By Janet Phelan
“We had better share our bewilderments. By hiding them from each other we should not hide them from ourselves.” — C.S. Lewis
The darkness now enveloping the state of California is not a result of a power failure. Rather, it is the result of too much power, concentrated in the hands of those who do not respect or honor those who have delegated authority to them.
This darkness is palpable, though it is not physical. This darkness is the result of attempts by those in power to illegally obscure their activities from the populace. Make no mistake, this darkness is obscuring crimes of murder as well as crimes against property.
The perpetrators of this darkness are acting in concert. On one hand, we have members of the California Department of Justice ignoring their responsibilities under the California Public Records Act. In another agency, also located in the capitol of California, Sacramento, we have other individuals — Julia Ansel, head of the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau (PFB) located in the Department of Consumer Affairs and also Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for the PFB, also illegally obscuring access to related information.
Professional Fiduciaries Bureau, you say. Sounds like a fairly minor issue, right?
In fact, the office is a misnomer. The PFB was established by an act of the California legislature in 2006, and, after Governor Schwarzenegger repeatedly vetoed funding for the nascent agency, opened its doors for the business of licensing and overseeing professional conservators in 2008. Conservators (in some states called “guardians”) are far more than bean counters. They hold the power of life and death over their wards.
Conservators are generally appointed by court proceedings when there are allegations that a person may be lacking capacity. Upon appointment, the conservator acts in the stead of her ward, making the financial and personal decisions for the alleged incapacitated person (AIP), such as selling his property, making his medical and social decisions. Translated this means that the conservators decide whether or not the ward will get medical care, and whether he will be permitted to see family and friends.
The abuse potential, without oversight, is enormous. Some older people — and conservatorships generally impact the elderly or disabled — have large nest eggs. Suddenly, with the smiting of a gavel, all this hard earned money will be unavailable to the AIP — and only accessible by the guardian. The temptation quotient here for embezzlement and fraud is considerable.
What we are seeing nation wide in the US is the manifestation of this abuse potential. From Florida to California and all stops in between, reports are flooding in that conservators are stealing the money of their vulnerable wards and in many cases, when the money runs out, the ward is sent to an early grave. Her are a couple of sites to peruse on this issue — stopguardianabuse and aaapg.
So when the California legislature, in response to a series of articles published in 2005 in the Los Angeles Times set up the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau as an oversight mechanism for conservators, Californians breathed a huge sigh of relief.
As it turns out, the PFB has been delinquent in executing its mandate to protect the public and has instead morphed into yet another layer of protection for corrupt conservators.
The recent failure to adhere to a series of public records act requests highlights the protective and illegal nature of the functioning of the PFB. And this time, they are protecting a licensed fiduciary who appears to have used her position to commit numerous crimes, resulting in her self-enrichment. The case of Lawrence Yetzer, a disabled man in Southern California, highlights the methods used by Conservator Melodie Scott.
In January, a request was tendered to Julia Ansel, PFB Chief, requesting the numbers of complaints on file concerning two conservators — Melodie Scott and Frumeh Labow. Scott is again in licensing hearings in Sacramento for lying on her yearly filings to the PFB. This is the second such go round with Scott and the PFB. In their initial limp-wristed effort to deny her a license, the PFB decided to ignore all consumer complaints on file about Scott and solely focus on her dishonesty on her paperwork. At that juncture, there were known to be at least five complaints on file with the PFB concerning Scott.
Recently, the PFB was also provided information that Frumeh Labow also may have lied on her reports to the PFB.
Julia Ansel denied the public records act request and responded with false information about the law. On February 5, 2015, Ansel wrote “The Public Records Act (commencing with section 6250 of the Government Code) requires the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau (Bureau) to disclose, upon request, non-exempted records in its possession. Pursuant to subdivision (f) of Government Code section 6254, complaints and investigations are exempt from disclosure.”
Ansel was subsequently advised that according to 6254 (f) 2, the numbers of complaints are indeed discloseable. At that juncture, Ansel fell silent, as did PFB public relations spokesperson, Russ Heimerich.
The California DOJ is also refusing to comply with the CPRA. A similar request for the numbers of complaints received on Melodie Scott met first with a refusal and misstatements concerning Government Code 6250 by Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Rita Lane, then with a whopper of a lie from DAG Jonathan Cooper. This would be the very same DAG Cooper who was found to be facilitating Scott’s case when she was first in contested licensing hearings back in 2009.
Just so Cooper’s actions are made abundantly clear, DAG Cooper was representing the agency which was pursuing the goal of denying Scott a professional fiduciaries license. His smoke-filled back-room efforts to get her licensed might be seen as grounds for dismissal.
Nope, not in our present Alice in Wonderland State of California. Cooper is still ensconced in his Sacramento office at the Department of Justice, ferociously protecting predators from culpability.
In his response to the CPRA, Cooper first tried to fly that there was only one complaint on file concerning Melodie Scott. When I supplied him with the names of two other individuals whose reports had been confirmed, Cooper then changed his story. On March 25, 2015, he wrote: “This office maintains records by complainant name, not by subject name, so a search for complaints regarding Ms. Scott is not feasible.”
This is frankly not believable. The idea that the DOJ is compiling a criminal file on an individual by the names of those who have made complaints is not something I would want to honor with anything but a disrespectful snort.
Cooper then urged me to file my requests with the public records division. Multiple requests were subsequently filed concerning Melodie Scott with that division. The ten day time period for reply has elapsed on all requests and no response has been tendered.
Calls to the DOJ Press Office have not been responded to, nor have calls to the Executive offices of both the DOJ and the PFB. It appears that neither agency has any intention of responding to these requests. The fact that the refusal to reply constitutes a violation of law does not seem to faze either agency.
The plot then thickened, as the San Bernardino County DA has admitted to receiving many complaints about Melodie Scott. According to ADA Mark Vos, all these complaints were subsequently forwarded to…. the California DOJ.
In correspondence dated April 10, 2015, Vos wrote: “ …the office got many complaints against Melodie Scott. Our office’s own investigators looked into it and referred the reports to Cal. DOJ. As a result, our prosecutor thinks that Ms. Scott lost her license for a time.”
Wrong again. At a cost to the taxpayers of over $80,000, Scott’s professional fiduciary license was granted to her in 2010.
While we are groping around in the dark in California, trying to get the lights back on, a couple of salient questions have emerged here. I would like to know if the Department of Justice for the Great State of California is simply (and illegally) hiding these complaint records from public oversight or if they have gone a step further, and have (illegally) deleted them from their files.
I would also like to know at what juncture the Department of Justice dedicated itself to protecting predators, rather than protecting the public from those who would prey on the most vulnerable members of the community.
Maybe when (and if) the lights go back on someone might be able to answer these questions.
Janet C. Phelan, investigative journalist and human rights defender that has traveled pretty extensively over the Asian region, an author of a tell-all book EXILE, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook” where this article first appeared.