Woman financially exploited vulnerable adults, county finds
A criminal investigation is underway into whether a Breezy Point woman financially exploited vulnerable adults through her guardianship business. The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office executed two search warrants in July at the home and office of...
A criminal investigation is underway into whether a Breezy Point woman financially exploited vulnerable adults through her guardianship business.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office executed two search warrants in July at the home and office of Susan Lynne Gerber, 39, to seize financial records and computers believed to be used in the perpetration of crimes. Gerber is the owner of Honorable Guardian Services, located at 31055 Front St., Pequot Lakes.
Among the accusations against Gerber are the mismanagement of client funds, failure to file required documentation with the court and unavailability to medical personnel and families in times of crisis for those she was the legal guardian of. Documentation used to acquire the search warrants, which were issued by Judge Richard A. Zimmerman, showed three area police departments were investigating financial exploitation and fraud allegations against Gerber.
Gerber was recently removed as guardian or conservator in the cases of 16 wards after an investigation by Crow Wing County Community Services and the Minnesota Department of Human Services declared Gerber a "perpetrator of maltreatment of a vulnerable adult."
The investigation was initiated after several complaints were lodged with the adult protection division in Crow Wing County. It found "significant irregularities in accounting, lack of accounting and lack of required account files," according to the document notifying Gerber of the declaration. The process of declaring someone a perpetrator of maltreatment of a vulnerable adult allows for an appeal, although Gerber did not pursue one.
Judge David Ten Eyck issued an order for Gerber to appear in court July 18 to explain why she should not be found in contempt of court for failing to file required inventory and final accounting documents. When Gerber failed to appear in court, Ten Eyck issued a bench warrant for her arrest. Gerber was arrested on the warrant, and after admitting her failure to appear, was sentenced to 180 days in Crow Wing County Jail, with 170 days of her time stayed.
The alleged financial mismanagement perpetrated by Gerber spans the cases of numerous clients. In a June letter to Ten Eyck, community services program coordinator Nathan Bertram implored the court to remove Gerber as guardian in light of her "gross neglect" in one particular case, alongside several other instances.
"Even if social services has not been involved, we feel that it would be inappropriate for Susan Gerber to remain a guardian on any case," Bertram wrote. "The well-being of wards of Susan Gerber are at risk."
The case Bertram highlighted in his letter was that of Mary Axt. In May, Axt's family requested a co-guardian be assigned to her, stating they had difficulty contacting Gerber. The request also noted Gerber was not caring for Axt's Baxter home while Axt received care in a facility for her dementia. Over the winter, the request stated, snow and newspapers piled up outside Axt's home. It was also learned that Axt's home, auto and health insurance were in "cancel mode."
In the search warrant documents, findings of the co-guardian assigned to Axt revealed further concerns. Guardian Cynthia Dallaire reported Gerber failed to inform the bank when Paul Axt, Mary's husband, died in January. Gerber, who was also Paul Axt's guardian, apparently continued to write checks from his account after his death.
A review of Gerber's records in comparison to actual payments showed inconsistencies and inadequate recordkeeping. Dallaire found a payment of $34,696.57 to Honorable Guardian Services for services provided between January and July 2016-an amount Dallaire characterized as "extremely high." During that same time period, just one deposit was made into Mary Axt's account in the amount of $3,543. Mary Axt "should have monthly income-either her own earnings or as a widow," Dallaire wrote, noting she intended to contact the U.S. Social Security Administration on the matter.
The case of another of Gerber's wards, Jean Baardson, was the basis for the county and DHS maltreatment investigation. In a June 13 letter notifying Gerber of the investigation and its results, Crow Wing County detailed a list of concerns that it said substantiated claims of financial exploitation and caregiver neglect. Gerber was apparently not paying Baardson's bills, resulting in Baardson receiving phone calls from collections agencies. Other impacts included the cancellation of her newspaper, the shut off of her utilities, her trash piling up and a $488 overdue phone bill. Gerber was writing checks from Baardson's account, causing it to overdraft.
"Vital services needed for Jean Baardson's safety and well-being are being disconnected or threatened to be disconnected due to you not performing your duties," the letter to Gerber stated. "You will not answer any phone calls when Jean's family calls you."
In the search warrant documentation, an examination of Baardson's financial records found Gerber billed Baardson in excess of $4,000 for services outside the scope of her duties.
Lavern Nystrom was another of Gerber's clients facing financial troubles. In a document from Crow Wing County Community Services requesting Nystrom be assigned a new guardian, several outstanding debts were described.
A check for Nystrom's housing was returned from the bank for non-sufficient funds in December 2015, and Nystrom's care costs for December 2015 and January and February of this year were not paid. An outstanding balance of more than $10,000 was leading to eviction consideration, the document stated. Nystrom's bank closed his account because of numerous overdrafts.
More than $3,500 was owed to a pharmacy, which would no longer fill Nystrom's prescriptions. Pharmacy staff told Crow Wing County they'd made several attempts to contact Gerber but were unable to do so.
Crow Wing County was unable to make contact with Gerber on the case, either. An application for Medical Assistance for Nystrom could not be processed, the letter stated, because needed verifications from Gerber could not be obtained.
Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said both Crow Wing County Community Services and law enforcement are continuing the investigation into Gerber's business. Criminal charges could result from the findings.
Brainerd Dispatch staff writer Jennifer Stockinger contributed to this report.