Serious questions surround professional guardian Patricia Johnson, who is running in Tuesday’s election for Pinellas Park’s City Council. In recent months, Adam Walser of WTFS, Tampa Bay’s ABC News Affiliate, did an extensive investigation into Johnson’s actions and behavior as a guardian for over 50 of Pinellas County’s elderly residents. According to Walser, a number of Johnson’s clients and their families have complained about her conduct as guardian.
All residents voting in Tuesday’s election need to know more about Patricia Johnson’s questionable tenure as a guardian prior to deciding which candidate to choose at the polls. Johnson has the ability to charge her wards up to $70 per hour for their care, sell their property, liquidate their estates, and close their bank accounts. Walser reports Johnson’s own wards are not allowed to know how their money is spent.
Four troubling examples of wards committed to Johnson’s care
Rita Eldridge lived in her Pinellas Park home, cared for by her son James. However, in 2008, Ms. Eldridge was declared incapacitated by the court based on assertions that there was no one available to care for her. This in spite of the fact Eldridge’s son James lived in the home with his mother and watched after her. Eldridge was committed to the care of Patricia Johnson who then evicted James from the property. After being placed in a nursing home, Eldridge’s property was sold at less than half of the market value. Family members who attempted to retrieve items of sentimental value were informed anything they took from the home would be considered stealing. All of Ms. Eldridge’s belongings sold for only $295, and all of the keepsakes Ms. Eldridge had planned to pass onto her family, such as photographs and teddy bears, were disposed of by the state. Rita Eldridge has since passed away.
Rebie Jimenez is another Pinellas County resident declared incapacitated and committed to the care of Patricia Johnson, despite the fact Jimenez lived in the home with her husband Fernando for over 25 years. Johnson also evicted Fernando, and locked him and their daughter Lee out of the home. All of the items Ms. Jimenez intended to pass on to her children became property of Johnson. A pair of questionable real estate transactions followed Jimenez’s transfer of care to Johnson. Fernando died just days after Johnson had evicted him from his own home. Ms. Jimenez now lives in the memory unit at Grand Villa.
Despite efforts by Paulette Karpa of filing notarized paperwork regarding arrangements for her care, the court denied Karpa and her family’s request, and instead committed her to the care of Patricia Johnson. In 2009, Karpa was declared incapacitated after making a number of burglary calls to the police about burglaries, which turned out to be false alarms. Without warning, Johnson allowed Karpa’s power to be cut off, leaving her without lights and air conditioning, and a closed bank account. No attempts by the courts or Patricia Johnson were made to notify Alicia Hackerson, Karpa’s niece, with whom arrangements had previously been made regarding her aunt’s care. The lack of notice issue was filed with Senior Citizens Services of Clearwater. In response the Senior Citizens Services of Clearwater contacted Hackerson, residing in Massachusetts who then raised the issue with the court system. The court claimed the signed and notarized paperwork was lost and ruled against Karpa’s family. As a result, Johnson’s request to commit Karpa at Grand Villa was honored.
Finally, Johnson’s handling of ward William Berchau raised a number of questions about her conduct as a professional guardian. Berchau was committed to Johnson’s care after he tried to sell his Pinellas County property at below market value (a practice Johnson herself participated in regularly with her wards’ homes). For several years, Berchau lived at The Inn at the Fountains, an assisted living facility in St. Petersburg. However, Johnson transferred him without warning or explanation to the Alzheimer’s Unit in Grand Villa. Berchau remained there until another sudden transfer to a less restrictive wing at Grand Villa after his story received media coverage on WTFS. While state regulators have fined Grand Villa twice since 2005, The Inn at the Fountains, Berchau’s previous residence, has never been fined.
Walser follows Johnson around for a week on her job
Due to Patricia Johnson’s refusal to answer Adam Walser’s questions regarding her conduct as a professional guardian, the reporter decided to follow Johnson around for a week. During that period of time, Johnson spent a total of 20 minutes at one of the assisted living facilities where she places her patients. According to family members, the staff workers at the facilities say Johnson never checks in with any of her over 50 committed wards. The wards’ families complain Johnson is never available. Staff workers caring for Johnson’s clients at assisted living facilities across Pinellas County corroborate this claim.
Two fellow council members of Johnson appear to profit from her wards
Two of Johnson’s fellow council members, Ed Taylor and Richard Butler, appear to profit from Patricia Johnson’s wards. Ed Taylor owns Taylor Family Funeral Home, where Johnson chose to send six of her wards for funerals. Rita Eldridge was taken to Taylor Family Funeral home, even though this was not the first choice for her family. Richard Butler is a realtor who has sold 14 of Johnson’s wards homes for $1.25 million since 2010. Butler earned a higher than average seven percent commission, even though Johnson never submitted certified appraisals prior to sale of the properties. Not surprisingly, both Taylor and Butler have endorsed Johnson in Tuesday’s reelection bid.