by Phillip C. Lemmons
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Trust and Estate Litigator, Public Speaker, Author and Founder of The Legacy Lawyers.

Sometimes it is not the family, it is the official. Read this story and think about the possibilities of it happening to you if you are currently in a probate or conservatorship situation.

In Madera County, the official in charge of managing the estates of several elderly and disabled residents was found guilty of selling their personal property to his deputy’s family at bargain basement prices.

In recently unsealed grand jury transcripts, former Public Guardian Dennis Blessing also raised numerous conflict-of-interest issues by directing his staff (not an auctioneer) to sell various items and by paying his deputy’s father to regulate client estates.

Blessing broke the law, however he was never prosecuted. Instead, the grand jury indicted Heather Young, Blessing’s accomplice on embezzlement and other charges.

The problem began with the county’s Board of Supervisors. They voted to consolidate the Public Guardian’s Office with a much larger county agency in an effort to save money and allegedly improve oversight. But no county leader will address the department’s poor management or whether its problems point to larger issues within the county.

In Madera County, the Public Guardian’s Office acts as a conservator for about 160 people who are disabled or unable to care for themselves and who don’t have anyone else who can oversee their day-to-day activities and finances. The office is responsible for selling the property of deceased conservatees to pay off debt. About a dozen such county estate sales occur every year.

State law does not allow public guardian officials, or their relatives, to buy property from a client’s estate unless they do so at a public sale. This is because public guardians could sell property at a discount, shortchanging the estate. Therefore, to avoid any conflicts, the practice is to hire an auctioneer to sell a conservatee’s property.

Blessing repeatedly sold property to his deputy’s family members. Young’s father, Matt Gerbi, then resold the property at a family-owned store that sold used items.

Young was indicted by a Madera County grand jury on two counts of public guardian misconduct and two counts of embezzlement. Of course Young’s defense attorney says she has been made the scapegoat for a department that was in disarray.

Young’s father, Gerbi, also had a no-bid contract with the Public Guardian’s Office that paid him about $350 a month over a three-year period. District Attorney Investigators reported that the monthly payment was made to maintain the conservatees’ estates by making repairs to their property, remodeling their homes and mowing their lawns.

Assuming the legal system officials or anyone else will look out for your best interests is a supposition that will lead to personal loss and possible harm. Get sound advice and a legal sentinel to watch your best interests.
Phillip Lemmons, Esq.

The Legacy Lawyers