Filing a probate court petition was like cracking open Pandora's box, though. Given the financial dispute between the siblings, Judge Michael Genden turned to Hertz.

"My mother's life has been ruined. My life has been ruined."

The guardian hired caretakers, but ­Barbara contends that whenever she would call her mother from New York, the old woman sounded terrified. "I'm being tortured," she said during a 2013 conversation, which Barbara recorded. "They'd be happy for me to die, and I'd be happy to die too because I can't take it anymore."

Her belief that her mom was being abused strengthened when her rabbi, Ed Farber, stopped by to check in on Helen and found her without a walker or groceries. The elderly woman wouldn't even respond to conversation. "Helen couldn't utter a coherent word," Farber says. "This was not tiredness... It was neglect."

Illustration by Pat Kinsella
Illustration by Pat Kinsella

Barbara filed a petition to have a doctor examine her mother; it was rejected, but soon thereafter Helen Stone was rushed to the hospital. Barbara provided New Times with the medical exam, which listed dehydration, malnutrition, broken vertebrae, ingrown nails, hernias, chronic pain, depression, Alzheimer's, dementia, and suspected pneumonia. "She was emaciated," Barbara says.

(Hertz disputes that report. "Her mother was hospitalized for back pain," Hertz says. "I can't go into the details because of [privacy laws], but they found nothing out of the ordinary, and they were able to treat her.")

That set the stage for Barbara's clash with the law. When Helen stabilized, she was moved to the Aventura nursing home. "She was supposed to be doing rehab, riding a bicycle," Barbara says.

Instead, Barbara found her mother loaded up on painkillers and once again attached to a feeding tube. Furious, Barbara wheeled Helen out and drove off. A few hours later, she was arrested and charged with kidnapping and abusing her own mother. (The most serious charges have been dropped, but Barbara still faces deferred prosecution for custodial interference.)

Barbara claims the case is a clear-cut example of how Miami's lack of safeguards allows a guardian to abuse an elderly client.

But Hertz insists Helen was well-cared-for. She says Barbara became obsessed with her mother's imagined injuries, and provided New Times with nine police reports involving Barbara trying to intervene in her mother's care. The reports show Barbara being asked to stay away from her caregivers, and police finding no substance to her complaints.

"I don't want you to have a bad taste in your mouth about professional guardians and what we do," Hertz says. "We have a very, very high standard. We treat our wards as we would our own family."

Barbara Stone is far from the only family member driven to desperation by Miami-Dade's system, though. Kevin and Teresa Pizzarello were arrested December 27, 2012, while trying to check on her father inside his Pinecrest home. The old man suffered from dementia but had nonetheless been given a mirror and tweezers and allowed to pluck himself bald. Charges against the Pizzarellos were later dropped.

Lidya Abramovici went to even greater lengths for her mother, Perla Brief de Abramovici. The Venezuelan had been visiting Lidya in Miami when her other daughter asked a judge to declare her incapacitated. Even though Perla wasn't a U.S. citizen and had no property in Florida, she was assigned a private guardian. Perla's lawyer told Lidya there was only one way out: to flee the country.

"The last thing I wanted to do was become a criminal," Lidya says. But in August 2010, she loaded her mother onto a flight to Panama. She immediately had private doctors examine her mother and declare her competent; then she uploaded video of the exam to YouTube.

But Lidya was an American citizen, and Judge Maria Korvick threatened to hold her in contempt if she didn't return with her mother to Miami-Dade. After 18 months in Panama, the daughter relented and brought her mother back to Miami. Perla was barred from leaving the States again. Her U.S. visa expired in 2012, but it was only in February 2013 that she was allowed to return to Caracas — in a coffin.

According to Lidya, only then did Judge Kor­vick acknowledge what she had been saying all along: Perla's property was in the Cayman Islands, so Miami-Dade never had jurisdiction over her estate to begin with. By then, however, almost a half-million dollars had been drained from the old woman's accounts. Lidya requested an audit, but by state law, they are confidential. She can't even see for herself if there is evidence of fraud. "It's like a robbery!" she says. "They say, 'Give us your money or else.' And there is nothing anyone can do about it."

Dr. Sam Sugar is a retired physician who went through his own guardianship horror story before his mother-in-law died. He has since started an organization called Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship. He says he receives dozens of emails a day from victims across the country who have been driven to depression or acts of defiance. He calls it "legal abuse syndrome."

Miami-Dade's guardianship system is particularly corrupt, he says. "This group of court rats that hangs around the judge asking for guardianships are the same people who contribute to his campaign," he says.

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My Voice Nation Help

 I am a former court appointed Guardian in another state, although I live here.

With the rights of the children to bring their parent or grand parent home, there are specialized attorneys in estate law that can deal with this. From my experience, there is another perspective on this. Whether one is 80 or 20 and on a feeding tube because of a stroke or delated disorder,

there is the risk of the person choking when eating by mouth. Well intentioned people can feed someone by mouth and insist that the feeding tube is removed. However, even if the person appears to be eating all of the food, salivation can be created from a remnant of food left in the mouth, and that cause a severe stroke victim to aspirate.

We live in world now where people from Florida may be dealing with grandparents under Guardianship in Georgia or Alabama, for example. Quality attorneys specialized in this field can be of great assistance.

Winston Grace



This is Investigative reporting!  

great (sad) story