Thursday, July 09, 2015

Saga Of 84-Year Old New Jersey Senior Victimized By State-Sanctioned Granny-Snatching, Guardianship Scam That's Left Her 'Incarcerated' In Nursing Home, Broke & Without Personal Possessions Or Contact w/ Relatives, Beloved Pet

In Asbury Park, New Jersey, the Asbury Park Press reports:
  • She has broken no law, committed no crime.

    Yet Helen Hugo, a soft-spoken, grandmotherly, 84-year-old "Wheel of Fortune" fan, is a prisoner of the state.

    Its laws and bureaucracy have forced the retired secretary into a nursing home. Disposed of her antiques and other belongings. Separated her from her cat, Sweetie Pie. Barred her closest relatives from visiting her, and exhausted her life's savings to pay the legal fees of the attorneys involved in her guardianship case.

    In the court's eyes, Hugo is mentally incapacitated and requires a state agency to serve as her guardian and manage her care and finances.

    That's what a judge ruled in 2012, after a five-day trial that Hugo didn't attend, except for a private conversation with the judge. She spent all of 33 minutes in the courtroom.

    A sturdy, brown-eyed woman with warm, silky hands and wavy hair that's still more brown than gray, Hugo says the court ruling three years ago was "a lot of nonsense." "Probably the people calling me nuts," she says, "are crazy themselves."

    The terms of her guardianship aren't so easily dismissed. As a ward of the state, Hugo can't vote, write a check, receive her own mail, or make decisions for herself. Inmates in New Jersey have greater legal autonomy.

    Hugo has lived under those restrictions since the day she first met Barbara J. Lieberman.

    An esteemed elder law attorney and respected member of the New Jersey bar, Lieberman, 63, served as Hugo's court-appointed temporary guardian prior to Hugo's capacity trial.

    At the same time, Lieberman was leading a double life as a thief. Using her legal skills and her status as a trusted insider, she stole millions of dollars in other cases involving 16 seniors in their eighties and nineties.

    Among them was the 85-year-old widow of the former head of the Ocean County Police Academy in Lakewood.

    Lieberman moved some into nursing homes and sold their homes. With several, she manipulated their wills so she could keep stealing from them even after they died, authorities have said.

    More than a year after Lieberman's crimes came to light, Hugo, who never married and was living alone prior to her guardianship, is still fighting to be free again, to go where she wants, when she wants, even to be reunited with her beloved Sweetie Pie.

    The problem is, she can't.

    Like tens of thousands of elderly New Jerseyans, and at least 1.5 million Americans, she's consigned to a guardianship system that's shrouded in secrecy, tangled in red tape, and rife with corrupting temptation.

    Across the U.S., the vast majority of court-appointed guardians do difficult, honest work, providing a critical service for society's most vulnerable citizens. But there are some who have exploited a system with few checks and balances, using the supreme authority the courts grant them over their wards' lives to enrich themselves.

    The lawbreakers have included family members, attorneys, professional guardians, even a high-ranking judge in Minnesota.

    Corrupt guardians have stolen millions in New Jersey in recent years, and perhaps billions across the country. No one knows for sure.

    New Jersey's top judge says these crimes are "deeply troubling."

    "There are simply too many cases in which individuals who've been granted authority, who've been granted responsibility, take advantage of the very people that they have ...promised to assist," New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said June 15 at an elder abuse conference at Stockton University in Galloway.

    The crimes are easy to commit and even easier to hide. Few courts across the country have the resources, or will, to police the guardians they appoint.

    At risk is the biggest treasure chest of all: $30 trillion — yes, trillion — that today's graying baby boomers have amassed in assets over the last 50 to 70 years. That's enough money to run the U.S. government for three decades.

    Why does all this matter to you? ...
For more, see Betrayal of trust (An Attorney's Shocking Crimes Show How Easy It Is To Steal Millions From Seniors) (Part One of a Four-Part series).

For Parts Two, Three and Four of the series, see:
  • Easy prey (Elderly And Vulnerable, 16 Men And Women Became Prime Targets For Theft),
  • Broken system (Vulnerable Seniors Have Few Options For Protection. Will This Happen To You?),
  • How to help the vulnerable (Billions are stolen from the elderly and infirm across the country each year. Here's how to stop it).
See generally, The Wall Street Journal: Abuse Plagues System of Legal Guardians for Adults (Allegations of financial exploitation and abuse are rife, despite waves of overhaul efforts) (Non-WSJ subscriber? Try here, then click appropriate link).

Go here for other horror stories on the use of the guardianship process to 'kidnap, hijack, granny-snatch' (call it what you want) the elderly, infirm and vulnerable as part of a money grab by slimy relatives, sleazy attorneys, judges and professional guardians, authority-abusing employees of bloated government agencies, and other assorted lowlifes seeking an easy payday. granny-snatching racket

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