As a career law enforcement officer, I know that the truth can be stranger than fiction.
I also know, often times, it's more disturbing, shocking, and sickening.
If, like so many of us, you’ve been stuck at home during COVID lockdowns with a Netflix subscription, you’ve probably seen the movie "I Care A Lot."
The film, which stars Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, and Diane Weist, is an incredibly dark comedic thriller that focuses on the character Marla Grayson, played by Pike, a cruel con artist who makes her living pulling guardianship scams.
During the first gut-wrenching 20 minutes of the film, the viewer sees how Grayson preys on the elderly — conspiring with doctors and homecare workers to manipulate the legal system into granting her guardianship over the lives and assets of those who are perfectly fit mentally.
Grayson then isolates them from any remaining family and sells off their property ---pocketing the profits.
In a scene almost too difficult to watch, Jennifer Peterson, played by Weist, is told by Grayson that a court has found her incapable of taking care of herself and that she is to be placed under care. She is abruptly told to pack a bag and effectively kidnapped from her home under threat of arrest.
But what makes this scene and the film of which it is a part even more disturbing, is the sickening fact that such scenes unfold in real life with shocking regularity.
Guardianship and conservatorship abuse have been in the news a lot lately, with the personal plight of pop star Britney Spears shedding light on the issue.
Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, even requested a U.S. House Judiciary hearing on the issue.
But the scourge of guardianship abuse isn’t confined to Hollywood films and A-list superstars. Anyone can be a victim. I’ve seen it first-hand.
Joann Bashinsky, a beloved philanthropist, spent her final days fighting to protect her own estate after losing control of her finances and life after two disgruntled former employees (and a seemingly complicit judge) used guardianship and conservatorship laws to seize Bashinsky’s assets as well as her autonomy.
Joel Blankenship, legal counsel for the Joann Bashinsky estate, called it "as predatory and exploitative a case I have ever seen."
I know for a fact Mrs. Bashinsky was of perfectly sound mind.
I sat and interviewed her for nearly four hours, and it was clear to me that she was alert, engaging, and had no trouble recalling dates, time, names, and locations of certain events, places, and people.
It was clear to me that she had all her wits about her — and that no one could possibly have decided she was mentally incompetent by mistake.
As a career law enforcement officer, I can smell criminal conspiracy.
Shockingly, Bashinsky’s death didn’t end her family’s legal nightmare.
Just days after her passing, petitioners filed three new hostile motions against the late philanthropist’s estate.
Bashinsky isn’t the only elderly woman in Alabama to have been victimized in such a way.
In 2018, Marian Leonard, a retired Alabama school teacher, was forced into hospice care against her will in what appeared to be a scheme to steal 300 acres of land from her, land that had been in her family for generations.
Nor is this silent epidemic confined to Alabama — it is very much a nationwide issue.
A 2017 report by the Las Vegas Review Journal found that 8,500 elderly or incapacitated Clark County residents were deemed in need of a legal guardian.
One of those residents, Kristina Berger, was placed under the guardianship of a career con artist named Patience Bristol.
Berger’s estate was worth $450,000 when she was placed under guardianship.
Five years later she had only $5,000 to her name.
In 2013, Las Vegas couple Rudy and Rennie North were shocked when four professional guardians showed up at their door, and, almost exactly like the scene in "I Care A Lot," notified them that they no longer had any of their rights and had been declared unfit without ever being examined by a medical professional.
They too were forced to comply under threat of arrest.
The first half hour of "I Care A Lot" is certainly disturbing.
But for thousands of American families like the Bashinskys, the Leonards, the Bergers, and the Noths, those stomach-churning fictional scenes are their real-life experiences.
A 2017 New Yorker exposé found that around 1.5 million adults with combined assets of around $273 billion are under the care of guardians and/or conservators.
Even if only 10 percent of those cases are fraudulent cases of abuse, that’s 150,000 individuals and their families subjected to this horrific injustice.
The success of the film "I Care A Lot" and the plight of Britney Spears and accompanying #FreeBrtiney movement have brought the scourge of guardianship and conservatorship abuse to the attention of the American people.
And we the people have a duty and responsibility as a society to confront it.
As New York City’s 40th Police Commissioner, Bernard Kerik was in command of the NYPD on September 11, 2001, and responsible for the city’s response, rescue, recovery, and the investigative efforts of the most substantial terror attack in world history. His 35-year career has been recognized in more than 100 awards for meritorious and heroic service, including a presidential commendation for heroism by President Ronald Reagan, two Distinguished Service Awards from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, The Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and an appointment as Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Commissioner Kerik hosts a weekly radio show, Behind the Badge, on 77 WABC Radio New York. Read Bernard Kerik's Reports — More Here.
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