By Janet Phelan
Las Vegas. These words conjure up visions of glitz, glam, glitter and fabulous wealth. And behind Vegas’s casino culture have always lurked rumors of laundered money and organized crime.
The Mob’s influence in Vegas is legendary, going back to its inception. Recent concerns have involved the Sands Hotel and Casino, whose owner, Sheldon Adelson, paid $47 million to avoid federal money laundering charges in 2013.
But now, another form of organized money laundering appears to have taken up residence in the centers of power in Sin City. This form of money laundering does not involve casino bosses and mob figures, however. It involves prestigious and reputedly honorable members of government in Nevada.
For not only does money flow freely through the over one hundred casinos in the desert city of Las Vegas. Millions — possibly billions — flow through the probate courts, as well. According to calculations by the Bank of America, in the next 30-40 years 1 trillion dollars may be transferred through inheritances, from one generation to the next. What is happening now in probate courts across the US is an interception of wealth transfer. These interceptions are largely taking place through guardianship proceedings.
HOW ASSETS ARE PLUNDERED IN GUARDIANSHIP COURT
Guardianships are generally initiated through court proceedings when there are allegations that an individual may be lacking capacity, possibly suffering from old age afflictions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Upon the appointment of a guardian by a judge to an alleged incapacitated person (AIP), the guardian assumes the financial and personal responsibility for his ward. This may involve decisions such as selling the AIP’s property, reallocation of investments as well as personal decisions such as where the ward lives and who, if anyone, may be allowed to visit him. The opportunity for fraud and abuse when one person has total control over another cannot be overstated.
A recent scandal involving allegations that a Las Vegas guardian for profit, April Parks, misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars from her clients recently hit the national news. Parks, owner of the business A Private Professional Guardian, LLC, was charged along with her office manager, Mark Simmons, her husband, Gary Neil Taylor and her attorney, Noel Palmer Simpson.
Parks and her cohorts are being referred to as a “crime ring.” Parks, who was arrested in Pennsylvania earlier this year after fleeing the jurisdiction, is claiming indigence and has been appointed a public defender.
The charges state that Parks systematically overbilled and exploited her wards, isolating them from family and friends. She has been charged with over 200 felony counts, including racketeering, theft and exploitation.
“Where was the oversight?” asked 13 reporter Darcy Spears.
The worst-offender guardians seem to have been passed over in the recent rash of arrests. The names of Jared Shafer and Patience Bristol, allegedly conspiring with Guardianship Commissioner Jon Norheim, pop up consistently in the abuse reports. Yet Shafer and Bristol have remained unscathed in the scandal and calls for Norheim to be fired have gone unattended to.
The human cost in these guardianships cannot be quantified. The heartache and loss of a beloved parent to a system which only sees individuals as “cash cows” is a plight that many in Las Vegas have now endured. Leslie Newman, a social worker, recounts how Commissioner Norheim and guardian Shafer “worked” the weak link in her family, her mother’s second husband, in order to gain complete control over her mother Enid’s assets. She recalls the day in guardianship court when Commissioner Norheim announced that he was going to give temporary guardianship for two weeks only to the husband, Norman. Norman then proceeded to remove Leslie from all the previously prepared documents and formalized a “Family Trust” leaving everything to him and his son from his first marriage. After Norman accomplished this, he was removed as guardian and Shafer and Bristol stepped in.
Leslie maintains that her mother was murdered by the husband, in full sight of police and other so-called protective agencies. And true to form, Shafer ended up with the money.
Leslie’s voice quavers as she recalls how a Dr. Rosenstien at Desert Springs Hospital called the police and stated that Enid was being poisoned at home. The police referred the matter to Protective Services, which failed to take action.
To date, arrests have targeted guardians and those in their employ. No judges or other judicial officers have been charged or fired over what is being called the biggest guardianship scandal in Las Vegas history.
ARE THE JUDGES INVOLVED?
However, at least two of the judges involved in Clark County guardianships may have also had their mitts in the cookie jar. A review of the mortgage histories of Family Court Presiding Judge Charles J. Hoskin, who ascended to the bench in 2009 (first having served as a temporary judge since 2002) and Judge William Voy, who has sat on the bench in Clark County since 1998, raises questions about the possibility that they are laundering “extra benefits” through their mortgages.
A money laundering scam using home loans as the vehicle for bribery is exquisitely simple and nearly undetectable: Judge X takes out a loan and Mr. Y pays it back.
Consider this: Since ascending to the bench in 2002, Judge Charles Hoskin has taken out or reconveyed over 2 million dollars in home loans, including an $800,000 loan in 2006 (Mort 20060124-0004304) paid back in 2016. It is of concern that the value of the property, bought by Hoskin in 2003, was declared at $540,000 at that time. One might wonder how Hoskin could have taken out a loan for considerably more than the property is worth.
Hoskin has made some effort to obscure his ownership of the property. The Clark County Assessor’s site records his ownership only as “Taxpayer” and records the property location as that of the Assessor’s office. The document link to the sale record is also obscured and given the bogus document number of * 99999999:99999
Hoskin’s tenure as a permanent judge began in 2009 with a salary of approximately $160,000 per year. Spread equally over 15 years and excluding interest rates, that would amount to over $133,000 per year to pay off the loans, leaving Hoskin with a remainder of $27,000. That would be before taxes.
Something ain’t right here.
Hoskin has been central to concerns about guardianship misconduct. He was the formal supervisor for Guardianship Commissioner Jon Norheim and following the uproar in Vegas, which culminated in the formation of a Commission to study and recommend changes in guardianship law, Hoskin and Norheim were both removed from the assignment in adult guardianship court. They were subsequently reassigned to juvenile court.
Judge William “Bill” Voy’s name has also popped up in problematic guardianship cases. Voy, who has sat on the bench since 1998, has run up a total of $1,556,988 in loans and/or reconveyances since ’98. Voy was appointed by Justice James Hardesty of the Nevada Supreme Court to sit on the Commission to mend the broken guardianship system.
Hardesty’s Guardianship Commission was formed in 2015 and issued its final report in September of 2016. Among the Commission’s recommendations were to form a permanent body to which complaints about guardianship proceedings could be referred. Such an agency has already been set up in California and in Florida, following news reports of guardianship fraud in those states. These agencies are considered to be dismal failures and are reported to be providing a further level of protection for highly profitable guardianships, replete with fraud and abuse of the ward.
IS THE NEVADA SUPREME COURT INVOLVED?
Justice Hardesty himself may be dipping into the loan trough. According to Washoe County, official records, Hardesty has taken out and/or reconveyed over $1.2 million in loans on his property, located in Sparks, Nevada in the last fifteen years. Records show that Hardesty purchased an acre of land for $22,000 in 1976 and subsequently built a two story home on the land in 1981.
Justice Hardesty was contacted and asked for the proof, via canceled checks, that he personally paid back these loans. He declined to furnish the checks and when queried as to the purpose of the loans, which did not appear to be used for home improvement, he issued a statement through the Supreme Court’s press secretary stating only that “I have no further comment.”
Through Clark County press officer Mary Ann Price, Judge William Voy issued this reply: “The transactions listed show home sales, refinances and home improvement loans paid through earnings and home sales proceeds. Should an official inquiry be conducted, documentation will be provided to the requesting agency.”
Price provided this response from Judge Charles Hoskin: “Judge Hoskin, both before becoming a judge in 2009 and since, has repaid personal home loans through monthly payments from income and refinancing through commercial lenders.”
Before this article gets consigned to the pile of “Oh my, more public corruption,” it might be useful to consider the implications of the concerns cited herein. If approximately 2/3 of judges (this is the ballpark figure that appears likely) are accepting under the table monies and are fixing cases as a result of being paid off to do so, one must ask the following question:
“Do we even have a functioning justice system in the United States?”
As the promise of justice for all is central to the American vision, the possibility that justice has been waylaid and slain by the powerful and monied is of concern for all of us.
ARE THE FEDS INVOLVED?
Recently, the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles was approached with evidence of the prevalence of bought-off judges. An official with the Public Corruption Unit, Marve Williams, took the call. This is an accurate rendition of what then transpired:
Following accumulating evidence that judges are laundering bribes through their home loans, I called the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, asking to speak with someone in the public corruption unit.
I shortly received a call back from a Marve Williams, who identified herself as working in the citizens complaint division of that office.
I explained to her that I had amassed evidence pointing to criminal money laundering by California judges.
Ms. Williams informed me (hang onto yer hats….) that the Department of Justice has no jurisdiction over judges. “You will need to contact the Commission on Judicial Performance,” she intoned. “Judges police themselves.”
“Ma’am!!” I replied. “If judges break the law they are held to the same measure as anyone else. These may be federal crimes and your office indeed has jurisdiction!”
Marve tried to argue this point with me but was clearly losing the battle of words. She then took another tack.
“You are not allowed to report on this conversation or to quote me,” she informed me.
“Ma’am!” I yelped. “I identified myself as a journalist in the first minute of our phone call. You cannot inhibit me or instruct me from reporting what transpired here.”
“You are not permitted to report this,” she retorted.
“Bull puckey!” I replied.
And then Marve disconnected the call.
The Whistleblower Unit of the Senate Judiciary Committee was also contacted in March of this year, as was the Minority leader of the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein. To date neither office has replied to written and verbal messages citing concern about state judges being bribed to fix cases and also about the attempts by the DOJ to cover up what appears to be widespread money laundering by judges.
And April Parks — low hanging fruit and easy pickins’ — may be paying the price for everyone who facilitated her crimes.
Research for this article was contributed by Michael Larsen, author of Guardianship Fraud
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. She is also the author of a tell-all book EXILE, (also available as an ebook). She currently resides abroad.
Image Credit: Pixabay.com
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