Who is Marie Winkelman? Marie is the author of a book about her experiences as a Holocaust survivor in Poland titled “Keeping A Promise: To Tell My Story of Survival in Warsaw During WW II.”
“On December 4th, 2013, a beautiful and brilliant 88-year-old Holocaust Survivor named Marie Winkelman was put into guardianship in the Sarasota, Florida Probate Court – without a hearing – based upon a mediation agreement,” states Beverly Newman, President of the Al Katz Center.
Marie is the second victim of elder abuse in Sarasota County, Florida. The first was Al Katz, the father of Beverly Newman, another Holocaust Survivor.
The similarity of the two cases is striking and presents a pattern of what some believe constitutes “judicial cronyism.” It is a system that takes the liberty and property of its victims – usually the elderly.
“Marie is a recent resident of Bird Key who still lives independently and keeps her home in immaculate condition. The mediation agreement was prepared by Federal Mediator Gary H. Larsen, which Marie did not see until after the mediation. Her fortune of many millions, which she earned through decades of hard work and prudent investments, is now in the hands of a company named Sabal Trust Company with which she has never had any contact. Through the mediated agreement, she is given a monthly allowance of her own money, despite the fact she has always spent her money judiciously,” notes Newman.
What makes Marie’s case different is the possible collusion to have Marie found incompetent not by strangers but by Robert Szychowski who is married to Marie’s step-daughter Corinne. This is the highest form of betrayal by the one person Marie trusted the most. She trusted Szychowski so much she signed a Durable Power of Attorney (POA) giving Szychowski control over every aspect of her life and wellbeing. Marie made Szychowski her “attorney-in-fact” (my Agent) granting him “The power to exercise or perform any act, power, duty, right or obligation whatsoever…”
There was one proviso in her Durable POA. Paragraph 43 of the POA states:
It is my intent that My Agent [Szychowski] and attorney-in-fact have the broadest powers possible to act for me while I have the legal capacity to act and also while I am legally incapacitated to act, so as to avoid the necessity of a guardianship in case of my incapacity. [Emphasis added]
It was Szychowski who facilitated the process that violated Marie’s trust and express wishes to “avoid guardianship.” It was Szychowski who used Marie’s own money to pay those who are complicit in her placement into guardianship.
How could this betrayal happen?
In July 2013, New Jersey resident and Rutgers University Acting Manager, Cost Studies, Szychowski, retained a lawyer, Christopher Alan Likens, using Marie’s money, to take her to court and force her into guardianship relative to her pharmaceutical routine. Even though Szychowski as the Durable POA could have hired a caregiver himself to monitor Marie’s medications, he hired a stranger to file a court action, without prior notice or giving Marie an opportunity to hire an attorney to represent her.
Szychowski then, using Marie’s money, paid at least $2,373 to Lori Gaetano, RN, a care manager from Care InSight, who testified in court that Marie was “incapacitated” with respect to financial matters because Gaetano had seen Marie’s checkbook lying on her table, where Gaetano projected that someone could take it from Marie’s private residence.
Dr. Miguel Rivera, MD, came into the picture, referred by Gaetano to Szychowski, hired by him, and paid at least $908 from Marie’s account. To do a psychiatric evaluation of Marie, Dr. Rivera showed up with Gaetano at Marie’s home unannounced and without identifying himself as a psychiatrist, asked Marie a series of questions, and then left. Only later did Marie learn he was there evaluating her competence. It was Dr. Rivera’s negative evaluation report that began the process of the taking of Marie Winkelman 1-2-3.
In an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published in 2011, Rivera noted, “They [the elderly patients] don’t know I’m a doctor,” he said, indicating his casual, golf-style shirt. “They just think I’m this friendly guy who comes around a lot.”
Although Sarasota County caps the fees to be paid to incapacity Examining Committee members at $200, Szychowski paid social worker, Linda Erickson, 11 times more, using Marie’s money without any court oversight. Also, Szychowski paid Anne L. Olshansky, MSW, at least $500. Olshansky is a counselor and was another member of the panel that found Marie incompetent. Finally, although Florida guardians must file their fee statements with the court for court approval, Szychowski used Marie’s account to pay guardian Dawn Van Beck $1,294.63, on November 6, 2013, without any court oversight.
What is at stake here? A woman’s liberty and her property valued in excess of $3 million… in this case, a Holocaust Survivor who in childhood was robbed of her property and stability and now is re-living the traumas of betrayal and asset seizure. Who benefits from Marie’s guardianship? Robert and Corinne Szychowski and the State of Florida’s guardianship system.
What is happening? The systematic financial abuse of an elder.
Stay tuned as Marie has a court hearing on February 28, 2014. This story must and will be told, to protect the innocent like Marie.
UPDATE: At the hearing held on January 9, 2014, in the Sarasota County Probate Court, Judge Deno Economou once again ordered Marie’s determination of incapacity and placement into guardianship to be mediated by a group of six attorneys (Gary Larsen, Christopher Likens, Kim Bald, Rebecca Proctor, Audrey Bear, and Tom Shults) being paid thousands of dollars per hour out of Marie’s assets, without any record being made and without the presentation of any evidence to the Judge.