ORLANDO, Fla. — The embattled professional guardian appointed by judges to care for hundreds of seniors has resigned from all cases statewide amid a criminal investigation into her actions.
- Rebecca Fierle is being investigated by Orange County Comptroller
- Fierle alleged to have failed to protect seniors under her care
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Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed last week it is looking into complaints about Rebecca Fierle.
Judges across Central Florida started removing Fierle from hundreds of cases after a state investigation found she made questionable decisions about the care and finances of "wards", seniors she was appointed to care for.
After a series of hearings in front of judges in Orange, Seminole, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, Fierle submitted a letter to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs resigning from all cases statewide.
Another hearing happened Monday afternoon in Volusia County. Members of the media were asked to leave that hearing, after Fierle's attorneys requested the hearing be closed because health information of deceased wards would be discussed.
In her letter to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, Fierle wrote "… I rely on my attorneys to prepare the resignations and judges to accept them and appoint successors. I will not be seeking reappointment in any case nor will I seek future appoints as guardian."
Records show by early July, judges in 13 counties had appointed Fierle to care for some 450 seniors, in what also appears to be a violation of state law.
Spectrum News obtained transcripts from the July 11 hearing in front of Thorpe, which the media was barred from attention.
"Part of it is – my thing is in reading the statute this morning, did you know that an individual guardian under a public guardian is only supposed to have only 40 guardianships as a max?" Thorpe told attorneys during the July 11 hearing, according to the court transcript.
"That's a limit, yes," Lori Loftis, attorney for the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, replied.
"That's news to me," Fierle's attorney Harry Hackney said.
"She had 97," Thorpe said. "We overloaded her. We overloaded her. So it probably won't be a situation if she comes back in to take a look at it."
While Thorpe previous raised a series of concerns about Fierle prior to the July 11 hearing, the transcript is raising questions about other aspects as well.
The judge told attorneys that Fierle had not been bonded and insured since 2013, so should have been disqualified as a guardian in the past six years.
Another concern was that Fierle had bond insurance for her company, Geriatric Management, but she was appointed as an individual to the guardianship cases, not her company.
"Basically in 2013 it was moved from Rebecca to Geriatric Management, Inc.," Thorpe said according to court transcripts. "We have Rebecca as our guardian, okay? So right now, I have a blanket bond in the name of a corporation that is not a guardian. And this is further compounded, sir, because Rebecca permitted Geriatric Management to become administratively dissolved. So, even if it were, it's not. And so, as of right now, she's a disqualified person. And it's mandatory that the Court shall remove her."
Questions about Fierle's actions started after the May 2019 death of one of her wards, Steven Stryker, who state investigators say died after Fierle placed a Do Not Resuscitate order against his wishes and then ordered his feeding tube capped, against the advice of doctors.
State investigators in their report made an argument for possible aggravated manslaughter charges.
A recent investigation by the Orange County Comptroller's Office also raised questions about how Fierle handled the assets and finances of the seniors in her care.
The cases are also raising questions about the state's oversight of Florida's guardian program.
Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom is promising stronger oversight.
"Rebecca Fierle failed nearly 100 families who entrusted their loved ones to her care," Prudom said in a statement to Spectrum News. "We will continue to work with law enforcement and the courts to hold bad actors who violate the trust of our most vulnerable citizens and their families accountable.
Prudom also said, "… I have made immediate administrative changes to improve our response time and thoroughly and expeditiously review complaints we have received."
Prudom and Gov. Ron DeSantis both said recently they will also pursue legislative changes to give FDEA more oversight of the state's guardianship program.