A state senator says Nebraska must better supervise legal guardians and adds a recent state audit merely confirms what he already knew.
State Auditor Mike Foley released an audit of two programs run by the Department of Health and Human Services in which it was disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars have been mishandled. A legal guardian in Scottsbluff, Judith Widener, has been charged with stealing from some of the 600 vulnerable Nebraskans whom she served.
State Senator Colby Coash of Lincoln has served with the judiciary branch on a panel studying the guardianship issue.
“Unfortunately, what the auditor found, particularly with the guardianship issues, was not a surprise to me and I was very disappointed to hear what he found, but it just lights more fire under me to try to continue to find solutions to this,” Coash tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.
The two programs audited in Nebraska, Assistance to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled and the State Disability Program, serve roughly 6,000 elderly, blind or disabled Nebraskans who can no longer manage their own affairs. The two programs handle nearly $15 million in state tax dollars annually.
Coash says Nebraska is the only state that has no structure to oversee legal guardians. He says other states use a variety of structures to hold legal guardians accountable for the services they provide.
Coash doesn’t trust DHHS to provide the oversight.
“Here’s what I can tell you,” Coash says, “I don’t have much faith in putting anything of this magnitude under DHHS. They were part of the problem to begin with, with regards to this issue.”
Oversight is needed, according to Coash, to prevent legal guardians from stealing from the accounts they manage.
According to the auditor’s office, “Widener masked her alleged embezzlement through a complex array of credit cards and over 40 bank accounts containing more than $600,000.”
Widener, who is 70, has been formally charged with theft by taking, a felony. Widener ran Safe Haven Inc., a company claiming to be an online debt and credit counseling firm. The company handled accounts of persons appointed legal guardians to handle the financial affairs of the elderly or disabled.
The audit cited three incidents in which more than $100,000 was improperly appropriated, because eligibility was not ascertained.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:55]