By Janet Phelan
Amidst considerable fanfare, The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (SB 178) was signed into law by President Trump on October 18, 2017. The law ostensibly provided more federal oversight to crimes which target the elderly, including telemarketing scams and guardianship abuse.
The law mandated the establishment of a central elder abuse coordinator within the DOJ as well as the designation of at least one Assistant United States Attorney to serve as an Elder Justice Coordinator in every federal judicial district.
Much awareness has been raised of late concerning the issue of guardianship abuse. A number of large media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker have run articles exposing the types of financial and physical abuses that the elderly and disabled are experiencing under court-authorized guardianships. These abuses include not only theft of the elder’s funds but also forced isolation from family and friends and, in some cases, medical neglect resulting in death.
Unlike telemarketing scams and other scams which may target the elderly, guardianship abuse is a state crime. It involves of necessity state actors, such as judges, State Bar — licensed attorneys, indifferent police officers or bumbling adult protective agency social workers.
Guardianship abuse cannot take place without the involvement and participation of the state.
And the state just doesn’t want to cop to its hand in these crimes.
CASE IN POINT–NEVADA
When guardian April Parks was indicted in Las Vegas for ripping off scores of her clients, a local television station, KTNV, wanted to know how her crimes could have taken place in a courtroom.
Which begs the question, where was the oversight? Every one of Parks’ alleged victims were wards of the court, conscripted into guardianship by people like Commissioner Jon Norheim–who’s been removed from all adult guardianship cases, and Family Court presiding judge Charles Hoskin.
In fact, further scrutiny of Judge Hoskin’s finances has raised questions as to whether he is accepting bribes, funneled through his home loans.
Guardianship activist Richard Black, of CEAR, contacted the local US Attorney’s office and offered them details of Hoskin’s loan history. According to Black, the US attorney was not interested.
Equally, Debra Ashby attempted to turn over records to a US Attorney concerning questionable loans taken out by Assistant Presiding Judge for Los Angeles Superior Court Kevin Brazile. Ashby’s father, Leon Bridges, was taken from Arizona by his grandson and put under a guardianship by LA Superior Court Judge David Cowan. Ashby filed a complaint with the Presiding Judge and turned over records which showed that Judge Cowan acknowledged that the grandson had misappropriated at least $80,000 from the elderly Mr. Bridges. Judge Cowan them promptly appointed the embezzler as the guardian. Judge Brazile responded to Ashby’s complaint, refusing to take any action.
Brazile has now ascended to the position of Chief Presiding Judge for LA County.
Brazile’s own home loan history raises a bar of suspicion. He appears to have encumbered himself with more loans than he could possibly pay back on his judge’s salary, which raises questions as to who is paying back the loans. The Assistant US Attorney who received Debra Ashby’s complaint, Gary Restaino, refused to open a case and wrote her “I won’t be reviewing any additional emails from you.”
GUARDIAN GOES TO PRISON, JUDGES KEEP ON TRUCKIN’
Nevada guardian April Parks was found guilty of exploiting her wards and is serving sixteen years in prison. Judge Charles Hoskin, who heard guardianship appeals, was reassigned and Jon Norheim, onto whose lap fell the problematic Parks’ cases, was also reassigned and is now hearing cases involving children.
Former city councilman Steve Miller takes issue with how justice was served in Las Vegas. As reported by KTNV, Miller, who writes regularly on the issue of guardianship abuse, stated that “It’s beyond not acceptable. It’s matter of the court is culpable…The court is a party to the fraud that took place.”
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“Only the low-hanging fruit has been brought to justice in my opinion,” says Miller. “There are many other culprits out there.”
As is often the case when guardianship abuse hits the local press, the Nevada legislature swung into action and passed new laws to protect those under guardianship. Just as we saw in California and Florida and other venues where this abuse has hit the local papers, a new government agency was established to consider issues of reported guardianship abuse.
ANOTHER LEGISLATIVE FAILURE–CALIFORNIA
Similar agencies created in California and elsewhere have fallen victim to “regulatory capture” and are virtually useless in curtailing guardian abuse.
A prime example is the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau (PFB), established in California in 2006, in the aftermath of a devastating series on guardian abuse in the LA Times. After years of receiving multiple complaints on fiduciary Melodie Scott, the PFB was successful in revoking her license in 2016.
However, San Bernardino County court, Scott’s hometown court, continued to allow her to work and even assigned her new cases.
The PFB responded to this information by stating that since Scott was no longer licensed to work as a fiduciary or guardian, her activities were no longer overseen by the PFB. In other words, the very agency set up to oversee and curtail guardian crimes was washing their hands once the guardian was no longer licensed–a perfect Catch 22.
FEDERAL LEGISLATION ALSO NOT ENFORCED
Which brings us back to SB 178. Advocates heralded the passage of a federal law as a move towards remedying the abuses that are now endemic to the guardianship system.
However, in the two years since the passage of SB 178, there has been not one single federal prosecution of a guardian under this law.
None. Zero. Zip.
When the USDOJ was contacted with questions about guardians prosecuted under 178, they were quick to point out the “elder abuse sweep” trumpeted by former AG Jeff Sessions in 2018. This “sweep” was reported to have charged over 200 defendants in elder crimes and to have initiated civil actions against 40 more.
Each year, an estimated $3 billion are stolen or defrauded from millions of American seniors. Through “grandparent scams,” fake prizes or even threats, criminals prey on some of the most vulnerable Americans to steal their hard-earned savings and their peace of mind…..
But the Trump Administration is taking action. We will not let this crime continue to rise.
However, not one of those charged in the sweep was involved in the crime of guardianship abuse.
And this elder justice coordinator, appointed under SB 178? That would be Antoinette Bacon. Ms. Bacon appears to have sequestered herself in the fortress at the DOJ. She has not replied to queries from this reporter, nor to recent outreaches from national guardianship activist Rick Black, according to his statements.
Nevertheless, it’s nice to know our legislature is still working for our interests, isn’t it? Congress and state legislatures continue to grind out protective laws which are then summarily ignored by the enforcement agencies. Do you think they know that they are just part of a big charade?
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist and author of the groundbreaking , EXILE. Her articles previously appeared in such mainstream venues as the Los Angeles Times, Orange Coast Magazine, Long Beach Press Telegram, etc. In 2004, Janet “jumped ship” and now exclusively writes for independent media. She is also the author of two collections of poetry—The Hitler Poems and Held Captive. She resides abroad. You can follow her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012703457651
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