The Probate MafiaShare this story:
We’re asked to investigate family injustice all across the country, and this is one of the cruelest things we’ve ever seen. Courts are giving strangers the right to control the elderly, and then spend all their money. It’s gotten so bad families have given the lawyers, doctors and relators a new name – “THE PROBATE MAFIA.”
At a rally fighting the probate system across the county, many different advocates speak about their experiences and plead for justice.
“This trauma and the pain that we’re all feeling is real; we have to stop,” says Suhail Khalil.
Woody Shirley, the son of victim Katie Shirley, says that “within ninety days of them taking my mother from me, she’s dead.”
Finally, Rita King states that “my dad is trapped, but I’ve got to get him out of this court system. There’s no end to this.”
This is ground zero in the fight to stop what sure looks like nationwide elder abuse.
This is Orange County, California. These folks have watch strangers take over control of their relatives’ lives, often their moms or their dads, with the help of judges.
Advocate Sandi Cobianchi asserts “we have got to put a stop to this probate corruption. It’s like a mafia.”
And these are the foot soldiers in the alleged probate mafia, lawyers cashing in on family injustice.
Khalil continues his pleas, saying “it’s unheard of. This is a cabal that must be stopped.”
Wayne Dolcefino confronts Eric Becker, one of the foot soldiers, and asks him “do you mind being called part of a cabal? What do you say to people who say that?”
“It’s nonsense,” Becker replies.
But it’s not just the elderly who get trapped in a vicious probate system.
Britney Spears showed us all what it’s like to be trapped from the conservatorship that since 2008 had controlled every aspect of the pop star’s existence.
It was a woman named Jodee Sussman who had gathered this small army of probate victims in front of the Orange County Courthouse in May as lawyers went inside to make their pitch for a payday.
The lawyers were fighting over the money of a dead woman: her mom, Marty Adair.
At the rally, Sussman proclaims “I stand here boldly. I’m not alone. All these victims are with me with the exact same stories.”
In an interview with Sussman, she states, “they’ve enriched themselves over the dead bodies and hard work of our elderly Americans.”
Both of Jodee’s parents died trapped in a cruel legal system.
Marty spent more than 300,000 in legal fees back then. She saved herself from court control, but her husband Richard was taken over and died during the court battle.
But the folks who wanted control of Marty Adair weren’t through. In 2019, her daughter Marty says Marty was targeted again by the same so-called “probate mafia.” And whether you call it guardianship where you live or conservatorship like they do in California, once the legal system grabs hold of someone you love, they never seem to let go.
Across the county, Dolcefino Consulting is now being brought in to help expose a different kind of family injustice.
Wayne Dolcefino says that “This will give you a sense of the gravity of the abuse that’s going on, and we’re calling on the judges to stop the nonsense.”
Orange County Judge Ibrahim Baytieh has a chance to send a strong message. The spotlight is on the court ruling he’s about to make to end the “feeding frenzy.”
In a court filing in June, Sussman accused Becker and his partner, Samantha Morris Jones, of a conspiracy to force her mom into a conservatorship. She said that the fraud was perpetrated for the precise purpose of controlling [her] mother’s person and assets for purpose of looting from her assets.
Dolcefino asks Becker, “when you are in a business that some people would say preys on family disputes, do you feel like you’re taking advantage of these senior citizens.”
“Absolutely not,” Becker responds.
For five long years, Reedy King’s 91-year-old father, Gustavo Verdult, has been in what they call in California “temporary conservatorship,” a victim of the so-called “probate mafia.”
King says that “I reported the fraud, the breaches of judiciary duties, the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost to my attorney, Eric Becker and Samantha Morris. Little did I know they were part of this ring and brought on more of these people. I’ve got to get him out of this court system; there is no end to this. If they had not done with, they’ve done, our parents would have plenty to retire on and be well taken care of.”
Other probate victims point the finger at the same cast of characters, with Becker and Morris all been playing a starring role in allegations lawyers are unfairly depleting inheritance for families.
“The whole thing is corrupt,” states advocate Temre McCardle, another relative of a victim.
Look at the poster board of the accused probate mafia in the Suzanne Pearsall case. There’s Becker and Morris Jones again. Her sisters claimed Jones even got her own mom appointed a trustee in that case. It’s all in the family.
“It shouldn’t happen to anybody, because you believe in the court system and the court system is totally vandalizing us,” asserts Woody Shirley.
You guessed it—Eric Becker is in that case too, representing the for-profit fiduciary that took over.
Sussman says that “It’s been a nightmare. The whole thing has been a nightmare.”
Marty Adair’s final conservator when she died was Mark McKibben, a licensed professional fiduciary. Yes, they have a license for that in California. Adair’s daughters said they reluctantly agreed to his control over their mom when they were forced to seek guardianship in Texas instead of what was happening in California. Once there, they set out to prove their mom’s dementia diagnosis was bogus; that she was mentally competent. A Texas judge agreed, but California courts held onto Marty Adair anyway.
Her family tried to end the conservatorship, but she died before they could get to court again.
In a court filing, McKibben has now outlined the payday still being requested from the judge from the money Marty left behind—more than 360,000 dollars, and more of half of it to Samantha Morris Jones and her partner, Eric Becker.
Dolcefino asks Becker, “Why has this cost so much money? I mean, lawyers are basically spending money that could go to the family.”
Becker responds with “no comment.”
The next biggest chunk of money is requested by attorney David Shaver, who was appointed by a previous judge to be the guardian ad litem for Marty Adair, appointed to represent her best interests.
David responds with “yes” when asked by Dolcefino if he believes he did right by Marty Adair.
Adair’s daughters say Shaver didn’t even bother to meet Marty for the first time for more than six months after he was hired to protect her, and only did so when they insisted.
In court, Shaver admits that he only met alone with Marty Adair just two times before she died. He was her supposed guardian for nearly three years.
Kathy Gardner’s dad died in conservatorship six year ago. Shaver was part of that case too. And you know who was protecting her father as the guardian ad litem? Eric Becker.
The conservator in that case was Sally Cicerone. Cicerone surrendered her license after allegations she pilfered funds from a dead client.
Gardner says that “she told me they will always win against all of us, and she was right.”
Marty Adair filed bankruptcy to protect her prized peace of real estate: The American Way Cultural Center. It was, the daughter’s claim, part of the cabal’s plan. Once lawyers had a doctor to say Marty had dementia, the plans to sell her property began.
The lawyers and realtors tried to sell it for millions less than it was really worth, first claiming it was just worth three million… nice try. It was auctioned off for more than sixteen million, still millions less than what the daughter’s say the property was really worth.
Besides, it was priceless to Marty Adair. The broker’s fees were $835,000, money that went to Teresa Gorman and Ruben Martinez of a company called FRES, Fiduciary Real Estate Services. They are considered part of the cabal.
Believe it or not, a year after her death, that bankruptcy case is still open, even though Adair’s creditors appear to have been paid off two years ago. Why are the lawyers still hanging around?
Newport Beach bankruptcy lawyer Richard Golubow is the guy who bragged that his paralegals billed up to 400 an hour. He bills at 685 dollars an hour. He’s already billed 467,000 dollars, nearly half a million bucks, all money that came from Marty Adair.
Golubow has also gotten 189 thousand dollars in payments from the bankruptcy trustee, Richard Huntington, the one that Jodee Sussman has some of her harshest criticisms for, calling him an “evil, evil man.” He’s the first conservator of her mom, now also involved in the bankruptcy case.
The family was outraged when Huntington showed one of the daughters, in front of Marty, a pamphlet for “Death with Dignity.”
“You’re a thief, you’re a liar… yeah, we know exactly who you are,” Sussman continues.
We discovered a tangled web when trying to identify members of the alleged “probate mafia.” Take Huntington: he shared an office address with Gorman and Martinez of FRES, and Gorman is also a lawyer with an office address in the same building as Eric Becker. Huntington is part of a group called Professional Fiduciary Services.
It’s run by a guy named Peter Kote, who puts on those seminars weirdly called “It’s Your Money! & It’s Your Estate!” even though all these folks seem to be making their living off other people’s estates once they take control. Teresa Gorman is on the seminar’s board of directors.
But none of the control can happen without judges who go along. Probate victims point fingers at Kim Hubbard and Gerald Johnston. Hubbard and Gorman were speakers at last year’s professional fiduciary convention.
Looks like the folks who say they worry about protecting all those rich, elderly Californians put on quite a party.
Huntington wasn’t in court the day probate court victims gathered outside of the Orange County Courthouse, but in a final statement to the judge, he claimed Adair’s three daughters had simply found new and creative ways to interfere, harass, and malign him and his lawyers. That he had really protected Marty Adair from her own children.
That makes Jodee Sussman emotional. She recounts her mom begging her daughters to fight off the strangers trying to take over her life.
Marty asked her daughters, “What do I do?” to which Jodee responded, “I don’t know. They say the only way out, physically and to save your life, is to agree to let them liquidate all your property.”
The horror stories about abuses and guardianship and conservatorship are nationwide.
Sherry Lund says that “these people are evil, and they’ve totally destroyed our family. It’s awful.”
Sherry is the stepmother of Bradford Lund, grandson of Walt Disney, forced into guardianship in Nevada based on questionable claims he had down syndrome. Sherry has fought for more than a decade in the probate system to try and free him.
Lund comments that “I told the judge; people are dying on your watch. That’s criminal.”
In Nevada, former lawman Stewart Handte states that “to say that my life has been destroyed would be an understatement.”
He now faces criminal charges; allegations that he’s an accomplice to kidnapping. He was accused of helping his friend Roger take his mom out of an Alzheimer’s care facility.
Stewart believed his mom was being mistreated. She died soon after, another victim.
Handte says “they did that to Susan Villagas. They isolate her, get her overmedicated, and then subsequently murder her.”
And in Orange County, yet another insult to Jodee and her sisters. It was callous words from attorney Samantha Morris Jones, who said that “all allegations regarding whether or not Ms. Adair had dementia, or other factors considered in the establishment of the conservatorship are irrelevant.”
But it’s totally relevant to Jodee Sussman. In fact, it’s everything. She believes her mom was falsely diagnosed with dementia in the first place, that it was simply an excuse to get on her property, evaporate her estate, and deprive her of the little things.
The folks at FRES put a “For Sale” sign in front of Marty’s house without even telling her. The lawyers claimed it was ready for foreclosure. The sisters have mortgage documents saying that wasn’t true.
The daughters say Huntington took out an unnecessary and predatory 2.7-million-dollar loan on the Adair property. It cost Marty 900 thousand dollars.
Look at this court filing by the Orange County public defender who was representing Marty back in 2019 as the conservatorship was taking over her life: “[…] while billing nearly $700,000 for less than 20 months of work by him and his counsel, he fought giving Mrs. Adair $50 a month for lottery tickets.”
And that bankruptcy case has now been extended for another six months, which is great for the lawyers, but why? Marty has now been dead for more than a year. That, the daughters say, is the way the probate mafia works, churning fees while ripping the dignity away from folks like Marty Adair.
“God willing, they’re going to get exposed, and they’re going to be stopped, and they’re going to pay for what they’ve done to our families,” Jodee declares in front of the Orange County Courthouse. “God gives our inheritance. They can’t take it away. God help us all.”
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