Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

Losing Freedom: The ABC Action News I-Team Investigates Florida’s Guardianship Program

November 6, 2013

She met friends for lunch, went shopping at thrift stores and spent dozens of hours at her feed store and at home.

That’s what we discovered when the I-Team followed Patricia Johnson for five straight days.

But only once, for approximately 20 minutes, did we see Johnson go to an assisted living facility to check on one of her 50 incapacitated wards.

That’s not surprising to some of their family members.

“When you walk into the nursing home and they’re like ‘we never see her here, we can never get a hold of her, she’s very hard to reach,’” said Amy Eldridge, whose grandmother Rita Eldridge was one of Johnson’s wards.

When asked whether Johnson comes to visit her mother Rebie Jimenez often, Cindy Lee replied, “My mother says no. But then when I ask the staff there, they say never. “

Bills from Johnson’s wards’ files indicate she’s working hard on her wards’ behalf.

Under Florida law, Johnson is allowed to use her wards’ own money to pay herself $70 an hour for things like banking, opening mail and paying visits.

Her bills can only be submitted twice a year for each ward and have to be approved by a judge.

The I-Team spent more than two weeks pulling hundreds of Johnson’s bills from court files and entering them into a spreadsheet.

We discovered that from January 1st, 2010 to December 31st, 2012 Johnson’s bills added up to $260,000, an average of nearly $87,000 a year.

Full Article and Source:
Losing Freedom: The I-Team Investigates Florida’s Guardianship Program

See Also:
ABC Action News I-Team Personal Stories

ABC I-Team Investigation: Family Members Raise New Questions About Guardianship Program in Florida

November 5, 2013

In September, the I-Team introduced you to Patricia Johnson, a Pinellas Park City Council woman who serves as a professional guardian for 50 wards.

Now, there are new questions about how she handles her cases.

Family members of other wards are now speaking out about their experiences with the professional guardianship program.

“Birthday parties, Christmases, everything. My grandmother raised me for a good section of my life,” said Amy Eldridge.

[In] 2008, Amy’s grandmother Rita was declared incapacitated by the court.

Amy says she doesn’t know why.

Rita was removed from her house and Patricia Johnson became her court-appointed professional guardian.

Amy’s father James took care of his mother in her house at the time.

“There was no family that they knew of when they were going through the process,” Amy said, describing how it was reported to the judge that Rita Eldridge had no one to care for her, even though her father was living in the house with his mother at that time.

Johnson evicted James on Rita’s behalf and obtained a nearly $5,000 judgment to pay the legal bill.
Rita Eldridge was moved to a nursing home.

Her own home was sold for less than half its appraised value.

“We were told that, basically, we were stealing if we took anything from the house,” said Amy Eldridge.

As for the sentimental things left in the home, “They were all taken from the house and thrown away. There was no ‘hey, we’ve gotten everything of value out of this house, if you would like to come rummage through this, you can get what’s left. It was ‘everything in the house needs to stay, you just need to go and everything’s ours now.’”

Everything was sold for $295 to the same man court records show bought several wards’ possessions, including those of Rebie Jimenez for $100.

“I was never allowed into the house to go through any of my mom’s belongings or even our items as we were growing up as kids,” said Cindy Lee, Jimenez’s daughter.

Before being incapacitated, Jimenez lived with her husband Fernando, who Patricia Johnson also evicted immediately.

Lee said that her mother’s husband Fernando, who lived in the home for 25 years, was locked out of his residence by Johnson.

He died several days after his wife was taken away.

“I was like wow, how can this have happened? They removed her, then a total stranger came in and took over and then next thing I know, immediately, there was a for sale sign up,” said Lee.

The home sold for $85,000 to an investor, who resold it for $170,000 four months later.

Rebie Jimenez is now in the memory unit at Grand Villa.

Rita Eldridge passed away last November.

“I felt like my grandmother was in prison. I had to go to her warden to make sure everything was ok. So that I could see her,” said Amy Eldridge.

Johnson refused multiple requests for an interview.

Full Article, Video and Source:
Family members raise new questions about guardianship program in Florida

See Also:
ABC Action News:  Questionable Guardianship Real Estate Transactions

FL: ABC Action News I-Team: "Incapacitated: Florida’s Guardianship Program"

November 5, 2013

The ABC Action News I-Team first started looking into Florida’s Guardianship Program after we learned 99-year-old William Berchau had been placed in an Alzheimer’s unit by his guardian, despite strong evidence from those who know him best that he didn’t belong there.

We soon began looking at more than 50 other cases involving his guardian, Patricia Johnson, and Florida’s guardianship system.

The I-Team discovered a system that claims to look after wards’ best interests, but has very little oversight outside of the courtroom.

In Florida, guardians are not required to get appraisals before selling wards’ homes, leading to homes often selling far below their actual values (meaning less money is available for wards’ care). Guardians also aren’t required to be accompanied while doing initial inventories of personal possessions. Often, relatives aren’t allowed to review what reportedly came out of their loved ones’ homes.

Guardians use the “honor system” when submitting bills.

Judges, in some cases, have disregarded signed legal documents that delegated powers-of-attorney, medical decision-making and other legal authorities to their relatives before wards were incapacitated.

The I-Team interviewed friends and family members of wards, experts in the guardian field and others to get a deeper sense of what’s going on within this system that remains invisible to most members of the public.

Incapacitated:  Florida’s Guardianship Program

ABC Action News I-Team: Personal Stories

November 5, 2013

Who Is William Bercheau?

Who is Rita Eldridge?

Who is Rebie Ellen Jimnez?

Who is Paulette Karpa?

Incapacitated: Florida’s Guardianship Program

Embezzling client money leads to discipline for Tampa Bay lawyers

November 4, 2013

Misappropriating clients’ money has resulted in law license revocations for two area lawyers while four others were disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court for other misconduct.

The court granted Tampa lawyer David Anthony Fontes’ petition for disciplinary revocation of his license, which is tantamount to disbarment, according to a Florida Bar written statement. He may apply for readmission after five years.

Fontes was suspended last year and then arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for grand theft. He was accused of misappropriating more than $138,000 entrusted to him to pay the debts of a client’s estate.

Fontes subsequently reimbursed the client’s money.

The court also granted Scott V. Boruta’s petition for disciplinary revocation of his license. The Palm Harbor lawyer had two pending complaints of embezzling client funds and criminal theft.

Hillsborough County deputies investigated Boruta last year and arrested him for grand theft, records show.

A conflict of interest led to a four-month suspension for Sarasota lawyer Kenneth D. Doerr. In an estate case, he represented two clients in a matter in which they had adverse interests and wishes. He displayed “a lack of diligence and candor” by not disclosing to each client that he represented the other, according to the Bar statement.

Land O’Lakes lawyer Henry T. Sorenson II was suspended for three years. He failed to properly represent clients who wanted a trial court’s ruling appealed and failed to file the appeal notice. He also fabricated an appellate court opinion indicating the clients won the appeal.

Full Article and Source:
Embezzling client money leads to discipline for Tampa Bay lawyers

ABC Action News: Who is William Bercheau?

November 1, 2013

William Bercheau started our investigation into the professional guardian program in Florida when the ABC Action News I-Team discovered he was placed in an Alzheimer’s unit, even though there was strong evidence he didn’t belong there. 

 Since then, we’ve been digging deeper… preparing to reveal what we discovered in a series of stories starting Monday.

 William Berchau was born in Lithuania in 1914.

He fled to Germany during Joseph Stalin’s rise to power, then immigrated from Germany to the United States to escape Adolph Hitler’s regime.

Berchau had a long career as an employee of the Illinois Central Railroad.  He and his wife retired in Clearwater, Fla.

Shortly after her death in 2010, he attempted to sell his house and was soon taken into the Florida Guardian Program.

Patricia Johnson was appointed his professional guardian late that year. He has tried to have her removed on several occasions, to no avail.

Watch the video of William Berchau telling his story in his own words.

See also:
ABC Action News:  Questionable Guardianship Real Estate Transactions

ABC Action News: Questionable Guardianship Real Estate Transactions

October 30, 2013

When we started looking at real estate transactions in guardianship cases in Pinellas County, FL, we found some disturbing trends.

We discovered that judges routinely approved the sale of wards’ homes (in most cases, their largest asset) without obtaining appraisals from a certified appraiser.

Guardian Patricia Johnson has used fellow Pinellas Park City Council member Richard Butler (who was her campaign manager) to conduct nearly all of the sales of ward’s homes since 2010.
Records show Butler has sold 14 of Johnson’s ward’s homes for a total of $1,252,500.

On Sept. 13, 2013, Richard Butler listed Jennie Shabych’s home located at 2863 26th Ave N., St. Petersburg and got a contract on it the same day. Shabych, however, was not incapacitated by the judge’s order until September 16th, 2013.

Claudette Batton’s home 216 54th St. N., St. Petersburg sold twice on Nov. 8, 2012. The first time, it sold for $52,500, then again for $58,500.

Rebie Jimenez’s home at 5965 15th St N., St. Petersburg sold for $85,100 on Oct. 5, 2012 and was resold on Feb. 28, 2013 for $170,000.

Ronald Till’s home at 6141 26th Ave N., St. Petersburg sold for $69,000 on Sept. 27, 2012. It was resold for $132,000 on Mar. 22, 2013.

Questionable Guardianship Real Estate Transactions

Woman Accepts Plea Deal In Theft From Elderly Mother

October 12, 2013

BARTOW | A 43-year-old woman accepted a plea deal Tuesday on charges of stealing more than $40,000 while acting as her mother’s court-appointed guardian.

Diana Copley pleaded guilty to exploitation of an elderly person. Her sentencing is set for Nov. 12.
If Copley repays $36,922 in restitution by the time of her sentencing hearing, she is expected to receive 120 days in jail followed by three years of probation, according to the plea agreement.

If she does not repay the amount, Copley is expected to receive about a year in jail followed by three years of probation.

Copley was arrested in November 2012 after investigators say she took money from her mother, Virginia Rieke of Lakeland.

In October 2008, a judge wrote that Rieke, who at the time was 76, needed a guardian because she was “totally incapacitated.”

Stephen R. Menge, an investigator with the State Attorney’s Office in Bartow, wrote in a complaint affidavit that Copley abused her position as guardian and financially exploited her mother.

Full Article and Source:
Woman Accepts Plea Deal In Theft From Elderly Mother

Couple Arrested for Exploitation of the Elderly

October 7, 2013

A husband and wife were arrested Thursday for stealing from a disabled World War II Veteran who allowed them to live in his home, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

The 87-year-old victim contacted deputies in September when he discovered a few pieces of his jewelry were missing, according to a report. He later realized a large amount of jewelry that belonged to his late wife worth an estimated $50,000 was also stolen, the report states.

Kevin Babbidge and his wife, Christina Babbidge, have known the victim for 10 years and moved in with him in late August to help care for him, the report said.

Detectives learned that within days, Kevin pawned several pieces of jewelry, but also found records showing he pawned items believed to have belonged to the victim in 2012, when he was paying Kevin $200 a week to clean his home, a report stated.

Detectives have recovered about $7,600 worth of jewelry taken from the man’s home. Both suspects pleaded with the victim to allow them to make restitution and not press charges, a report said.

Full Article and Source:
Couple Arrested for Exploitation of the Elderly

‘Adviser’ convicted of bilking elderly Bradenton woman out of $1 million

October 3, 2013

An unlicensed financial adviser was convicted Wednesday of grand theft and other charges in a scheme to defraud an 82-year-old Bradenton woman out of $1 million.

Ronald J. Perrault, 42, was convicted on grand theft and organized scheme to defraud charges associated with them, according to a release from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. Perrault faces up to 35 years in prison at his sentencing Dec. 4.

The state Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud found that Perrault, while acting as an unlicensed financial adviser for the woman, defrauded her of $727,000 during the last five years and more than $1 million throughout the course of their relationship, the release said.

The investigation found that the woman initially invested $50,000 in Perrault’s fraudulent business in October 2007, followed by $100,000 in December 2007, according to the release. During the next four years, Perrault convinced her to invest an additional $577,000. She continued to submit to Perrault’s demands until her account was depleted. From 2008 until his arrest in 2011, the victim was Perrault’s only client and an investigation found all funds were transferred to Perrault for personal use.

Full Article and Source:
‘Adviser’ convicted of bilking elderly Bradenton woman out of $1 million