Saturday, May 27, 2017

Maine Woman Admits to Stealing $91,000 From Her Mother

A woman from West Newfield, who pleaded guilty in a case of elder financial exploitation, was back in court Wednesday for a hearing to determine how much money she stole from her mother.

Donna Dell made nearly 600 transactions with her mother's money for her own personal use. Her mother, Geraldine Orser, had Alzheimer's disease and was unaware her life savings were being drained.

Dell twice tried to delay the court proceedings in her case by asking for a new attorney, then a continuance. After the judge denied both motions, Dell admitted the money she had stolen from her mother totaled more than $91,000.

"The fact that Ms. Orser had Alzheimer's makes this particularly egregious in my mind," said Asst. County Prosecutor Emily Conant. "She was a perfect victim, she had no idea this was going on."

While Dell was spending her mother's money going shopping and at Mohegan sun and Foxwood casinos, her mother was being cared for at Watson Fields, a private assisted living facility. When Dell stopped the payments her mother was forced to move out to a public facility, where she died at the age of 81.

"She provided herself with enough money to live the way that she wanted to live for the remainder of her life," Conant said, "and that was taken from her by her daughter and she was forced to live in a place she no longer called home."

Full Article and Source:
Maine Woman Admits to Stealing $91,000 From Her Mother

Arkansas Woman Dies After Getting Allegedly Knawed to Death by Caretaker, "Appeared to have part of her chin bitten off"

Caretaker Jennifer Lea Collins
An Arkansas man checking in on his elderly parent arrived to find a horrific scene: his mother lying in a pool of her own blood with her caretaker passed out on the floor nearby, her mouth red with gore.

Jane Palmer Sandefur's body was riddled with injuries clearly inflicted by human teeth, with police records stating the 92-year-old had been "bitten on the face, hand, arm (and) leg and the nipple of the victim's left breast had been bitten off," KAIT reports.

Additionally, and perhaps most grisly of all, the search warrant to get blood samples from alleged assailant Jennifer Lea Collins noted, "The victim appeared to have part of her chin bitten off."

Full Article and Source:
Woman Dies After Getting Allegedly Knawed to Death by Caretaker

Former nursing home business office manager sentenced to prison for theft from residents

CINCINNATI — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters announced today that the former business office manager for an area nursing home has been sentenced to prison after an investigation found that he stole money from more than 100 residents over a period of several years.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Charles Kubicki sentenced Brian Frawley, 42, of Covington, Ky., to four years in prison.

Frawley, who was previously employed as the business office manager for Clifton Care Center, pleaded guilty in April to a charge of theft from a person in a protected class, a felony of the first degree.

Agents with the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit found that Frawley stole more than $173,000 from more than 150 elderly and/or disabled Clifton Care Center residents between December 1, 2008 and March 31, 2013. The investigation found that Frawley stole cash from resident trust fund accounts and made false entries in trust fund ledgers in an attempt to cover up the theft.

"The victims in this case trusted the defendant to manage their resident trust funds, but he abused that trust to fill his own pockets," DeWine said. "The money he stole should have been used toward the wellbeing of each resident, but the defendant instead spent it on himself."

Frawley was also ordered to pay $60,000 in restitution. The remaining losses were covered by insurance.

The case was prosecuted by attorneys with the office of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters.

Anyone who suspects Medicaid fraud or patient neglect, abuse, or exploitation should contact Attorney General DeWine's Office at 800-282-0515. The Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit enforces Ohio's Patient Abuse and Neglect Law, which protects the mentally and physically disabled and the elderly from neglect, abuse, and exploitation in Ohio's long-term care facilities.

Full Article & Source:
Former nursing home business office manager sentenced to prison for theft from residents

Friday, May 26, 2017

Judge’s wife seeks to steer $54,000 to woman accused of taking from dad

There are many things families say frustrate them when it comes to Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt — the wife of a recently retired judge and tennis instructor who became a guardian for incapacitated seniors and other adults.

They objected in court to her taking of thousands of dollars in “retainers” without prior judicial approval.

They complained about her hiring a cavalcade of attorneys to fight her detractors in court, generating legal fees that came directly from the life savings of these seniors.

Others — including the former attorneys for one senior — railed against her refusal in court to say where she got the money to pay off a $308,000 foreclosure judgment on a Delray Beach home.
Such complaints litter her cases in the past two years. In October, Palm Beach County’s chief judge handed down sweeping rule changes, prohibiting retainers and addressing the credit-worthiness of guardians. Savitt points out she has never been removed from a case or sanctioned by a judge.

Her husband, former Circuit Judge Martin Colin, retired after The Palm Beach Post reported about his conflicts with his wife’s attorneys in the series Guardianships: A Broken Trust.

Savitt has also been accused in court documents of teaming up with other family members accused of taking advantage of the senior whose life — and life savings — she has vowed to protect.
And it has happened again.

Enter James Vassallo. When the Deerfield Beach handyman learned his brother and sister took about $180,000 from his father’s life savings, a lawyer told him to get a court-appointed professional guardian. In September 2014, he put his father into the hands of Elizabeth Savitt.

The siblings received demand letters initially from Savitt to pay back what they took. Then the guardian cut a deal with them. They didn’t have to pay it all back. They didn’t have to pay it back immediately. She even placed Vassallo’s father, Albert Sr., in the home of the daughter who had taken $130,000: Susan Mast.

The elder Vassallo died last November and now Savitt is serving as personal representative of his estate. Previously, she got James removed as a trustee to his father’s estate in an action that cost the senior Vassallo $22,000, the son says.

And now she has proposed a new deal to the family that would further benefit Mast from the father’s estimated $600,000 estate.

In an April 18 e-mail that was sent to five other siblings but not James, Savitt suggests they pony up out of their inheritance $54,000 for the care Mast claims she provided their father before the guardianship in 2014. Savitt provided no receipts, no proof of such care by Mast to the family.

“Savitt continues to engage in a pattern of behavior which tends to treat the person accused of harming the ward more favorably than other beneficiaries,” wrote Palm Beach Gardens attorney Thomas Dougherty, who represents James Vassallo, in an objection filed with the court.

The newest proposal comes nearly three years after Savitt negotiated the settlement with Mast and her brother, Albert Vassallo Jr., over the $180,000. Under the agreement, Mast would pay back about $62,000, while her brother would pay about $50,000.

Mast under the settlement didn’t have to account for missing assets in a savings deposit box or their father’s $13,000 Hyundai, which were listed in the demand letter. Mast never claimed during the settlement mediation that she was owed money for Albert Sr.’s care before guardianship.

Under Savitt’s newest proposal, Mast would have to pay back very little of her part of the $180,000 transferred from her dad’s account.

Generous settlement
“Is this safeguarding my father’s money?” said James Vassallo, who didn’t agree to the settlement.

“Susan was the one who made me get Betsy involved in the first place in all of this by taking money from my father. Now they are working together like they are partners in this thing. It’s hard to believe.”

Mast declined to answer questions about Savitt’s newest proposal. “Why are you calling me?” she said. “I was the only one who took care of my father. You better hope your father doesn’t get ill.”

Her brother, Albert Vassallo Jr., who must pay back $48,000 under the settlement, called a reporter and left a curse-riddled message saying not to contact his sister again.

Savitt, when asked about the Vassallo case while in court on another matter late last month, said: “Get your facts straight. The heirs know the facts.”

The facts are that the senior Vassallo lived next to James for three years in Century Village in Deerfield Beach. James says he has documentation declaring him his father’s caregiver from the Veterans Administration during this period.

His attorney, Dougherty, has seen this before when he represented a son of Lorraine Hilton, who was in a guardianship under Savitt.

Court documents in the Hilton case outlined numerous actions by Savitt that financially benefited the other son who had been accused of physically abusing and stealing from his mother.

The family of Helen O’Grady, another senior in a Savitt guardianship, told The Post in 2015 that the judge’s wife seemed to cater to certain relatives in order to cause acrimony within the family to generate litigation that led to more fees. After O’Grady died, Savitt took $30,000 from the senior’s life savings without prior judicial approval but a judge made her return most of it.

World War III
Savitt in her April 18 e-mail to the Vassallo family said Mast and Vassallo Jr. met at her attorney’s Boca Raton office in mid-April:

“They brought up Susan being paid back $54,000 for the care of her dad she provided for her dad the previous three years before guardianship,” Savitt wrote. “Apparently, she says she spent $128,000 for taking care of her dad but will settle for the $54,000.”

Savitt then asks the siblings to agree to pay Mast $10,800 each out of their inheritance.

“The guardian/trustee Elizabeth Savitt has failed to investigate any such claims and has failed to protect the assets of the guardianship and trust,” Dougherty wrote in his objection.

Savitt’s current attorney in the Vassallo case, Ellen Morris, wrote Dougherty an e-mail after he filed his objection stating that Mast was simply asking her siblings to “voluntarily contribute to her.”

“You incurred unnecessary fees for your client and turned this into WWIII for no reason,” the e-mail states.

Morris also took exception to Dougherty mentioning that the meeting took place at the attorney’s office — though he took that information from Savitt’s email to the family. “Neither Betsy nor I have anything to do with the payment,” she wrote.

She said Savitt didn’t send his client, James Vassallo, the proposal to pay Mast more money because the guardian knew he wouldn’t agree.

Currently, James and another brother, Ralph Vassallo, are trying to get answers from Savitt on the rest of their inheritance and $51,000 she apparently has carved out for fees.
“She is trying to put things up in the air. She is not being specific with what’s going on,” Ralph Vassallo said from his home Garden City on Long Island in New York. “I don’t understand why we just got a partial payment. She says maybe we will get the rest of the money in June. Why June?”

‘Can’t heal’
The brother says the worst part is that they have been so busy trying to get Savitt to release their inheritance that there hasn’t been time to grieve. “You can’t really heal,” Ralph said. “I feel like I’m being harassed by this woman. This should not be taking place.”

While she has released two-thirds of their father’s inheritance, James and Ralph Vassallo want Savitt to explain why she is holding on to two investment bonds worth $200,000.

Savitt told the family that if they cash in the bonds, they would incur a penalty. The Vassallos have reluctantly agreed to take the penalty in order to get their inheritance now but Savitt continues to hold onto the bond money.

James Vassallo has been one of Savitt’s foremost critics, discovering she doubled-billed her father in one instance and questioning in court the tens of thousands of dollars the guardian’s attorneys charged his father. He also brought up money to pay off her foreclosure in court, telling a judge he was worried Savitt was commingling personal and guardianship monies.

Savitt, after being questioned by The Post for more than a year on the foreclosure judgment, said she has shown the Clerk & Comptroller’s Office that the payment came from her personal account.

“She has a beef with me because I see everything she is doing,” James Vassallo said. “Nobody is helping me. No courts. No judge. Nobody. And she just keeps on going.”

James Vassallo said he didn’t learn of his father’s death from Savitt until the day of the funeral and is still trying to get answers on what he says are questionable expenditures during the guardianship.

James Vassallo said he has lost all faith in the court system because of his experience with Savitt and his father’s guardianship.

“I’m so disappointed with the courts that they allow this one guardian to do whatever she wants,” he said. “Why? Because she was married to a judge. … Common sense says something is going on here.”

Full Article & Source:
Judge’s wife seeks to steer $54,000 to woman accused of taking from dad

See Also:
Judge’s wife facing more complaints about guardianship fees

Attorney for judge’s wife tried to change new rules for guardians 

Savitt under investigation by new state guardianship office

Michigan: Probate Public Administrator for Macomb County Resigns After 7 Action News Investigation

The 7 Investigators are getting results yet again with our investigation into the probate courts, with a high-profile resignation.

7 Investigator Heather Catallo has been showing you how several local families have been losing large parts of their inheritance to certain public officials and real estate brokers.

Here’s what’s been happening: Real Estate Broker Ralph Roberts has teamed up with some Attorney General-appointed lawyers called Public Administrators. The Public Administrators and Roberts’ company, Probate Asset Recovery, bill the estates for thousands of dollars, plus Roberts gets real estate commissions when they sell the homes that are at stake in the estates after someone dies. The Public Administrators then take legal fees from the estate.

Roberts told us last fall that he’s brought more than $4.5 million into estates since 2013. The heirs get some of that, but Roberts often takes 1/3 of the estate.

“I find properties. I believe there’s a benefit, so I then tell a public administrator, here’s the benefit there,” said Roberts in November 2016.

“So you’re getting the real estate fees, and you’re getting the Probate Asset Recovery fees,” asked Catallo.

“If we’re successful, yes,” said Roberts.

In the wake of our investigation, Attorney General Bill Schuette suspended Macomb County Public Administrator Cecil St. Pierre on May 1, 2017.

On Thursday, St. Pierre officially resigned as a Public Administrator.

St. Pierre told the Attorney General that because of a “barrage of false allegations” he decided to step down.

The resignation came within hours of a Judge issuing an order for St. Pierre to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for failing to show up for a Macomb County probate hearing this morning.

Full Article, Video, and Source:
Probate Public Administrator for Macomb County Resigns After 7 Action News Investigation

Ohio Supreme Court yanks law license of ‘Ethics Monster’

A Westerville attorney who once “prosecuted” wayward lawyers was suspended indefinitely from the practice of law today for repeated misconduct.

The Ohio Supreme Court handed down the sanction against Kenneth Donchatz by a 4-3 vote, with the dissenting justices preferring a two-year suspension with six months stayed.

Donchatz, who once described himself as “The Ethics Monster,” formerly was an assistant disciplinary counsel with the court who pursued charges of professional misconduct against other lawyers.

The court majority said Donchatz forfeited his right to practice to law through “significant acts of dishonesty” and “false and contradictory statements” he made throughout his disciplinary proceedings.

One charge against Donchatz alleged he improperly obtained a $100,000 loan from a client in 2009 in a transaction that was not arms-length and only repaid $57,000. Donchatz told the justices that the rest was repaid with an antique desk, given to him by the same client, that was discovered by a certified appraiser to be worth more than $51,000 after it was refurbished. The statement left Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor incredulous.

He also was found to have filed court paperwork falsely claiming he fully repaid a $2,181 default judgment that a tree-trimming company won against him and filing a false statement. Donchatz also was discovered to have made an improper filing falsely claiming that a lawsuit had been settled.

The lawyer also was found to have misrepresented the statements of an assistant disciplinary counsel, and defaming her, while representing another lawyer accused of misconduct. The First Amendment does not protect lawyers from liability for making malicious statements against other lawyers in legal proceedings, the justices ruled.

The court found that Donchatz deliberately made false statements and disobeyed rules in four separate cases.

The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, which handled the case due to the lawyer’s former association with the disciplinary counsel, argued that Donchatz should receive an indefinite suspension. The Board of Professional Conduct had recommended the two-year suspension with six months stayed.

Given his earlier service to the state, his 16 years of teaching at Ohio State University and his coaching of the Westerville North High School mock-trial team for 20 years, Donchatz argued he deserved a stayed suspension.

Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Patrick F. Fischer and R. Patrick DeWine joined O’Connor in indefinitely suspending Donchatz. Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French and William M. O’Neill formed the minority.

Full Article & Source:
Ohio Supreme Court yanks law license of ‘Ethics Monster’

Medical staff member charged with abusing a disabled adult

LUTZ, Fla. - A woman who suffers from a traumatic brain injury and relies on medical staff for her care, was abused by her personal caretaker, according to Florida's Attorney General.

Caretaker Erica R. Reid, 24, was an employee of NeuroRestorative Florida, a Medicaid-funded facility in Lutz, but is now charged with abusing a disabled adult.

According to Attorney General Pam Bondi's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Reid shoved the patient in the back, causing the victim to fall to the floor, and could have caused injury.

The Attorney General's Office says there is surveillance video of the incident, which shows the patient reaching for Reid's necklace before turning towards her room. Reid then pushed the patient from behind into her room, according to the arrest affidavit executed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Full Article & Source:
Medical staff member charged with abusing a disabled adult

Thursday, May 25, 2017

New Mexico Conservator Darryl Millet Disputes Claims in Darnell Case

The conservator in a controversial court case involving the matriarch of a well-known Albuquerque family is defending his actions, challenging complaints made by family members and others in a Journal series late last year on adult guardianships involving private professionals.

Darryl Millet
Among his claims, attorney Darryl W. Millet, of Albuquerque Advocates, says the estate of Blair Darnell wasn’t worth anywhere close to $5 million when he was put in charge of finances – as family members allege, and as reported by guardianship industry professionals to the judge in the case. Those filings were filed under seal but obtained by the Journal.

The Darnell guardian/conservator case was prominently featured in the Journal series by journalist Diane Dimond, who reported family complaints that the estate dissipated from about $5 million to about $750,000.

In addition to challenging the initial value, Millet also cited “expensive” costs to the estate of $14,000-$16,000 a month to provide professional care for Blair Darnell during her six-year guardianship. Some family members attribute the high costs to the court’s appointment of for-profit professionals rather than allowing them to care for Blair Darnell, who remained in her own home.

Millet wouldn’t comment last year about specifics of the case in which he served as conservator/trustee for Blair Darnell, who died in November 2015 at the age of 85. He cited New Mexico law that seals most records involving court-appointed conservators and guardians from public view.

But Millet wrote an eight-page letter to the Journal, dated April 9, 2017, in which he said he was now able to offer previously confidential information for two reasons:

First, he said members of the Darnell family and the Journal “have destroyed any privacy” a sequestration order in the case might have provided to the late Blair Darnell. And, he wrote, he could now speak because the rules of professional conduct governing lawyers allow attorneys “to reveal confidential information to the extent necessary to refute allegations against themselves.”

Full Article and Source:
Darnell Conservator Disputes Claims

See Also:
Who Guards the Guardians?

Families Say They Were Shut Out

Families Feel Steamrolled as Estates Disappear

Fixing a Well-Meaning but Flawed System

Nursing home fines skyrocket in 2017 after crackdown

PHILADELPHIA — The Pennsylvania Department of Health has fined nursing homes more in the first four months of this year than in the previous three years combined, as regulators started using a more rigorous penalty system after coming under fire for going too lightly on substandard care.

This year's four-month total for fines was $796,750, compared with $639,500 for the three years ending Dec. 31, state Health Department records show. The totals do not include federal fines that are recommended by the state and are typically much larger.

State surveyors sanctioned 86 facilities so far this year, including three in the Lehigh Valley region, compared with 72 in all of last year and 47 in 2014 and 2015 combined.

The state Health Department said it was responding to an auditor general report issued last summer.

"When the auditor general looked at our oversight of nursing homes, one of the key recommendations was to be more aggressive in our oversight and we are," the department said this week in a statement.

As to whether the tactic is improving care at the state's 700 nursing homes, state regulators said "it is too early to tell the impact this is having."

An industry spokesman said the impact was clear: The heavier sanctions are a financial strain on operators and are not likely to produce better outcomes for residents.

"Any time a dollar leaves the bedside that didn't have to leave the bedside, that's an opportunity lost to enhance the care provided," said Russ McDaid, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association and the Center for Assisted Living Management, both trade groups in Harrisburg.

But an advocate for the elderly, who helped spur tougher oversight of nursing homes with a 2015 report that criticized the Health Department for dismissing 92 percent of the complaints against Philadelphia nursing homes, welcomed the change.

"This jump in fines sends a clear message to nursing home operators that the days of lax oversight are over," said Sam Brooks, an attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

"For years, nursing homes were allowed to provide inadequate care that resulted in widespread harm to nursing home residents across Pennsylvania. Easily preventable deaths and injuries became common, as nursing homes did not fear any penalty," Brooks said.

Secretary of Health Karen Murphy announced in October that the department would start using more discretion in deciding how much it would fine facilities, taking into account the level of harm, how long it takes for a problem to be fixed, the facility's track record of compliance and other factors.

Old Orchard Health Care Center in Bethlehem Township was fined $1,500 in January for violations discovered during an inspection in September. According to that inspection report, a resident with a history of falling fell off a bed while a nurse aide was helping her dress. She fractured a hip and required surgery.

Old Orchard Health Care Center did not comment Thursday. The state report says the home disciplined the employee and changed procedures so the resident and others in similar conditions would not be dressed while sitting on the edge of their beds.

Kirkland Village in Bethlehem was fined $2,000 in February for violations discovered during an inspection in December. The Morning Call previously reported about that incident. A resident fell and fractured a hip after being left alone in a restroom despite instructions that she was not to be left unattended.

Kirkland Village did not return a call Thursday. It previously told The Morning Call it has policies and training to prevent such incidents, but the employee did not follow the policy and no longer works there.

An East Stroudsburg nursing home was fined $15,750 in January for violations discovered during an inspection in September.

The inspection found several violations including a resident who fell in a restroom and broke his thigh and a "pink slime-like film" in an ice machine, according to the report. Routine fire drills weren't done, two residents didn't receive adequate care plans for bladder problems and two residents weren't timely seen by a physician.

The home immediately cleaned the ice machine and submitted plans to correct other issues, according to the report.

The home, now known as The Meadows at Stroud for Nursing and Rehabilitation, was fined under its previous owner and operator, Golden Living Center-Stroud, according to Jeff Deutsch, vice president for business development at Priority Healthcare Group, which took over management in February.

Deutsch said he could not comment on the inspection and fine because they occurred under the facility's previous owner.

Golden Living, which is based in Texas, had the most fines from the Pennsylvania Health Department since 2014, a total of $165,150. It sold the operating licenses to its 36 facilities in Pennsylvania in October and February, the Health Department said.

Ron Barth, CEO of LeadingAge PA, a trade group for nonprofit long-term care providers, acknowledged there are horror stories in nursing homes and bad facilities, which the department rarely shuts down. Instead, he said the department seems to have decided that it will "fine all facilities into compliance."

One reason for higher fines is a new approach to citing nursing homes for "immediate jeopardy," which is defined by federal regulators as "a situation in which the facility's noncompliance with one or more requirements of participation has caused, or is likely to cause, serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident."

Brooks, the Community Legal Services attorney, said an example of immediate jeopardy is when residents who are not supposed to eat solid food are left alone during a meal. That is a dangerous situation that can and has led to choking deaths.

Last year, the state had 39 immediate jeopardy citations, up from 12 in 2015 and 11 in 2014. The state said a major reason for the increase was the decision to allow anonymous complaints in 2015. "Each time there is a complaint, our surveyors investigate, and by being on site more frequently they identified more immediate jeopardy cases. When there is an immediate jeopardy case, the issue must be corrected before the surveyor leaves to ensure the safety of the patients," the department said.

In a case that has baffled those in the industry, a surveyor cited a facility near Harrisburg for immediate jeopardy in March because the hot water available from a water purifier outside the CEO's office and near the activity room was too hot and residents could have been hurt if they pressed and held two red buttons to dispense hot water. In the past, the surveyor probably would have pointed out the potential problem and suggested that management fix it, Barth said. Now, the nursing home will be fined and its rating on Nursing Home Compare will plummet, he said.

"In the meantime, there are bad facilities out there that the department still allows to operate," Barth said.

Full Article & Source:
Nursing home fines skyrocket in 2017 after crackdown