Families caught up in guardianship system losing their homes
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - Some of the people who need help the most are being robbed of their money and freedom.
Contact 13's investigation of Nevada's guardianship system has revealed double-billing, bank accounts drained and families torn apart. Some have lost even more.
"Everything in this house is a memory," said Phyllis Moskowitz-Crowe as she looked wistfully around her modest home.
Moskowitz-Crowe has traveled the world, but for the past year and a half she wasn't allowed to step through her own front door.
"All of a sudden my whole life just blew up. And to this day I don't know why."
Spring of 2014 was what Moskowitz-Crowe calls "the beginning of the worst experience of my life."
The then 76-year-old was recovering in the hospital after a fall when the court granted private, for-profit guardian April Parks absolute power and control over her life and estate.
The sign Moskowitz-Crowe put on her door says "Let Freedom Ring" but the sign Parks put in the window means quite the opposite.
In fact, when Parks took over Moskowitz-Crowe's home, at some point she stopped paying the HOA dues so Moskowitz-Crowe says she nearly lost the house and everything in it.
"I'm alone. I was independently wealthy. I have no bills. Except I have a small reverse mortgage on my house. That was it! Perfect target!"
The homeowners' association foreclosed on Moskowitz-Crowe's home because the dues weren't being paid.
But Moskowitz-Crowe had no idea that was happening because at the time, she didn't even know she was under guardianship, claiming she was kept in the dark about her own affairs.
"My home being seized, my car being seized. My bank accounts being emptied. My mail. 496 days without my mail to date."
"This is a huge scam!" said senior advocate Rana Goodman, who's also a member of the newly-created State Guardianship Commission.
"It's morally so reprehensible to me that they literally go in and clean these people's bank accounts out -- leaving them destitute -- and then take their home away from them too," Goodman said.
With help from advocates and friends, Moskowitz-Crowe paid the past due HOA fees and stopped the foreclosure.
"It was a blessing when I walked through that front door. I may be destitute. But it was like walking into a castle. That's how much it means to me."
Elizabeth Indig wasn't so lucky.
She and her mother share the same name. And the same emotions over what happened to Indig's home.
"Completely helpless. Depressed. Out of control. Violated."
While recovering in the hospital from a fall in her driveway in May, 2012, Indig was deemed to be incompetent by the court, and April Parks was made guardian.
"She took control over the home and everything in the home which were trust assets. And she had no right to!"
Indig says the family home was essentially stolen.
Just like in Moskowitz-Crowe's case, the HOA dues weren't paid after Parks took control. The foreclosure went through.
County records show the house the Indigs paid $320,000 for, was sold at auction in November, 2013 for just $22,000.
All the personal property in the house should have been protected by the trust.
"My mom had gold silverware sets. My mom had Hering porcelain, which is hand-painted Hungarian porcelain."
But that didn't stop Parks from holding an estate sale.
"A two-day estate sale," Indig said. "Everything was sold. She was even selling my mom's clothes. My mom's nightgowns."
That might be expected had her mother died. But she's still very much alive. Her daughter said she could do nothing to stop it.
"She locked me out. She took the keys. Changed the locks. She told the guard gate not to let me in. She told me that I would be arrested for trespassing and never be able to see my mom again if I went near the home."
April Parks refused to return our multiple calls for comment on this story.
At the time, we did ask her about family concerns from people like Indig.
"I don't threaten them to stay out of things." Parks said. "That's not a threat to me. If you say to me, I'm gonna go to court, fine! Please go to court! I need you to have your side heard of this."
Indig says the court ignored her pleas until after Contact 13's investigation exposed major shortcomings in the system.
Hearing Master Jon Norheim was booted off all adult guardianship cases and the judge who replaced him signed a court order stating the "court did not give April Parks permission to do anything with trust assets and Elizabeth Indig can file a criminal complaint with the District Attorney."
As for Moskowitz-Crowe, she wants to know how our state leaders can allow all this suffering.
"The legislators ought to be ashamed of themselves and I mean deeply ashamed."
Phyllis was recently released from guardianship and allowed to return to the home she fought for, but ironically, her battle over the house is not over.
Despite the fact that she was forced into an assisted living facility while under guardianship, her reverse mortgage company now wants to take her house, saying she violated their contract by not using it as her primary residence.
The nonprofit National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse says these cases are not uncommon. "Unscrupulous guardians 'flipping' wards' homes or properties for profit is a constant complaint" they hear from members across the country.