Family members raise new questions about guardianship program in Florida

Wards' relatives question oversight of system

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - In September, the I-Team introduced you to Patricia Johnson, a Pinellas Park City Council woman who serves as a professional guardian for 50 wards.

Now, there are new questions about how she handles her cases.

The I-Team first got involved after we learned Johnson placed 99-year-old William Berchau in an Alzheimer's unit, despite strong evidence that he didn't belong there.

Family members of other wards are now speaking out about their experiences with the professional guardianship program.

> Read their stories here:   Incapacitated: Florida's Guardianship Program

"Birthday parties, Christmases, everything. My grandmother raised me for a good section of my life," said Amy Eldridge.

Eldridge often returned to the home where her grandmother Rita kept teddy bears and photos of her life's magical moments.

But in 2008, Amy's grandmother Rita was declared incapacitated by the court.

Amy says she doesn't know why.

Rita was removed from her house and Patricia Johnson became her court-appointed professional guardian.

Amy's father James took care of his mother in her house at the time.

"There was no family that they knew of when they were going through the process," Amy said, describing how it was reported to the judge that Rita Eldridge had no one to care for her, even though her father was living in the house with his mother at that time.

Johnson evicted James on Rita's behalf and obtained a nearly $5,000 judgment to pay the legal bill.

Rita Eldridge was moved to a nursing home.

Her own home was sold for less than half its appraised value.

"We were told that, basically, we were stealing if we took anything from the house," said Amy Eldridge.

As for the sentimental things left in the home, "They were all taken from the house and thrown away. There was no ‘hey, we've gotten everything of value out of this house, if you would like to come rummage through this, you can get what's left. It was ‘everything in the house needs to stay, you just need to go and everything's ours now.'"

Everything was sold for $295 to the same man court records show bought several wards' possessions, including those of Rebie Jimenez for $100.

"I was never allowed into the house to go through any of my mom's belongings or even our items as we were growing up as kids," said Cindy Lee, Jimenez's daughter.

Before being incapacitated, Jimenez lived with her husband Fernando, who Patricia Johnson also evicted immediately.

"When I went to the house to see, they had already had it locked up. Some padlock on the front door. There was no way to get in there," said Lee.

Lee said that her mother's husband Fernando, who lived in the home for 25 years, was locked out of his residence by Johnson.

He died several days after his wife was taken away.

"I was like wow, how can this have happened? They removed her, then a total stranger came in and took over and then next thing I know, immediately, there was a for sale sign up," said Lee.

The home sold for $85,000 to an investor, who resold it for $170,000 four months later.

Rebie Jimenez is now in the memory unit at Grand Villa.

Rita Eldridge passed away last November.

"I felt like my grandmother was in prison. I had to go to her warden to make sure everything was ok. So that I could see her," said Amy Eldridge.

Johnson refused multiple requests for an interview.

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