Guardianship News:

Florida’s Apex Probate Predator

Florida Ward Steve Stryker choked to death after court-appointed guardian Rebecca Fierle removed his feeding tube and issued a Do Not Resusitate Order, effectively murdering her ward, Stryker. Florida Ward Steve Stryker choked to death after court-appointed guardian Rebecca Fierle removed his feeding tube and issued a Do Not Resusitate Order, effectively murdering her ward, Stryker.

 

Rebecca Fierle— Florida’s Apex Probate Predator

This is a story which broke in the Florida press in spring 2019 about a woman who became notorious and reviled all over Florida for being the #1 apex predator in Florida’s broken probate court system. But—one has to admit begrudgingly- she was also a true evil genius and an top-level expert at manipulating and maximizing her theft of private assets as well as massive amounts of government money via outright theft, extortion, exploitation, hidden contracts and her masterful manipulation and leveraging of the Florida guardianship system and its Probate rules and laws.

In her decades long central Florida reign of terror, she callously and with great intentionality destroyed lives and families. She did so with impunity and abandon under the sleepy-eyed authority of a handful of cooperative Florida probate judges. The evidence of her crimes was burned and buried literally and figuratively. Even after her downfall, urns containing the cremated ashes of 17 of her victims were found by investigators– perhaps these were trophies in her office.

Her war against the vulnerable seniors in Florida was no secret either. Angela Woodhull a PI and a victim of Fierle’s detailed her crimes in a comprehensive investigative dossier she sent to every agency she could find. They all ignored her findings.

Fierle’s rapacious MO begins with identifying an elderly person who might be in need of help, who might be in a facility, who might need rehab, who might be vulnerable, or frequently one whose family has major disagreements on how to care for an aging loved one- especially if there are large amounts of assets in play. She either petitioned for guardianship herself or arranged to be appointed to a phony court-appointed guardianship to gain control and absolute ownership of a ward in a plenary guardianship of that vulnerable person’s life. (The details about how all this happens are well outlined in my book Guardianships and The Elderly the Perfect Crime)

This scenario happened hundreds of times in more than 5 Florida counties by the same 3-4 probate judges who for whatever reason considered her worthy and appropriate for such lofty status. They also knew that a single case could generate enormous amounts of both legitimate and under the table revenue— much of which was never reported to the court or the IRS making it tax free.

As investigators would later learn the hard way, the many millions she collected over the years– 4 million from a contract with Advent hospital alone– would be nearly impossible to track down and to this day are unaccounted for.

Once appointed Fierle had the ability to hire attorneys paid for by the wards estate to represent not the ward but herself. This quirk in the Florida statutes– which states that any time a professional Guardian is appointed they have the obligation to hire an attorney to represent themselves rather than the ward– allowed her to wage war on anyone who stood in the way of her absolute domination of her ward and the pilfering of the estate. The more cases she had the more money she could direct towards a small army of lawyers who were incented to protect their benefactor Fierle no matter what it took. That would regularly include lies, perjury, deceptive practices, blackmail, falsifying records, illegal ex parte meetings, arranging shady strawman real estate deals, procuring phony property appraisals and gross violation of their oaths to the Florida bar– all intended to clear the path for Rebecca to exploit her absolute power over a vulnerable elderly person and their family. All of this could be done with absolute impunity and no fear of any form of punishment or retribution by virtue of the quasijudicial immunity granted by the judges and confidence in the knowledge that the state of Florida does not consider guardianship corruption and exploitation a crime because it is all committed over the signature of a judge who also has absolute judicial immunity from any consequences of his actions. In other words, it is the perfect crime.

 

The incredible case of Stephen Stryker

Stephen Stryker did not need a guardian and he most certainly did not want a do not resuscitate order. He was coherent and not the least bit mentally incapacitated. He was not a danger to himself or anyone else. And until he was sucked into a plenary guardianship under Rebecca while he was a patient at Advent Hospital, (then called Florida Hospital), his medical needs were cared for, his advanced directives clearly stated, he had predesignated friends and associates available to take care of him who stood by him and his life was not in jeopardy.

When his length of stay in that hospital posed a potential source of revenue loss under the Medicare payment plan to Florida Hospital, it would appear that the hospital activated a plan to use the services of Rebecca to create the artifice that would allow them to empty the bed Stryker was occupying, under the terms of a contract they had entered into with her as a Medicaid manager –which is a euphemism for a person who moves human beings in and out of hospital and facility beds to maximize profits and reduce losses for all concerned. Rebecca was an expert at this.

When Stryker protested the guardianship for a number of reasons including that he was prevented from attending his own guardianship hearing by Rebecca, she became intent on silencing him apparently. This is when she, against recommendations and suggestions from multiple sources at the hospital, proceeded to unilaterally and without court approval sign a DNR order on Stryker despite Stryker’s repeated and insistent protestations that he wanted to live and absolutely did not want a DNR order.

What followed were the first of many transfers from institution to institution for reasons which are known only to Rebecca.

After leaving Florida Hospital, Stryker was moved under Fierle at least 10 times in 9 months– although he could’ve received all of his care through the VA in one place and essentially for free, Rebecca forbade that. He was repeatedly moved to and from places like Tampa Community, Tampa Memorial, St Joseph’s, Kindred Rehab and others. During that stretch when he complained about his situation, he was even Baker acted (an involuntary 72 hour psychiatric hospitalization) at least once (as a Ward!!) possibly to increase money flow.

In Central Tampa ALF he suffered a broken hip in January 2019. The hip fracture required stays for rehabilitation in other facilities where he deteriorated. Ultimately, chronic debilitation and problems with his esophagus prevented him from eating and he required a feeding tube for nutrition. While her exact motivation for doing so remains a question, Rebecca incredibly ordered that his feeding tube be capped. This would ensure that eventually Stryker would either starve to death or die from aspiration pneumonia within a short time. The latter occurred in Tampa in St. Joseph’s Hospital and Stephen’s avoidable cause of death was listed as aspiration pneumonia but in truth his death certificate should have read “death from Rebecca Fierle’s abusive guardianship”.

He died from aspiration resulting from pulling his feeding tube in Tampa in St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Government falls down on the job

It was not until the details of Stryker’s death were publicized in the Orlando Sentinel that the handful of judges who had enabled Stryker for years sprang into action and relieved her of all her existing guardianships within just a few days.

The very same judges who had handed out millions of dollars worth of guardianships to this woman suddenly found Jesus. They railed against her and did a 180° turnaround on their attitude toward her. They made statements to the press about their outrage and how they knew nothing about all these abuses. At no point did any of these judges apologize to anyone for aiding and abetting an apex criminal predator. And it appears that at no point did anyone in the judiciary, the Supreme Court, the judicial qualifications commission or any other oversight body in state government wonder whether there might be some problem with these judges. Not once. Even though the governor went public with statements about how the system needs to be fixed, at no time where the arbiters of this system ever called to task for its decades long utter failure to protect the most vulnerable people in the state,

Lawsuits and Criminal Charges

There are three separate legal issues in play here. The first is the judge’s rulings (including Thorpe, Galuzzo and others) to remove all of her guardianships which Rebecca appealed at least twice and both appeals were rejected. The second is a criminal matter—aggravated senior abuse- for which she was arrested on February 10, 2020 and is being prosecuted by the Florida Department of Law enforcement. The third is a civil suit brought by daughter Kim Stryker in March 2019 and ongoing.

Fierle has been represented by Kara Graham of Cole Scott and Kissane in Orlando and formerly by Leslie Yadi and several other (highly suspect) lawyers over the years.

What is not well-known though, is that Rebecca Fierle manipulated a number of institutions using her total authority over Stephen Stryker after he was discharged from Advent in order to maximize revenue for herself and institutions she worked for and contracted with and was paid for on the side. She utilized techniques such as Baker acting Mr. Stryker when it served her financial purpose to the point where before he died he had been transferred a minimum of 10 times between a variety of institutions and facilities before eventually dying from complications not only of his esophageal issue but a hip fracture he sustained while in a rehab facility. All the while he could have been covered by his VA benefits.

It is a stunning example of how just one ward—she had over 400– can be controlled and leveraged to the extent that his guardianship produces hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of revenue for not just Rebecca but for hospitals nursing homes and rehabilitation centers and a variety of other healthcare providers who know how to play the third-party reimbursement game to perfection. Imagine multiplying this scheme to over 400 individual patients.

Here is the history of this travesty

  • After signing a DNR during a Hospitalization at Florida Hospital (later Advent Heath) during which Styker was prevented from attending his own guardianship hearing by Fierle, on  May 9, 2019 Fierle caps the feeding tube of Stryker in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa despite protests from the hospital and staff.
  • He dies of aspiration on May 13, 2019.
  • June 2019 The Orlando sentinel begins running stories about the Stryker case
  • July 12, 2019 Judge Thorpe removes her from all her cases

“She has executed numerous ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) orders on many of the Wards under her supervision without family or court permission,” Thorpe wrote. “She has been compensated as a Medicaid caseworker for her wards, having received payments from hospitals and other facilities without disclosure or court permission.”

  • Judge John Galluzo who gave her hundreds of cases also dismisses her. Other judges rapidly follow suit until all her cases have been removed.
  • July 25, 2019 Rebecca officially resigns from all her cases and promises never to seek guardianships again thus frustrating the actions of the OPPG which was on the verge of de-certifying her
  • August 12, 2019 detectives discover seven urns filled with cremains of victims
  • 09/12/2019 an investigation by Orange County’s comptroller finds that Fierle billed Advent Health nearly $4 million over a decade, an arrangement prohibited by state law without court approval. The probe also finds evidence of double-billing and reveals Fierle was handling affairs of hundreds of patients for whom she had never been appointed as guardian.

 

 

For the next six months the Stryker case is investigated by the office of special prosecutor

  • February 10, 2020 Rebecca is finally arrested on a single charge of aggravated elder abuse and makes bail and spends less than 14 hours in the Marion County, Florida jail
  • March 9, 2020 formal charges of aggravated elder abuse and neglect are filed by the FDLE

Stephen’s Daughter Kim Stryker files a civil lawsuit

  • March 13th 2020 For a second time, a panel of judges dismissed an appeal by former Orlando guardian Rebecca Fierle, who sought to quash an Orange County judge’s order finding she violated state rules by misusing “do not resuscitate” orders on incapacitated clients
  • March 23, 2020 Rebecca pleads not guilty to the criminal charges and files a second appeal

 

During this seven months, Florida Department of Law enforcement and Florida special prosecutors interview witnesses and FDLE investigates the Stryker case

  • May 10, 2020 19th Rebecca’s lawyer Kara Graham petitions the court to suspend the civil case because of overlap between the civil and criminal case

Currently the judge in the civil case is Kevin B, Weiss of the Ninth Circuit

Proceedings are scheduled to resume sometime this summer.

In the meantime, Rebecca Fierle is walking about freely out on minimal bail.

To this day it appears the Florida Department of Law enforcement has been unable to locate any of the millions of dollars that we know she received over a four-year period from Advent or the money she received in court-approved Guardian fees, under the table kickbacks, Medicaid management fees with other facilities, profits from the improper sale of Guardian estate assets, referral fees or the millions of dollars that appeared to have simply disappeared from the accounts of countless wards during her reign of terror.

Horrific guardianship abuse can get started in one day. All it takes is the cooperation of the court insiders to rush through an emergency temporary guardianship which ultimately and can quickly morph into a permanent plenary guardianship. A person’s life savings can disappear within days of a guardianship being established. The newly minted award can be stashed away in isolation almost immediately where they will be over medicated into zombie-hood and often isolated from the world they knew before guardianship and their loved ones. Guardianship only ends with the death of the ward but billing from the court insiders can continue for years thereafter an offer and does continue until every penny of the ward’s estate is gone.

Plans and reports that are mandated by law are more often than are inadequate or totally missing.

Accounting reports are so often unprofessional and contrived especially when compared to the billing reports from the court insiders which are meticulous and voluminous. Reports from banks and financial institution are often lost thus hiding outright heists of large amounts of cash.

But the real problem with guardianship in Florida and everywhere else there is a hotspot court that acts in the same way is that there is absolutely no one to complain to. Law enforcement is trained to take the attitude that any disputes in probate court are civil matters that require litigation by attorneys. Despite compelling evidence that the upper echelons of Florida’s office of attorney general and special prosecutor are well aware of the abuses typified in the Stryker case by a multiplicity of professional guardians who act in the same way, and despite attempts by certain in the legislature to place Band-Aids on the current statutes that only nibble at the edges of this enormous problem, and despite the hue and cry from increasingly large numbers of advocates, victims and families across the state there remains an overwhelming inertia among the highest levels of the Supreme Court, the chief judges, the judicial qualifications commission, the Florida bar, and even major news organizations and media to take on what may well be the single biggest threat to every senior in the state, perhaps even bigger than the coronavirus. Seniors might be able to shelter in place to protect themselves from the Corona virus but there is nothing they can do today to fully protect themselves from being conscripted into and killed by guardianship exploitation.

 

Timeline of events on this story please go to

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1wyEljQ9hkiyPqgvkBj2L173-n0v9GCn0DlaFfjRtncM&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650