Schiavogate --Following the Money
by Fintan Dunne, BreakForNews.com
April 3, 2005
Just beneath the surface of the Terri Schindler-Schiavo case, lie serious issues beyond the divisive headline controversy over her right to live or die. These are straightforward criminal issues involving incapacitated patients and their often considerable assets; the hospices which care from them; their legal guardians; and pivotally, the judges and lawyers who oversee their financial and legal affairs.
Although these concerns apply to many more incapitated people than Terri Schiavo, the spotlight shone on her case has uncovered a web of facts which paint a microcosmic picture of potential institutionalized fraud, conspiracy and coverup.
It's a story remarkable for the close connections between judicial, legal, law enforcement and political figures prominently involved in Schiavo case. This edited compilation of those facts has been prepared by BreakForNews.com Editor, Fintan Dunne -drawn from the comprehensive investigations and articles published by The Empire Journal online.
INSIDE THE SCHIAVO WEB
In the wake of Terri Schiavo's court-mandated death from starvation, Michael Schiavo is reportedly in hiding and seeking police protection after his wife's remains were cremated Saturday morning. Terri had sustained serious brain damage in 1990 as the result of a suspicious incident at her home when only Michael Schiavo was present.
Judge George W. Greer may have a vested interest in the death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo. Her death may make moot Greer’s own complicity in alleged violations of guardianship laws and well as the alleged cover-up of criminal wrongdoing in the matter -an obstruction of justice.
The plethora of alleged improprieties in the Schiavo case gives immediate cause for the appointment of a special prosecutor into alleged wrongdoing of Michael Schiavo, but also the alleged conspiracy, collusion, fraud by Judge Greer.
According to review of Greer’s handling of the Schiavo case conducted by The Empire Journal, Greer has consistently failed to follow Florida guardianship which aim to prevent unscrupulous guardians looting the assets of their wards.
Texas business Michael Bradle filed a formal complaint March 28 with Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Committee. Bradle wrote that he was complaining of “Judge Greer’s total mishandling of the Terri Schiavo case. I am also complaining of ex parte communications and his refusal to recuse himself amid obvious conflicts of interests”.
Bradle believes that a grand jury should be empaneled to conduct an independent investigation in the Schiavo case.
Late last year, Bradle filed a complaint with the State Bar of California against Thomas Sneddon Jr., the Santa Barbara District Attorney in the Michael Jackson case, alleging that the DA had mishandled the Jackson investigation and had a personal vendetta against Jackson. Bradle said he wasn’t a Jackson fan but had gotten involved because he thought the prosecutor had abused the powers of his office.
FOLLOWING THE MONEY
Former chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez of the 13th Circuit, Hillsborough County, says that Pinellas County has historically resisted guardianship reform. Perhaps that’s because there’s big money to be made among lawyers and other players in guardianships -particularly in the disposition of assets of wards in addition to the guardian fees.
Despite testimony and sworn affidavits by caregivers attesting to the alleged abuse, neglect and exploitation of Terri Schiavo allegedly at the hands of Michael Schiavo, Greer has steadfastly refused to consider any of the allegations. Robert Schindler said in November, 2002 that over 2½ years, Greer had made about 60 adverse decisions against Terri and her family.
Greer sealeding the report of one investigation by the state’s Department of Children and Families on the urging of DCF chief counsel, Frank Nagatani, another a financial contributor to Greer. The judge also refused to give any consideration to medical opinions that Mrs. Schiavo's injuries were consistent with a strangulation attempt which cut off blood supply to her brain for at least 4 to 5 minutes causing her brain damage. X-rays show that she received broken bones and other injuries on or around the same time as her alleged health problem on the day in question.
Also critical of the way that the Sixth Circuit Court judges handle guardianships is Robert W. Melton, chief deputy director internal audit division, certified public accountant, certified fraud examiner with the Pinellas County Circuit Court.
Melton says that Pinellas judges, which include George Greer, not only keep court records hidden from public view but are anxious to extend the cloak of secrecy to the audits.
“The practices I have seen in the short time I have been involved in guardianships is shocking”, Melton said.
During public hearings conducted by the Florida Guardian Task Force appointed by Florida legislators to address guardianship reform, Melton testified that in his office was being “stonewalled” in their attempts to audit Pinellas County guardianships.
“This ranges from guardians that refuse to submit to an audit unless a court order is received, to judges that question the authority of the clerk to use professional auditing staff to conduct the audits”.
While Melton advocates opening the guardianship process to public review, Greer is opposed to that practice. Melton told the task force that there have been times when a Pinellas judge, whom he did not name, has prevented clerk’s auditors from examining the entire record of a guardianship case.
Melton told the task force that the assets of wards are being transferred into pooled trusts that he says operate imprudently outside the supervision of the courts. He adds that the real estate of wards is being sold at below-market prices to land trusts whose owners don’t have to be disclosed. Pooled trusts are promoted as a legal method for wards to maintain Medicaid eligibility in nursing homes, according to Melton.
“When we have both guardians and judges trying to keep auditors out, we have a system ripe for corruption and fraud”, Melton said. In February, 2004, Melton recommended to Chief Judge David Demers that he take a closer look at guardianships in the Sixth Circuit. Greer recently unsuccessfully challenged Demers for the position of chief judge of the circuit.
AT THE MONEY TROUGH
In 2002, court auditors in Pinellas County concluded that court officials had failed to monitor guardianships carefully. The clerk’s office, which systematically reviews about 2,400 guardianships annually, set up a fraud hotline.
While conducting audits of guardianship reports, the Pinellas clerk’s office discovered serious irregularities. Pinellas County state attorney Bernie McCabe confirmed in 2003 that a preliminary inquiry had been initiated by his office into Adult Comprehensive Protection Services which managed the assets of 300 of the county’s elderly and infirm. The inquiry was stonewalled when the ACPS attorney denied access to minutes of the agency’s board of directors.
The attorney was Richard Pearse, the former guardian ad litem in the Terri Schiavo case. Pearse had recommended that the feeding tube not be removed in his GAL report to Greer in 1999. Thereafter, Schiavo petitioned Greer for Pearse’s removal as guardian and Greer complied. Since then, Greer has refused to appoint a new guardian ad litem, acting in the role himself---prohibited by Canon 3 of the state Code of Judicial Conduct. No judge may serve as a guardian unless the ward is a member of his own family.
Melton and other critics say the court system favors the guardian. When court challenges are raised to a guardianship as in the Schiavo case, the proof needed by the petitioner is in documents which are sealed by the court -and Greer- claiming it is for the protection of the ward. When complaints are made to law enforcement agencies, officials with a prohibited conflict of interest -as in the Schiavo case- claim it’s a civil matter being handled by the courts.
Politically connected attorneys who stand to profit handsomely from guardianship fees are involved with alleged guardianship abuse. In Greer’s 2004 reelection campaign, a massive $144,000 was raised in campaign contributions, said to be the largest amount ever raised in a judicial campaign.
More than half of those contributors were attorneys -attorneys whose practices in real estate, probate, wills and elder law stand to profit greatly from guardianships to which they are court appointed by probate judges such as George W. Greer.
THE POLITICO-LEGAL RAT PACK
George W. Greer, 62, born in Brooklyn, has been the judge in the Terri Schindler Schiavo case in Clearwater since 1998, twice ordering the removal of the brain damaged woman’s feeding tube. Greer is legally blind and cannot drive a motor vehicle. Critics charge that he has not and could not review many of the exhibits in the case due to his eyesight.
On June 18, 1990, after a conducted investigation declaring Terri incapacitated, a hearing was held in a St. Petersburg courtroom appointing Michael Schiavo as Terri’s legal guardian. The case was handled for law firm of Baskin and Fleece by attorney Daniel Grieco who later contributed to Greer’s election campaign -as did each one of the attorneys representing Michael Schiavo.
In fact, not only did Hamdin Baskin III contribute the maximum of $500 to Greer’s campaign, but so did his law partner, Joseph Fleece, thereby the law firm of Baskin and Fleece contributed a total of $1,000 to Greer’s reelection at the time Baskin was representing Michael Schiavo in the guardianship proceeding before Greer.
George Felos, the lawyer leading Michael Schiavo’s fight to have Terri starved to death, was chairman of the Woodside Hospice, the facility where Terri Schiavo had resided. Hospice board of directors, according to annual reports of the Hospice, a position he failed to disclose to the court and from which he resigned in 2001 amid public pressure. Many of the rulings in the case were based in part on medical information taken while she was in care of the Hospice.
During his eight years as as Pinellas County Commissioner from 1984-1992, Judge George W. Greer served with fellow county commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd -a member of the board of directors of Hospice of Florida Suncoast, which operates Woodside Hospice.
Another Hospice board member, Gus Bilirakis, made a cash contribution to Greer’s 2004 election campaign. The wife of Greer’s judicial colleague, Judge John Lenderman, was chairman of the Hospice board of directors until the winter of 2003. Critics say that those affiliations and associations constitute a prohibited conflict for Greer in the Schiavo case, requiring his recusal.
The spiritual needs of Terri Schiavo were being met by the clergy of the diocese of St. Petersburg whose official church law firm, Divito and Higham made contributions to Greer totaling $500.
Florida’s deputy attorney general John Carassas, who failed to heed calls for an investigation in Terri's case, also financially contributed to Greer’s 2004 campaign and was directly involved in the case.
Carassas, a former member of Florida’s House of Representatives, District 54, is the regional deputy attorney general for Central Florida which includes the St. Petersburg area. He resigned his seat in the Florida Legislature in July, 2003 to assume his position in the attorney general’s office.
Former Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice, a 20-year personal friend of Judge Greer, assumed Carassas’ seat in the House. As sheriff, Rice quashed attempts by the Schindler family and others to open an investigation into the Terri Schiavo case and has also contributed to Greer’s election campaign.
Before he left office as sheriff to become a member of the Florida House of Representatives, Rice hired Michael Shiavo as a nurse in the county jail. Eleanor Centonze, the mother of Schiavo’s fiancée, had worked at the sheriff’s department with Rice for 20 years.
Patricia Anderson, former lead attorney for the Schindlers, moved for Greer’s recusal after learning that the judge had privately discussed the Schiavo case with Carassas and Rice, after Gov. Bush had sent a letter to Greer on Aug. 26, 2003, requesting that an independent guardian ad litem be appointed for Terri.
And then there’s the matter of the state attorney’s office of Bernie McCabe —the office statutorily charged with conducting relevant investigations. McCabe improperly allowed the use of employees of his office to appear in a TV commercial advocating Greer’s reelection. The assistant state attorney, James Hellickson -who financially contributed to Greer’s reelection-- also appeared in the commercial. The 30-second television spot aired on the FoxTV affiliate serving Pinellas and Pasco Counties.
Greer was shown in a courtroom setting in the Pinellas County Building with appearances by James Hellickson, assistant state attorney; and Paula Shea, assistant state public defender. A uniformed officer of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department, and a sheriff’s patrol car also appeared in the political advertisement, despite state laws which prohibit the use of governmental buildings or state, county and municipal officers and employees for the purpose of influencing an election.
See : Empire Journal Schiavo Articles
Also : Formal Complaint Filed Against Greer in Schiavo Case
Also : Schiavo Judeg TV Commercial Violates State Law
Also : Schiavo Judge Greer Supported by Politics, Religion
Also : Schiavo Case Judge Greer Could Be Removed From Office
Note: The excerpts above are from original articles Copyright 2002,2003,2004,2005 by 'The Empire Journal'. These excerpts are reproduced here under Educational Fair Use provisions and for original criticism and comment as per our introductory text.