In my continued 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 to the state of Nevada?
The Sagebrush State spawned a court-appointed financial guardian to beat all others! April Parks has been slapped with an indictment of more than 200 counts charging her, along with her office manager, her husband and her lawyer, with exploitation of older persons, theft, perjury and racketeering.
Yeah, racketeering — the same type of charge federal prosecutors have used in the past to help break the mafia’s back.
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 assigned her to protect. A grand jury found that Dottei used the money, including estate funds from a ward who died, to feed her gambling habit.
Clark County District Court Commissioner Jon Nordheim, who heard guardianship cases, was removed but not punished after having appointed multiple professional guardians who stole money from their elder clients. The judge who supervised Nordheim, Charles Hoskin, had his hand slapped but is now the presiding judge of Clark County Family Court.
Back to Parks. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, she was appointed by various judges to control the personal and financial lives of up to 100 elderly and mentally vulnerable people — 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 roughly $559,000 from 150 victims.
According to law enforcement, Parks “systematically bilked them 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.
Rennie and Rudy North spent two years under Parks’ control. Their daughter, Julie Belshe, told me all about what she called “their captivity.” She said that an unscrupulous doctor got the ball rolling, reporting to Parks that she thought Rudy North was unable to manage his medications and was therefore “incapacitated.”
In August 2013, Parks made an unannounced visit to Belshe’s 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.
Belshe says her confused parents took choice No. 3, and that she was completely unaware of the visit. Parks obtained official guardian status from a cooperative judge in no time.
“They were leasing a house on a golf course,” Belshe 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.
It took Belshe 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 Norths weren’t Parks’ only victims.
Court filings tell the story of 90-year-old Inessa Sanborn, who reportedly had to tape her shoes together because Parks refused to buy her a new pair.
Seventy-four-year-old Norman Weinstock spoke in court saying that Parks’ accounting paperwork showing that she bought him “thousands of dollars worth of clothing” 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 left 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 shysters 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 Guardianship is a group working to reform the system. An estimated 1.3 million U.S. citizens are under court-initiated guardianship. 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 longstanding mess. How about your state?
— Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.