The Public Eye

Public Eye: Caregiver’s payment of a home from elderly brothers draws fire

The Public Eye
The Public Eye

Just months before they died in 2011, Alvin and Alton Fletcher, disabled brothers in their 80s, signed over their Sacramento home to a woman who had been their caretaker, Julie Gutierrez.

When some of Gutierrez’s relatives learned of the transaction, they said they were not surprised. Gutierrez had been involved in a similar deal with her own father’s home a few years before. Gutierrez’s father, who suffers from leukemia and dementia, was also under her care.

Gutierrez said the housing deals were ethical and done to address financial problems faced by the men. In the case of the Fletcher brothers, she said the home served as compensation to ensure she could provide around-the-clock care.

But some relatives of her clients said the property transactions are part of Gutierrez’s pattern of taking assets from senior citizens.

The allegations against Gutierrez have surfaced just as elder advocates are asking county supervisors to reinstate an Adult Protective Services financial fraud unit that was cut several years ago along with elder abuse prosecutors and investigators in other county departments. The loss of such personnel has coincided with a rapid rise in financial abuse reports to APS, The Sacramento Bee reported last month.

Sacramento County Adult Protective Services finished an investigation of Gutierrez and forwarded the results to the fraud unit of the Sacramento Police Department, according to a February report filed in Superior Court. But representatives for the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office say there are no active cases involving Gutierrez.

The report was filed by attorney Peter Vlautin, who was appointed by the court to oversee the interests of Gutierrez’s father as she and other family members fought over who should have responsibility for him and his estate.

Bernadine Galdamez said she repeatedly made complaints to APS about Gutierrez, her half-sister. But the agency failed to follow through, she said.

“She did not want to take care of my dad,” Galdamez said. “She just wanted the money.”

The county can’t comment about allegations involving Gutierrez because of confidentiality laws, said county spokeswoman Laura McCasland.

In addition to the property transactions, Adult Protective Services looked at whether Gutierrez was illegally splitting county payments for elderly care with workers she employed. Gutierrez has a company, In Home Supportive Care, and some of her income has come from In Home Supportive Services, a statewide program administered by counties with the goal of keeping vulnerable adults out of institutions.

From 2005 through last year, Gutierrez has been paid just more than $150,000 in program funds, with most of the money coming in the last three years, according to the county’s IHSS Public Authority. IHSS caretakers are employed by patients who select them and are not required to be licensed, McCasland said.

Louis Ernest Benavidez had children with two wives, and when the longtime truck driver became too ill to take care of himself, his children ended up fighting over who should take responsibility for him. Gutierrez filed a case in Superior Court to become conservator, as did one of his former wives.

A judge recently decided that neither of them should become conservator, which effectively left Benavidez in Gutierrez’s care. According to Vlautin’s report, Gutierrez had signed for a reverse mortgage, which enabled her to draw money from the equity in her father’s home. She used $180,000 to pay off the original mortgage on the house and collected $11,000, according to the report.

Gutierrez’s attorney, Jeff Flink, said she took out the reverse mortgage because her father was behind on his mortgage payments and was going to lose the home. The additional money went to home improvements, he said.

Galdamez said her half-sister pocketed the money and kept her father from seeing her and other children in an effort to continue the scheme.

Gutierrez has filed civil harassment lawsuits – a type of restraining order – and domestic abuse claims against Galdamez and other relatives who have opposed her in the conservator case, seeking to block them from being near her or her father. The cases have been dismissed except for two that were just filed this year. Galdamez and others targeted in the suits said she was trying to silence them.

Gutierrez wanted a restraining order against Lorna Lee Holmes, a niece of Alton, Alvin and Raymond Fletcher, all of whom have been in Gutierrez’s care. In the case, which was dismissed, Holmes wrote a detailed list of allegations against Gutierrez.

Alvin was blind, Alton was deaf, and both were having problems finding a regular caretaker when they were referred to Gutierrez, according to Holmes’ statement. Raymond, who is still in Gutierrez’s care, is blind and deaf.

Holmes’ statement alleges that Gutierrez brainwashed her uncles into giving her money and eventually signing over their home. Property records show that they signed over the home to Gutierrez and Raymond Fletcher in 2011. The following year, Gutierrez and Raymond Fletcher sold the home for $242,500.

“These men are my family and I’m heartsick this has happened to them,” Holmes said in her statement to the court. “I’m asking the courts, please help them.”

Attorney Flink, who was asked to investigate the allegations in the probate case, said the Fletchers gave her the property to pay for the care she provided. “They were in her care for a number of years, and they could not pay for it,” he said.

In her statement to the court, Holmes disputes that account, saying that Gutierrez also received payment from other sources, including a state pension fund and IHSS, to provide care.

But Gutierrez said IHSS paid for only 16 hours a week of care for one of the brothers, while she said she deserved to be compensated for providing around-the-clock services. She also said Alvin and Alton gave her the house to ensure Raymond’s continued care after they died.