The California Professional Fiduciaries Bureau was established by an Act of the California Legislature in 2006, following public outcry over the revelations in a Los Angeles Times investigative series. Entitled "Guardians for Profit--When a Family Matter Becomes a Business," the Times series detailed corrupt and abusive practices by California conservators for the elderly and disabled. The population impacted by conservatorships constitute some of the most vulnerable and at risk citizens of the State of California.
As a source for the Times’ articles, I was in regular contact with the lead reporter for the series, Robin Fields and was personally aware that the Times did not publish details of some of the worst abuses. Nor did the series attempt to scrutinize the systemic accommodations which allowed the abuse to flourish. Some of these details were imparted to me by Fields in telephone conversations in late 2002. In a phone conversation which took place in September of 2003, Fields also disclosed to me that the articles, which were originally slated for publication in Fall of 2003, were being "sat on" by the editors of the Times. The series kicked off in November of 2005.
Governor Schwarzenegger line- item vetoed the funding for the PFB two years running and the Bureau finally opened its doors in 2008.
Recent revelations as to the functioning of the PFB point to considerable irregularities and support allegations that the PFB is violating not only the law which brought the Bureau into exitence, but is violating other laws as well, including sunshine and transparency laws.
According to its own statistics, published in its annual report, the PFB has done no
investigations and no referrals to law enforcement. When this reporter requested information relating to law enforcement referrals, I was told by DCA Legal Counsel Gary Duke that this was nondiscloseable information (Exhibit 1)
In fact, this information is clearly available in the annual report, which is online.
On September 1, 2010 this reporter requested the following information (email in its entirety below):
I would like to request the following stats:
1) the number of applications for license received by the PFB
2) the number of applications for license denied by the PFB
3) the number of complaints referred to law enforcement by the PFB/DCA
As this request only asks for stats, it is my understanding that the privacy concerns in the PRA are therefore honored and that you should have no problem --legally--fulfilling this request.
No response or acknowledgement to this PRA request has been received as of today, October 7, 2010. Per the CPRA, the Bureau has ten days to acknowledge the request and is in legal default.. A follow up email was also sent to Russ Heimerich, Press Officer for the DCA (Exhibit 2).
On August 16, 2010, this reporter memorialized in writing a previous verbal request, made to Legal Counsel Gary Duke, asking for the cost to the State of California on the Melodie Scott matter (Exhibit 3). Although Russ Heimerich assured me that my request would be responded to, the request has not been fulfilled as of October 7, 2010.
On July 24, 2010, this reporter had queried of Legal Counsel Gary Duke if either the PFB or DCA could possibly contact law enforcement concerning Melodie Scott's continuing to advertise herself as a Professional Fiduciary on her public website, in the face of being denied a licence (Exhibit 4a). Duke had previously informed me that this is a misdemeanor. This request was specifically made due to the repeated failure of law enforcement to act on reports alleging criminal activity by Melodie Scott. As a matter of fact, Gina Rilke, a resident of Riverside, California, had contacted the Redlands Police Department attempting to file this report on August 16, 2010,
Officer Eric Strobaugh informed Rilke that no charges would be filed against Scott based on her allegations and that the report needed to be tendered by the PFB. He did supply her an incident number, 100037514.
Gary Duke has declined to state whether or not the agencies have contacted law enforcement in this matter. A follow up call to the RPD in mid-August confirmed that no report had been entered by the DCA or PFB concerning this issue.
Gil Deluna, the head of the PFB, did respond to a PRA query on August 5, 2010 in which this reporter requested statistics (see Exhibit 5). When another PRA was filed requesting a further breakdown of the stats he provided, detailing the disposition of reports, DeLuna failed to respond.
The issue of disposition or resolution of reports is most troubling. On June 16, 2010, PFB analyst Angela Bigelow informed complainant Janis Schock that the PFB would have to get a court determination of wrongdoing before the PFB would investigate (Exhibit 6). This is a gross misstatement of the Professional Fiduciaries Act. Legal Counsel Gary Duke agreed that Bigelow wrote "erroneously" in her email to Schock. When this reporter questioned Duke as to whether Bigelow had closed other complaints "erroneously," he refused this information, stating that Bigelow's behavior was a personnel matter and thus not discloseable. The previously mentioned email to DeLuna (in Exhibit 5) was issued as an attempt to ferret out what is happening to complaints tendered to the PFB.
And that brings us to the question of how these complaints are being resolved, a question which remains unanswered. A number of complainants have contacted this reporter and stated that their complaints seem to have vanished into the bowels of the PFB, without any evidence or notice of resolution. No complainant has contacted this reporter stating that he or she has received a notice of resolution.
This reporter submitted her own complaint on September 26 2010 and I have not received an acknowledgement letter. At the time of submitting the report, I withdrew my previous report, which was over a year old and had not been acted upon.
Following the failure of the PFB to respond to my PRA request of September 1 and follow up emails (see Exhibit 1), I requested a blogger, Ray Fernandez of Elderabusehelp.org, to cut and paste my request and submit it to the Bureau (Exhibit 7). Fernandez received a reply within twenty four hours When I emailed Duke to ask him why he failed to respond to the PRA when it was first submitted by me, he again failed to respond (Exhibit 8).
It should be noted that the PFB's response to Fernandez contains the link to the annual report, which contains many of the stats I had requested and was previously told were nondiscloseable.
I have made it clear to the DCA that I believe that the Bureau is accommodating abuse and patently illegal practice by conservators and fiduciaries and that the Bureau's adherence to its mandate to provide oversight is nearly non- existent. This perception is increasingly buttressed by the following factors: The Bureau's own statistics; The Bureau's brazen disregard for sunshine laws; by the disturbing and quite illegal disposition of Janis Schock's complaint; as well as by the Bureau's failure to process other complaints.
The fact that the PFB does not "like" the viewpoint held by this reporter--a viewpoint which is appearing more and more to be supported by fact--does not give the PFB the latitude to ignore the Public Records Act. In fact, the continued denial of bonafide requests for information only supports the perception that something is very wrong indeed at the PFB.
The evidence is growing that the PFB is operating under a veil of secrecy and is doing so with contempt for the laws of the State of California. The PFB has violated its own process for handling incoming complaints and has demonstrated contempt for inquiries into its functioning. Of added concern is that a lawyer for the DCA, Gary Duke, has misstated the PRA and thereby inhibited release of information that is clearly available to the public in the annual report.
A thorough and public inquiry into these matters is therefore requested. The vulnerable citizens of the State of California are not being protected by such shoddy practices as detailed herein. The oversight promised by the PFA has not come to fruition; indeed, it appears that all that has been accomplished is that another layer of bureaucracy is now in place and California’s vulerable elders and disabled remain at risk to predatory and unscrupulous conservators.
Submitted this 7th day of October, 2010
Janet C. Phelan
258 A Street 1-15
Ashland, Oregon 97520