County Public Guardian Put on Leave, Escorted out of Building

A high-ranking Santa Clara County official was placed on paid leave Thursday in the wake of a report that pointed to widespread dysfunction under his watch.

Don Moody, the public administrator/guardian/conservator, was escorted out of his office, sources tell San Jose Inside. County spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell confirmed that Moody was relieved of his duties for the time being but declined to elaborate.

“He’s out on leave, and it’s a personnel matter," she said. "That's all I can say."

Moody came on board nearly six years ago as head of the Public Guardian’s office, a branch of the Social Services Administration (SSA) that takes financial control of adults who are unable to care for themselves and with no family or friends to care for them. His termination comes weeks after the another local official—John Vartanian, director of the Department of Child Support Services—was placed on paid leave for racking up travel rewards using public money.

During his tenure, Moody’s department has repeatedly come under scrutiny by the media, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury and internal audits.

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Don Moody, Santa Clara County Public Guardian.

A grand jury report out this summer—the second in as many years—noted that Moody fails to track the amount of work and number of clients he handles. The people he hires to manage clients’ property don’t go through a thorough background check, the report found. Instead of having a panel of experts determine whether to assume control of a person’s estate, effectively revoking their civil rights, the decision lies with one person. And for years, countless referrals from the court have reportedly fallen through the cracks.

The latest grand jury report was spurred by a complaint that the office mishandled a case in which a client died before being conserved by the county.

“The grand jury’s inquiry into this case led to a broader examination of the safety net provided … for seniors who are not able to advocate for themselves, have no one else to advocate for them, and whose cognitive abilities are severely compromised,” the report explains.

Adults fall into court-ordered public conservatorship after the Public Guardian determines that they cannot make personal, financial or health decisions without risk to their wellbeing; are at risk of being abused; or when no family or friends can step up as caregiver. Many people referred are mentally ill or incapacitated.

As of August, the inventory of client’s assets in care of the county totaled $62.8 million. That’s in addition to personal property and valuables kept in a warehouse. Yet new hires, who look after clients’ estates, go through only a cursory background check. No fingerprints, no exhaustive records search.

In a formal response to jurors, Moody agreed with most of the findings. Sources within the department say that he always agrees, though—he just hasn't done anything to fix them.

“When I came in there, I had people telling me to stop working so hard,” a former Public Guardian employee tells San Jose Inside. “There is such inefficiency in there, but they want it that way. Ignore the problems so you don’t have to fix them.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

46 Comments

  1. > “When I came in there, I had people telling me to stop working so hard,” a former Public Guardian employee tells San Jose Inside.

    Presumably, an isolated incident.

    I’ve never heard of this happening before.

    • That’s probably why they are FORMER employees.
      This statement from a possibly disgruntled ex- employee has little credibility

      • Not sure that statements of current employees (Jeffrey Lewis) are credible either, as you’ve pretty much gone along with the mass dysfunction there.

      • Jeffrey,

        In response to your comment, they are former employees most likely because they got tired of seeing this constantly ongoing corruption, neglect, and incompetence at the hands of the big bosses making big money at taxpayer expense. I know that there are good, honest,caring, and ethical people in the PGAC office, but under the incompetent and corrupt management of Ramoni and Moody, there is so little these workers can do. I have seen how courageous workers that speak up the truth are vilified, scorned, and dismissed as “disgruntled employees” by people like you that are ether too blind to see the reality, or like it to suck it to their boss (some employees do this to climb the ladder), or are just too corrupt and part of the problem.

        So, all those outside of these categories, can see that it is you and your comment what is out of place…

    • This isn’t an isolated incident. There are thousands of cases in which guardians and conservators are abusing their wards and their wards’ assets, or at the very least, unqualified people are taking charge of entire estates. It’s pure insanity all over the country, and you can imagine what happens to an innocent incapacitated person when their money can be taken with very little oversight. For many cases, go to http://www.facebook.com/boomersbeware. Thank you, Jennifer Wadsworth for exposing problems in the guardianship system. It’s a corrupt mess.

  2. How many of these CAO Jeff Smith failures need to happen before the Board finally eliminates the problem…ie.fire Smith. He has been a complete failure. Corruption involving his cozy relationship with Rural Metro, the Vinod Sharma SNAfU, Valley Med failure,credit card mishandling, oh yeah, and his protection of his favorite boss, the felon aka Georgy Porgy Shirwakawa.

  3. Santa Clara County should take this opportunity to initiated a volunteer oversight program developed by the American Bar Association that Don Moody has refused to implement. There are so many issues that haven’t had any attention.

  4. PAID adminstrative leave–now there’s a punishment for years of misfeasance and malfeasance.

  5. Thank you Jennifer Wadsworth for reporting this story! It really bothers me that Don Moody has been placed on “paid” administrative leave. We can only hope that this cruel and uncaring man is finally terminated. ” Moody came on board nearly six years ago as head of the Public Guardian’s office, a branch of the Social Services Administration (SSA) that takes financial control of adults who are unable to care for themselves and with no family or friends to care for them.” This is not true under Don Moody’s watch. One of the worst cases is that of Gisela Riordan, whose daughter is willing and able to care for her mother; however in the middle of the night the police came to her home, strapped her to a gurney and took her kicking and screaming to Villa Fontana nursing home where she was isolated by the Santa Clara County Public Guardian’s office for over two years. Only after the I-Team got involved was Gisela finally allowed to have visitors. America’s dirty little secret and the people who perpetuate them are finally being exposed and slowly being forced to face the music. I pray that it will happen someday to the elder care attorney, Mary Giordano, partner with Franchina and Giordano in Garden City, NY, who kidnapped my mother, imprisoned her in a nursing home against her will, where she died two months later. See http://judicialdestructionofdorothy.wordpress.com/moms-story/

  6. Hey Josh, or Dan, or Jen…

    Has there always been this level of corruption in our government? Seems like things went downhill in the last 30 years. I know that 30 years ago, corruption was looked past because public employee salaries were so low, but now that we’re “Paying more to attract the best talent:” it seems like we just attract the most greedy and corruptable.. Thoughts?

    • I’m interested in the answer to this question but (1) has anone on the staff at SJI been around long enough to know? They may be ok at research in the moment on current topics but the attention span is very short lived which leads to (2) the staff at SJI only focuses on what they want to unseat, derail or marginalize.

      This is a smalltime resume building stop on the way to fame and fortune.. take a Pol down and you’re the heir to Woodward and Bernstein….not.

  7. Keep cleaning up the county. Look into the various scams pulled off by government employees including time sheet fraud, disability fraud, and misuse of county credit cards or travel reimbursements. Shirakawa, Vartanian and Moody are just the tip of the iceberg. The civil grand jury and the District Attorney’s Office need to dedicate resources and examine the government, it’s operations and employees.

  8. A possible update on this story,

    This morning I was getting coffee from a Starbucks in Palo Alto when I ran into one of our local political bloggers, Cary Andrew Crittenden. Cary’s been exposing some injustices in SCC for some time, and was talking to me about the Public Guardians office. He introduced me to a lady that had been screwed over hard by them.

    He had not heard about this story, and when I showed him he looked like he had a huge weight lifted off his shoulders. No joke, but there was clouds this morning. They parted, the sun shone down on him.

    I’ll try and call him later to see if I can get the whole details, but he said he had something to do with this.

  9. I am very glad to see Mr. Moody removed from this position. He should have been investigated (and perhaps he was) following the ABC I Team reports in late 2012. In the two cases profiled, he isolated one from family, friends, and advocates and the other was wrongfully held in a facility against her will (when she could have been at home) and the Public Guardian’s office had fraudulently taken out a reverse mortgage on her home. See:
    http://nasga-stopguardianabuse.blogspot.com/2012/11/lillie-scalia-gets-to-go-home-after-two.html

    Moody’s removal was a positive move.

    I also question why the Public Guardian would be overseeing over $62 mil in assets, and I wonder how many of those conservatorships are unnecessary or how many families were wrongfully shunted aside in favor of the public guardian. I hope a thorough investigation is conducted of the office’s practices.

    Join the national movement for reform of unlawful and abusive conservatorships. Join NASGA! http://www.StopGuardianAbuse.org

    • Many of the family members who complain are the same people that tried to steal assets from these elderly people, and the Public Guardian prevented this.

      • Jeffrey, certainly in some cases, family does steal from their elderly. What we don’t see in most of the alleged family theft cases are criminal charges filed and pursued against the family thief. Also, family theft (as awful as it is) does not justify bad behavior from the public guardian. Public guardians should be held to the highest standards as they are entrusted with our vulnerable elderly and the public’s trust.

  10. There’s always been corruption and there will always be as long as people are dumb enough to think they can get away with it. What has happened is a complete responsibility vacuum in the county executive office. Every single one of these corruption cases was blown open by exposure from the outside. Shirakawa, Vinod Sharma and Vartanian were discovered by the media. Moody was ratted out by TWO Grand Jury audits both of which came about because of earlier audits. Not one case of executive malfeasance that I’m aware of has been stopped internally. And none of these have been terribly well hidden either. Every single one these cases had complaints by whistleblowers or the public. People have been speaking out at Board of Supervisors meetings for years about problems with the public guardian. It’s just that Executive Jeff Smith and the Board of Supervisors don’t care. Out of sight out of mind. Work is hard so don’t do anything until it hits the media. Then do a quick crucifixion and declare the problem solved and move onto the next agenda item.

    • “Not one case…that I am aware of..” Do you know about every executive personnel issue, or merely the ones that you hear about in the press. If so, you may suffer from circular logic. Since you don’t know about what you don’t see in the press, you think that you know about everything. In reality, you know considerably less than you think.

      • Um, no. i am talking about malfeasance, not mere personnel issues. Has any department head or exec ever been punished by the County Executive for misconduct without a media expose? Every malfeasance was acted upon only when outside pressures became too big to ignore.

        • Again, you presume that you know all of the cases of malfeasance and that you have analyzed how, and when, they were addressed. Clearly, you are speaking from a position of ignorance. Thanks for sharing that ignorance

  11. 62.8 million held by the county in the stolen assets of elderly people, the disabled and others, all of which will disappear into cyberspace……all to benefit the ward of course. Never mind that the ward is paying for EVERYTHING, even for the people and agencies that targeted them. IF they admit to having 62.8 million warehoused and stashed……..just imagine how much was taken that was never accounted for. And this is just ONE county in ONE state. A lot of people say they never heard of this before…..and many say they don’t believe it …….then when it happens to them and their families they go into shock. Paid leave? Really? Why not handcuffs and a jail cell?

  12. How many folks who are outraged over this guy being on paid administrative leave have suggested the 49ers not allow Ray MacDonald to practice play or attend any team functions but still pay him until his case plays out?

  13. Mr Moody did nothing illegal. He did what he could within the resources his boss gave him. All these comments and the info in the story show no one knows the function of the PG, the laws that govern them or anything about the burden of responsibility without resources. Everyone wants less government until there’s an issue they want solved.

    • Araceli,

      Don Moody did a lot that was illegal. Moody kept Gisela Riordan and Lillie Scalia imprisoned and isolated at Villa Fontana. No visitors. No phone calls. No mail. Gisela and Lillie would probably still be imprisoned and isolated if ABC7 had not covered their story in 2012. That isolation was the reason for the 2012 – 2013 Civil Grand Jury investigation.

      AB 937 (2103) to clarify conservatees’ rights to visitation, phone calls, and personal mail was passed in part because of crimes committed by Don Moody. He is a criminal as much as any thug on the street. The only difference is that my tax dollars paid Don Moody to abuse vulnerable elders.

      • This is awful as seniors should never be isolated from phone calls, mail or being with people. This is stated on the SCC Adult Protective Agency’s web site. I think there should be punishment against Don Moody, but instead you give him pay. What he did was criminal!

    • Please explain why Mr. Moody had the resources to isolate conservatees, but did not have the resources to follow the law? AB 937 passed the legislature on a 100-4 vote in 2013 to clarify the wide spread misunderstandings. In large part this bill was needed because of the abuse by the SCC PG and the Sups unwillingness to address the issue. Even with AB 937, SCC PG’s revised policy as recent as July 2014 continued to violate the law. Mr. Moody did plenty illegal and in fact should be criminally prosecuted. But that will never happen, if for no other reason that the DA is another county employee.

      • Yes, you are right, and know Moody and Ramoni are looking for scapegoats to throw under the bus. What they people conveniently ignore is the fact that some of these workers being blamed for all this mess and incompetence are new to the office of the Public Guardian, while this mismanagement dates from years back (at least 6). Taxpayers need to know that there are good, honest, caring, ethical, and hardworking employees in this office, and they are being thrown under the bus by James Ramoni and Don Moody.

  14. Someone should investigate PRIVATE “guardians/conservators” like Gilfix & LaPoll in Palo Alto. Most estate & trust attorneys wouldn’t make themselves trustee of elder assets because it’s a conflict of interest, but Assessor records in Santa Clara and neighboring counties show Gilfix & LaPoll do this routinely. Pick any estate & trust lawyer in the phone book and compare.

  15. ABC7 I-Team investigated Don Moody in 2012. They established that Moody was unlawfully isolating conservatees at Villa Fontana.

    http://abc7news.com/archive/8870462/

    ABC7 I-Team also established an unlawful reverse mortgage on an unoccupied home.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y809jIIev5w&list=TL4PtHialDE4Akvbh3RD1KTr4mWOy7Mtp6

    A quick search will show that nearly all Don Moody’s reverse mortgages went to the same broker, who pocketed hefty commissions for his “services.”

  16. A thorough investigation, to include an NCIC check, needs to be conducted on Don Moody and every person he supervised during his tenure as Public Guardian. Too many “victims” (the elderly and their families) have suffered under Moody’s watch. To have a former Public Guardian state, “Ignore the problems so you don’t have to fix them” speaks volumes.

  17. Never have I seen a more flagrant example of putting a brain-damaged fox in charge of the hen-house. This has to go higher up. Unaccountable for six years. How many foxholes have been mortared in San Jose? This hen has been bitten once and I am assuredly twice-shy of anyone who protects this moron. Pay for his funeral and move on.

  18. To the best of my knowledge Don Moody has not been accused of dishonesty, only possibly failing to implement the Grand Jury recommendations as requested.
    When the consider the number of appropriate conservator ships, his department has prevented hundreds of Clients from being physically or financially abused.
    I have the highest regard for the Public Guardians Office and their staff.

    • Why, Jeffrey Lewis? Because you work there as a Public Guardian? You are part of the problem there. The fact that you are commenting on this matter in a public forum as a county employee at the office that is currently under investigation shows an extreme lack of good judgment!

  19. I had dealings with the public administrator/guardian’s office when an estranged family member died in May of 2013. I can tell you that something was definitely wrong with that department and it officials, and I complained up to and including Don Moody. I was unaware of the grand jury or I would have shared my concerns as well with them

    I complained because I caught 2 public administrators re-using the official seals they (who work in pairs) place on the entrances and exits to a property whenever they visit a property, and additionally, they routinely changed, the dates (back-dating) on these seals as well. Furthermore, they left the property unsecured…..a sliding patio door was left wide open for days after they had visited to search for estate planning documents.

    To say these public employees acted unprofessionally is to put it mildly

  20. “Ignore the problems so you don’t have to fix them.”
    Pretty much ensures job security, eh?

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