The ABC Action News I-Team Uncovers Rampant Abuse and Fraud by Court Appointed Guardians
ABC Action News/WFTS-TV’s ongoing commitment to investigative journalism and making a real difference in our communities has been nationally recognized with the television industry’s highest honor in journalism. The Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award honored the ABC Action News I-Team report that is a deep dive into a range of problems with a state program aimed at taking care of Florida’s vulnerable elderly population.
“We are very honored to receive such high praise on a national level,” says WFTS Vice President and General Manager Nick Nicholson. “This is a great example of the commitment, as a Scripps station, we place on in-depth reporting and taking action for the bay area every day.”
The award highlights specific work by Adam Walser, investigative reporter; Fran Gilpin, investigative producer; Randy Wright, I-Team photographer; Doug Iten, executive producer of Special Reports.
OVERVIEW OF THE IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION:
The ABC Action News I-Team first started looking into Florida’s Guardianship Program after we learned 99-year-old William Berchau had been placed in an Alzheimer’s unit by his guardian, despite strong evidence from those who know him best that he didn’t belong there. We soon began looking at more than 50 other cases involving his guardian, Patricia Johnson, and Florida’s guardianship system. The I-Team discovered a system that claims to look after wards’ best interests, but has very little oversight outside of the courtroom.
In Florida, guardians are not required to get appraisals before selling wards’ homes, leading to homes often selling far below their actual values (meaning less money is available for wards’ care). Guardians also aren’t required to be accompanied while doing initial inventories of personal possessions. Often, relatives aren’t allowed to review what reportedly came out of their loved ones’ homes. Guardians use the “honor system” when submitting bills. Judges, in some cases, have disregarded signed legal documents that delegated powers-of-attorney, medical decision-making and other legal authorities to their relatives before wards were incapacitated.
The I-Team interviewed friends and family members of wards, experts in the guardian field and others to get a deeper sense of what’s going on within this system that remains invisible to most members of the public.
ABOUT THE AWARD:
Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism today announced 14 winners of the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards. Investigative journalism will win seven awards spread across network television, radio, online and at the local level, most often in overlapping platforms. Four awards will go to local television news investigations, including ABC Action News/WFTS-TV in the Tampa Bay area.
About WFTS/ABC Action News
WFTS-TV is the primary ABC network affiliate for the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota television market, programming a strong schedule of news, sports and entertainment. ABC Action News has been named the Associated Press’ Best Overall News Operation for past six years and has won numerous national awards for investigative journalism and community service. WFTS-ABC Action News was the first broadcast station newscast in the Tampa Bay area to broadcast in high definition. ABC Action News leads the way providing local news and weather coverage on-air, on the web and on mobile phones. WFTS-TV is a Scripps Media station. For additional information, visit the WFTS-TV website at www.abcactionnews.com.
The E.W. Scripps Company (www.scripps.com) serves audiences and businesses through a growing portfolio of media brands. In July, Scripps announced a deal with Journal Communications to merge its 21 local television stations with Journal’s 13 television stations and 34 radio stations, which will make Scripps the nation’s fifth-largest broadcasting group. The two companies also agreed to spin off their combined newspaper interests to form a new publicly traded company, to be called Journal Media Group. Scripps runs an expanding collection of local and national digital journalism and information businesses, including mobile video news service Newsy and weather app developer Weathersphere. Scripps also produces television shows including The List and Let’s Ask America, runs an award-winning investigative reporting newsroom in Washington, D.C., and serves as the long-time steward of the nation’s largest, most successful and longest-running educational program, the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Founded in 1879, Scripps’ motto is “Give light and the people will find their own way.”
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