An advocacy group for the disabled wants the legislature to address the problem of legal guardians disclosed in a recent state audit.
Disability Rights Nebraska CEO Tim Shaw says the audit that accuses a legal guardian in Scottsbluff of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from vulnerable Nebraskans reveals a glaring weakness in state oversight.
“We’re very concerned about what we would call a guardianship mill; that would be something similar to what we had there at Safe Haven where there’s a corporation or an individual who has hundreds of individuals under their control through that guardianship,” Shaw tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.
The audit reviewed two programs run by Department of Health and Human Services: Assistance to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled and the State Disability Program. The programs 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.
The audit accuses Judith Widener of Scottsbluff of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the 600 persons she served as legal guardian through her company Safe Haven.
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 has been charged with felony theft.
The audit cited three incidents in which more than $100,000 was improperly appropriated, because eligibility was not ascertained.
Shaw says his group wants Nebraska to establish public legal guardians.
“Because once you create a public guardian then you have opportunity for better oversight, I think, of individual guardians and you have the opportunity for protections to be in place that can easily be monitored,” according to Shaw.
State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln 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.
Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this story.