Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Disbarred Lackawanna County attorney charged with forgery, tampering records


WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE CO. (WOLF) — A disbarred Lackawanna County attorney is now facing charges of forgery and tampering with records.

James Conaboy is expected to be arraigned on Thursday in Luzerne County for two charges each of forgery and tampering records, accused of lying to clients and forging signatures.

Conaboy was initially disbarred in 2023 amid the investigation.

In 2015, Teresa Matheson had hip surgery that resulted in complications and multiple following surgeries. In 2017, Conaboy, at the time an attorney with Abrahamsen, Conaboy & Abrahamsen, filed a medical malpractice suit against Geisinger. In April 2021, Conaboy notified the Mathesons that they were awarded $700,000 in a settlement and would receive the money a short time later, according to police. Despite making calls to Conaboy on a weekly basis, they never received the money, police said.

In March 2022, Teresa Matheson had received a document from Conaboy started that she will receive an extra $100,000 as interest since she had still not received the money. Later that month, she received a court document from Conaboy allegedly signed by Lackawanna County Judge Therence Nealon stating that the money was to be sent from the Catastrophic Loss Benefits Continuation Fund of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Later that month, Matheson received another court document from Conaboy, again thought to be signed by Judge Nealon, stating that Teresa Matheson was to be delivered $700,000.

However, in April 2022, the Mathesons received a phone call from Conaboy telling them "everything was a hoax and the court documents were fake," police wrote in an affidavit.

In a June 2022 interview, Conaboy told police that the suit was terminated on July 7, 2020, "since the claim could not be supported by a medical professional." Conaboy denied taking any money or defrauding the Mathesons in any way, according to an affidavit.

In the interview, Conaboy was shown several printed emails supplied by the Mathesons reportedly from Conaboy. However, Conaboy said he did not send those emails and has not spoken to the Mathesons since the suit was terminated in July 2020.

Through investigation, authorities discovered that:

  • The Lackawanna County Clerk of Courts did not have the two-Judge Nealon documents
  • Judge Nealon never issued the two orders
  • Geisinger was never served with legal paperwork related to the lawsuit

In September 2022, the Office of the Attorney General took over the investigation, and agents began to question more victims.

In another medical malpractice case in 2022, Conaboy reached a $25,00 settlement with Mid Valley Outpatient Care for his client, James Moran. However, the case ended up moving forward and no settlement was reached with the doctor.

Conaboy had been leading Moran to believe the case then settled for $50,000, when in reality, the case settled for zero, according to police. Conaboy reportedly made several excuses as to why the money had not been sent to Moran.

Moran then saw in Feb. 2023 that Conaboy had been removed from the Abrahamsen, Conaboy & Abrahamsen website, and called the firm to ask about it. Conaboy's brother, Kevin Conaboy, said that he had a mental breakdown and told Moran that his case was over without a payout.

In July 2023, investigators met with Paul Grace, another victim, who had worked with the Department of Labor and Industry Bureau of Disability as a disability adjudicator.

Conaboy, who was a family friend of Grace, advised that Grace should file a lawsuit against the Department of Labor and Industry. In 2017, Conaboy led Grace to believe that he was entitled to $517,000 in a settlement but once again gave Grace various excuses as to why Grace hadn't received the money.

In one excuse, Conaboy sent Grace a forged document from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, falsely signed then-Inspector General Bruce Beemer seeking court action to have the money returned since it was taken from the wrong Commonwealth account.

In May 2023, Kevin Conaboy told Grace that everything James Conaboy told him was false and that the case ended up being dismissed in 2018.

Conaboy's arraignment is scheduled for Thursday in Luzerne County.

Full Article & Source:
Disbarred Lackawanna County attorney charged with forgery, tampering records

Enduring Powers of Attorney review aims to reduce financial elder abuse

By Eileen Wood

The Standing Council of Attorneys-General is looking into changes to financial Enduring Powers of Attorney. Picture Shutterstock

Seniors' advocacy groups are keenly awaiting the publishing of a report expected to recommend major changes to Australia's financial Enduring Powers of Attorney laws.

In September the Standing Council of Attorneys-General released a consultation paper covering a range of key improvement areas in financial EPOA laws in an effort to stamp out elder abuse resulting from inadvertent or intentional misuse of EPOAs. Submissions closed on November 29, 2023.

Powers of Attorney are formal legal arrangements allowing a person (the principal) to appoint another adult or legal persons such as Public Trustees or private trustees, to make certain decision on their behalf. EPOAs unlike general powers of attorney are designed to continue should the principal lose their decision making capacity.

Currently EPOA laws are complex and differ between states which can cause practical issues and costs and there is a strong move for greater consistency.

John (79) appointed his wife as an Enduring Powers of Attorney with the help of a solicitor.

A few months later, after his health had deteriorated and at a time when his decision-making capacity was in question, his daughter took him to a police station and, with a Sergeant serving as a witness, had him sign a new EPOA appointing her. This was later disputed by his wife.

After a family conflict Walid (77), revoked his EPOA while in hospital. His daughter retained a copy of the original EPOA and Walid worried that his daughter might use the old EPOA agreement to make decisions in relation to his property and finances.

These are just two examples of the difficulties surrounding EPOAs and were provided to The Senior by Community Legal Centres Australia.

The consultation paper said greater consistency would reduce elder abuse, improve familiarity and understanding of EPOAs, enabling national education resources and greater alignment of services and and greater oversights.

The paper presents detailed proposals on the execution of an EPOA, witnessing arrangements, acceptance of appointment by an attorney, revocation and automatic revocation,attorney eligibility, attorney duties and access to justice issues (jurisdiction, compensation and offences).

According to Elder Abuse Awareness Australia some ways in which a EPOA can be misused leading to elder abuse are:

  • Making decisions the attorney is not authorised to make
  • Not consulting the older person about decisions and drawing on any decision-making capacity they may still have
  • Making decisions that align with their own preferences and values rather than the older person's
  • Not following the older person's instructions
  • Not keeping accurate records of transactions
  • Not keeping the attorney's money separate from the older person's (for example, not paying separately for their shopping and the older person's when shopping for both at the same time)
  • Denying the older person their rights
  • Controlling who the older person spends time with.

The Association of Independent Retirees has called on government to legislate quickly to reduce financial elder abuse.

Action to reduce financial abuse using powers of Attorney should be a priority for government, said Committee member of the St George AIR Branch Neil Birdsall.

Neil Birdsall

"Recent reports of adult children abusing their powers and defrauding parents should be a reminder to government that action is needed now," Mr Birdsall said.

"The wheels of government seem to be turning too slowly on this matter and these cases are on the increase" said Mr Birdsall. "The Association of Independent Retirees is calling for action."

A joint submission to the consultation by the Older Persons Advocacy Network and Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia said any changes to EPOA should ensure the human rights of the older person, should be person centred and easy to use and understand, as well as being accessible in terms of format and language, and across rural, regional and remote areas or where internet connectivity can be problematic and should ensure informarted choice.

The wheels of government seem to be turning too slowly on this matter (financial Enduring Powers of Attorney) and these cases are on the increase.

- Neil Birdsall Association of Independent Retirees.

Read the consultation paper: consultations.ag.gov.au/families-and-marriage/epoa

If you are experiencing elder abuse of any kind or believe someone you know is being abused contact: 1800 ELDERHelp (1800- 353-374) a free call phone number that automatically redirects callers seeking information and advice on elder abuse with the phone service in their state or territory.

If you are in immediate danger call triple zero (000)

Lifeline is a crisis support service for people who are feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping. You can call Lifeline on 13-11-14 (available 24/7).

Full Article & Source:
Enduring Powers of Attorney review aims to reduce financial elder abuse

Carquinez Village Presents: How to Fight Scammers and Keep Seniors Safe

by Suzanne Antone

Fraudsters are everywhere—including Solano County—and they are more clever than ever! The Carquinez Village Speaker Series will address this topic at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, February 15, 2024, at the Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St. in Benicia. Attendees will learn the signs that they might be the target of an attack, as well as simple tips to prevent and report fraud.

The presentation will be led by Miles Otterbeck, representing Solano County Older and Disabled Adult Services (ODAS). Otterbeck is a college intern from the California State University at Sacramento studying political science. His presentation will address elder financial exploitation and fraud.

Otterback will describe how citizens can use the Solano Senior Fraud Prevention Center, a one-stop shop for all the information Solano County seniors and their families need to prevent financial elder abuse, empower seniors to fight back, and stop scammers in their tracks. Individuals can learn more about ODAS and the Center, by visiting solanoscamcenter.org .

The program is free and open to the public. A question and answer session will follow the presentation.

The mission of the Carquinez Village is to help Benicia and Vallejo seniors to stay in their homes and to enrich their lives through connecting, supporting, and inspiring them.

Full Article & Source:
Carquinez Village Presents: How to Fight Scammers and Keep Seniors Safe

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

West Springfield man sues Baystate Health for ‘civil rights violations’ over wife’s ongoing hospitalization

By Namu Sampath 


WEST SPRINGFIELD — Charles Mokrzecki, 77, and his wife Frances, of West Springfield, have been married for over 60 years.

Last July, Frances tripped and fell at the couple’s home, fracturing her hip. In the months that followed, Charles Mokrzecki claims Baystate Health, Frances’ medical care provider, blocked his ability to visit his wife and “violated their civil rights.”

The claim is detailed in a lawsuit filed Jan. 22 in Hampden County Superior Court.

Mokrzecki also alleges the hospital did not confer with him about medical procedures performed on his wife, including a surgery, and that the hospital “initiated a guardianship/conservatorship action through its staff in probate court, despite Mokrzecki’s role as his wife’s healthcare proxy, the lawsuit said.

A spokesperson for Baystate Health said the hospital does not comment on pending litigation.

Mokrzecki’s attorney, William Pudlo of Longmeadow, said Friday his client is waiting to hear whether the court will grant an injunction in the case.

Mokrzecki claims Baystate Health now prevents him from visiting his wife, “alleging ‘safety’ as the basis of their actions,” the lawsuit said.

Mokrzecki is requesting the court order Baystate Health to allow him to schedule in-person visits to see his wife while she is at the hospital. He wants the hospital to provide him with updates on his wife’s condition and that he be told about any plans to move her to a nursing facility.

The complaint seeks jury trial.

Lawsuit’s claims

When Mokrzecki first took his wife to the hospital for the fractured hip, he said he informed emergency room staff that she was in the early stages of dementia. He asked for an x-ray of her injury.

Mokrzecki claims in his lawsuit the hospital did not take an x-ray or perform any further examinations on his wife for four hours, as his wife “became increasingly agitated.” So the couple left.

A few days after her fall, Mokrzecki said his wife was unable to walk, due to her injuries, and was taken by ambulance to Baystate Health again. She was kept there for over a month, until Aug. 16. She was then taken to a skilled nursing facility, Quaboag Rehabilitation, where, during a visit, Mokrzecki claims he was informed for the first time that his wife had fallen during her stay.

In September, Frances was returned to Baystate Health to be treated for pneumonia. At some point during that month, Mokrzecki claims he was informed that his wife had undergone a surgical procedure. The suit says he had not been “consulted or advised of the actions at Baystate Hospital, her transfer to Quaboag, or the surgery she underwent” despite being her healthcare proxy — the person in charge of her medical-related needs.

The following month, Mokrzecki claims Baystate Health started the process of gaining guardianship over his wife without his knowledge or approval.

Mokrzecki had been visiting his wife almost daily during her hospitalizations, he said in the lawsuit.

Mokrzecki claims he lacks access to a computer and for that reason did not participate in a court-ordered online Zoom meeting regarding the guardianship issue. The hospital was “allowed to move forward” on the guardianship, the lawsuit states.

Mokrzecki claims he did not receive a copy of court paperwork that would have allowed him to object to the guardianship.

Despite this, Mokrzecki continued to visit his wife until Christmas Eve, where he grew more concerned about her care, the lawsuit said.

“(Frances) was restrained in her bed with a strap across her midsection and restraints on her wrists,” the lawsuit said. “On several occasions, (Mokrzecki) found that his wife’s meals were left in her room in a place she could not access due to her restraints.”

As a result, Mokrzecki believed his wife’s health was declining.

On Dec. 24., Mokrzecki went to visit his wife, the lawsuit claims. “She was still restrained, and her food was across the room — cold — and no staff had attempted to feed her,” the complaint states.

That led to a verbal outburst by Mokrzecki, the lawsuit says.

Upon returning home, Mokrzecki said he was visited by the West Springfield police. Two days later, at his next hospital visit, Mokrzecki said Baystate Health served him with a no-trespass order, which he says he has not violated.

Mokrzecki claims that in ordering him to stay away from the hospital, Baystate Health “deprived him companionship and his ability to be with (his wife) in (a) time of emotional need and inflicted emotional distress.”

Full Article & Source:
West Springfield man sues Baystate Health for ‘civil rights violations’ over wife’s ongoing hospitalization

Michigan Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on AG Nessel’s Appeal of Controversial 1999 and 2007 Consumer Protection Decisions


LANSING
– On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court (MSC) ordered that oral arguments be scheduled in Attorney General Dana Nessel’s appeal of an order preventing her department’s investigation of Eli Lilly and Company’s insulin pricing practices. Eli Lilly has used two past decisions of the MSC to assert the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) is inapplicable to its sale of insulin, those being the decisions in Smith v. Globe Life Ins. Co. and Liss v. Lewiston-Richards, Inc. The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear arguments for reversing those decisions, which the Attorney General asserts are not supported by a plain reading of the law.   

The Smith and Liss decisions preclude state investigation of suspected illegal business practices when the target business sells products or services authorized for sale by a law administered by a state or federal agency, irrespective of allegations pertaining to how they conduct that business. This flawed and broad interpretation of a narrow exemption within the MCPA shields many corporations from any state scrutiny of even the most egregiously unfair alleged business conduct. 

Were the Michigan Supreme Court to reverse the decisions in Smith (1999) and Liss (2007), the Michigan Consumer Protection Act would once again be interpreted to apply as intended, as evident by the law's own title, and the State would regain significant authority to defend consumers from deception and price gouging. Because of the Smith and Liss decisions, the MCPA has been held to no longer apply to the kinds of transactions Michiganders engage in every day—like buying automobiles, building or repairing their homes, dealing with telecommunications providers, and buying any kind of medication. A reversal of these decisions would restore a robust state defense of Michigan consumers.  

“The Smith and Liss decisions were decided on a misapplication of the law, and today are weaponized by corporations evading scrutiny into how they treat consumers,” said Nessel. “The Michigan Consumer Protection Act was meant to empower the State to combat predatory business practices, and these rulings should not stand to impair the government’s defense of vulnerable customers or even patients. While our appeal acutely seeks an investigation into insulin pricing allegations, a reversal of the Smith and Liss decisions would have widespread ramifications for our ability to investigate, litigate, and enforce the MCPA all across the consumer marketplace, where oftentimes the State law is rendered toothless and the vulnerable customer defenseless. 

“We look forward to making our arguments before the Michigan Supreme Court and will continue our efforts with the Legislature to further bolster the Consumer Protection Act.” 

In January 2022, Attorney General Nessel launched an investigation into Eli Lilly, one of the nation’s three largest drug-manufacturing companies producing insulin. The action sought to use the MCPA to investigate various aspects of Lilly’s pricing practices related to life-saving medications used by diabetics. Nessel also filed a companion Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, asking the court to declare that the exemption in section 4 of the MCPA does not prohibit an investigation into Eli Lilly’s insulin pricing. But Eli Lilly used the Smith and Liss decisions to obtain an order stating that the MCPA does not apply to its insulin sales, thus halting the investigation. 

In July of 2022, Ingham Circuit Court Judge Wanda M. Stokes granted Eli Lilly’s motion for summary disposition, holding that the Smith and Liss decisions preclude application of the MCPA to Lilly’s sale of insulin medications because the general practice of selling insulin is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

A claim of appeal was filed with the Court of Appeals (COA) along with a bypass application to the MSC. The MSC denied the bypass application but asked the COA to expedite the appeal. The COA upheld the lower court’s decision, leading to the Attorney General's filing with the MSC in August of 2023. 

The Attorney General’s appeal is not based on the merits of whether Eli Lilly has violated the MCPA, but rather on the Attorney General’s authority to investigate possible MCPA violations under the MCPA when Eli Lilly is generally authorized to sell insulin medications by the FDA but is bound by no FDA regulations regarding the pricing of those medications.

Source:
Michigan Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on AG Nessel’s Appeal of Controversial 1999 and 2007 Consumer Protection Decisions

Monday, February 19, 2024

Assisted living’s real problem: Staffing and acuity, not lack of regulation

by Neville M. Bilimoria 

Dec. 17, The Washington Post published a special investigation highlighting dozens of assisted living resident deaths across the country due to wandering or elopements.

As a result, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) scheduled a hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which he chairs, to look into why those deaths were happening, with at least a handful occurring in Casey’s home state of Pennsylvania. This was the first hearing of its kind for the assisted living industry in almost 20 years.

Well, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held its hearing on Jan. 25, eliciting testimony from advocates, industry leaders and families. It didn’t go so well for the assisted living industry, pointing once again toward increased fervor over possible federal legislation for assisted living communities nationwide:

  • “Unfortunately, what I heard today makes clear that we have a long way to go when it comes to guaranteeing the level of care that older Americans in assisted living facilities deserve.” — Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • “This has gone on long enough without federal oversight.” — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Those hearings were not too surprising, because the Post painted a very dire picture of assisted living today in its expose. The Post had documented 2,000 assisted living wandering incidents since 2018, with more than 100 of them fatal. But the Post article, and what occurred at the hearing, highlights the big question: Is federal regulation the answer? No, I posit to you.

We all know what federal regulation did to the nursing home industry and how it currently affects that industry through increased enforcement, driving up costs, and even today, leading to nursing home closures. In today’s environment, and with the assisted living industry post-COVID-19, the last thing folks need is federal regulation as senior living communities are struggling to get back to their pre-pandemic staffing levels, all while dealing with residents’ greater health needs and an aging population in their homes at the same time.  

But what was interesting about the Senate hearing were the seemingly ignored comments of industry leaders from the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living and Argentum, and particularly Julie Simpkins, a member of the NCAL Board, who made a good point during the hearing:

“When we talk about assisted living, it’s important to note that every state, every facility and every resident is different. …Efforts to standardize all assisted living communities would be both unworkable and irresponsible for resident care.”

I think Simpkins is right. What happened to those residents is truly tragic (also acknowledged by Simpkins), but the call for increased state regulatory oversight is not just a veiled attempt by AHCA/NCAL and the industry to avoid more regulation. Most assisted living companies are operating and providing a good quality of care. Punishing a majority of assisted living communities with greater federal regulation isn’t necessarily the answer. Why not try, as advocates suggested at the Senate hearing, to allow state regulators to continue regulation, and also crack down on the poor-performing providers.

Further, allowing greater state oversight makes real sense for those of us who have been in the nursing home/assisted living industry; after all, more regulation at the federal level is only going to muck things up further, perhaps adding to or, even worse, exacerbating, the real problem: staffing shortages. Increased federal regulation only makes it more costly for facilities to achieve compliance, and that money could be better spent on workforce programs to attract more and better assisted living workers.

We can’t just look at staffing statistics for assisted living and open positions to really encapsulate the full gravity of the staffing shortage problem. The other problem is the pool of caregivers that operators have to choose from and the need for better caregivers to insert themselves into that hiring pool. 

After all, if you fill your staffing positions with undedicated, uneducated or unqualified individuals, then you are not helping the situation. As Simpkins said, we need to address programs that will bring workers — good workers — back to assisted living environments. Simpkins commented that addressing caregiver shortages through workforce programs could make a difference.

In all, a fix to this elopement problem may not be as simple as federal regulation. Maybe the better intervention is to help improve staffing, allow states to further crack down on poor-performing assisted living communities, and see how that goes before instituting federal regulation. Otherwise, federal regulation could make the situation worse. 

Neville M. Bilimoria is a partner in the Chicago office of the Health Law Practice Group and member of the Post-Acute Care and Senior Services Subgroup at Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

Full Article & Source:
Assisted living’s real problem: Staffing and acuity, not lack of regulation

Man charged with impersonating lawyer, stealing nearly $40K from several victims


By Lydian Kennin and Kelli Cook

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis man has been arrested and charged after he allegedly tricked several victims into believing he was a lawyer and stole nearly $40,000 in funds that were meant to help them.

The suspect, 59-year-old Glenis Campbell, was arrested Thursday on three active warrants for impersonating a licensed professional and several counts of property theft.

In October of 2023, a Memphis man came forward and told police that he hired Campbell to represent him for a criminal case out of Mississippi. The victim told police he met Campbell through a mutual friend and paid $3,240 for Campbell to represent him.

As the court case neared, however, the victim said Campbell suddenly stopped all contact. Out of suspicion, the victim checked the Mississippi Bar’s webpage, where he discovered Campbell was not listed.

Two days after that victim called police, Campbell was once again under law enforcement’s radar when his neighbors, a married couple, came forward and told Shelby County detectives that Campbell had been swindling them since December of 2021.

They said that someone introduced them to Campbell saying he was an attorney who would be able to help them with a “workman’s comp” case they were looking to imitate.

The couple said they hired Campbell to represent them as their civil attorney and paid him approximately $28,000 over almost two years for various court costs and procedures.

The couple began asking for receipts and paperwork from the court processes, but Campbell could not provide them, according to the arrest affidavit. It was then that the victims became suspicious of Campbell’s legitimacy as a licensed attorney and began researching him.

Through their digging, they learned Campbell did not practice law in Tennessee and had posed as an attorney to others.

Detectives with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office had previously launched an investigation into Campbell’s alleged scams in July of 2022.

In that case, officials say Campbell tricked two Shelby County sisters into believing he was a lawyer and would be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit after their mother’s passing.

A woman came forward and told detectives that she and her sister were scammed out of approximately $7,600 by Campbell over eight months while under the impression that he was handling their mother’s wrongful death suit.

She said she met Campbell through the recommendation of a family member.

Campbell allegedly asked for funds to cover court costs, legal fees, $600 for a medical examiner’s report, $900 for a “formal report,” and other expenses.

The victims attempted to settle the incident outside of the courtroom, however, Campbell allegedly went MIA and never refunded their money.

Detectives saw Campbell was previously charged with impersonating a lawyer in 2008.

He was arrested and charged on Thursday and is set to appear in court Friday morning.

Daniel Irwin with the Better Business Bureau says it’s important to do your due diligence when retaining an attorney.

" A red flag would be if you don’t see them on the bar association or you can’t find them by several different spellings of their names with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility that may be a huge red flag,” said Irwin.

“Check reviews, or check with other attorneys or others in the legal profession. You just want to make sure that not only you are hiring a licensed attorney but a competent attorney,” said Irwin.

Irwin also says to be wary of any attorney that looks to be paid in cash only or use of Cash App.

He says most attorneys will offer multiple options for payment including credit card.

There is no bond information at this time.

Full Article & Source:
Man charged with impersonating lawyer, stealing nearly $40K from several victims

Driver stops to save elderly woman from house fire in Homer

by: Clare Normoyle

As smoke and flames were spreading through the home, a person driving by saw, and called 911. He got out of his car and went inside, where he found an elderly woman who was not able to exit on her own, and helped her to safety.

Homer Police Patrol Officer Foody and Homer Fire Chief Jay Riley were the first units to arrive. At the scene, a firefighter who was living in the neighborhood responded to the home and was able to report that an appliance was on fire.

Homer Police Chief Robert Pittman told NewsChannel 9 that Cortlandville Firefighter Kevin Whitney entered the home and saved the resident’s cat.

The Homer Fire Department says the fire was under control after 15 minutes. The woman was not injured.

The Red Cross responded to assist the displaced residents.

Full Article & Source:
Driver stops to save elderly woman from house fire in Homer

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Embattled private guardian sued for alleged neglect of vulnerable Alaskans

By Iris Samuels

Tom McDuffie, executive director of Cache Integrity Services, a nonprofit that provides private guardianship services. Photographed in Anchorage on October 25, 2023. (Marc Lester / ADN)

A private guardian who left many of his clients in financial ruin faces two lawsuits filed Thursday alleging he had neglected his duties to all 122 vulnerable Alaskans he had been charged with protecting.

The guardian, Tom McDuffie, is scheduled to appear in a public court hearing Wednesday, amid allegations of ongoing fraudulent activities involving his nonprofit company.

Beginning in 2022, McDuffie took on dozens of guardianship clients who were previously under the care of the state, after the Office of Public Advocacy claimed a years-long staffing crisis in its public guardianship section forced it to turn to private guardians.

But McDuffie and his private guardianship nonprofit, Cache Integrity Services, left dozens of those clients in debt and without the public assistance on which they relied to meet their basic needs.

A court visitor report filed Monday and obtained by the Anchorage Daily News, said Cache Integrity may be committing ongoing “fraudulent activities.”

In October, retired Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth was appointed to oversee an investigation of McDuffie and his fitness to serve as guardian. Despite months of closed-door court hearings, there has been little public accountability for McDuffie and the public officials who signed on transferring dozens of vulnerable Alaskans to his company’s care.

On Thursday, two of McDuffie’s former clients filed lawsuits against him, alleging that he had “neglected the heightened fiduciary duties owed” to the plaintiffs and the 122 guardianship and conservatorship clients that McDuffie took on. The lawsuits were filed by Anchorage attorney Caitlin Shortell.

The identities of the plaintiffs are not shared in this story because they are vulnerable adults living with dementia. One lawsuit alleges that after McDuffie was appointed conservator, the plaintiff accrued a debt of more than $614,000 for an extended hospital stay resulting from McDuffie’s failure to respond to calls for the hospital and guardian. Another lawsuit alleges that McDuffie failed to collect rent on the plaintiff’s multiple rental properties, and made renovations on a property owned by the plaintiff without necessary permits, among other allegations. In both cases, McDuffie did not file taxes or set up a trust account for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuits allege that McDuffie and his agency mismanaged wards’ funds, failed to apply for and manage benefits, charged excessive fees, failed to provide health care, failed to pay personal needs allowance, neglected wards’ personal needs, and didn’t communicate with wards, among other allegations.

McDuffie used a single account to handle his clients’ funds, making it difficult, if not impossible, to identify individual clients’ funds even after the clients were transferred to other private guardians or to the care of the public guardians in the Office of Public Advocacy.

On Monday, a court employee responsible for investigating McDuffie’s potential wrongdoing filed an “urgent notice to the court,” calling for “immediate involvement of law enforcement to investigate potential instances of theft and forgery.” Asked if the courts took immediate action in response to the report, Alaska courts spokeswoman Rebecca Koford said she didn’t know “what has been done with the urgent report.”

Valerie Brogden, a court visitor, wrote in her report that “fraudulent activities may still be ongoing,” putting at risk the funds of more than 100 guardianship clients and 200 representative payee clients, for whom McDuffie handles Social Security checks.

McDuffie declined an interview request, and declined to answer a list of questions sent by email.

‘Special investigative conservator’

McDuffie began offering private guardianship services in 2021. In short order, the Office of Public Advocacy, or OPA — charged with serving as public guardian for vulnerable Alaskans who cannot find or afford a private guardian — sought to transfer dozens of cases to McDuffie’s nascent nonprofit.

Last month, Aarseth appointed OPA as the “special investigative conservator,” charged with protecting McDuffie’s former clients whose funds may be compromised. In the decision to appoint OPA, Aarseth cited OPA’s unique understanding of the laws pertaining to guardianship.

But advocates for wards question whether OPA can conduct an effective investigation because the agency’s leadership, including OPA Deputy Director Beth Goldstein, was instrumental in encouraging Alaska courts to appoint McDuffie as guardian, despite his lack of experience or proven ability to protect wards.

Several people familiar with OPA’s involvement asked the judge to appoint a special master to investigate the wrongdoing. That special master, they said, could act independently, including by appointing a forensic accountant to untangle the funds in Cache Integrity’s account. They said a forensic accountant is necessary because of the collective accounting system used by McDuffie, which left dozens of clients’ funds intermingled and indistinguishable.

The judge acknowledged the financial complexity of the case, writing in a court order that “the level and complexity of the accounting work needed far exceeds (work) ever expected of a Court Visitor.”

But the judge decided against appointing a special master or forensic accountant, citing the lack of funds to pay such professionals.

“There has been no discussion of the selection process or the means by which the person appointed (i.e. hired) would be paid,” Aarseth wrote.

On Wednesday, McDuffie filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider the appointment of OPA as special investigative conservator, calling it “a massive conflict of interest.”

“OPA approached Cache Integrity Services to expand into guardianship, gave guidance on how to start it, and strongly pushed Cache Integrity Services expansion,” McDuffie wrote.

Last month, Aarseth ordered a one-hour public meeting to be held Wednesday, Feb. 14, to address questions on “on how to unravel the Cache Integrity Services accounting, the fairest and just means by which to distribute what funds are being held, and who shall bear the cost if the hiring of a person or firm with the expertise to perform the work is necessary.”

In the lawsuits filed Thursday in Anchorage Superior Court, the plaintiffs ask the court to appoint a special master not employed by Cache Integrity or OPA who “has no financial interest in either entity” to manage discovery, forensic accounting, and settlement of the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiffs also ask the judge to order McDuffie and Cache Integrity to pay for a forensic accountant to assess damages.

The lawsuits also ask the court to permanently ban McDuffie and all current and former Cache Integrity employees from acting as guardians, and to award damages to the plaintiffs’ for “outrageous financial abuse,” along with compensation for the plaintiff’s “humiliation, emotional distress, inconvenience, and other monetary and dignitary harms.”

‘Fake clients’

According to Brogden, the court visitor, McDuffie reported to the court visitors concerns he had with his former employees. McDuffie regularly hired employees who had no experience in guardianship services, including some employees with a criminal history.

McDuffie reported finding “fake clients” in his accounting system that he was not the guardian or conservator for. He reported a payment of nearly $32,000 from one of the “fake clients” to an assisted living facility, with no invoices attached. McDuffie also reported checks of up to $10,000 written out to “individuals unrelated to the protected person” marked as “personal needs.”

“The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated,” Brogden wrote in her report. She added that McDuffie “has conveyed his attempt to ‘fix’ things on his computer, raising concerns that fraudulent activities may still be ongoing, or evidence may be compromised.”

On Monday, McDuffie reported to the Wasilla Police Department that there had been a break-in to his office. Wasilla Police spokeswoman Amanda Graham said the case is currently under investigation and declined to provide additional information.

Full Article & Source:
Embattled private guardian sued for alleged neglect of vulnerable Alaskans

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Judge rejects call for independent investigation of state-endorsed private guardian who neglected dozens of clients

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Saturday, February 17, 2024

Judge rejects call for independent investigation of state-endorsed private guardian who neglected dozens of clients

By Iris Samuels

Former clients and advocates attend a fitness review for former guardian Tom McDuffie, at left, and his private guardianship nonprofit, Cache Integrity Services, at the Nesbett Courthouse on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Bill Roth / ADN)

A judge on Wednesday declined to order a forensic accountant to investigate a private guardian’s mishandling of finances that left the funds of more than 100 Alaskans entangled in a single account.

At a public hearing in Anchorage that drew several of Tom McDuffie’s former private guardianship and conservatorship clients, along with attorneys and other guardians, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth said he would decline several requests to appoint an impartial investigator to oversee an inquiry of alleged wrongdoing by McDuffie. Instead, the judge said he would leave the investigation to be conducted by the public agency that had encouraged McDuffie to become a guardian.

Two court visitors appointed to investigate McDuffie’s actions filed a report late last month that included a call for “a comprehensive forensic accounting review,” after McDuffie used a single account for all of the clients served by his private agency, Cache Integrity Services, making it difficult or impossible for the money to be divided accurately among McDuffie’s former clients.

The court visitors wrote in their report that “it appears to be reasonable for Mr. McDuffie and Cache Integrity Services to bear all the cost” of hiring a forensic accountant.

But the judge said that filings to the court had not adequately explained how the accountant would be identified and paid.

“Someone needs to give me some names and they need to give me qualifications and they need to give me a fee schedule,” Aarseth said during the hearing, which lasted less than an hour.

“I have a lot of big ideas of what should happen, but no concrete plans in terms of how that would happen,” Aarseth said.

Instead, Aarseth said he would leave the investigation of McDuffie’s tangled accounting system to the Office of Public Advocacy, or OPA — a state agency housed in the Department of Administration — to oversee an investigation of McDuffie’s actions. Aarseth said he had little leeway to do otherwise because state law explicitly names the public guardian, which is a section of OPA, as the agency responsible for investigating private guardians.

Aarseth’s decision left many advocates for McDuffie’s former clients incensed. Several said that OPA had played a key role in encouraging McDuffie to become a private guardian, despite early indications that McDuffie was unable to meet their needs, as OPA contended with a years-long staffing shortage.

“Why is the fox guarding the henhouse?” said Susan Pacillo, who said she became a guardian for one of McDuffie’s former clients because he had neglected the individual’s needs.

“They’re the ones that made the mess. Now they’re the ones who are going to clean it up?” asked Pacillo.

McDuffie — who attended the hearing but never spoke — had also asked the court not to appoint OPA to the role, citing their involvement in his early effort to set up his guardianship services.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth held a fitness review for guardian Tom McDuffie and his private guardianship nonprofit, Cache Integrity Services, in a public hearing at the Nesbett Courthouse on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Former guardian Tom McDuffie looks back at the gallery after the public fitness review hearing for his private guardianship nonprofit, Cache Integrity Services, adjourned on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in the Nesbett Courthouse. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The judge said that even if OPA had made errors, it did not preclude the public agency from unsnarling wrongdoing.

“If an error was made in recommending Cache Integrity as a guardian or conservator, that error does not disqualify the public guardian from serving the role that the Legislature intended,” Aarseth said.

Aarseth said it would be up to the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy to choose a different public agency or official to conduct an investigation if there were any concerns with OPA leading the charge.

“If the executive branch wants to submit someone new or different, or a different agency to step in, they can make the application to me and I’ll make the determination of whether someone would be more appropriate, but I haven’t had any volunteers yet,” said Aarseth.

OPA is headed by James Stinson, who was appointed to the position in 2019, after Dunleavy was first elected. Stinson donated $1,000 to Dunleavy’s campaign in 2018, and more than $700 in 2021. Stinson’s compensation went up more than 20% between 2022 and 2023, from nearly $163,000 to more than $198,000.

Beth Goldstein, OPA’s deputy director who supported McDuffie’s foray into private guardianship, represented OPA at the hearing Wednesday. She did not appear in person.

Caitlin Shortell, an Anchorage attorney who recently filed two lawsuits against McDuffie on behalf of his former clients, said she had asked the court to order McDuffie to maintain liability insurance, but Aarseth had not responded to that request in court.

Shortell said she was concerned on behalf of her clients that because a forensic accountant had not been appointed, and McDuffie had not been ordered to maintain insurance for his business, that McDuffie’s former clients may not be able to recover their funds, which in some cases amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Shortell had also requested an independent special master be appointed to administer claims related to financial and personal injury damages.

The court visitors’ report cataloged all the ways that McDuffie and Cache Integrity Services had mishandled their obligations, including by mismanaging funds, allowing clients to lose critical benefits such as Medicaid and Social Security payments, charging excessive fees, mismanaging the properties of clients, and failing to provide health care for clients.

The court visitor report had included a call for a criminal investigation, saying “such an investigation is necessary to ensure accountability and to protect the interests of those who have been affected.”

Aarseth said it would be inappropriate for him to recommend a criminal investigation of McDuffie, but added that other individuals — including court employees, attorneys and other guardians familiar with McDuffie’s actions — could turn to law enforcement.

“The court is not making any referral to law enforcement, not because the court can’t see that maybe there is a possibility for that to happen, but I don’t want to step outside of that role of being a judicial office,” Aarseth said during Wednesday’s hearing — the first time the court has held a public hearing since Aarseth was appointed in October to investigate McDuffie.

Court proceedings related to guardianship are routinely held behind closed doors to protect the rights of vulnerable Alaskans in need of a guardian or conservator — adults deemed by the courts to be unable to make decisions on their finances, housing, health care and other important issues, often due to mental disabilities or dementia. Aarseth said he had decided to open Wednesday’s hearing to the public because of “public concern” over McDuffie’s actions.

Aarseth concluded the brief hearing by saying that if members of the public “don’t like the results,” then “they can call the Legislature and ask them to change the law.”

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth held a fitness review for guardian Tom McDuffie and his private guardianship nonprofit, Cache Integrity Services, in a public hearing at the Nesbett Courthouse on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Bill Roth / ADN)

 

A daughter and guardian holds her mother's hand, a former client, during the fitness review for former guardian Tom McDuffie and his private guardianship nonprofit, Cache Integrity Services, in the Nesbett Courthouse on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a single hearing on public guardians, in which committee members questioned Stinson. But the hearing concluded with no clear further steps, and lawmakers have yet to propose any legislation this year that would address Alaska’s laws pertaining to guardians and conservators.

Aarseth said that the case would proceed with OPA investigating McDuffie’s actions, but the original question at the heart of the case — whether McDuffie is fit to serve as guardian — was moot, because McDuffie had surrendered his license in November.

Still, McDuffie continued to have access to the accounts of Cache Integrity Services and retained the ability to serve as representative payee — a service he began providing before becoming a guardian that involves collecting Social Security checks for recipients unable to do so themselves.

Aarseth said the court case would not pertain to McDuffie’s work as a representative payee, but last week, the judge granted an order that had been requested by OPA to notify McDuffie’s unhoused clients that he would no longer process Social Security payments for them.

A poster states that McDuffie or his employee, Kathleen Blomburg, “will no longer be receiving” Social Security funds and instructs people to call the Social Security Administration office in Seattle “if you have not received any information about your money.”

The judge ordered the information to be submitted “to the known homeless shelters, food pantries and other facilities meeting transient unhoused individuals in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley.” 

Full Article & Source:
Judge rejects call for independent investigation of state-endorsed private guardian who neglected dozens of clients

February 1, 2024 Disciplinary Actions

The Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 13 attorneys, disbarring one, revoking the license of three, suspending six and reprimanding three.

Omar Javier Arcia, 3350 S.W. 148th Ave., Suite 110, Miramar, suspended for 91 days effective 30 days following a January 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1995) Arcia engaged in a pattern of representing both co-lenders and borrowers in foreclosure matters without disclosing the potential conflict of interest or attempting to obtain a knowing and voluntary waiver of the conflict from those clients. In another matter, Arcia filed an improper lien against a property for refusal to remit a real estate commission resulting in a waste of judicial resources and a delay in the sale of the property. (Case No. SC23-0413)

Odiator Arugu, 1540 Whooping Dr., Groveland, disbarred effective immediately following a January 8 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1995) Arugu continued engaging in the practice of law after the effective date of his 91-day suspension. Arugu failed to close out his practice and protect the interests of his clients before the effective date of his suspension. He also communicated with a client and gave her legal advice while suspended, failed to move to withdraw from two pending cases, and remained counsel of record after the effective date of his suspension in these cases. Arugu failed to advise the client of a hearing, resulting in a dismissal being entered against the client. As a result, Arugu was held in contempt and disbarred. (Case No. SC23-1374)

Frank Carvajal, 1665 E. 4th St., Suite 104, Santa Ana, CA, public reprimand effective 30 days following a January 25 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1995) Carvajal represented a client in removal proceedings before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). In 2019, the client hired Carvajal to appeal the BIA’s decision. Carvajal filed the appeal pro se, even though he previously filed Form EOIR-26 signifying his appearance as attorney of record and indicating that he would file a brief. Carvajal failed to timely file a brief, and the case was dismissed without a review. (Case No. SC23-1193)

Lisa M. Dawson, 149 S. Ridgewood Ave., Suite 310, Daytona Beach, public reprimand and ordered to attend Ethics School effective immediately following a January 4 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2006). Dawson neglected a client’s family law matter and failed to properly withdraw from the representation. Dawson also failed to inform the client that she closed her private law practice. The court dismissed the client’s case, citing a lack of record activity or appearances. (Case No. SC23-0998)

Paul DeCailly, P.O. Box 17793, Clearwater, suspended until such time as DeCailly fully responds in writing to the official Bar inquiry, effective 30 days following a January 25 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) DeCailly failed to respond to official Bar inquiries and the Florida Supreme Court’s Order to Show Cause. On January 25, the court issued an order granting The Florida Bar’s Petition for Contempt and Order Show Cause, suspending DeCailly from the practice of law until he fully responds in writing to the Bar’s inquiry. (Case No. SC23-1653)

Glenn Burdette Grevengoed, 3730 7th Terrace, Vero Beach, public reprimand effective immediately following a January 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) The court held Grevengoed in contempt for failing to timely respond to The Florida Bar’s subpoena requesting trust account records. (Case No. SC23-1378)

John Spencer Jenkins, 101 N.E. 3rd Ave, Suite 1500, Ft. Lauderdale, emergency suspension effective immediately following a January 9 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2012) Jenkins represented the personal representative of an estate. Jenkins has misappropriated over $400,000 in estate funds by removing those funds from the trust account without authorization and using those entrusted funds for purposes not intended by the estate. (Case No. SC2024-0022)

Ryan M. Layton, 101 North J St., Lake Worth, suspended until further order of the Court, effective 30 days following a January 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2002) The Florida Bar filed a petition for contempt and order to show cause after Layton failed to respond to the Bar’s investigative inquiries. Subsequently, Layton failed to respond to the Florida Supreme Court’s order to show cause, and the court entered an order suspending him until such time as he responds to the Bar’s investigative inquiries and until further order of the court. (Case No. SC2023-1672)

Hubbell Clay Losson, 701 77th Ave. North, #55640, St. Petersburg, held in contempt of court and suspended from the practice of law until he fully responds in writing to the official Bar inquiry and until further order of the court, effective 30 days following a January 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2002) Losson failed to respond to an official Bar inquiry in Florida Bar File No. 2023-10,297(13E). The Florida Bar filed a Petition for Contempt and Order to Show Cause on November 20, 2023, and the Florida Supreme Court ordered Losson to show cause by December 6, 2023. Losson failed to file a response to the court’s Order to Show Cause. Losson has been held in contempt of court and is ordered to be suspended until he fully responds in writing to the official Bar inquiry and until further order of the court. (Case No. SC23-1604)

Ronald Stuart Lubetsky, 220 S.W. Natura Ave., Deerfield Beach, disciplinary revocation with leave to apply for readmission in five years, effective immediately following a December 14, 2023, court order. (Admitted to practice: 2002) Lubetsky was found guilty on seven counts of knowingly and intentionally dispensing a controlled substance without authorization by law, five counts involving oxycodone and two counts involving oxycodone and morphine. Thereafter, Lubetsky was sentenced to 60 months in prison. On September 7, the Bar filed a Notice of Determination of Judgment of Guilt, and the court issued an order suspending Lubetsky from the practice of law on same date. On October 26, Lubetsky filed a Petition for Disciplinary Revocation with Leave to Apply for Readmission. (Case No. SC2023-1484)

Rafael Antonio Perez, 2525 Ponce De Leon Blvd., Suite 300, Coral Gables, disciplinary revocation with leave to apply for readmission effective 30 days following a December 28, 2023, court order. (Admitted to practice: 1987) A client retained Perez to represent him in a commercial loan transaction. Rather than proceed with the transaction as directed, Perez engaged in delaying the transaction, failed to follow client’s instructions, and failed to return client’s monies from his trust account upon demand. (Case No. SC23-1575)

Jacob Aaron Weil, 2307 N. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdaledisciplinary revocation with leave to seek readmission after five years, effective immediately following a December 21, 2023, court order. (Admitted to practice: 2018) Weil filed a Petition for Disciplinary Revocation with Leave to Apply for Readmission based upon allegations that included abandoning clients and his failure to account for and misuse of client trust funds. (Case No. SC2023-1228)

Emily Christine Williams, 2411 Cold Stream Ln., Green Cove Springs, suspended for 91 days effective February 12, 2024, following a January 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2009) Williams engaged in misconduct involving incompetence, inadequate communication with clients, and lack of diligence in family law and guardianship cases. Williams also entered a plea of no contest on a misdemeanor criminal charge. As a result, the court, in an order dated January 11, suspended Williams. (Case No. SC22-1778)

The Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and its Division of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the more than 111,000 members of The Florida Bar. Key discipline case files that are public record are posted to attorneys’ individual online Florida Bar profiles. To view discipline documents, follow these steps. Information on the discipline system and how to file a complaint are available at www.floridabar.org/attorneydiscipline.

Court orders are not final until time expires to file a rehearing motion and, if filed, determined. The filing of such a motion does not alter the effective date of the discipline. Disbarred lawyers may not reapply for admission for five years. They are required to go through an extensive process that includes a rigorous background check and retaking the Bar exam. Attorneys suspended for periods of 91 days and longer must undergo a rigorous process to regain their law licenses including proving rehabilitation. Disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment.

Full Article & Source:
February 1, 2024 Disciplinary Actions