Man enjoys first hours of freedom from Florida's Guardianship Program

Judge restores all rights of incapacitated man

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - A man who has spent years under the control of Florida's guardianship program is now free to come and go as he pleases and says it's thanks in part to the I-Team.

The cry from friends and supporters was "Free Willi,"as Willi Berchau battled a court system that he says was working against him.

 He is now out of his court ordered guardianship and is speaking out.

With a smile on his face and a bounce in his step, Willi left his assisted living center for the first time without having to ask permission to go eat pizza.

"I feel like I lost all the problems in my life," Berchau said.

When we met Willi over the summer, he had been placed in an Alzheimer's unit by his court appointed professional guardian Patricia Johnson.

"If you stayed there any longer, you would mentally go down," Berchau said back in August.

Berchau had been in a guardianship after he reportedly tried to sell his home for too low of a price back in 2010.

Johnson, who he had never met, asked the court to become his guardian.

"I got the letter from the court to appear in court. Once I appeared in court, I knew that they got me," Berchau said. "And I couldn't get out."

Willi was declared incapacitated, lost all his rights and was appointed a guardian.

After he was put into an Alzheimer's unit, we got involved. Days later he was moved to a less restrictive environment.

Last month, he was re-evaluated by a doctor, who found that he had full capacity.

"At my age, I guess I'm doing pretty good," said Berchau, who will turn 100 in April.

Just this week, a judge issued an order fully restoring his rights.

Willi doesn't believe that would have happened without his friends and the I-Team exposing his situation.

"The trouble is, if you have nobody behind your back, then they can do whatever they want with you,' Berchau said.

Guardian Patricia Johnson didn't want to do an on-camera interview, but late this afternoon she sent us a statement saying:

"While I cannot publicly discuss in detail the wards in my care, Mr. Berchau now has a court appointed attorney to work with who will keep him safe. Because of this, I have decided to allow this standard process to go through without any objection. I have been a guardian in the state of Florida for more than 28 years and have an impeccable record representing those in my care."

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