I-Team: Court disregards preneed plan, appoints professional guardian

More Issues Uncovered Regarding Program

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Earlier this week, the I-Team introduced you to Patricia Johnson, a court-appointed guardian whose 99-year-old ward said she wrongly placed him in a lock-down Alzheimer's unit.

 The I-Team has discovered Johnson has been the subject of other complaints involving her treatment of wards and their families.

 We've learned that even when a person has legal protections in place to avoid being assigned a professional guardian, the court can disregard signed and notarized legal documents and appoint a guardian anyway.

This latest case involves 90-year-old Paulette Karpa, whose family and friends have been fighting against Florida's guardian system for years.

 "She kept a beautiful house and she always dressed nicely. She took care of herself," said neighbor Nancy Leewe, describing Paulette Karpa,

 Karpa, Leewe's former neighbor, was known for taking long walks, gardening and weekly card games.

 But in 2009, Karpa's life changed.

 After making a series of calls from her house to police about attempted burglaries...each turning out to be unfounded....the Florida Department of Children and Families was called.

 Soon after, professional guardian Patricia Johnson asked the court to have Karpa declared incapacitated, even though Karpa had made prior arrangements for a family member to care for her.

 In Florida, guardians can be given complete control over their wards' lives.

 They can sell their homes, close their bank accounts and choose where they live.

 The I-Team discovered a complaint in Karpa's court file sent by Senior Citizens Services of Clearwater after Johnson allowed Karpa's power to be shut off.

 "Suddenly, this 86-year-old lady was living in a home without electricity, without air conditioning and she didn't know what to do because the bank account has been closed," said Robert Wittenberg, Executive Director of Senior Citizens Services.

 The non-profit organization tried to help Karpa by contacting her niece Alicia Hackerson in Massachusetts, who was listed in pre-need plan documents Karpa signed three years earlier as the person chosen to handle her aunt's affairs.

 Hackerson says she never heard from the courts or Johnson.

 "They did not contact the family. They had all the information, all the people who needed to be contacted," said Hackerson, who the I-Team tracked down in Massachusetts.

 When Hackerson learned about her aunt's situation, she asked the court to be granted guardianship, as Karpa had originally arranged.

 But the judge ruled against her.

 "The court, I guess, put the papers away and never acknowledged anybody that was listed there," said Hackerson.

 "Every one of my people who were involved in this situation and had knowledge of it were just shocked by the fact that this could be happening. We didn't think it was possible," said Wittenburg.

 But the I-Team has reported there are other complaints involving guardian Patricia Johnson and her 50 other wards, including 99-year-old William Berchau, who says Johnson forced him into an Alzheimers unit.

 After we recently started asking questions about Berchau's case, Johnson moved him out of the Alzheimer's unit and to a less restrictive wing at Grand Villa.

 Grand Villa is also where Paulette Karpa was placed by Johnson.

 "If it wasn't for you contacting me, I would not know where she was today, because Patricia never informed us of where she was being taken," said Hackerson.

 Nancy Leewe has her pre-need guardian agreement close by, in hopes that the court will honor it if she ever needs it.

 "We are more afraid of the word guardian than we are of the word cancer. We are so afraid the same thing's gonna happen to us," said Leewe.

 We tried to talk to Patricia Johnson about these concerns at a recent guardian's conference, but she says it's her policy not to discuss her client's cases.

 Since we first reported on the guardian program, we've been receiving e-mails and phone calls by the dozens.

 If you had a bad experience with Florida's guardianship program, we'd like to hear from you.

 You can email us at iteam@abcactionnews.com.

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