Audits show conservator mismanaged wards’ cases
“Imagine a guardian/conservator who has 70 “wards” they are responsible for. Say they make $5,000, give or take, per ward per year. The attorney who represents them, doing who knows what, has an income of $5,000 per ward per year. They pretend to protect, guard, & conserve for 70 human LIVES, and our LOVED ones pay them $700,000 in return. It makes me sick!”
~ Lark E. Kirkwood
TUSCALOOSA | A former Tuscaloosa County conservator has been ordered to reimburse more than $100,000 of unwarranted and undocumented expenditures she made from the accounts of 17 people.
As the county’s conservator, Zondra Hutto was responsible for the finances of elderly people who were unable to manage their affairs. Hutto resigned from her position after she pleaded guilty to a federal charge of not reporting the crimes of an employee.
Hutto’s law clerk, Brian Lunceford, has been accused of using credit cards belonging to one of Hutto’s wards to buy clothing, a designer purse, gas and a trip to Mexico. Hutto pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony because she knew about the charges Lunceford allegedly racked up. She is scheduled to begin a three-month federal prison sentence in January.
Since Hutto resigned as conservator for about 30 people in Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court, the wards’ newly- appointed guardians have scrutinized the final accounting she submitted in the cases. They have found that Hutto overcharged their accounts and kept sloppy records.
Hutto has moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., and could not be reached last week. A cellphone number listed in court documents for her is no longer working.
Circuit Judge Brad Almond has presided over court hearings in many of the cases and has ordered Hutto to reimburse $110,008 of unwarranted and undocumented expenditures to 17 wards. She will likely owe more once the remaining cases go before Almond in November.
Audits of cases revealed that Hutto charged thousands of dollars in unneeded postage, storage and lawn care fees. Other instances of mismanagement, such as overcharging for attorney’s fees and commissions and allowing health insurance policies to lapse, have been uncovered.
Hutto took $5 each month from each ward for postage and copy fees, which were found in court to be unwarranted. She charged for storage fees, but was unable to show in court that she actually stored any of the wards’ belongings. She paid lawn maintenance fees that the court found were inflated.
For example, in one case Hutto charged a woman’s estate $5 for postage each month for 22 months — a total of $110. One month, she charged $39 for “postage for miscellaneous bills” but couldn’t provide evidence that those charges were necessary. In that same account, she lists an $890 expenditure for clothing and housecleaning, but provided no receipts.
The records also show that she paid herself hundreds of dollars to prepare tax returns. The auditors found that no tax returns or accountants were necessary because of their incomes. In one instance, she paid herself $200 to prepare a return and an accountant $125 for his services.
In another case, Hutto paid $7,220 over nine months to maintain the grounds of a woman’s home. She paid $800 monthly to Dickey Lunceford, the father of Brian Lunceford, Hutto’s employee who was indicted in the federal case. The new guardian in the case has paid $300 each month for upkeep at the same home. In another case, Hutto used a client’s money to pay Lunceford $1,160 for residential cleaning and moving services. But there were no deposits into the woman’s account to indicate that any property had been sold. Hutto paid Lunceford $700 from that same account for lawn care between April and October 2010. The judge determined that those were unreasonable fees and ordered Hutto to reimburse the estate.
In another case, Hutto was ordered to reimburse $1,100 to a couple who had moved to a nursing home, leaving behind a refrigerator and deep freezer full of food. The power had been cut off at the home, and the resulting rotten food and maggots left the appliances unable to be sold.
Leon White’s uncle is a ward in a case that will come before Almond in November.
White said that Hutto had hired a woman she claimed was a licensed practical nurse (LPN) to work for six hours each day at the home of his uncle, now 86 years old. It turned out that the woman was not a nurse at all, he said. Guardians are looking at his uncle’s accounts to determine if the woman was paid as much as an LPN would be, as well as yard work and other listed expenses.
White also wants to know the whereabouts of an antique pump organ that had been in the home. It’s more than 100 years old, he said, and was supposed to stay in the family. He said that Hutto had a refrigerator and stove thrown in a dumpster, instead of selling the appliances and putting the money into his uncle’s account.
He said that the air-conditioning at the home was out for a week in July before Hutto sent someone to make repairs, and sent her former law clerk to the home with the wrong medication for his uncle and aunt, who has since died, White said.
“Over the years, we have been trying to prove to the court system that something was wrong in these finances,” he said. “She wasn’t taking care of the family the way she was supposed to. Our case is coming up, and now we’re going to prove it in court.”
White believes that Hutto should face criminal charges. None have been filed in relation to these cases, with the exception of the federal case.
“Three months for that is just a slap on the wrist,” he said. “She should be back in court to answer for all of these.”
Judges appoint conservators, or caretakers, to handle the affairs of people who can no longer perform those tasks themselves. A person acting as a guardian ensures that the person’s basic needs, such as housing, clothing and health care, are met, but does not handle their money. Hutto served as a guardian for about 100 people. In one of those cases heard in court Thursday, Hutto had filed a document that the ward had died. Attorneys looking into her cases said in court that the man is actually alive and living in Birmingham.
A conservator manages the ward’s finances, including collecting income, paying bills and making investments. They are required to hold a bond as insurance in case of mismanagement. Hutto had let the bonds expire in some cases, or held bonds for amounts less than what the court determined she owes the estates. Almond said in court Thursday that he is not aware of any reimbursements that Hutto has paid. More cases will be heard in November and are likely to result in orders for her to pay money to those estates.
Audits show conservator mismanaged wards’ cases
October 23, 2011
- U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Reports on Incapacitated Adults: Oversight of Federal Fiduciaries and Court-Appointed Guardians Needs Improvement (browardhomehealthcareagency.com)
- A Heartbreaking Story of Elder Abuse and Legal “Thievery”: PART 2 (ppjg.wordpress.com)
- More on Tuscaloosa Attorney Sentenced to Three Months in Federal Prison (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
- Tuscaloosa Attorney to Spend Three Months in Federal Prison (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
Posted on October 31, 2011, in Abuse, Adult Protective Services, APS, Conservator, Elder Abuse, Elderly, Fraud, Guardianship, Guardianship Abuse, Ward and tagged Abuse, Adult Protective Services, APS, Brian Lunceford, Causes of Elder Abuse, Conservator, Conservator Abuse, Conservatorship, county conservator, Elder Abuse, Elder Neglect, Elderly, Estate, executor, Financial Abuse, Fraud, Guardianship, Guardianship Abuse, Hutto, Legal guardian, Leon White, Losing a Parent, Misuse of Funds, public administrator, Public Guardian, Stephanie Taylor, Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County Alabama, Undue Influence, Ward, Zondra Hutto. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.