Ex-appointed guardian admits exploiting wards of the court
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former court-appointed financial guardian, her office manager, her husband and her lawyer took plea deals Monday in what authorities are calling the biggest financial abuse case of its kind in Nevada.
April Parks and office manager Mark Simmons each pleaded an equivalent of no contest to felony exploitation of a vulnerable person, theft and perjury to avoid trial on charges that they spent more than six years overbilling for services and siphoning money from accounts of people they had been appointed by courts to protect.
Several of the more than 10 victims and their family members watching from the courtroom gallery became increasingly emotional as Parks, 53, stood in shackles and admitted that her business called A Private Professional Guardian LLC systematically stole thousands of dollars from hundreds of wards.
Guardianship can be authorized after a court finds that a person needs help to care for their own health and wealth.
The list of Parks’ schemes and victims took prosecutor Ray P. Raman more than 20 minutes to read. Wards were billed for bank deposits made in person rather than by direct deposit and for filing court documents that could have been submitted online. They were billed extra for home visits made to deliver holiday gifts.
“This cost me more than $1 million in assets,” victim Rudy North said later. He described how he and his wife, 80, now share a bedroom in their daughter’s Las Vegas home.
Parks, 53, remains jailed and could face 33 to 84 years in state prison at sentencing Jan. 4.
Simmons, 49, could face 21 to 54 years in prison.
Parks’ husband, Gary Neil Taylor, 46, entered a similar so-called Alford plea to a single exploitation charge, acknowledging that prosecutors could prove his guilt. He is expected to face two to five years at sentencing.
Clark County District Court Judge Tierra Jones also ordered the defendants to pay more than $550,000 in restitution.
Attorney Noel Palmer Simpson, 51, cooperated with county and state attorney general’s prosecutors and pleaded guilty to an exploitation charge. She faces probation and loss of her law license.
A fifth defendant, James Melton, faces trial in February on 16 charges of felony exploitation, false document, perjury and theft.
“Guardians have a duty to protect their wards, not steal from them and destroy their lives,” Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in a statement released with state Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
Laxalt, who is a Republican running for governor, said he wanted to send a message that “financial predators face prison time for exploiting Nevada’s seniors.”
The investigation became public with the creation of an enforcement task force in late March 2015, after stories emerged about abuses in the guardianship system. The investigation of Parks began a couple of months later.
The Nevada Supreme Court also created a 25-member commission in July 2015 to study guardianship abuse. A court Guardianship Compliance Office this year hired an investigator and a forensic financial specialist.
Officials noted the defendants were affiliated with a private guardianship business, not a Clark County Public Guardian office that serves people legally determined to be incapable of managing their own affairs. The public office also offers a voluntary money management assistance program for people over 60.