Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Conservator says she's targeted by AG task force

By Luca Powell

Jessica Englebrecht sits on the porch of her parents' home, where she and her children Parker, 7, and Sebastian, 5, had to move after Englebrecht, a conservator, was accused of embezzling money from 11 different vulnerable adults.
Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael Stump

LUDINGTON — In September, lawyers from the office of the attorney general of the state of Michigan will attempt to show a judge in Ludington that a conservator stole thousands of dollars from her wards.

The conservator in question is Jessica Englebrecht, a Mason County woman who was given 11 wards on court assignments. She served as their conservator and guardian, managing money and medical decisions for wards with schizophrenia, dementia, and developmental disabilities. A 1,330-page police investigation details how she moved money and property and provides the foundation for the state’s prosecution.

Conversely, Englebrecht has said that she overstretched herself trying to help wards who had nowhere else to turn. Englebrecht says that, if anything, she lost money caring for her clients, and that Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office is unfairly prosecuting her in search of a “win” in the AG’s campaign against elder abuse.

Shortly after taking office, Nessel announced the creation of an Elder Abuse Task Force. Separately, her financial crimes division has opened more than 185 cases into suspected financial exploitation since 2019. Englebrecht’s case is among a handful that have been drawn out into litigation.

Investigations began into Englebrecht’s conduct in 2019, when caretakers at Krystal Manor Adult Foster Care flagged concerns about the finances of one of their residents. A complaint was filed with Adult Protective Services, the state agency charged with caring for vulnerable adults, by the AFC’s owner Susan Myers.

A resident with developmental disabilities had become frustrated with how Englebrecht was managing his guardianship. The resident, whose name was redacted by records officers at the Michigan State Police, said Englebrecht regularly hid his receipts and bank statements.

In one instance, he said Englebrecht removed money from a Christmas savings account — a $50 nest-egg that was meant for him to buy gifts for his family.

“However, that money is no longer there and believed [sic] Jessica had taken it out without giving [REDACTED] an explanation,” the report states. An employee with APS further advised that there were “direct transfers from [REDACTED]’s bank account to Jessica’s bank account,” and that the transfers are “not normal practice for guardians.”

The investigation quickly expanded. Medicaid payments for some of the home’s residents were going unpaid. In addition, a resident’s car, a 2006 Kia Rio, had Englebrecht listed on the title, and a bag of $3,000 of her wards’ funds and personal information had gone missing in a motel room in Ann Arbor.

In interviews, Englebrecht’s wards complained to police that she rarely picked up her phone, explained her purchases, or helped her wards with paperwork they needed for things like job applications.

However, in Michigan, conservators and guardians aren’t legally required to do any of these tasks. Courts require one accounting of expenses annually and haven’t required probate courts to audit conservator’s receipts since 2001.

Englebrecht adamantly denies the perception of her being cast by the Michigan State Police report. In an interview with the Record-Eagle, she said she’d missed some filing deadlines with the court, but that she’d taken on so many wards after being begged to do so by Mason County Probate Registrar Linda Clifford.

Clifford referred all questions regarding the case to her court administrator, Charles Gunsell, who has not responded to a request for comment.

Englebrecht says proof of her innocence is in the numbers, which don’t add up: Most of her wards had little to no money in their names. Englebrecht said that her wards were so poor that she declined to charge an allowable $83 in monthly guardianship fees. Court records substantiate her claims.

More of than not, Englebrecht said she lost money caring for all 11 of her clients pro-bono.

“I’m the one that took them on and now I’m the one that is being accused of stealing from them,” Englebrecht said. “Nobody wanted to lift a finger for these people.”

She said the car was transferred to her name at her client’s request, that the bag of money genuinely did go missing, and that she was never offered training or guidance by the Mason County Probate Court on commingling funds and accounts, which she said is a common practice in Mason County.

“They dropped 12 people on her within a couple of weeks and gave her no training whatsoever,” said Suzanne Lange, Englebrecht’s mother. Lange runs an AFC home in Scottville, Country Care AFC. “The court needs to be held responsible for that.”

It’s not unusual for residents of AFC homes — many of whom are classified by the state as vulnerable adults — to have guardians. Lange said many guardians for her residents rarely interact with the adults they are charged with caring for. She said Englebrecht became a guardian because she wanted to do things differently.

Lange and Englebrecht both said that the wards the court assigned Englebrecht had long been neglected by the previous guardians. In one instance, Englebrecht said she was the first arrange care for a ward’s decaying eyesight, which she said her ward’s prior guardian had not thought to do.

  • “I was handed a shtshow,” Englebrecht said. “When I got her, I got her set up with one of the best eye doctors in the state. And I took her to those appointments myself.”

Lange has operated her AFC for more than 20 years. She described a lax oversight attitude at the court where elected officials have historically favored guardians that are ready and willing to take vulnerable adults off their court dockets.

“When I first got into it, there were other guardians that we’re doing things very illegal, and nobody wanted to question it because, when I took it to the judge, the judge says, ‘Well we don’t want to ruffle any feathers, because we like them, they take these clients on,’” Lange said.

Clifford declined to comment, citing the case as an ongoing trial. Probate registrars are often charged with picking and choosing guardians, although Michigan has no requirements for who can serve in the position beyond an 18-year-old age minimum.

Probate Judge Jeffrey C. Nellis also declined to comment on the case when Record-Eagle reporters went to Mason County to look through Englebrecht’s case files. Nellis swiftly removed Englebrecht from all her court assignments after hearing of the developing police investigation.

Meanwhile, Englebrecht’s case is headed to a jury trial in the fall. Her case is being tried by Dan Gunderson, a lawyer with the Attorney General’s Financial Crimes Division.

On the strength of the 1,330 page police report, Gunderson will seek to prove 10 misdemeanor charges of embezzlement as well as one charge for commingling funds with vulnerable adults.

The charges carry penalties of one to two years in prison.

For embezzlement, Englebrecht is liable to pay up to three times the amount in question, while the commingling charge carries a $25,000 penalty.

Lynsey Mukomel, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, said that Gunderson could not comment on an open case.

When Nessel first announced the charges, she said that cases like Englebrecht’s are “precisely why my office has a unit specifically charged with evaluating reports of elder abuse and why there are a number of assistant attorneys general and investigators assigned to pursue bad actors,” Nessel said in a press release.

Englebrecht maintains that Nessel’s lawyers are trying to prosecute a caricature of a bad guardian, without paying attention to the realities of her struggle to learn the job while working as a single mother.

“That movie, ‘I Care a Lot’ that’s what they try to depict me as. And it’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Englebrecht said, referencing a 2020 Netflix movie in which a crooked guardian drains the bank accounts of her elderly wards.

“They need someone to point the finger at,” Englebrecht said.

Lange said she was frustrated that the Attorney General had gotten involved, but that she looked forward to testifying to Jessica’s defense.

“People need to know that she was not out there just scamming these people — she was spending her own money, taking people out to doctor’s appointments, taking them shopping, doing things for them” said Lange. “It will come out in her trial.”

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Monday, May 23, 2022

Isolated by guardianship

George Pappas and his daughter, Mary Hilliard, in a photo taken in the 1950s and preserved in a family photo album.
Maria Sterlini/Special to the Record-Eagle

BAD AXE — It was June 2021 and by the way she describes it, every bone in Maria Sterlini’s body told her the solution to a family emergency seemed obvious.

Five years earlier, a Huron County probate court judge deemed Sterlini’s cousin, Mary Hilliard, 68, incapacitated because of a mental health diagnosis. In 2016, the judge appointed Hilliard’s elderly mother, Rita Sniecikowski, as guardian.

But then last summer Sniecikowski, 83, was hospitalized, throwing Hilliard’s life into disarray. Hilliard’s family lost control of her care — and have since felt isolated from her.

Sterlini said she wanted to keep her family together, yet at times it seemed to her as if those in positions of authority did just the opposite.

A public guardian and staff with Adult Protective Services supported Hilliard’s emergency placement in an adult foster care home, while Sterlini and another close relative said they thought Hilliard should live with family.

This case came to light last August when Record-Eagle reporters began examining probate court records in 10 Michigan counties, as part of an ongoing probe of the state’s guardianship system.

Reporters learned, among other findings, problems can arise when family members, a judge, and social service agency staff all contend they are acting in the best interests of a vulnerable person, but disagree on what those best interests are.

Hilliard became a resident of Lauren Osantoski’s AFC in Bad Axe on June 9, 2021, and has had scant contact with some members of her family since.

“This doesn’t make sense to me,” Sterlini said. “I don’t understand why the family wasn’t included in this decision. We never wanted her in a foster care home.”

Sterlini said she and Hilliard’s father, George Pappas, of Harbor Springs, can count on one hand the number of times they’ve spoken with Hilliard in the past year.

The public guardian contends the frequency of communication is what Hilliard wants, while Sterlini and Pappas expressed concern the AFC’s phone policy, trauma experienced by Hilliard when her mother was hospitalized or stonewalling by caretakers could be responsible.

Calls to the foster care home by a reporter seeking to speak with Hilliard went to voicemail and were not returned. Osantoski, owner of the AFC home, did not return calls seeking comment. County officials confirmed the facility does not allow individual cellphones, providing instead access to a house phone.

Ashley Kidd, a case worker with Huron County’s Public Guardian office, which now oversees Hilliard’s case, said limited contact is what Hilliard has so far preferred.

“Mary does have all of their phone numbers and she is allowed to call if she wants to,” Kidd said. “She doesn’t always want that communication, at least not right at the moment.”

Pappas, 96, who owns a car and drives short distances but cannot make the 460-mile trip from Harbor Springs to Bad Axe and back, said he last spoke with his daughter in mid-April.

Sterlini and Pappas said they tried to make a conference call to Hilliard on April 24, Greek Easter, a holiday of special significance for the family, who are members of the Greek Orthodox Church. The call went to voicemail and wasn’t returned, Sterlini said.

Pappas is himself no stranger to the control a third-party court-appointment can exert over a person’s life. In 2021, an Emmet County Probate Court judge appointed him a conservator, the decision went awry and continues to be the subject of extensive reporting by the Record-Eagle.

“I feel like Mary has been stolen from us by all these people,” Pappas said, of staff with social service agencies and the probate court. “I can’t even get with her anymore on the telephone.”

Worth saving

Maria “Dolly” Sterlini, 74, lives 130 miles south of Bad Axe in Canton. When Hilliard’s mother was hospitalized, Sterlini, who lives alone, said she’d hoped Hilliard could come live with her.

Sterlini and Hilliard have always been close, Sterlini said, growing up as they did just blocks from one another in a Detroit suburb. Hilliard is artistically talented, Sterlini said, recalling summer afternoons the two spent together, painting and drawing.

“Mary is the most beautiful, heartfelt person you ever want to know,” Sterlini said. “There’s never been a cross word between us. She’s like my little sister. And she’s worth saving.”

Hilliard is one of more than 130,000 adults in Michigan who a probate judge has determined requires help managing their medical, housing or financial affairs and as a result have a court-ordered guardian, conservator or both.

When Huron County Probate Court Judge David Clabeusch appointed Hilliard’s mother as her guardian, he also appointed the county’s Public Guardian, Stephen Allen, as her co-guardian and later, her conservator. Jacilyn Geiger took over in the role when Allen retired in 2020.

Guardians make medical and housing decisions, conservators handle finances, which in Hilliard’s case included $643 in monthly social security disability benefits, records show, and $76 a month from Veterans Affairs.

A court-appointed attorney met with Hilliard on July 6, 2016, court records show, and reported back to the court that Hilliard did not drive, cook or grocery shop, but had easily recited her age, birthday and address.

The attorney said in her report that Hilliard questioned whether her mental health diagnosis was still accurate.

Sterlini said she also has questions about Hilliard’s diagnosis and treatment; annual guardian reports filed in 2017 and 2018 by Sniecikowski state Hilliard saw a psychiatrist twice annually for treatment and prescription medication refills.

Doubly Victimized

Pappas said he feels like his family has been doubly victimized by a system that has long failed to care for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Decades of reform attempts by governors, attorneys general and legislators have so far failed to alter the Michigan judiciary, which controls guardianship and conservatorship in the state’s probate courts.

But it is family members and other “persons of interest” — and not the court — who bear the responsibility of making sure appointed guardians and conservators protect the people they are assigned to serve.

Pappas and Sterlini are listed as “persons of interest” in Hilliard’s case, records show, and after APS placed Hilliard in the AFC home, Sterlini fought Hilliard’s guardianship in court.

On Aug. 6, 2021, Sterlini filed a petition in Huron County Probate Court, seeking to have herself appointed Hilliard’s guardian. The court appointed a guardian ad litem who met with Hilliard and reported back to the court, but never met with or mentioned Sterlini, records show, even though Sterlini was the petitioner.

Hilliard attended the Aug. 10, 2021 petition hearing, where Judge Clabuesch asked her where she preferred to live, at the Osantoski home or with Sterlini — who the family knows as “Dolly.”

In hundreds of pages of documents the Record-Eagle reviewed for this story, the transcript of this hearing is the only time Hilliard’s voice was evident.

“The Osantoski home is a — what’s, what is it?” Hilliard asked the judge.

“Right there, where you are,” the judge said.

“Oh, oh, oh, oh. Lauren’s,” Hilliard said.

“Lauren’s,” the judge confirmed. “Do you —”

“I, I, I think I’ll go with Dolly,” Hilliard said.

The judge asked again whether Hilliard wanted to live with Dolly and the transcript shows Hilliard said living with Dolly would alleviate pressure on her mother.

When the judge responded that he didn’t want to know about Hilliard’s mother, he wanted to know which place was best for her, Hilliard said she couldn’t make up her mind.

“All right. That’s fine,” the judge said. “That’s a sign of somebody being incapacitated.”

Sterlini’s petition was denied, court records show, the public guardian retained its appointment as co-guardian and conservator and Hilliard stayed at the AFC home.

Sniecikowski, after being hospitalized, did not return to the apartment she shared with her daughter and, records show, now lives in a nursing home. In October the court removed her as Hilliard’s co-guardian.

A Difficult Spot

In Michigan there are a handful of counties, like Huron, in the state’s thumb, which fund public guardian offices and employ staff to accept probate court appointments. Their jobs are difficult and, records show, frequently underfunded.

A county public guardian is different from a public administrator, which most counties in Michigan have. Public administrators are attorneys who handle estates when there are no heirs on record. The state also has an overall public administrator, Katharyn Barron, who acts as “person of interest” for vulnerable people who’ve been appointed a guardian or conservator, and have no family of record.

“As a county-funded office, we don’t turn down any cases,” Kidd, employed by the county’s public guardian office since 2017, explained. “We are having a growing number of people who are on our caseload and now live outside the county as there’s a lack of appropriate housing available in our area.”

Vulnerable adults the public guardian office is appointed to serve all once lived in Huron County, Kidd said, and many still do, though others are placed in facilities as far away as Rose City (117 miles), Grand Rapids (204 miles), Berrien County (260 miles) and Detroit (113 miles).

A fact Sterlini said makes placement of Hilliard into a sought-after spot in the county, instead of with family, all the more inexplicable.

The county’s public guardian office has a full-time staff of four, Kidd said, who are responsible for the well-being of about 270 people. Kidd confirmed she and others in the office have had repeated communications with Sterlini and Pappas.

“Dolly does have the right to petition the court if she feels there is a more appropriate placement or a guardianship alternative of her being the guardian,” Kidd said, of Hilliard’s case. “I get where Dolly is coming from. We empathize that she wants her family close to her. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t ever gone that way due to Mary’s wishes.”

Kidd said the staff all know Hilliard and see her frequently. Osantoski’s AFC is near the public guardian’s office and Kidd said a dozen other people the office serves as guardian or conservator also live there.

Osantoski’s AFC is one of the only facilities in the area that accepts emergency placements like Hilliard’s, whose situation was first investigated by Adult Protective Services after Sniecikowski expressed concern for her daughter to a hospital social worker.

That doesn’t explain why Sterlini and Pappas weren’t informed, or why faulty information stating Hilliard was in danger of becoming homeless, was included in an APS log documenting the complaint.

Records show Sterlini began communicating with the public guardian’s office in 2019, asking to be kept informed about Hilliard’s care. Pappas said he wasn’t initially informed his daughter was placed in an AFC home, either.

Instead, when Pappas learned his ex-wife was hospitalized and he couldn’t reach his daughter, he called police.

Records show officers from Bad Axe Police Department visited Osantoski’s AFC for a welfare check and found Hilliard safe, happy and in good health. The involvement of law enforcement, however, prompted another alarming entry in the APS complaint log.

This entry, dated June 23, 2021, referenced a call to APS from Osantoski.

“Lauren stated Mary’s dad called her on Friday night,” the entry states. “No one knew she had a father. He called police and had them come out to check on Mary ‘cause Lauren would not release any information.”

If Pappas wanted to speak with his daughter, the APS log states, he had to go through the public guardian.

Kidd said the public guardian’s office is in a difficult spot – Sterlini and Pappas would like Hilliard to live with family, while by law public guardian staff must respect Hilliard’s wishes and according to Kidd, that means staying at Osantoski’s.

“She would do OK in a home setting with family or whatnot, if that was something she desired,” Kidd said, of Hilliard. “She’s been very happy where she’s at. She has not expressed wanting to go anywhere else.”

Pappas previously expressed concern about the care Hilliard is receiving there, and while state records with the Bureau of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs show the facility is in compliance, there have also been regulatory violations.

Since October of 2019 the facility has been the subject of six special investigations by LARA licensing consultants – none have substantiated allegations or recommended the facility’s license be reviewed.

“The residents are going to be afraid to tell you the truth for fear of what will happen to them when you leave,” stated one complainant, whose name LARA redacted.

Adult foster care homes in Michigan are required to be licensed by LARA, and many of these facilities draw all or a large portion of their residents from placements by social service organizations, like APS or community mental health.

Previous reporting by the Record-Eagle has found it is common for residents of AFC homes to be appointed guardians, conservators or both. AFC home residents are often elderly, developmentally disabled, mentally ill or struggle with memory issues.

Pappas said last year he was unable to speak with his daughter on Father’s Day, and is hopeful when he calls on June 19, the result will be different.

Pappas kept a tally of his attempts to talk with his daughter, jotting down on a yellow legal pad repeated denials and excuses, including, “we’re eating lunch,” or “It’s Sunday.”

Phone calls are the only way Pappas can communicate with his daughter, he said, since he is unable to drive to the AFC home and, while he sends cards and letters, she doesn’t write back.

“That is something that we have addressed with the home,” Kidd said, reiterating Hilliard has phone numbers of family members and can make outgoing calls if she wants.

Sterlini has continued to communicate with the public guardian’s office. For example, in October she emailed the office to ask whether Hilliard received the hot pink hat, scarf and gloves Sterlini sent to her for the winter.

Last year, during one of several visits a Record-Eagle reporter made to Pappas’ apartment in Harbor Springs, Pappas put the handset for his landline on speakerphone, called Osantoski’s AFC, gave his name and asked to speak with his daughter.

The staff member who answered the phone said Pappas had to call Hilliard’s guardian.

When Pappas asked for the name of the guardian and their phone number, the call was disconnected.

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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Senate Passes Disability Protection Package

The New York State Senate passed legislative measures to enhance inclusion, access, and protections for New Yorkers living with disabilities. Included in the package are bills to recognize Supported Decision Making Agreements, greater support of individualized education programs, and increased communication with guardians when behavioral intervention is used. The package will “strengthen and streamline resources, and correct historical tropes that are both harmful and inaccurate” to the disabled community. Read the Senate Majority’s Press Release.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Protecting our loved ones with disabilities is crucial for their safety and well-being. This set of bills will help them thrive in our community and provide the tools they need to be more independent and successful in their day-to-day lives. I am proud of the Senate Majority's work to provide more rights and resources for disabled New Yorkers. I want to thank the Chair of the Disabilities Committee, Senator John Mannion, and the bill sponsors for their advocacy.”

Chair of the Committee on Disabilities, Senator John Mannion, said, “As Chairman of the Disabilities Committee, strengthening quality of life and the services available to people with disabilities is my highest priority. My bills ensure people with disabilities can have autonomy over their lives while receiving the support they need to be full members of the community. My legislation combats stigma, makes the state’s websites more accessible, and provides firm timelines for eligibility determinations. I am grateful to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for creating and valuing the Disabilities Committee and to my Senate colleagues for sharing my commitment to making our state a leader in supporting residents with disabilities.”

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California communities must show they can CARE

Andrae Gonzales

Cities across California are at the forefront of responding to the persistent crisis of homelessness.

Since 2018, when the Bakersfield City Council declared a homeless emergency shelter crisis, Bakersfield has invested in over 600 new shelter beds. Even during a global pandemic, we built the very successful Brundage Lane Navigation Center, which has moved nearly 140 individuals from the shelter into permanent housing through comprehensive case management. The 2022 Point-in-Time homeless count indicated that, for the first time in years, there were more people in shelters than on the streets this past winter.

The city continues to address issues related to encampments by investing in bio-hazard clean up teams in Downtown and Old Town Kern, Public Works Clean City Teams, the Bakersfield Homeless Center’s Jobs program, the reestablishment of the Bakersfield Police Department’s Impact Teams and Code Enforcement’s Rapid Response Teams. In 2021, the Rapid Response team alone received 6,217 complaints, cleaned up 4,690 encampments and collected over 5.93 million pounds of trash.

Bakersfield has also developed one of the Central Valley’s first housing trust funds to spur additional investment in housing production to provide permanent housing solutions to unhoused individuals. Since 2019, we’ve invested over $14 million into the fund. We’ve allocated another $10 million in ARPA funds for affordable housing, and have received millions of dollars in additional state and federal grants. As a result, over 136 new affordable housing units were completed last year, 217 units are under construction and development and 154 units are set to be rehabbed.

Yet, despite our best efforts to chip away at the problem, there are far too many people with severe mental health and addiction issues roaming our streets and living in encampments. These are our aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, cousins who are suffering from untreated schizophrenia spectrum or psychotic disorders, left on our streets to wither away.

Look around, in Bakersfield and throughout California, it’s clear that the status quo is not working. While we must continue to provide support for those seeking emergency shelter, it is obvious that more must be done. But there are limits to what city governments can do. The state must step up.

This is why I am asking that my colleagues on the City Council join me in adopting a resolution in support of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s CARE Court Model. The Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court is a new proposal to get people with mental health and substance abuse disorders the care and support they desperately need. The new CARE Court model will hold everyone accountable — individuals and local governments — with court orders for care, and consequences for not following through for both parties.

CARE Court will connect a person struggling with untreated mental illness with a court-ordered CARE plan for up to two years. Each plan can include clinically prescribed, individualized interventions with several supportive services, medication and a housing plan, and will be managed by a care team in the community.

The focus of CARE Court is on stabilizing people with the hardest-to-treat behavioral health conditions, without taking away their rights. Each person will be provided with a public defender and a new supporter, on top of their full clinical team, to provide supported decision making-not substitute decision making, as happens in conservatorships.

CARE Court is for a subset of individuals who lack medical decision-making capacity — before they get arrested and committed to a state hospital, and before they become so impaired that they end up in a Mental Health Conservatorship.

Let’s be clear: There are many reasons why people find themselves homeless. No single solution will solve this societal issue. But CARE Court is a necessary next step in helping some of the most vulnerable individuals get off of the streets and into housing with the support that they desperately need.

 Newsom is not only calling for this new approach but supporting this effort by including $65 million for initial costs to implement CARE Court.

This plan is currently moving through the Legislature.

Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh, along with California’s Big City Mayors, has endorsed this proposal. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, California Professional Firefighters, the California Medical Association and the California Hospital Association have also joined the coalition in support of CARE Courts.

California must act with urgency to address the mental health crisis on our streets. If you agree, call your state representatives and encourage them to support the CARE Court Framework.

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‘She said her husband was trying to kill her’: Neighbors say after elderly Valley woman found dead

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - More details on the death of a 72-year-old woman in East Alabama.

Her husband and daughter have been charged with elder abuse in connection to her death.

News Leader 9 spoke with a few neighbors, who said they called the police several times about her and her family’s behavior.

They say Janice Hawkins’ husband and daughter threatened them multiple times before Janice’s body was found. Both neighbors also describe the victim as frail.

“It has been one of the more gruesome cases that I’ve seen in my time,” said Valley Police Chief Mike Reynolds.

Chief Reynolds says officers found 72-year-old Janice Hawkins’ body in a cluttered, roach-infested living room in Valley, Alabama last month with stray animals around.

“You could tell that the cats did not have -- use litter boxes,” said Chief Reynolds. “The ammonia smell, the feces were on the floor, roaches everywhere in this home and especially on the body itself.”

“They opened the door and you can just smell the house from three houses away,” said a neighbor.

Over a month later, Valley Police arrested the victim’s husband, Alfred and their daughter, Christy Lee, in connection to her death. Both have been charged with first-degree elder abuse and neglect.

The husband, who was also her caregiver, is also facing manslaughter charges. Police say the day they found the victim’s body, her husband called for help.

“Initially when he called 911, he didn’t ask for an ambulance or the police. He called for the coroner,” said Chief Reynolds.

An autopsy report later revealed Janice died due to complications of diabetes, malnutrition, sunken eyes and prominent ribs.

“Our detectives found that she had not been to a doctor since 2019. And none of her medications had been refilled since 2018,” said Chief Reynolds. “We’ve been out to this residence on a numerous occasions -- I think 40 plus occasions since 2014 and a majority of that was due to domestic violence.”

Neighbors say the husband and daughter were also aggressive towards them.

“The neighbors over there -- they were just threatening the man or the woman with a hammer calling me them the N word, being nasty,” said a neighbor.

They also say Janice feared she was going to die.

“She came in our house just walked in the house at three a.m. after midnight multiple times saying she was going to be killed,” said a neighbor.

If you or anyone you know is in need of help, call Valley Police, the Department of Human resources or the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.

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‘She said her husband was trying to kill her’: Neighbors say after elderly Valley woman found dead 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Senate Special Committee on Aging Issues Testimony From Pa. Disability Advocate Kingsmore

WASHINGTON, May 19 -- The Senate Special Committee on Aging issued the following testimony by Pennsylvania disability advocate Brandon Kingsmore involving a virtual hearing on March 23, 2022, entitled "An Economy That Cares: The Importance of Home-Based Services":

* * *

My name is Brandon Kingsmore, and Lynn and I live in Allentown, PA.

I've relied on some form of home care my whole life, a reality so many people never experience, so it is very important to me that I share my story openly and honestly. Especially because at some point, as we all get older, every one of us will need this type of care. I want people to understand that quality, affordable, accessible home care is so much more than just a social service or numbers on a spreadsheet -- it is a lifeline for the 61 million people with disabilities and 54 million people aged 65 and older who call this country home.1 I hope that what I share with you today will make clear why we, the people, need you, our country's leaders and decision-makers, to support and pass President Biden's life-changing investment in care.

To be clear: we need this funding. It's the only way to raise wages for workers and lower costs for families. We are facing a large-scale crisis and COVID has made clear that when you just fix around the edges, lives are lost. It is why Congress must pass the Better Care Better Jobs Act -- now.

Before I tell you my story, I want to speak on behalf of everyone whose lives depend on quality, affordable home care, and whose lives depend on the decisions made on Capitol Hill. For too long, our elected leaders have allowed our healthcare system to fail us. COVID-19 certainly made clear that access to care is a matter of life or death, and too many working families have suffered the devastating consequences of our country's under-funded, under-resourced, under-prioritized home- and community-based services.

Please make the right decision. Please do what's right. Please come together and pass this investment in better care, better jobs and a better future for all.

I was born with cerebral palsy and I use a wheelchair to get around, which means I sometimes need a little help doing things throughout the day. Growing up, my mother did everything for me. I grew up in North Carolina, and I didn't qualify for Medicaid until I was 18 because of how limited home- and community-based services are there. My mother's insurance wouldn't cover home care, and we couldn't afford to pay out of pocket, so she had to be my full-time caregiver on top of her other full-time job.

I felt so guilty. I felt like a burden. I still do, sometimes.

When I finally qualified for Medicaid, finding a reliable, consistent, well-trained home care worker proved almost impossible. There was a period of time when my mother couldn't be there to provide the care I needed, so I spent my days sitting, playing video games, watching movies, just waiting for her to get home to help me go to the bathroom, prepare a meal, or go out. I felt trapped in my home, and I prayed for the better, more active and fulfilling life I knew I could live if I was able to afford quality, consistent, reliable home care.

This is a situation so many care consumers face, but so often goes unseen. There aren't enough home care workers to meet the demand, so care consumers become isolated or forced to leave their homes and live in a facility. We become removed from society against our will. We want to participate in our economy and communities, but the choice is made for us when lawmakers refuse to acknowledge and take action to change a system designed to hold us back.

Today, nearly 350,000 Pennsylvanians need help with daily activities, such as bathing and dressing./2

But data show there are fewer than 198,000 home care workers to fill these roles./3

Something doesn't add up. With the demand for care skyrocketing, especially as the long-term impacts of COVID come to light, the commonwealth will need to fill more than 292,000 home care jobs by 2028./4

Investing in HCBS will ensure the needs of every care consumer are met by attracting and sustaining our home care workforce. Policies like the Better Care Better Jobs Act will put the country on the right path to building a sustainable and durable home- and community-based care system and build an economy that works for all working people.

With the way things are now, people like me wake up each morning, not knowing if a home care worker will be there that day. If our home care worker is sick or needs to take time off, which is likely unpaid because most don't have paid sick time or paid leave, there's no guarantee that another caregiver will be available to cover their shift. If someone is available, they're often not prepared or trained in advance to provide the specialized care each individual consumer needs. Oftentimes, they're working one or two other jobs because the pay for care jobs is so poor, so they only have an hour or two to provide care for someone who needs help 24/7.

It is humiliating and dehumanizing to be 32 years old and have someone put you in a diaper, because they don't have the training or the time to help you go to the bathroom.

But this isn't the fault of the home care workers. The people who do this work love helping others and care about people in need. They want to do this work, and so often put their needs aside to meet the needs of others. But the system elected leaders have built isn't designed to set them up for success.

March is Women's History Month, a time to celebrate, honor and reflect on the women who keep our communities running and our economy strong. The home care workforce is a workforce of 90 percent women, and more than 60 percent people of color. But our country has a track record of choosing not to invest in these jobs, therefore choosing not to invest in the Black, brown, immigrant and indigenous women who do this essential work, despite the system working so hard against them. Why is that? Is this work not important? Are these women not important? Instead of tweeting about it, why not turn collective appreciation for women into meaningful action that lifts women and women of color out of poverty and finally gives them the respect, protection and pay they deserve?

Shamefully low pay and a lack of benefits force home care workers to leave the industry in search of work they need to pay their bills, support their families and build a life on. Training isn't prioritized for home care workers, despite their role as essential healthcare workers. Instead, employers put home care workers in situations that put their health and safety -- and their consumers' health and safety -- at risk. Affordable healthcare isn't offered to many home care workers, so if they get hurt or sick, going to the doctor isn't an option without facing financial ruin. And as I said, without paid sick days, taking time off means they don't get paid.

People who want to do this work can't afford to, the people who already do this work are treated as expendable, and the people who depend on this work are left without options.

If Lynn gets hurt or sick and is unable to provide care, I'd have no one. There wouldn't be another home care worker to fill in for her. It's incredibly isolating. Without a home care worker, I don't have a life. I can't go anywhere or do anything. I have a life. I have a voice. I have feelings. I have goals and ambitions.

Being in a wheelchair is hard enough. Not all buildings or transportation options are accessible -- not even my apartment. My apartment was built long before power chairs existed. The hallway is too narrow, the doorways are too tight, and the counter tops are too high. I can't access the bathroom with my wheelchair to get in the shower, so my caregiver has to physically lift my 120-pound frame onto a countertop and carry me several feet to the bathtub to get cleaned up. I can't brush my teeth at the bathroom sink, so I use a cup at the dining room table.

And the looks I get on the street, the way I'm spoken to like I'm a toddler, and when people act as though they're scared of me is the reality I face every time I leave the house. Why is it that I have to fight for everything I need? Why should people like me, older Americans, and our families have to bankrupt themselves because they can't afford care that helps them with the simple basics of life like bathing and toileting?

When Lynn became my full-time caregiver 11 years ago, everything changed. Suddenly, the life I always dreamed of was in reach. Without Lynn, I would be in a nursing home at the age of 32, or home alone for hours a day, with no hope or freedom. Having a disability shouldn't mean your life is over. Home care workers give us a substantial life, and allow us to stay in our communities.

But for all the work home care workers do caring for others, they can barely care for themselves. Data show the median wage for home care workers nationally is $12.98 an hour, and Lynn now makes $13.50 an hour as a home care worker in Pennsylvania, after her union won eight percent raises for home care workers in our county./5

Home care is an emotionally and physically demanding job. But with the rising cost of living, inflation, and other economic stressors, wages this low make it impossible for home care workers to meet their basic needs, take care of themselves and their families, and live comfortably.

Home care is one of the fastest growing industries and jobs in the country due to exploding demand that will only get worse as times go on and more people get older. But because of the poor quality of these jobs, we cannot recruit enough workers, and turnover in the field is through the roof. Again I ask: why is this the reality we accept? For me and so many others, care work is a matter of life and death. If there are no care workers, then there is no care.

Our saving grace has been Lynn's union, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania. Uniting home care workers across the Commonwealth, Lynn's union has spent decades fighting for the dignity and respect that caregivers and consumers deserve. As part of her union, Lynn fights alongside other workers and their consumers for what every home care worker deserves: a living wage, access to training, affordable health insurance, and collective bargaining rights.

Around the country, at the bargaining table, in the streets, in the halls of state houses and Congress, caregivers and their unions are leading by example and demanding structural changes to the long term care system. When workers come together, the state listens in the way it would never listen to just one worker alone. But for all the victories, there is a long list of injustices to keep fighting.

We live in the wealthiest country in the world, yet the unaffordable cost of home care, the lack of comprehensive paid leave, and a severe shortage of home care workers forces many working families to choose between caring for a loved one and a paycheck. This is an impossible choice, and many people end up leaving their jobs to care for family and friends who can't afford or access home- and community-based services -- without pay.

In Pennsylvania, there are 1.59 million family caregivers providing 1.33 billion hours of care to loved ones 18 and older./6

Investing in better care and better jobs would make it possible for family members who left their careers to assume caregiving responsibilities to return to the workforce, knowing a skilled, dedicated, consistent home care worker is caring for their loved ones.

Our country's leaders need to take a good look in the mirror and reevaluate the way seniors and people with disabilities are treated. We need to reevaluate how home care workers are treated. We need to reevaluate how the women, women of color, and immigrants who do the majority of this work are treated.

I was born in 1989 -- before people with disabilities had any rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, and that was a start, but we still live in an ableist, ageist, racist, sexist world where people in need are excluded and forgotten.

A better future means life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. Isn't that what this country is all about? I dream of a future where all people, of all races, of all genders, of all ages, of all backgrounds can wake up each morning knowing they're healthy, safe and able to provide the best lives for themselves and their families.

That's why Lynn and I are here today. We can't make a better future if we don't address these deeply rooted issues now.

I'm nobody special -- I'm just a guy from Pennsylvania looking for a fair shot at a good life. But I feel a responsibility to speak up for the millions of people who are just like me. Chairman Casey has given Lynn and I the chance to spread our message further than we thought possible. Last year, we even had the honor of meeting President Biden. It is an honor and a privilege being able to speak to members of this committee and other lawmakers face to face about what it's like to be me, what it's like to be Lynn, and what it's like to know our lives hang in the balance as you debate dollars and cents. This isn't just dollars and cents. The choices you make dictate the way I can live my life, the way all of us can live with dignity when the day comes that we or a loved one needs this care.

But I can't help but think to myself... I've told my story so many times. How many more times will I have to say this before lawmakers take meaningful action? Honestly, when I share my story with people who are fortunate enough to have the financial resources to access and afford care, I wonder whether or not they're really taking in my words. Unless you live this life -- having a disability or providing care -- you can't possibly understand how hard it is and just how much we rely on home- and community-based services.

This is a human rights issue. It is unacceptable that in 21st century America, the freedom to live is 100% based on money and the priorities of other people -- particularly of some elected officials on Capitol Hill. With the way things are now, Medicaid only sees us as numbers. But we're not. We're humans that deserve to live life. We're people with feelings and emotions.

Walk a day in my shoes. Walk a day in Lynn's shoes. Walk a day in the shoes of someone who suddenly fell ill or got in an accident that leaves them totally reliant on someone else to help them live. It could happen to anyone, at any time, no matter who they are. But our current long term care system cannot guarantee home care for all who need it. Our current long term care system does not have the funding and resources necessary for recruiting, training and sustaining a home care workforce. The system is crumbling -- especially after COVID-19. And that's why we need action now.

The needs of people with disabilities, seniors, working families, and children cannot be ignored any longer. If this legislation dies, caregivers will suffer because they cannot afford food, shelter, or healthcare, and clients will perish because no one will be there to keep them alive.

Senators, please invest in care workers like Lynn by granting HCBS the funding it needs to make home care jobs good union jobs with pay and benefits that reflect the true value and impact of their essential work.

Senators, please invest in care consumers like me by investing in HCBS, providing funding so we can get the care we deserve from the compassionate, well-trained, dedicated home care workers we depend on to live.

We are the closest we have ever been to finally beginning to address the long term care crisis in this country. We -- people with disabilities, older Americans, our families, and the workers who support us -- matter. Don't leave us behind again. Congress must act now.

* * *


1 https://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/How%20American%20Families%20Benefit.pdf

2 Paul, Rafal, & Houtenville. 2020. Annual Disability Statistics Compendium: 2020 (Table 1.8). University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability. https://disabilitycompendium.org/sites/default/files/user-uploads/Events/2021_release_year/Final%20Accessibility%20Compendium%202020%20PDF_2.1.2020reduced.pdf 3 PHI. "Workforce Data Center." Last modified September 2, 2021. https://phinational.org/policy-research/workforce-data-center/.

4 Home care job openings include new jobs created and jobs that need to be filled due to workers leaving the field or the labor force. PHI, 2020. https://phinational.org/policy-research/workforce-data-center/#tab=State+Data&natvar=Employment+Projections&states=42

5 All wage data comes from PHI. "Workforce Data Center." Last modified Sept. 2, 2021. https://phinational.org/policy-research/workforce-data-center/.

6 Reinhard et al. 2019. Valuing the Invaluable: 2019 Update. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2019/11/valuing-the-in-valuable-2019-update-charting-a-path-forward.doi.10.26419-2Fppi.00082.001.pdf

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Delay in trial of disbarred Cobb County attorney accused of killing mother

Richard Merritt (Georgia Department of Correction)

- The trial of a disgraced former Cobb County attorney who is accused of killing his own mother has been delayed yet again.

Richard Merritt was charged of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony.

DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson has ordered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to do more testing on hair samples found at the scene.

The 48-year-old's trial was already delayed once due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In 2017, the FOX 5 I-Team investigated how more than a dozen victims said Merritt stole their settlement checks after handling their personal injury lawsuits.

In January 2019, a Cobb County judge sentenced Merritt to 15 years in prison for stealing more than $454,706 from 17 different clients. Merritt was given two weeks to get his affairs in order.

The day he was supposed to turn himself in, his 77-year-old mother cooked him his last family meal. Then with plates still on the table, and pots on the stove, police said Merritt brutally murdered her and then went on the run. 

The FOX 5 I-Team was there soon after Merritt was caught by U.S. Marshals in Tennessee. He was returned to DeKalb County and later transferred to a state correctional facility.

Merritt is serving 15 years for violating his probation on top of his 15-year sentence for theft and exploiting the elderly.

Jury selection was scheduled to being at 9 a.m. Monday. No word on a new date yet. The trial is expected to last a week.

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Pahrump: Domestic Incident Ends With Arrest Of Terrie Janz-Moore


A domestic violence call in Pahrump ends with the arrest of one woman. Brad Francis tells us what happened.


Friday, May 20, 2022

Wendy Williams Scores Victory In Wells Fargo Battle, Court Appoints Guardian Over Her Fortune

Source: mega

By:Ryan Naumann

Wendy Williams scored a huge victory in her battle against Wells Fargo over access to her fortune.

Sources close to the 57-year-old entertainer revealed to The Sun that the court has appointed a financial guardian over her bank accounts. 

As Radar previously reported, Williams sued the bank claiming they froze her accounts after her former financial advisor Lori Schiller had raised concerns of potential “financial exploitation.”

In court, Williams claimed she fired Schiller due to “malfeasance in relation to [Williams’] accounts and” her improper conduct in relation to their professional relationship.

Williams demanded the bank allow her to use her money but they refused. Wells Fargo asked the court to appoint a guardian before and money was released.

“To summarize without divulging too much on the public record, Wells Fargo has strong reason to believe that [Williams] is the victim of undue influence and financial exploitation. [Williams] is an established client of Wells Fargo and notably, 15 years with the particular financial advisor, a 23-year veteran of the financial services industry with an unblemished record.”

The bank said, “Wells Fargo is relying not only on reports of the financial advisor, who has recently witnessed telltale signs of exploitation, including [Williams’] own apprehensions but also upon other independent third parties who know [Williams] well and share these concerns.”

The case was sealed earlier this year.

Now, sources have told The Sun that “the guardianship process is complete, which means the court appointed a financial guardian.” The decision

The next step will be Williams and the guardian working with the court on a plan to access the funds.

The outlet reports Wells Fargo has been removed from the case. The bank will have to follow the instructions given by the new guardian. 

An insider close to Williams said the guardian who was appointed has experience with managing finances. The entertainer has yet to be given access but that could change in the next two months.

Sources also made clear that the guardianship Willams has is not a conservatorship like Britney Spears was placed under.

Aside from the legal drama, Williams has been causing a stir with public comments about her replacement Sherri Shepherd and her plans to return to her talk show — which execs have claimed is impossible due to Shepherd already having a contract. 

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