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Where is accountability for guardians’ actions?

In my continuing effort to inform readers about what can happen when a family asks a judge to decide a dispute over what to do with their aging parent — may I call your attention, please, to the state of Nevada?

The Sagebrush State spawned a court-appointed guardian to beat all others! Elder care guardian April Parks has now been slapped with a 200-count indictment charging her – along with her business partner, her husband and her lawyer – with exploitation of older persons, theft, perjury and racketeering.

Yeah, racketeering. The same type of charge federal prosecutors used in the past to help break the back of the mafia.

Nevada is no stranger to dodgy characters in its elder guardian system. Back in 2007, Angela Dottei was imprisoned on five counts of embezzling money from elderly “wards of the court” that judges had assigned her to protect. A grand jury found that Dottei had used the money to feed her gambling habit, including funds from a ward who had died.

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Jon Nordheim, a guardianship commissioner, was removed (but not punished) after he appointed multiple professional guardians who stole money from their elderly clients. The judge who supervised Nordheim, Charles Hoskin, had his hand slapped, but is now the presiding judge of Clark County Family Court.

So, back to April Parks. She was one of the busiest for-profit guardians in Nevada. According to the Review Journal, she was appointed by various judges to control the personal and financial lives of up to 100 elderly and mentally vulnerable people – all at the same time. The indictment says Parks and her cohorts double-billed clients, often failed to file the required accounting to the judge, and “set up and directed a criminal syndicate” that stole at least $559,000 from 150 victims. According to law enforcement, Parks “systematically bilked people out of their life savings.”

See a pattern here? Judges tap these questionable guardians, over and over, but they are not held accountable for their appointees’ actions.

Let’s call it what it is: Legalized exploitation of the elderly.

Rudy and Rennie North spent two years under Parks’ control. Their daughter, Julie Belshe, told me all about what she called “their captivity.” Julie said an unscrupulous doctor got the ball rolling, reporting to Parks that she thought Rudy was unable to manage his medications and was therefore “incapacitated.”

In August 2013, Belshe says, she was completely unaware that Parks had made an unannounced visit to her elderly parents and allegedly offered them three choices: she would call the police to come get them; call a psychiatrist to institutionalize them; or they could go to an assisted living facility. Julie says her confused parents took choice number three and, in no time, Parks obtained official guardian status from a cooperative judge.

“They were leasing a house on a golf course,” Julie told me. “It was wonderful, full of their beautiful possessions. Parks sold everything for pennies on the dollar.”

Her father compared the experience to being taken away from his home as a child and forced to live in Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp.

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It took Julie two years and a costly legal battle to free her parents from guardianship. They now live with her family in a converted basement.

Authorities say the North’s weren’t Parks’ only victims. Court filings tell the story of Inessa Sanborn, 90, who had to tape her shoes together because Parks’ refused to buy her a new pair. Norman Weinstein, 74, testified that Parks’ accounting showing she had bought him “thousands of dollars of clothes” was false.

“I was with her for six years,” he said. “She bought me one pair of sneakers, two pairs of house slippers, one of which didn’t fit, and some other clothes that didn’t fit.”

In April 2016, the heat was on. Authorities were finally digging into Parks’ activities and she fled Nevada. A month later, she declared bankruptcy in Pennsylvania. In July 2016, a Nevada judge issued an arrest warrant for Parks, but she remained free. Nevada investigators did not give up and ultimately discovered evidence of double-billing, sloppy bookkeeping and what looked like downright fraud. The grand jury agreed.

I have investigated this topic for more than a year and, judging from families I’ve heard from, I believe there are countless more April Parks out there. They pretend to care about helping the elderly, but what they really care about is the money they can make – legally or illegally – by working in the elder guardianship system.

Americans Against Abusive Probate and Guardianship, a group working to reform the system, estimates there are some 1.3 million U.S. citizens under court-initiated guardianships. Some work out beautifully, especially when a trusted family member is named guardian instead of a for-profit outsider, but many do not. This is, indeed, a nationwide problem.

Nevada is taking steps to clean up its long-standing mess. How about your state?

www.DianeDimond.com; email to Diane@DianeDimond.com.

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