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery echoed Garland's sentiments, expressing disappointment in the frequency of senior citizens falling victim to fraud and abuse. She affirmed the department's dedication to holding scammers accountable and preserving the dignity of the aging community.

Between September 2021 and September 2022, the DOJ and its partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving over 600 defendants. In the Southern District of Texas (SDTX), federal grand juries returned indictments in 10 cases involving more than 15 defendants, with losses amounting to approximately $38 million from elderly victims throughout the district.

The SDTX has also been proactive in community outreach, raising awareness about scams and exploitation to prevent victimization. This includes a podcast in Spanish for elderly citizens, conducted in conjunction with AARP and FBI, with more planned this year.

The DOJ also announced the expansion of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, adding 14 new U.S. Attorney’s Offices. This move is expected to enhance coordination in combating large-scale fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.

In the past year, the DOJ has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for remission payments, particularly those who fell victim to “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prizes.

Full Article & Source:
Justice Department intensifies efforts to protect seniors from fraud

Tazewell County woman charged after allegedly stealing from elderly woman she cared for

Heather White(Tazewell County Sheriff's Office)

By 25News Now

TAZEWELL COUNTY (25News Now) - A 33-year-old Creve Coeur woman is facing charges after being accused of stealing hundreds of dollars from the elderly person she was caring for.

Heather White is accused of making ATM withdrawals from the account of a woman she worked for over the last seven years.

The alleged transactions happened in Pekin and Bartonville in October.

According to a police report, she admitted to taking the money using ATMs in Tazewell and Peoria counties.

She is charged with financial exploitation of an elderly person.

Full Article & Source:
Tazewell County woman charged after allegedly stealing from elderly woman she cared for

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Keeping Guardianship Fair and Accountable

Post Date:

Guardianship is a tool of last resort, available to make sure that loved ones are taken care of when they can no longer care for themselves.

But what exactly is guardianship? It is a legal process by which a court appoints a person or organization to care for someone who is unable to make their own decisions.

The person needing care could be affected due to age, disability, or mental illness. By Florida law, guardianship is only warranted “when no lesser restrictive alternative, such as durable power of attorney, trust, health care surrogate or proxy, or other form of pre-need directive, is found by the court to be appropriate and available.”

The need for guardianship is a reality for many in our community. With the right tools and knowledge, the process can be made much easier for everyone concerned.

Our office is involved in the guardianship process, including processing guardianship petitions, serving as an independent monitor of court-appointed guardian’s actions and maintaining a Guardianship Integrity Assurance Hotline.

If you are considering filing for guardianship, here are some important things to consider:

  • Are there different types of guardianship? Yes, a person can be appointed guardian of a person, property, or both. Supported decision-making (SDM), guardian advocacy, and narrowly tailored guardianship orders (letting the protected person retain as many rights as possible) are all versions of guardianship with their own specific purpose.
  • Do I need an attorney? For certain types of guardianship cases, you will need an attorney. More specifically, Florida Probate Rule 5.030 requires that guardians have an attorney. However, guardian advocates and supported decision-making may not need an attorney. If you need to find an attorney, you may want to call the Palm Beach County Bar Association's Attorney Referral Service at (561) 687-3266 or (561) 451-3256 (Boca Raton/Delray Beach, or the Legal Aid Society at (561) 655-8944.
  • Is a guardianship permanent? No, not if a person regains their abilities. The court can have the person reexamined and restore some or all of their rights.

Guardianship is a serious legal matter. If you are considering filing for guardianship, or know someone who is, I encourage you to consult with an attorney to discuss your case.

If you or someone you know has concerns about instances of financial fraud, waste, and other concerns involving court-appointed guardianships, do not hesitate to contact my office and our team of dedicated professionals.

Keeping Guardianship Fair and Accountable

Uniform Power of Attorney Bills Signed into Law

LANSING Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel applauds Governor Gretchen Whitmer for signing HB 4644 into law yesterday, which amends the Uniform Power of Attorney (POA) Act. This legislation, sponsored by Representative Kara Hope, helps ensure: 

  • that a POA is accessible to more residents, which will decrease the number of guardianships and conservatorships appointed statewide;
  • increased acceptance of POA’s from financial institutions and healthcare providers; and
  • that agents fulfil their fiduciary duties by mandating that they maintain detailed records and receipts, and reiterates the right to recover damages from exploiting agents. 

“This bill, and our continued work in this area, is fundamental to restoring basic dignity to some of the most vulnerable adults in our state,” said Nessel. “The passage of the Uniform Power of Attorney Act into law is yet another accomplishment from the Department’s Elder Abuse Task Force and I applaud Governor Whitmer for signing this important legislation into law.” 

Michigan's Elder Abuse Task Force (EATF) launched in 2019 and consists of more than 55 different organizations and more than 100 individuals in the public, private and nonprofit sections - all working together to combat elder abuse.  

Earlier achievements include the adoption of a Vulnerable Adult Incident Report form for investigation by law enforcement across the state, including the implementation of related trainings and the Financial Exploitation Prevention Act (FEPA). FEPA was signed into law in 2021 to ensure mandated reporting for financial institutions on suspected fraud or exploitation. Both were part of the Task Force’s first set of initiatives.    

The Department and EATF is also working with legislators on HB 4909, 4910, 4911, 4912, and 5047 which passed the Michigan House in October and are pending before the Senate. 

It is estimated that more than 100,000 older adults in Michigan are victims of elder abuse, and that less than half of all instances are reported to authorities. Michigan residents seeking elder abuse resources are encouraged to call 800-24-ABUSE (22873), or 855-444-3911 to report suspected elder abuse.

Uniform Power of Attorney Bills Signed into Law

Woman sentenced to 15 years in prison in Decatur Co. elder exploitation charges

In addition to prison time, she will also have to pay over $400,000 back to the victim.(MGN)

By Seth Feiner and WALB News Team

BAINBRIDGE, Ga. (WALB) - A woman has been sentenced to 15 years of prison time following guilty verdicts reached in an elder exploitation case.

In November, Angel Byrd, 32, pleaded guilty, to four charges including two counts of exploitation and intimidation of a disabled adult, elder person or resident, and two counts of theft by conversion.

She is sentenced to 60 years, with 15 to serve in prison and the rest on probation. Byrd is also ordered to pay restitution of $478,712.56 back to the estate of the victim.

Full Article & Source:
Woman sentenced to 15 years in prison in Decatur Co. elder exploitation charges

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

US nursing home workers face ‘catastrophic crisis’ of understaffing

by Michael Sainato

For Linda Long, who has worked in nursing homes since 1997, at the same facility outside of Tacoma, Washington, since 2003, understaffing has always been a problem.

It only got worse during the Covid-19 pandemic, when she said co-workers were leaving due to the short staffing, constant Covid outbreaks and the immense workloads that staff were left with to fill in the void.

But, workers and labor experts say, short-staffing in the crucial US industry has persisted after the pandemic, with grave impacts on patient care and residents’ wellbeing, and spiraling burnout that has become pervasive in the care industry.

“Most of the time, I want to cry when I see things and I can’t do any more than I can do,” said Long. “There are times when we have extra people and we’re jumping for joy because I know the residents will have somebody to talk to, but in general we are still short-staffed, which means you look at the residents every day thinking. ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do this for them today?’”

Long said that the care many residents need has to be done by multiple people at a time, such as operating lifts to raise patients in and out of bed to bathe, to eat and to be active, and oftentimes nursing aides aren’t available to help complete these tasks. The short-staffing often results in workers skipping their breaks and lunches, and cutting corners wherever they can to save time so they can attend to every resident.

“You have to decide what to do, what you cannot do, but there’s not one task that can really be left out,” she said. “It really affects the wellbeing of the residents and yours, because you go home knowing you couldn’t do the things you need to do.”

She described the heartbreaking daily experiences she and other workers face when residents are weary about asking staff to help them with something because they see how short-staffed and overworked they are at the facility. And if tasks are skipped or missed, residents’ conditions can quickly deteriorate.

“Showers aren’t being done all the time because we can’t always get to it,” added Long. “People will lose the ability to walk, the ability to sit up, to do a range of motions, and that has a lot to do with being shorthanded because they don’t get any of the basic care they need.”

The Biden administration and labor groups are hoping for change. The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed a rule to implement minimum staffing standards in long-term care facilities, with the public comment period ending on 6 November. If implemented, it would be the first ever minimum federal staffing standard for nursing homes that care for 1.2 million people.

Under the proposed rule, the CMS estimates 75% of facilities would have to improve staffing in their facilities. The rule would require nursing homes to provide residents with a minimum of 0.55 hours of care from a registered nurse per resident per day and 2.45 hours of care from a nurse aide per resident every day.

More than 50 unions, worker groups and organizations signed on to a letter in support of federal minimum staffing levels in nursing homes, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the AFL-CIO and MomsRising.

“Our country’s long-term care system is in the midst of a catastrophic crisis, and nursing home workers and residents have suffered unspeakable consequences. In the absence of a federal staffing standard, nursing home workers have endured complete physical, mental and emotional exhaustion due to understaffed shifts and unsafe working conditions, and nursing home residents have been robbed of the quality care and quality of life they deserve,” said the SEIU president, Mary Kay Henry, in a statement supporting the standard.

But several nursing home CEOs have written public comments to oppose the rule, claiming it’s not feasible due to costs and labor shortages, with many workers and family members of residents writing in support of the rule or calling to strengthen it.

The nursing home industry is a multibillion-dollar industry with about 70% of nursing homes operating as for-profit facilities. In recent years, private equity firms have increased their ownership or stake in nursing homes, with research demonstrating that private equity ownership results in worse health outcomes.

Tina Siegel has worked as a licensed practical nurse in a nursing home in Erie, Pennsylvania, for 38 years, where she says staffing shortages have always been an issue in the industry but have worsened during the pandemic.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania enacted statewide staff-to-patient ratios for nursing homes amid pushes from workers like Siegel, which she says have helped to improve staffing issues. She said the ratios are needed nationwide to improve working conditions for staff and the care and dignity that nursing home residents deserve.

“We feel really connected to our residents. We take care of them, some of them we’re the only family they have. We’re there when they’re passing away, and you want to spend time with them because you’re the only person there, but a lot of times you don’t have time to do that either. So … you feel bad because in their last moments of their life, they’re by themselves and that shouldn’t happen to people,” said Siegel.

Full Article & Source:
US nursing home workers face ‘catastrophic crisis’ of understaffing

Tama Woman to Federal Prison for Stealing from Disabled Relative

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa

A woman who spent her disabled relative’s entire trust fund was sentenced on November 2, 2023, to more than two years in federal prison.

Nancy Lee Johnson, age 69, from Tama, Iowa, received the prison term after a May 1, 2023 guilty plea to one count of wire fraud. Information from Johnson’s plea agreement and sentencing showed that in November 2017, Johnson petitioned the Meskwaki Tribal Court to become the guardian and conservator of her disabled relative, L.J.  In doing so, she swore that she would faithfully discharge the duties of a guardian and conservator, which included protecting, preserving, and prudently investing the estate of L.J.  At the time, L.J. had a trust fund valued at more than $360,000.  L.J. also received per capita pay from the Meskwaki tribe and Social Security benefits. The court recognized Johnson as L.J.’s guardian and conservator in February 2018. 

As early as December 2017, she began to transfer money from L.J.’s trust fund to other accounts and by November 2018, the balance of L.J.’s trust fund was $0.  In March 2018, Johnson activated a debit card for an account she opened in L.J.’s name.  She had the only copy of the card.  Johnson used that card to make unauthorized purchases, which included the purchases of two purebred dogs and multiple pieces of jewelry.  During the time that she was his guardian and conservator, L.J.’s assets totaled at least $416,043.73.  In August 2019, when the Meskwaki Tribal Court terminated Johnson’s guardianship and conservatorship, L.J.’s funds had been reduced to $1,871.38.        

Johnson was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Judge C.J. Williams.  Johnson was sentenced to 33 months’ imprisonment.  She was ordered to make $387,213.40 in restitution to her relative.  She must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term.  There is no parole in the federal system.

Johnson was released on the bond previously set and is to surrender to the United States Marshal on November 27, 2023.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kyndra Lundquist and investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Court file information at

The case file number is 22-CR-0086.

Follow us on Twitter @USAO_NDIA.

Updated November 7, 2023

Tama Woman to Federal Prison for Stealing from Disabled Relative

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

DeWitt Man Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement, Tax Fraud

LANSING Yesterday, Peter Counseller, 57, of DeWitt, pled guilty to one count of Embezzlement of $100,000 or More and two counts of Filing False Tax Returns, announced Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Counseller agreed to pay full restitution of $114,569.86 to the 90-year-old victim and $10,211.00 to the Michigan Department of Treasury. Counseller made an initial payment toward this sum of $60,000 at the time of his plea. As part of a plea agreement, the Court delayed Counseller’s sentencing for approximately 11 months. If Counseller pays full restitution during this delay, he will be sentenced on reduced charges.   

Counseller was charged for an elder financial abuse scheme in which he stole thousands of dollars from a 90-year-old woman. He used the victim’s money without her consent to pay his mortgage, take vacations, and pay other personal expenses. Counseller failed to report this income on his Michigan income tax returns.   

“Michigan’s elderly adults deserve vigilant protection from thieves who would devastate a lifetime of savings and financial management for their own enrichment,” said Nessel. “My office will continue to prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, people who abuse the trust of vulnerable adults.” 

Counseller will appear again before Judge James S. Jamo in the 30th Circuit Court in Ingham County for Final Sentencing on September 11, 2024.   

To learn more about the Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Task force and its initiatives, visit the Attorney General’s website.

DeWitt Man Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement, Tax Fraud

See Also:
DeWitt Man Arrested, Charged on Financial Elder Abuse

Legislator Drucker Partners with Nassau Police Community Affairs to Host Senior Scam Prevention

Legislator Drucker Partners with Nassau County Police Department’s Community Affairs Division to Host Senior Scam Prevention Seminar

(WOODBURY, N.Y.) - Nassau County Legislator Arnold W. Drucker (D – Plainview) recently partnered with the Nassau County Police Department’s Community Affairs division on Tuesday, Oct. 18 to host a seminar at the Woodbury Gardens Clubhouse to educate seniors and protect them from predatory scammers.
During the event, more than 70 attendees were informed about the most common techniques that criminals use to steal information and funds from senior citizens and received valuable resources to protect themselves and their families from scams and financial exploitation.
“My office has received dozens of calls recalling the horror stories that families have endured at the hands of unscrupulous criminals who have used elaborate schemes and scare tactics to steal tremendous sums of money from senior citizens,” Legislator Drucker said. “I thank officer Eugene Messmer for sharing his expertise with the community and empowering our residents to protect themselves, and applaud Woodbury Gardens Civic President Ellen Golann for hosting this very important workshop.”

PHOTO CREDITS – Office of Legislator Arnold Drucker

Legislator Drucker Partners with Nassau Police Community Affairs to Host Senior Scam Prevention

Man arrested in Half Moon Bay on suspicion of elder abuse, injuring deputy

A man injured a deputy while being arrested Saturday night in unincorporated Half Moon Bay for alleged elder abuse, making criminal threats, and battery, among other allegations. 

San Mateo County Sheriff's Deputies were dispatched at approximately 7 p.m. to Elderberry Road in unincorporated Half Moon Bay on a report that 49-year-old Ramon RamirezPerez was threatening his elderly parents and was destroying their home.  

Deputies arrived to find RamirezPerez allegedly yelling in Spanish and breaking the glass out of the windows. His parents told deputies he threatened to "kill his father by ripping his heart out of his chest" and they believed he was on drugs. 

Deputies set up a perimeter and used a Spanish-speaking deputy to order the suspect to surrender. Despite multiple requests, RamirezPerez didn't comply. 

Deputies entered the residence and found RamirezPerez inside his bedroom, armed with a makeshift weapon. As deputies took him into custody,  RamirezPerez allegedly caused a minor injury to one of the deputies. 

RamirezPerez was transported to a hospital for psychological evaluation and, once cleared, will be booked into the Maguire Correctional Facility on suspicion of elder abuse, criminal threats, resisting arrest, possession of methamphetamine, and possession of drug paraphernalia. 

Full Article & Source:
Man arrested in Half Moon Bay on suspicion of elder abuse, injuring deputy

Monday, November 6, 2023

New Arizona law adds more protections for people in probate court system

By: Nicole Grigg

PHOENIX — A reform bill that would add more protection for people in the probate court system who find themselves placed in guardianships or conservatorships went into effect this week.

Senate Bill 1291 will add several changes to the law, including making sure that those who are placed under the care of another know all their rights.

A conservatorship is appointed through a court system when a person becomes in control of another's financial, healthcare, and personal decisions.

Another key part of the bill would make sure those in the system see their loved ones, and that there is evidence to place someone in a conservatorship or a guardianship.

“The requirement for evidence to declare someone incompetent and in need of guardianship or a conservator was elevated from “preponderance of the evidence” which is best described as a slight tip of the scales, to “clear and convincing” evidence which is considered “substantial” in nature, as well as multiple crucial changes to existing law,” according to a news release from Protect Liberty, which is a grassroots coalition for those who have experienced within the probate court system.

For David Redkey being placed into a conservatorship is easy, but he says getting out is too difficult, “unfortunately, it can happen to anyone.”

In 2007, Redkey was in a horrific crash after being T-boned by a tow truck that he says ran a red light in Phoenix. His injuries were extensive, including multiple broken ribs, and a traumatic brain injury, but he was able to recover.

After winning a seven-figure settlement though, a lawyer recommended he be placed into a conservatorship to help protect and manage his estate.

“He called it a soft conservatorship,” said Redkey.

Redkey has been in the conservatorship and within the probate system since 2009 and recently his estate was transferred to a private fiduciary company, where he has concerns about how his finances are being managed. Since the accident and being placed into a conservatorship, Redkey is now married with children in his home.

He has also gone on to get two Bachelor’s degrees and a Masters.

Despite being able to do this, he has concerns that he is still placed in a conservatorship, “now I have a family, I can take care of myself, I can manage my own estate, and it’ll be certainly a lot cheaper than paying these other people that don’t really care about me or my family.”

Redkey worries about how his money is being managed and that more money is going to those handling the estate, than his family.

According to court filings, Redkey’s estate pays for everyone handling his case. The fiduciary charges $165.00, the Fiduciary’s lawyer and Guardian Ad Litem both charge $450.00, and then his court-appointed counsel charges $400.00 to $425.00 an hour.

“It’s all about money, it's always about money. The second money is involved, people are getting paid to do this, keeping people in conservatorships," said Redkey.

Redkey also worries about a recent petition that was filed in court that would investigate the need for guardianship which would be even more restrictive.

Sherry Lund, who has led the efforts for probate reform in Arizona said in a news release that the bills add sweeping reforms, transparency and oversight to probate courts in Arizona, including, “The right to a trial by jury, to be present in court, to have both the judge and the attorneys inform a person of their rights, to have your directives followed by the court, choose your own physician, and to an attorney of your choice is something we all take for granted, but it wasn’t that way in Arizona Probate courts. On October 30, 2023, the Constitution became a reality for those in the Arizona probate court system,” she said.

Governor Katie Hobbs signed another bill around conservatorships and guardianships this past summer. SB 1038 creates a probate advisory panel that will file an annual report to the legislature on improvements that could be made in the probate process.

Full Article & Source:
New Arizona law adds more protections for people in probate court system

Prosecutors seek to freeze assets of man accused of stealing $1.9 million from elderly woman in Cary

by Sam Borcia

Prosecutors are seeking to freeze the assets of a Barrington man accused of stealing $1.9 million that belonged to an elderly family member in Cary over the span of four years.

The Cary Police Department received a report on August 26 of a person stealing money from an elderly family member.

The suspect, Douglas Boncosky, 54, of Barrington, was named power of attorney in 2018 over an 80-year-old woman, according to Cary Deputy Police Chief Scott Naydenoff.

The victim, who is a family member of Boncosky, resides in Cary.

Investigators began an investigation and determined that Boncosky unlawfully wrote numerous checks to himself and his business from the victim’s account, Naydenoff said.

He also unlawfully transferred funds to himself and his business from the victim’s account, Naydenoff said.

Naydenoff said evidence obtained showed an estimated $1.9 million was stolen and used by Boncosky for personal gain.

The case was reviewed by the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, which approved charges of aggravated identity theft, theft exceeding $1 million, financial exploitation and forgery.

The most serious charges against Boncosky are Class X felonies, which carry six to 30 years in prison.

Boncosky was arrested on Monday by the Cary Police Department and transported to the McHenry County Jail.

While the charges are non-detainable under Illinois’ SAFE-T Act, prosecutors filed a petition to detain Boncosky pending trial under the premise of him being a willful flight risk.

McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge granted the petition to hold Boncosky.

The judge found that Boncosky had obtained “substantial assets” from the theft and had taken steps to change communication information. Prosecutors said Boncosky expressed intent to move to Florida.

The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office on Wednesday filed a petition to freeze Boncosky’s assets.

Prosecutors say Boncosky’s assets can be frozen under a state law that allows people charged with exploiting the elderly or disabled to have their assets frozen in an amount equal to the alleged value of lost or stolen property for the purposes of restitution.

In an assets and liability affidavit signed by Boncosky, he said he is unemployed and has $26,000 cash in a checking account and $10,000 in “cash or other assets.”

Boncosky also said he owns a brand-new vehicle worth $50,000 and has over $550,000 in credit card and business debt.

Boncosky is scheduled to appear in court again on November 22 for a preliminary hearing and status of attorney hearing.

Full Article & Source:
Prosecutors seek to freeze assets of man accused of stealing $1.9 million from elderly woman in Cary

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Caretaker kidnaps former patient after her facility was shut down, Florida cops say

By Irene Wright

A former Florida caretaker is accused of kidnapping a woman with disabilities after she was moved to a new facility when the caretaker’s group home was shut down, police said. 

Deborah Benita Hodges, 57, operated a group home for disabled adults in Orlando until a patient died in her care, according to court documents obtained by McClatchy News.

The death of the patient, who was Hodges’ sister, prompted an investigation from the State of Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, documents say. 

The group home was shut down on Aug. 10 after the agency said the home was “presenting a danger to the health, safety, or welfare of the residents of the facility,” according to court documents.

With the closure of the facility, its remaining patients, including a woman described as a “severely disabled adult,” were moved to another care facility, Omelda Home Care, documents said. 

Hodges had previously tried to gain guardianship of the disabled woman, but a judge denied the legal action, court documents said.

On Oct. 27, patients of Omelda Home Care were brought to the Quest Training Center in Apopka and were being checked in by staff when the employees noticed a maroon SUV parked nearby, an arrest warrant said. 

An employee said case workers often check on their clients at the facility, so she didn’t pay much mind to the SUV, according to the warrant.

Then Hodges, who was driving the SUV, walked into the facility and grabbed the woman with disabilities, court documents said. 

Hodges led the woman outside and to the SUV as the manager of the facility and other staff called out after her, the warrant said. 

The woman with disabilities was put in the SUV and Hodges sped off, employees later told deputies.

Part of the woman’s care at the facility was regularly scheduled doses of medication, court documents said, but Hodges kidnapped the woman without taking any of her regular medications with her. 

The facility told deputies the woman had received her medication that morning but was scheduled for other doses that afternoon, court documents said.

A facility spokesperson told WFTV they believed the kidnapping may have been planned because the disabled woman seemed to run out with Hodges willingly, according to the outlet. 

Employees called the police and an arrest warrant was issued for Hodges on charges of interfering with custody and neglect of a disabled adult, court documents said.

Hodges was later taken into custody and the woman with disabilities was found in Brevard County the same day, WFTV reported. Information regarding Hodges’ legal representation wasn’t immediately available as of Nov. 3. 

Apopka is about 20 miles northwest of Orlando.

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Caretaker kidnaps former patient after her facility was shut down, Florida cops say

The retired pilot went to the hospital. Then his life went into a tailspin.

Many older people are one medical emergency away from a court-appointed guardian taking control of their lives

By Mary Jordan

ORLANDO — When Douglas Hulse pulled his Ford Mustang convertible into a Florida gas station three years ago, he looked so distressed that someone called 911.

An ambulance rushed him to Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital, where doctors said he had a stroke. At 80, the retired pilot who had flown famous passengers around the country could no longer care for himself.

But Hulse lived alone — as 3 out of 5 Americans in their 80s do.

A hospital can be liable if a patient is discharged into an unsafe environment. Because Hulse lived alone and the hospital officials saw no sign that he had family, that put them in a bind when his health didn’t improve. So they argued in court that he was no longer capable of making his own decisions and needed a guardian — a caretaker with enormous legal power.

When a judge agreed, Hulse lost basic freedoms: He couldn’t spend his own money or decide where to live. The lifelong Republican who had just cast his ballot in the 2020 presidential primary even lost his right to vote. He was quickly moved to a nursing home. His new guardian, a woman he had never met, began selling his house and his belongings.

Hulse had joined 1 million Americans in a guardianship, a court-sanctioned arrangement created to protect vulnerable people — some young, but many elderly. The system has been widely criticized for inviting abuse and theft. Local judges give extraordinary power to a guardian, including access to the bank account of the person in their care, despite a lack of effective ways to monitor them. When excessive billing, missing money and other abuses are discovered, guardians are rarely punished. Prosecutors are keenly aware they were appointed by a judge.

As America ages, there is new focus on this legal arrangement, especially in Florida, a mecca for seniors where state officials have called the rising number of elderly the “silver tsunami.” Already, Florida has 2 million residents 75 or older — more than the entire population of 14 other states. Many moved here from other parts of the country, far from family, and are showing up alone in emergency rooms.

The Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood, Fla. (Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post)

What happened to Hulse over the past three years shines a light on the serious flaws in this government system and on the hospital pipeline that thrust Hulse into it. During the coronavirus pandemic, more hospitals went to court to seek guardianships; it was a way to legally move out patients and free up beds. Today, the practice quietly continues as an efficient way to discharge elderly patients who cost hospitals money the longer they stay.

In court, the Orlando hospital requested that Hulse be assigned Dina Carlson, a 51-year-old former real estate agent who became a professional guardian. After a judge assigned her, Hulse was immediately moved out of the hospital and into a nursing home. Carlson’s sale of his home raised suspicions because of its seemingly low price in a hot market, and an inspector general’s investigation later found “probable cause” of exploitation of an elderly person and a scheme to defraud.

Carlson denied any wrongdoing, and no criminal investigation was ever opened. “I am a little bit salty about this whole thing,” Carlson said in an interview. She said she wanted “to be a ray of sunshine” for elderly people.

Guardianships are not well understood. Rules vary by jurisdiction, and key information is often sealed by judges.

“People don’t realize how abusive the system is,” said Pinellas County Circuit Court Clerk Ken Burke, who led a recent Florida task force to improve guardianships. “If they knew, there would be bigger cries for reform.”

Very often, the person in a guardianship is unable to publicly complain and has nobody in their life to do it for them.

But it turned out Hulse did have family, and they were searching for him.

A pilot who thought he would live forever

Douglas Hulse was born in 1939 and raised in McLean, Va., where his father was a lobbyist for the trucking industry. In the 1950s, Hulse enrolled in a Florida college and became a pilot.

Like his father, Hulse was a Republican who loved to talk politics. He also drew caricatures of every president in the last half century. After flying Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig, former Republican secretaries of state, he proudly showed off photos he took of them to his sister, niece and nephew.

He never married or had children. He kept busy, teaching flying and taekwondo. But when he retired he spent more time alone. Five residents on his street in Lake Mary, near Orlando, said they barely knew the tall, blue-eyed neighbor. He had lived there 25 years, longer than many in a transient place.

Raymond Charest, president of the Seminole County Gun and Archery Association, said that in the 1990s Hulse taught members about how to safely handle and store guns but that recently he wasn’t involved in the club. “I would see him shooting out there. But it was just, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ and that was it.”

Katie Thompson, Hulse’s niece, said for years her uncle regularly visited her mother, father, brother and her in the Philadelphia area. She also went to see him at his three-bedroom Florida home full of exceptional items he collected in his travels, including a Las Vegas-style slot machine.

But his visits stopped when his sister, Katie’s mother, developed dementia before she died in 2018. Hulse had seen his own mother die the same way. “I think it just got too hard for him,” his niece said.

After Hulse’s only sibling passed away, he became harder to reach, but he eventually responded to calls and emails.

After his stroke, Hulse was confused and apparently unable to tell anyone to call his family. It’s unclear what efforts the hospital made to track down any relatives.

Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital, said he could not discuss details of Hulse’s case because of privacy laws. He emailed a statement that said the hospital works “with various community partners in an attempt to reach next of kin. However, reaching a patient’s next of kin is not always possible.”

“We are seeing more of these patients with dementia and other ailments who live alone and/or are estranged from relatives,” Morales said in an email. He strongly urged people to draw up a will or designate someone to make their health decisions and to note this in their medical file.

Hulse had not. In these cases, court records show, hospitals often turn to guardianships, even though they are widely considered a last resort and difficult to reverse.

A safety net built for a different era

For generations, judges have been assigning a relative or close friend as the protector of someone unable to make their own decisions. But more people are socially isolated and have no one they can count on at the end of their life. Even many people with close relatives are estranged from them.

In many societies, family members of different generations live under one roof. But one of the most dramatic shifts in the American lifestyle is single-person households. Many live alone beginning in their 20s and by the time they are in their 80s, most live by themselves.

So judges now often assign professional guardians, a person paid to care for someone they don’t know. Carlson told the court she was already caring for 18 others when she was assigned to Hulse. Carlson charged him $65 an hour, according to her bills filed in court. When a judge signed off, she paid herself from Hulse’s bank account.

In some states, the only requirement to be a guardian is to be 18 years old. Florida has more requirements including a background and credit check. But still, compare the 40-hour training course with, for instance, the 900 educational hours required to become a licensed barber.

Yet these caretakers control people’s lives and money. In just one Florida county, Palm Beach, guardians control about $1 billion, according to Anthony Palmieri, deputy inspector general for the Palm Beach Circuit Court.

“You have your nail techs and tennis pros — their business is not so good and they want something more lucrative and they’re jumping into guardianship,” Palmieri said.

But adding an independent monitor from outside the court, a frequent recommendation, is expensive. “The system would be cured, in my opinion, by the Department of Elder Affairs taking responsibility for guardianship” said Burke, the Pinellas court clerk.

In Florida, even funding a statewide guardianship database was a battle. Currently, there isn’t an official number of how many people are in them; best estimates are about 50,000. Each county keeps its own records, and some do that better than others. When the database goes online, it will give the first statistical snapshot of the system.

Critics have called for a uniform system with more oversight. But several Florida officials said those who benefit from the current, complex system, including lawyers, impede reform. Efforts to make attorneys’ fees in these cases more publicly visible have also failed.

“There are a lot of great attorneys out there,” Burke said. But the court clerk said there has been pushback from the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar, adding, “It’s a trade union for all practical purposes, and it protects their members and the fees they receive.”

These attorneys are influential in the state legislature, where their expertise is often sought to draft laws related to guardianships and estates.

John Moran, chair-elect of the Florida Bar’s Real Property, Probate and Trust Section, said far from blocking improvements, it has stated policy positions that seek reforms, including more transparency. Asked why legal fees cannot be more readily known, Moran cited privacy concerns of the incapacitated person. He also emphasized that “no lawyer gets paid without a judge’s approval.”

So the system with few guardrails continues. Court clerks audit guardians’ reports that detail how they spend the money of the person in their care, among other things. Any irregularities are to be flagged to a judge. But clerks are swamped, with little time to read through a case file that is often thousands of pages.

Grant Maloy, the Seminole County court clerk, said his office has a far bigger caseload today than 15 years ago yet a smaller budget.

The judges are overloaded, too. Pinellas County has two judges and two magistrates overseeing 3,000 guardianships — in addition to other types of cases.

No witness or body camera accompanies a guardian into a person’s home. They are trusted to accurately inventory all valuables in their court report. “There could be $5,000 stuffed under the sofa, and if the guardian pocketed it, who would know?” said Burke, the Pinellas court clerk.

The task force organized by the state clerks and comptrollers last year said hospitals should find a less drastic way to deal with patients costing them money, such as authorizing someone to be their power of attorney or health surrogate. It also sought a ban on requesting a specific guardian because that raises concerns about the guardian’s allegiance — is it to the patient or the hospital giving them work?

A Washington Post review of guardianship records in central Florida found scores of recent petitions by hospitals seeking a guardian for patients 65 and older, and many asked for a specific professional guardian.

Hulse’s guardianship

In April 2020, when Hulse was ready to be discharged, a staff member of the Orlando hospital signed a petition to the court stating that he had “no one to take care of the financial and medical decisions.”

Hulse, like most patients over 65, was covered by Medicare. It pays the hospital by diagnosis, not length of stay, an attempt to stop excessive billing. Generally it pays a hospital $23,000 for an elderly stroke patient in Orlando, a sum that assumes a five-day stay. After that, a hospital starts losing money. A new patient in the same bed would bring in thousands of dollars a day.

The American Hospital Association said more patients are staying “excessive days” and has lobbied for increased Medicare payments. Many hospitals are also overwhelmed by people who are homeless or have a mental illness and other patients unable to pay their bills. An AHA spokesman also said a hospital may initiate a guardianship but a judge approves it.

Laura Sterling, an attorney hired by the Orlando hospital, recommended Carlson as Hulse’s guardian. In Florida, lawyers represent guardians in court, and Sterling was Carlson’s lawyer. In her court filing that requested Carlson, Sterling does not mention that if Carlson was assigned, she also would be paid as her lawyer, at a rate of $300 an hour.

Sterling did not respond to requests for comment. There is no Florida rule prohibiting a lawyer from representing both the hospital and the guardian the hospital recommended in the same case.

Moran, from the Florida Bar, said he could not speak for the lawyers’ group but said that scenario raised “all kinds of red flags.”

Sterling’s role in Hulse’s case was largely to file court motions. One sought approval for a monthly transfer of $10,000 from Hulse’s brokerage account to his checking account so Carlson could pay his nursing home and other bills. Another asked the court for $2,925 for Carlson, for time spent opening Hulse’s mail, arranging physical therapy and other tasks during her first four months. The money to pay Sterling and Carlson came from Hulse’s accounts, which had more than $1.5 million, according to a note in his file.

In August 2020, after Hulse had fallen five times at the Lake Mary nursing home, Carlson moved him to a smaller facility. She also started liquidating his possessions, reporting to the court that she sold his cars, paintings, a diamond ring, camera equipment and guns. Many items were sold in cash at an estate sale, according to neighbors who went to it. It’s unclear how much Carlson reported earning for Hulse; most financial details are kept sealed.

In April 2021, Carlson signed an agreement to sell Hulse’s house with Kimberly and Mark Adams, husband-and-wife real estate agents who lived in her gated community lined with palm trees, giving them a 6 percent commission, an amount typically split between the seller’s and buyer’s agents. Carlson quickly sold the home for $215,000 before it was even publicly known to be on the market, according to the inspector general’s investigation. A company called Harding Street Homes bought Hulse’s home and resold it a few months later for $347,000 — $132,000 more than Hulse got for it. Efforts to reach the person who runs that company were unsuccessful.

Soon after the home was sold, Katie Thompson, Hulse’s niece, expanded her search for her uncle. Busy with her job and her first baby, she had not realized for months that her brother and father also had not heard from Hulse. She was a legal researcher who used Westlaw, an online legal database, and when she typed her uncle’s name into it, she was stunned to see him listed in a guardianship case.

“How could the hospital do this?” she thought. Since older people end up in an emergency room, she figured there must be a system for contacting family. “If they just called me none of this would have happened.”

In the days after Carlson became Hulse’s guardian, she did not call his relatives, either. Carlson said it was unfortunate but no one’s fault: “How does a person find out about somebody who doesn’t live in the same state? About family who don’t have the same last name? I didn’t have anybody’s name to Google.”

Thompson has her own regrets. For one thing, she wished she had gotten on a plane earlier despite worries about the pandemic.

On top of everything else, she said, she and her brother were helping their father, heartbroken over the death of their mother. “I kept thinking if something was really wrong with my uncle I would have gotten a call,” she said.

Thompson and her brother began calling those involved in the court case. But nobody answered their key question: Where was Hulse?

Finally, a court clerk advised them to write a letter to the court.

“We want to know where our uncle is, that he is safe and well cared for, and that his money was being well-stewarded so that he can remain so,” Katie Thompson wrote on July 28, 2021, to Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Donna Goerner. “We want to be able to be in contact with him.”

Months passed with no reply.

A watchdog helping from her kitchen table

Around the start of 2022, Hillary Hogue was sitting at her kitchen table in Naples, Fla., scrolling online through guardianship cases, when she randomly clicked on Hulse’s.

Hogue knew other cases where hospitals did not notify relatives before setting in motion a hard-to-stop legal process. “It’s just outrageous. Doesn’t anyone care about Mr. Hulse?”

She zeroed in on the price of Hulse’s home, which seemed remarkably low to her, especially after she looked up more information about it. Aware of other cases where guardians sold homes at bargain rates to friends or for kickbacks, Hogue filed a complaint with the office that regulates guardians, knowing it would draw scrutiny to Hulse’s case.

Katie Thompson, meanwhile, inquired about getting her uncle released from his guardianship. The Florida lawyer she contacted told her that she could spend $20,000 trying, with no guarantee of success. Hulse’s health was worsening and soon, any hope she had of moving him to Pennsylvania so she could manage his care became less of an option.

In January 2022, Carlson finally contacted the family. She called Jonathan Thompson, Hulse’s nephew, who believes her call was prompted by the family’s letter to the judge six months earlier. “I guess the letter finally got to the top of someone’s pile,” he said.

Carlson outlined Hulse’s medical problems and said he probably had a series of strokes. Because of the pandemic, she said, for a long stretch at the start of the guardianship she had not met him in person. She offered to arrange FaceTime calls. and soon Katie and Jonathan were talking to Hulse about old family trips to Gettysburg, Pa., and Cape Canaveral, Fla.

But they were wary. A state investigator, spurred by Hogue’s complaint, had called them, asking questions about Carlson.

They had their own questions: Since Carlson knew Hulse had the money for in-home aides why was he in a strange place that added to his confusion? Didn’t she see their cards mailed to his home or their contacts in his phone? And, why would a former real estate agent undersell a home without advertising it?

The investigation

In July 2022, the inspector general’s office issued a critical report, a copy of which was obtained by The Post through a Freedom of Information Act request.

It stated that Carlson, when seeking court approval for the sale of Hulse’s home, submitted a “deficient, deceptive, and fraudulent” comparative market analysis supplied by Kimberly Adams, the real estate agent. Hulse’s home was “undervalued” and not publicly advertised.

The inspector general’s investigation also found no permits required for significant renovation. It concluded that after “superficial changes,” Hulse’s home was “flipped” for a big profit for the buyer — money that Hulse lost out on.

The inspector general’s office, lacking the investigative power of law enforcement, including the ability to subpoena bank records, pushed for a criminal investigation. It urged law enforcement to look into the handling of Hulse home and two others Carlson sold with the same real estate agents, stressing it had found “probable cause” that Carlson and the real estate agents “engaged in a scheme to defraud.”

Reached by phone, Kimberly Adams denied knowing anything about the inspector general investigation: “I honestly don’t know what you are referring to … I sell property all the time.”

Mark Adams did not return phone calls.

Carlson defended her sale of Hulse’s home. She told a state investigator that it was in “very poor condition,” according to the inspector general report, and that “it wasn’t safe to allow the general public” inside because there were “a lot of valuables in the house, a lot of guns and a lot of ammo as well.”

But Hulse’s family said he kept his guns in a safe, and Carlson billed Hulse for finding locksmiths to open his gun safe.

In The Post interview, Carlson said there are ways to improve the guardianship system but most importantly family should take care of their relatives. Then she quickly added, “In Doug’s case, no one knew about his family.”

Carlson did not answer questions about whether she saw the names and addresses of Hulse’s niece and nephew on cards and gifts mailed to his home. She also distanced herself from hospitals: “I have never met anyone at the hospital. Lawyers do.”

Carlson said she got Hulse’s case when “a lawyer” sent an email to her and other professional guardians, asking if anyone had “the bandwidth” to care of another patient leaving a hospital.

In February, Katie Thompson did not meet Carlson when she flew to Orlando with her 3-month-old, her second child, to visit her uncle. He seemed comforted by the photos she brought of his childhood home in Virginia, of her mother and him when they were young. “He was very sick then. I was grateful for the time with him.”

On March 16, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said its preliminary inquiry found “no evidence” to warrant a criminal investigation “at this time,” according to an email received in the FOIA request.

Advocates for the elderly say police and prosecutors often do not treat financial exploitation of elderly people seriously enough and are reluctant to sink time into cases where the only witness has dementia, if still alive.

Two days after the state declined to pursue a criminal investigation, Hulse died.

Carlson had prepaid for the same basic cremation package she purchases for many in her care. Hulse’s family had his ashes buried with his parents on Long Island.

Katie Thompson received a small box from Carlson with photos and a few other items that belonged to her uncle. She and her brother are now waiting to learn what is left in his estate.

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs, after being contacted by The Post, reprimanded Carlson for her failure to file timely reports. Her penalty: She must take eight more hours of classroom training.

“Not even a slap on the wrist,” said Hogue. “The result is the corruption continues, and it only gets worse, bigger and bigger.”

Said Katie Thompson, “This system trusts a person to be a guardian angel, but people are not.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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The retired pilot went to the hospital. Then his life went into a tailspin.