Social agency accused of theft

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State advocacy officials have accused a private nonprofit agency of stealing money from Alaskans put under its care by the court system.

A Jan. 15 letter written by three state officials who oversee the welfare of elderly and vulnerable Alaskans states that Fairbanks-based Community Advocacy Project of Alaska Inc., or CAPA, has failed to account for the money of clients and should not be assigned more cases until its operations are drastically reformed. The letter was addressed to the state's four presiding judges.

Last fall, a Superior Court judge removed CAPA from managing the affairs of seven people after hearing accusations that hundreds of thousands of dollars was missing. Other CAPA cases are now under scrutiny by an Anchorage court as well.

CAPA's current executive director, Candace Carroll, has accused her predecessor, Mark Layman, of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization and its incapacitated clients, according to confidential court filings obtained by the Anchorage Daily News. Most aspects of these cases are confidential to protect the privacy of people placed in guardianships.

In a brief telephone interview, Layman denied stealing and said Carroll was mistaken.

Carroll has declined to be interviewed, but in court documents argues that CAPA vigorously represents clients and that irregularities and mismanagement occurred under the previous agency head.

As recently as January, the agency still hadn't filed required reports accounting for the money of some of its wards, according to court documents. And questions are being raised about the way CAPA is set up, with a board of directors consisting solely of Carroll's relatives, and at one point, Carroll herself.

Guardians are appointed by judges to handle money, health care, living arrangements and other matters for adults incapacitated by conditions such as advanced dementia, mental illness, mental retardation or brain injuries.

CAPA started in 1989 as Alaska's first private guardianship firm, according to CAPA founder Bill Seemann, who left the agency in 1998.

The Jan. 15 letter to the four judges was signed by state Public Advocate Brant McGee, Division of Senior Services program coordinator Dwight Becker, and John Richard, at the time the state's long-term care ombudsman.

The letter was based on confidential guardianship proceedings over the past year that culminated in a ruling by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton stripping CAPA of seven cases. The court is still considering recommendations to terminate CAPA's guardianship in seven other cases.

One case involved a woman with advanced Alzheimer's disease. When the woman was in her late 80s and under the guardianship of CAPA, she was placed in an assisted living home in which Layman, then CAPA's executive director, had a financial interest, according to a September court filing by the woman's attorney, Ernest Schlereth. Later she was moved to Layman's own home, ''for which he charged the client and took large sums of her money,'' the attorney wrote.

According to a court-ordered review of the case, a CAPA official estimated that $18,000 to $24,000 of the woman's money is missing.

Layman said there was nowhere else for the woman to live.

In Alaska, there are no standards for who can serve as a private guardian. Guardians are supposed to file an annual report with the court for each ward describing, among other things, the ward's mental and physical condition and living situation, as well as an accounting of the person's money.

Until early last year, there was no system to monitor annual reports for Anchorage cases, said Gwendolyn Lyford, area court administrator for the Third Judicial District, which includes Anchorage.

At CAPA, there were not many records to review.

On June 9, 2000, a fire broke out in the East Anchorage trailer home of a CAPA employee. Carroll said in court documents that the fire destroyed financial records of a number of CAPA's wards.

CAPA hasn't filed federal income tax returns for the past three years because of the fire, Carroll said in a written response to questions from the Daily News.

Alaska State Troopers began investigating allegations of impropriety at CAPA more than a year ago when the organization's current management reported it, a troopers spokesman said. The case remains active but the spokesman said troopers will not discuss it unless charges are filed.

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