tv ABC World News ABC December 26, 2015 6:30pm-7:00pm PST
"guardianship under fire", you'll see highlights from the investigation we started in the fall of 2014. >> if my dad knew how the end story of his life has gone, he would have been horrified. darcy: we'e' talking about adult guardianship cases in clark county family court. when a person can no longer take care of him or herself and when there's no family to step in to help, the court can assign an outsider to do the job. we found little to no oversight of those outsiders, private professional guardians who gain absolute access and power over their clients with the court rubber-stamping nearly everything the guardian asks for. families trying to speak out and trying to care for loved ones are devastated as the court casts them aside. >> they're going to blindside you -- darcy: a daughter loses her parents.
questions are raised about money misspent and abusive power. it's a family tragedy that could happen to anyone. >> they took my parents. i didn't know who, i didn't know what. >> we were kidnapped and raped, both. darcy: what could make someone say such things? a county system sanctioned by the court with an amazing amount of unchecked power. >> this killed them -- >> i thought nazi germany was done in 1946. i didn't know it still existed in america. darcy: those words from the north family. you'll hear more in a few moments. but first we want to tell you about jason hanson. he was the focus of a report we first aired in march. while jason was in the guardianship system, he lost the house his father wanted to leave for him.
and his care raised many questions. >> i'm perfectly mentally capable except for the fact that i have cerebral palsy. darcy: jason was involved in the guardianship when he was child. court officials say that ended in 2007 when he turned 18, but that didn't keep the court from ruling on his case for most of his adult life. >> when "contact 13" started asking questions, the court started admitting errors, like accepting filings after they'd lost jurisdiction, which they call unfortunate. as for treating jason as an adult ward, they say they don't know whether that was a series of clerical errors or misunderstandings by the attorneys, or an intention to mislead the court. in jason's case, no one caught it for seven years until "contact 13" got involved and the case was suddenly closed. but jason's story isn't the only case raising serious questions.
taking their concerns to clark county commissioners in april, they talked of appalling, rampant abuse. >> gandhi once said the measure of a society is how it treats the vulnerable. you are failing the elderly in clark county. darcy: family members, concerned citizens, and representatives from metro and district court painted what commissioners called a frightening picture of the guardianship system. >> i'm a little concerned, i have a 96-year-old dad that seems very healthy to me, but i wouldn't want a guardian to get ahold of him. darcy: commissioners agreed to create a blue ribbon panel to audit guardianship cases, and district court chief judge david barker asked for more staff, including a compliance officer to review cases. families who have loved ones caught up in the guardianship system started to see some hope, but that was merely a baby step.
take that first step. it's a story that will make you sad and feel helpless. it's a family tragedy where an elderly couple is yanked from their home, their daughter is left in the dark and the person put in charge by clark county admits to serious mistakes uncovered in our investigation. >> it can happen in the blink of an eye. >> i could not be less happy. >> life as you know it changed for ever. >> did you feel like you and your wife were kidnapped out of your own home? >> we were kidnapped and raped, both. darcy: maybe not literally, but rudy and rennie north feel like they were violated, stripped of the life they were living together for 60 years. he cared for her through cancer and claims they were doing just fine until a knock on their door in the fall of 2013.
of the court. darcy: rudy says the officers gave the couple three options. >> one, we call the police. two, we have you go to a psychiatric ward. darcy: choice three? an assisted living facility. the people who came for rudy and rennie were private professional guardian april parks and a member of her staff. >> mr. and mrs. north were not in a good situation when we initially got the guardianship. there were lots of concerns about what was going on with them health-wise. darcy: park says a hospice company referred the couple to her out of concern that they could no longer care for themselves. >> were they allowed to -- given the choice -- to stay in their home? >> at that time they were not. darcy: and they've never been allowed to go back home. park says threats of police and jail never came up, but -- >> psychiatric ward probably came up. darcy: frightened and worried about being separated,
their only daughter, julie, had no idea they'd been taken. >> who believes they're going to get taken out of their home? darcy: julie eventually tracked them down. she took this video in january 2014. >> i felt like i was being arrested. i was kidnapped out of my house. i wasn't even fully dressed. darcy: court records show rudy and rennie were deemed incompetent by a pain management specialist and a physician's assistant. april parks used those evaluations to gain temporary guardianship, which the court has since made permanent. >> in the court record parks also called their only daughter julie a reported drug addict who has no contact with her parents. both say that's a lie and there's no evidence to back it up. >> they defame your family. they do that in case after case after case. darcy: in the north's case we discovered mistakes, overbilling and double-dipping.
that's finding this stuff and asking these questions? >> no, ma'am, it shouldn't. darcy: that's scary when you're in charge of someone else's life and money. >> yes, i'm not happy. darcy: this shouldn't be happening. >> i agree with you. darcy: shockingly, parks sold a bunch of rudy and rennie's belongings through an estate sale company, who made $4,150, but she only got $923, which went into the north's account. court records show parks said it wasn't worth the legal effort to pursue the other $3,200. >> but why would that ever be the determination? >> well, i'm not -- darcy: is someone else's money. >> you're right. darcy: she says they're going to pursue it now. "contact 13" also uncovered double-dipping. rudy and rennie were charged $780 each for court filings and travel time to court on the same days in 2013. >> that's over $1500 to this couple -- >> you're absolutely right. darcy: -- who you're saying doesn't have enough money already.
darcy: how about $108 parks charged rennie to buy her a pair of stretch pants? >> does $108 for stretch pants seem reasonable? >> no, it doesn't, and i'm happy to reverse that. darcy: so far, parks and her lawyer have charged the couple more than $25,000 in fees, plus almost $50,000 has been spent for the couple's room and board and medical expenses. parks says this is the first time she is hearing rudy and rennie are unhappy and want out. >> i was dealing in fear because, again, i didn't know that -- i thought nazi germany was done in 1946. i didn't know it still existed in america. darcy: april parks also told us that guardians are officers of the court. but we checked and the court says that is not true. as of mid-2015, there were over 8,000 open adult guardianship cases in clark county family court.
hearing master jon norheim is not an elected judge. hearing masters are appointed to the bench. as we exposed, norheim's tactics were controversial and his rulings obvious just rubber-stamps. we each found him spouting false information from the bench to scare families. after we shined a spotlight on all of that, the court made a major change. in may, all adult guardianship cases were taken away from norheim and transferred to experienced family court judge, cynthia dianne steel. >> you helped us in that process by bringing this to the attention of those who are interested, the commissioners, and so you helped me in that and i thank you for it. darcy: well, let's shake on that, right? that partnership? >> and we're going to move forward. we're going to make this better. darcy: the reassignment was just the first step in improving the system as a whole. coming up after a break, search warrants are served
on the guardianship problem. ( knocking ) >> april, it's darcy spears from channel 13. would you please come out and talk to me? i know you're in there. why are you avoiding us? >> and while new laws have been passed to improve the system, we are still hearing about frightening new cases, cases like that of the meslows, a couple separated, their home and identities lost.
as you heard before the break, clark county commissioners were set to tackle the guardianship problem in a blue ribbon panel, but state leaders stepped up and the nevada supreme court created a guardianship commission. "contact 13" was at every meeting this year, including the first one in july. that's where tensions flared after families were accused of exploiting their own. >> it's not the guardians you've got to be aware of, it's more family members. darcy: private professional guardian jared shafer goes head to head with families who have accused him and other for-profit guardians of abusing power, exploiting those they're supposed to protect for their own financial gain. >> it's what it is. remember this -- >> you used the money in their estate, to get lawyers to represent them -- i'm sorry, he started this. >> please don't do that. darcy: shafer said the system isn't broken. he's pointing the finger back at families, saying they're upset
elizabeth indig has been fighting private guardian april parks for years over a guardianship involving her mother. >> using color of law she threatened me with prison if i interfered with her, locked me out of the home, took control of the mail, ignored the family trust, and lost, sold and or stole all of the assets of the trust. darcy: though emotions and tempers flared, public comment was welcome at today's inaugural commission meeting presided over by supreme court justice james hardesty. since those meetings started, chief justice hardesty has heard testimony many times from terri and rick black. terri fought for the better part of two years to care for her ailing father, but instead, the court granted guardianship to a woman who is now facing criminal charges. the court eventually named terri co-guardian of her father two weeks before he died. >> i miss him.
darcy: terri, and her dad, del, were very close. >> and he was in a band? >> yes, yes. my dad played the clarinet and the alto saxophone. there he is right there with the alto sax. darcy: del passed away july 3rd. >> my dad worked at allegheny power. darcy: now, terri sorts through the few personal belongings she recovered. >> just a simple watch, you know, nothing fancy. but this probably was dad's favorite watch. darcy: the family had a simple plan in place. if the time came when del couldn't take care of himself, terri would step in. but things didn't work out that way. >> if my dad knew how the end story of his life has gone, he would have been horrified. this is not the way he wanted it to be. this is not the way he wanted to live out the remainder of his days. darcy: nearly two years ago alzheimer's was taking
terri and her husband, rick, came to las vegas to take him home to north carolina, but del's companion, helen natko, resisted, forcing terri into a drawn-out and very expensive court battle. >> that's a hell that no one should ever be put through. >> but you don't have a plan for taking your dad. >> hearing master jon norheim gave guardianship over del to natko, even though she is facing a felony charge of exploitation over money transferred from del's accounts. the criminal charge is still pending. as for del... >> he's gone. i've been wanting to care for him for the two years i've been out here in nevada fighting as a daughter, and now he's gone. darcy: just recently terri had reason to hope she would get to spend more time with her dad. >> i'm going to take the step of having ms. black be co-guardian of -- >> "contact 13" was there when she won a small victory.
preventing families from caring for their loved ones, all adult guardianship cases were taken way from hearing master norheim and transferred to judge steel. steel finally granted terri co-guardianship in june, and she was able to visit her dad in the hospital. >> i fed him his dinner. we went dessert first, back to the meal. and i will never forget just holding his hand and feeding him and telling him how much i love him, what a good father he has been to me. darcy: just one of the precious few memories terri holds close to her heart of her father's final days. helen natko's criminal case is still winding its way through the courts. another private guardian who has caught the eye of law enforcement is april parks. she is the one you heard earlier admitting to double billing clients.
office, her storage unit, and her boulder city home. ( knocking ) >> april, it's darcy spears from channel 13. would you please come out and talk to me? >> as of monday morning -- >> i know you're in there. why are you avoiding us? >> -- private guardian april parks can no longer avoid accountability over allegations of double-dipping, misspent money, and abuse of power. >> police served search warrant here at parks' home in boulder city and also at her office on st. rose parkway. the law enforcement activity spearheaded by the attorney general's office comes about five months after "contact 13" first exposed allegations against parks for exploiting her wards. >> rudy and rennie north, mrs. elizabeth indig, phyllis moskowitz-crowe. they're just a few of the more than 100 people who were made wards of the court with parks as their guardian. now police are looking at what parks did with their money and assets.
boulder city police carted out boxes of documents from parks' office and spoke to her at her home. she spoke to us back in may to address concerns raised by wards and their families. >> when i get to that age and somebody tries to put me under a guardianship, i'm probably going to come out kicking and screaming too. darcy: ever since that interview, parks has refused to talk. >> you can't hide forever. >> the joint law enforcement investigation is the first of its kind, and according to affected families, it's long overdue. >> when criminal activity is identified in the family court historically here in clark county, that's been ignored, when it pertains to the private guardians and their lawyers. darcy: but with the service of monday's warrants that could be changing. law enforcement's focus on parks began in june when boulder city police began investigating the disappearance of eight of parks' wards. she'd moved them without notice from lakeview terrace in
"contact 13" also caught parks double-dipping into the bank accounts of rudy and rennie north. >> as a responsible steward of their money, you're in charge of every dime these people have in this world. >> yes, ma'am. darcy: is it acceptable to be consistently making those mistakes with someone else's money? >> no, it's not. >> and i just crocheted -- >> darcy: just last week we told the story of phyllis moskowitz-crowe, who was left destitute and almost lost her home after parks became her guardian. >> she is so evil and so vicious, even the devil wouldn't have her in his zone. darcy: elizabeth indig's mother did lose her home after parks let it slip into foreclosure. it was sold for pennies on the dollar and then parks sold most of mrs. indig's clothing and belongings. >> my mom is now sentenced to a life in a nursing home, when we had a trust and we had made plans to keep her in her own
darcy: we've asked the court what will become of all the people april parks has guardianship over now that the police have seized files, paperwork and computer equipment. the court wouldn't provide an answer, saying they can't comment on open cases. every time we report on april parks, we hear from more people who say she victimized them as well. earlier this year we began following the story of a husband and wife. parks was guardian for both, and they say she literally stripped them of their entire identity. darcy: it's ironic, meeting bill and kathy mezloh at the boulder city library. when we interviewed them the couple couldn't even get a library card because they couldn't prove who they were. >> our independence has been stolen. darcy: kathy's lifetime career was in law enforcement. bill traveled the world for business, and the couple has been married 40 years. but once the court put them under guardianship,
they had no cell phones, no birth certificate cats, no passports. marriage license? >> no more. darcy: driver's license? >> no. darcy: social security card? >> no. darcy: you truly have none of the vital documents that people need to prove who they are in this life. >> that's right. darcy: in bill's wallet, which is also gone -- >> i always had a picture of my wife and myself on our wedding day in the backseat of the limo. darcy: all of it taken, they say, by private, for-profit guardian, april parks, who came into the couple's life in the fall of 2013. >> we were vulnerable at the time. darcy: bill is legally blind but mentally all there. multiple health problems put him in the hospital, and then rehab, leaving kathy alone at home with early signs of dementia. healthcare workers called parks, who had kathy declared
a place parks uses frequently for her guardianship cases. all it takes is a two-page form, a few checkmarks and some boxes and a signature. shortly thereafter, bill was declared incompetent, not by a doctor, but a physician's assistant named john reyes, the same guy parks used in rennie north's case. when parks took kathy out of the couple's house and put her in a group home, bill says she wouldn't tell him where his wife was. >> i wasn't in contact with my wife, i don't know where she is. i prayed for her every day, i don't know if she is dead or alive. darcy: kathy, you must have been so scared. >> i was. darcy: after months, they were finally reunited. >> first thing she says to me is, "bill, i want to go home." there is no home. i want my pets, i want my dog -- i want my trudy. how do you deal with that?
lost everything, including their beloved pets. the court never questioned any of it until after "contact 13" got involved. at that point bill was freed from guardianship and allowed to take over kathy's care. but the meslohs believe the entire system failed them, from parks to every hearing master and judge who sanctioned and allowed her actions. they say parks drained their bank accounts. their house, clothes, jewelry, keepsakes and treasurers from a 40-year marriage are mostly gone. >> our christmases were unbelievable. we were one of those houses that lit up the block. darcy: they lost cameras, home movies -- >> even our dentures. darcy: and even kathy's parents' ashes, which were on the mantel of the home april parks sold. >> we were her property once she became our guardian. no different than a slave would have been. she owned and controlled anything and everything.
they say they never saw a dime of that money. court records show everything in the house, from furniture to fixtures was valued by parks' appraisers at just under $6,000 and sold at a loss. parks and her attorney charged the couple nearly $50,000 in guardianship and legal fees. charges include $500 a month for filing mail and paying bills. before the house was sold, parks charged the couple $100 to take out the trash, and $100 more to bring the cans back inside the next day. bill was even charged $20 when he had to call parks to ask her to put money in his group home account after she had let it run dry. picking up the pieces of a life lost, bill and kathy mesloh have little more than memories.
darcy: april parks did not return calls for comment on this story. after "contact 13" began investigating this case and after bill spoke to the metro detective investigating parks, a box appeared at the couple's group home with all their id documents inside. since our investigation started, a number of changes have been made in hopes of protecting people in the future. though some families were reunited they're calling their victories hollow, having seen no restitution for the financial damage that's been done. we want to thank the brave families who are speaking out and who participated in these stories and thank you for watching this "contact 13" special investigation "guardianship under fire". from all of us at action news, keep fighting the good fight
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