Taking the temperature of the Department of Consumer Affairs — Diagnosis: Deadly

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Janet C. Phelan
Activist Post

Reichel Everhart, the Deputy Director of the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), has declined to respond to questions as to the functioning of the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau, which is housed in the DCA. Nor will she respond to written requests to direct the Bureau to respond to public records act requests in a manner which would be considered legal.

The two records requests in question, one made to the PFB in January of 2012 and the other made in April of 2012, produced email responses which were highly problematic.

The proper format to respond to a public records act request is by letter, as emails may not be considered legal tender. In fact, if there were a legal challenge to the content of the responses, the emails might not be admissable in a court of law.

In an email dated January 27, 2012, DCA Press Officer Russ Heimerich replied to a public records act request for the policies and procedures manual in use by the PFB, admitting there were no such written records. Clearly, for a government agency to be operating in a vacuum of written guidelines is unheard of. The terminology used for such an absence of written procedures is “underground guidelines,” which, according to attorney Bruce Ebert, are simply illegal.

The request was made due to the mounting evidence that the PFB has gone rogue. Top of the list of concerns is the fact that the agency is closing complaints with no legal basis to do so.

The tiny PFB, staffed by only one analyst, Angela Bigelow, and a part-time bureau chief, Gil DeLuna, serves the critical function of overseeing and licensing professional conservators and fiduciaries. The complaints which have been closed by the Bureau include allegations of theft, embezzlement and profound physical and medical abuse. A number of the complaints have alleged that the abuse of the elderly or disabled person resulted in death. Queries made as to the reason for complaint closure have met with silence.

Guardianship abuse is admittedly a hot button item. The abuses being committed against these vulnerable citizens has reached a critical point, and grassroots groups have sprung up across the country in an effort to address this. Activists, such as Bonnie Reiter and Dr. Robert Sarhan, each of whom allege that a conservator caused the untimely death of a parent, have visited D.C., met with Congressmen, written letters to the media, made reports to the FBI, all with no ostensible results.

Another public records request tendered in April asked for interagency memos advising the Bureau that they would be protected for failing to investigate or prosecute claims of conservator crimes. PFB Chief Gil Deluna replied—via email– that there were no such records. DeLuna was repeatedly contacted asking if he would put his reply in the form of a letter and has not replied.

The record of the DCA in prosecuting complaints speaks for itself. The most recent available annual report — for 2010 — lists, under the Conviction/Arrest notification category, that there were zero arrests made, zero pending and zero referred for investigation.

Zero inspections were conducted and zero citations were issued. There were zero referrals for criminal action made and zero for civil. The report states that, in terms of cost recovery to complainants, zero dollars had been ordered and zero dollars had been collected.

In a conversation several months ago, DCA Deputy Director Reichel Everhart sounded shocked to learn that the PFB had no written guidelines. She promised to speak with PFB Chief DeLuna and get back to this reporter promptly. Since then, Everhart has been unavailable for comment and has not fulfilled her promise.

The Bureau appears to be operating under a cloak of secrecy and provides little transparency as to its functioning. Issues of concern include that agency’s negligence in advising complainants that their complaints were closed. Several complainants, including Joe Quattrochi and Gina Rilke, were surprised to learn that their complaints were closed over a year ago as they were never so informed. Nor will the agency provide the file of the complaint, including any scrap of work product, to the complainant upon request. It’s all hush-hush.

The Professional Fiduciaries Bureau was created by an act of the Legislature in 2006, following an investigative series into conservatorship abuse, published in the Los Angeles Times. The abuses detailed in the series, “Guardians for Profit—When a Family Matter becomes a Business,” produced a public outcry and the Legislature swung into action, passing the Omnibus Conservatorship Reform Act of 2006.The Bureau’s funding was subsequently line item vetoed for two years in a row by Governor Schwarzenegger, and thus only opened its doors for business in late 2008.

The Bureau is tasked with holding public meetings four times a year. Per its own website, there have been no public meetings in eight months, since October of last year. Activists and conservatorship abuse victims became interested in these public meetings and started to attend them last year. The meetings were then apparently discontinued.

Former Assemblyman Dave Jones was a primary author of the legislation which created the Bureau. Jones, now California Insurance Commissioner, has declined to reply to questions as to what has happened to his brainchild. Speaking under conditions of anonymity, Jones’ staffer angrily suggested that such questions were inappropriate.

Read other articles by Janet Phelan HERE.

Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. She currently resides abroad.  You may browse through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com

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