ST PETERSBURG, Fla. — U.S. Representative Charlie Crist (D-FL) announced the introduction of his new bill, the Guardians Aren’t Above Prosecution Act, during a virtual press conference Wednesday.
Crist said the legislation shines a light on the lack of judicial action commonly taken against bad actors who abuse and defraud vulnerable persons within a guardianship or conservatorship and spurs prosecution against those bad actors.
“It’s shameful that some of our most vulnerable Americans in conservatorships or guardianships have so few safeguards to protect them from malicious fraudsters,” Crist said. “It’s simply unacceptable.”
He believes prosecuting guardians who break the law will send a message that exploitation and theft by guardians and their attorneys will no longer be tolerated.
“It’s the kind of thing that’s going to help an awful lot of people get their dignity back and get their lives restored to a place that it should have always been,” Crist said, noting there have been many recent cases of guardianship abuse in the Tampa Bay area in recent years.
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Over the past eight years, ABC Action News has been exposing those problems through our award-winning series The Price of Protection.
Crist said the bill has bipartisan support and will allow guardians who commit fraud or abuse to be prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.
Joining him for the announcement were guardianship reform advocates, including an attorney involved in the "Free Britney" movement and the daughter of world-famous pop artist Peter Max.
Max is a German immigrant who became famous in the 1960s for his colorful pop art. His contemporary paintings have been featured on U.S. postage stamps, have been displayed in the White House and are on display in museums throughout the world.
Max now suffers from dementia. He was put into guardianship in 2016 after a court ruled he was abused by his second wife Mary, who committed suicide in 2019.
His daughter Libra said she has been fighting to have him freed from guardianship for the past several years. She said guardians and attorneys have so far spent more than $16 million of her dad's fortune.
Max said there are currently two guardians, a court-ordered attorney and three additional attorneys who are working to prevent her father’s release from guardianship.
“As a family, we’ve been fighting six attorneys who are actively using my father’s hard-earned money to fight against his own family to keep him isolated, which is not what he wants. If any other citizen was doing this to an elder, they would be criminally prosecuted,” Max said at the press conference.
She hopes the new law will help create criminal penalties that will enable families to hold predatory guardians accountable.
“My father’s civil liberties and human rights are being egregiously violated and his life has been stolen from him. We desperately need legislation like the GAAP Act so that crimes committed by guardians can be fully prosecuted under federal criminal law,” Libra Max said.
Crist previously introduced the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation (FREE) Act with Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC) and the Guardianship Accountability Act with Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
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