By Janet Phelan
As the country is riveted on the plight of a beautiful, rich and famous young woman struggling with a controlling and costly conservatorship, a growing number of ordinary individuals equally impacted by the abuses that are part and parcel of conservatorship are speaking out.
Britney Spears has become the focal point for a rallying to end abusive conservatorships, also known as guardianships, country wide. While troubling details of control, personal, medical and financial, of the star have now been revealed, there are mounting reports of even more troubling abuses across the US, impacting ordinary individuals.
In a recent and comprehensive rundown of the Spears conservatorship, New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow tips his hat to this reality, reporting:
Conservatorships can protect people who are elderly, or who live with profound disabilities or catastrophic mental illness. But there is also a wide range of alternatives to conservatorship that are less strict than what Spears has experienced, such as conditional powers of attorney or formal shared control of finances. As conservatorship law is written, the court is required to determine that a conservatorship is—and remains—necessary. “In practice,” Zoë Brennan-Krohn, a disability-rights attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “this is absolutely not the case. What should be happening is that a judge at a reevaluation hearing would ask, ‘What else have you tried? Why isn’t anything else working?’ And, if the conservator hasn’t shown that they’ve tried less restrictive options, the conservatorship should be suspended. But I’ve never heard of a judge asking that in any situation.”
So while the country is discussing the lurid details of Britney’s efforts to secure a cell phone so that she can make appeals to a lawyer and the report that she has been forcibly implanted with an IUD to keep her from getting pregnant, the reality is that thousands, if not many more, Americans are experiencing even more severe deprivation of rights due to these proceedings.
But these people, in general, are not rich and famous. They may be old or disabled, hardly the subject of a sexy story. And every day, their rights of association, their rights to see family and friends, to choose where they live and even if they can see their own spouse or children, are being trampled upon by indifferent or biased judges who rubberstamp the decisions of guardians.
Like Jamie Spears, who is Britney’s father and her conservator, guardians stand to make a whole lot of money from their wards. Jamie Spears has been reported to be receiving $16,000 a month from his daughter. But that is only part of his receipts from her labor. According to Forbes,
…payouts for Jamie Spears included 1.5% of the gross ticket and merchandise sales from Britney Spears’ popular Piece of Me residency that ran from 2013–17 in Las Vegas. That show grossed $137.7 million, according to Caesars Entertainment, leaving Jamie Spears’ cut at $2.1 million.
FREE AMY SALLAS!
Charles Golbert, who is the Public Guardian in Cook County, Illinois, also has a death grip over his wards’ finances. In the case of Amy Sallas, who has been under guardianship with Golbert’s office since 2007, somewhere in the range of $8-9 million dollars has been drained from the estate by the Public Guardian’s team. In this matter, however, the money has been also taken from Amy’s husband, Dean Sallas, who is not under a guardianship. After securing a rather problematic loan from Byline Bank for the Sallas mortgage, Golbert has turned around and abandoned the loan, which may end up forcing Dean Sallas, age 85, into homelessness.
And in the middle of this crisis, Dean is also being blocked by Golbert and Public Guardian attorney Lisa Casanova from visiting his wife Amy in the facility which Golbert put her in. The Public Guardian’s office has also instructed the facility, Belmont Village in Buffalo Grove, to refuse his phone calls to his wife.
This reporter has left phone messages and also sent emails to the Director of Belmont Village in Buffalo Grove, none of which he replied to. I also left a number of messages for Public Guardian Charles Golbert. He has declined to return my calls.
I was able to get through to Amy Sallas on June 20, 2021, which happened to be Dean’s birthday. She wanted to know where he was and why he hadn’t called her. (She has no phone at the facility.) I explained to her that he was not permitted to call her, by the order of her guardian, who has initiated this with no buttressing court order, by the way.
Amy responded with pain and exasperation, “And for no reason whatsoever!” she exclaimed. She went on to tell me how much she missed Dean and said that “After over fifty years of marriage, it is like a piece of me is missing.”
JUST SAY ANYTHING
Those who have attempted to assist the Sallases in their struggle to live together and to free themselves from the stranglehold of the guardianship are also now under the gun. Retired attorney Ken Ditkowsky, who lives down the street from Dean, became alarmed at the level of illegality that Dean and Amy had experienced and took up the charge, sending out emails to the authorities, including the FBI, the attorney regulatory agency (IARDC), the Chief Judge of Cook County Illinois, Timothy Evans and others. Ditkowsky has focused in on the overreach of the guardian, citing chapter and verse of Illinois statute which says: “Guardianship shall be ordered only to the extent necessitated by the individual’s actual mental, physical, and adaptive limitations. 755 ILCS 5/11a-3”
In a signature piece of sarcasm, Ditkowsky has claimed that the statutes “are ignored as there is ‘graft’ to be obtained and assets to be redistributed to more deserving people than those who earned them.”
He has also been concerned about the loan negotiated by Amelia Sallas with Byline Bank during the period she was under guardianship. This loan was taken out without the guardian’s involvement and when Golbert discovered it, he rushed to the bank to put his John Henry on a commercial loan on the Sallas home. According to Ditkowsky, there are multiple problems, actually crimes, involving these transactions. Ditkowsky has explained this as follows:
A Guardian appointed by a judge has a duty to not engage in deception and should not
— Invent falsehoods concerning the ward such as claiming that the ward is wandering around aimlessly in the snow without shoes – well knowing that the police found the ward not in the snow but in her living room. (A host of similar unsubstantiated falsehood have become an urban legend.
— Fail to report important facts to the Court
A few examples:
Feb 14, 2018. Failed to inform that the Byline Bank violated remedial criminal statute 755 ILCS 5/11a – 22 and had Amy Sallas sign mortgage documents; failed to inform court that its petition to negotiate mortgage was moot – Amy had already signed the mortgage document and had obtained a better ‘deal’ than he.
July 28, 2020. Failed to inform the Court that in violation of his oath of office he had paid funds to the Byline Bank on a loan arrangement that was by statute deemed void (755 ILCS 5/11a – 22) as to his ward and her estate. Failed to inform the Court that he was abandoning property of his ward that had an appraised value of about $500,000.
In fact, Ditkowsky has zeroed in on the fact, supported by Illinois statute, that Amy Sallas as an alleged incapacitated person cannot take out a mortgage loan.
He further states that Byline Bank would have known this and for them to create loan documents for her to sign is another violation of law. Interestingly, the loan that she negotiated with the bank was for much better terms than the subsequent loan which the guardian rushed to construct, then subsequently abandoned.
The entire business with the Byline Bank loan has an even darker side, however. It has come to light that the judge in the Sallas Case, Judge Shauna Boliker, has a relationship with the Byline Bank through her husband, David Andrews, whose work for Hamilton Partners involves transactions with Byline Bank. Her demonstrated eagerness to foreclose on the loan and therefore render Dean Sallas homeless must be viewed through the lens of that financial relationship.
In addition, the Boliker-Andrews appear to be struggling financially. Three times in the last decade, JP Morgan Chase has filed to foreclose on their home. One wonders at the appropriateness of having such a judge hear cases involving other people’s money.
GOING AFTER EVERYONE WHO HELPS THE SALLASES, TOO?
Outraged at these issues, retired attorney Ken Ditkowsky has been sending out emails en masse concerning the Sallas case.
Recently, he was sent a letter by the IARDC, signed by attorney Sharon Opryszek, accusing him of the Unlicensed Practice of Law.
In an effort to further obstruct anyone from assisting the Sallases, the same IARDC attorney, Opryszek, was alleged to have contacted Joanne Denison demanding that she be deposed for Denison’s kind acts of helping Dean Sallas set up an email address and also assisting him in registering for Zoom, which is how the court is now conducting hearings. Both Ditkowsky and Denison had their licenses to practice law previously suspended by the IARDC through their efforts to assist in another conservatorship case in Cook County
The Public Guardian has made bizarre and unsubstantiated allegations against Dean Sallas, such as that he forced his wife to sleep in a car and that she was found wandering in the snow in her stocking feet. In fact, the police responded to a wellness check made by the PG’s office and she was at home, shoed up and pleasantly answering the door on the very date that Golbert falsely stated she was barefoot in the snow. Dean Sallas remains bewildered by the “sleeping in the car” allegation and firmly denies this.
MEDICAL MISCONDUCT RAGES THROUGH GUARDIANSHIPS
The Public Guardian removed Amy from her home and her husband in early February of 2019. Like Britney Spears, Amy Sallas has been given medical procedures which may not be in her best interest. Since Amelia’s removal from her home, Dean states that the guardian ordered his wife into a hip surgery which resulted in her now being in a wheelchair when previously she was ambulatory. In addition, the guardian ordered all her teeth removed and gave her dentures, which also bewilders Dean, who states that she was seeing a dentist on a regular basis.
Unnecessary medical procedures have popped up repeatedly in other guardianships. California guardian Melodie Scott ordered a tracheotomy for Stevie Price, who expired shortly thereafter. Dr. Dina Sachs states that her Florida guardian ordered her into electroshock treatment which destroyed her memory, rendering her no longer able to practice medicine. In the infamous Alice Gore case, also in Cook County, Illinois, Gore was subjected to removal of her teeth, as well, this time in an effort by her guardian to apparently mine them for their gold fillings.
According to attorney Ken Ditkowsky, this and other actions in the Gore case were orchestrated by an attorney who is a member of the Esformes clan. Philip Esformes came to public attention when he was successfully prosecuted for a billion dollars (yes, you read that right) in Medicare and Medicaid fraud, through his position as owner of a chain of nursing homes. Sentenced to twenty years in prison in 2019, he was set free in 2020 when his sentence was commuted by President Trump.
The cases (and abuses) go on and on. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million people are currently under an adult guardianship in the USA. The system appears to be protecting guardians from much in the way of legal culpability for crimes against their wards, crimes which include embezzlement and in some cases, untimely death.
When Florida guardian Rebecca Fierle was arrested in 2020 for aggravated abuse and neglect of an elderly person, Steven Stryker, those in the guardianship reform community gave a whoop of relief. In fact they may have celebrated too early. It appears that a plea deal is on the table for Fierle, whose connections to highly placed individuals and medical corporations run deep. The Florida State Attorney’s office was contacted for details of the plea agreement and has declined to respond.
It appeared for a flicker in time that Melodie Scott might be held accountable for her plethora of criminal activities. This reporter was contacted in early 2018, by Special Agent Stephen Lamb of the Riverside office of the Secret Service. Lamb told me that Scott was under investigation for certain financial crimes and requested documents and an interview with me. I also gave him names of other Melodie Scott victims, who strangely were not subsequently contacted by the Secret Service. It has been several years since I spoke with Special Agent Lamb, who has since left the employ of the Secret Service. No one at that office will respond to my queries as to the status of the investigation, which involves crimes that are clearly running through the statute of limitations. Equally mum is the US Attorney’s office.
The money transfer involved in guardianships is staggering. Estimates have been made that $30 trillion dollars is set to transfer from the baby boomer generation to their heirs. Clearly, with money being siphoned off through these guardianships, many will fail to inherit. And the human cost is simply unspeakable. Families are being destroyed, adult children may be restrained and even jailed for their efforts to see their parents.
In 2011, Robert Gettinger, a former police officer in Southern California, was arrested in the middle of the night by approximately 15 law enforcement officers, from both the Kern County Sheriff and the Pasadena Police. He recalls being in bed and awakened by a bullhorn demanding he “Come out with your hands up!” He was arrested for posting derogatory comments online about probate court judges. Gettinger was held in Pasadena jail for 3 days then released, never having been charged.
Gettinger’s mother was under a conservatorship in Los Angeles court. He was barred by the guardian from seeing his mother and reports spending $250,000 to try to free her, an effort which proved fruitless.
Gertrude Gettinger passed in March of 2020. Gettinger states he is still paying off his legal bill.
Gettinger has become very active in the Free Britney movement, along with other efforts to address these proceedings.He maintains informational websites about courts, including uglyjudge.com and courtvictim.com. In a recent interview, Gettinger had this to say: “Britney has the right to end the conservatorship. I don’t know of any case where this has actually happened, however.”
Gettinger went on to explain some of the difficulties in addressing the problems inherent in human ownership, which is how some are now describing guardianships. “There are people who claim to be activists who have relatives or were directly involved. They say we are working on more laws, more legislation. A number of states have now passed new laws and personally, I don’t see any progress being gained.”
As a former law enforcement officer, Gettinger has a shrewd appraisal of where the real problem lies. “Why isn’t legal reform working?” he asks. “Because no one enforces the laws!”
He went on to compare corrupt judges to pedophile priests in the Catholic Church. “These judges are no different than priest child molesters. What the church does is to move them to another church. That is what is happening to judges. They get too much negative attention and they are just moved to another court.”
“Who is judging the judges?” he asks, rhetorically. “They get to do whatever they want to on the bench and have legal immunity. What good are laws if no one enforces them?”
A protest launched by the Free Britney movement will be held July 14 at 1:30 pm in front of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, timed to coincide with Britney’s next court hearing. Gettinger (and others) plan to be there, passing out information and holding picket signs featuring the names of California victims of these proceedings.