Corruption and racketeering invoke images of the mafia, drugs, violence, and connected judges or politicians. But sometimes organized crime covers more mundane businesses than nightclubs and casinos.
There is a racket in Nevada that is robbing the elderly not only of their property but of their rights.
People are being deemed unfit to look after themselves for superficial or trumped up reasons. Then, their guardianship is being handed over to private companies. Often these elderly folks are removed from their homes and placed into care facilities.
Their possessions are sold ostensibly so that there is enough money for them to be taken care of by their guardian. But their liquidated assets are used to fund the guardian's fees, sometimes hundreds of dollars for a conversation.
It is all done under the pretense of protecting them. The guardians say that the wards are at risk of being taken advantage of. It is a sad irony that the guardian's themselves are the ones taking advantage. And often they are able to do so by casting the children of the ward as unfit or greedy.
Hundreds of cases followed the same pattern. It had become routine for guardians in Clark County to petition for temporary guardianship on an ex-parte basis. They told the court that they had to intervene immediately because the ward faced a medical emergency that was only vaguely described: he or she was demented or disoriented, and at risk of exploitation or abuse. The guardians attached a brief physician's certificate that contained minimal details and often stated that the ward was too incapacitated to attend a court hearing. Debra Bookout, an attorney at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, told me, "When a hospital or rehab facility needs to free up a bed, or when the patient is not paying his bills, some doctors get sloppy, and they will sign anything." A recent study conducted by Hunter College found that a quarter of guardianship petitions in New York were brought by nursing homes and hospitals, sometimes as a means of collecting on overdue bills.
The family of those elderly targetted are not informed of the proceedings. Under Nevada law priority for guardianship is supposed to go to family members. Yet when the court actions are kept secret, the family will often not know what had happened until it is "too late." Why is it too late? Because the court said so.
There are a few sinister characters in this story who appear to be the main racketeers. Jon Norheim is a lawyer who acts as a judge.