Tampa - WFTS
The ABC Action News I-Team in Tampa, Florida, investigated the state’s court-appointed guardianship program. The in-depth investigation, which started with a tip, focused on a statewide program that affects tens of thousands of people.
The resulting series of reports, Incapacitated: Florida’s Guardianship Program, exposed stories of elderly people stripped of their rights and property by self-serving “guardians.” Their homes, personal property and vehicles were often sold for a small percentage of their actual worth and then resold by guardians’ friends for huge profits.
The I-Team first followed 99-year-old Willi Berchau, who had been locked into a dementia ward after being determined “incapacitated’ three times by panels hired by the court. It was clear that Berchau was not incapacitated but was an intelligent, alert, remarkable man. The team then began looking at more than 50 other cases and Florida’s guardianship system as a whole.
For its investigation of Florida’s court-appointed guardianship program, WFTS in Tampa won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award.
The duPont-Columbia awards program commended WFTS for searching through records, speaking with family members and confronting some of the guardians with clear evidence of their misdeeds. The team discovered a system that claims to look after wards’ best interests but has very little oversight outside of the courtroom. As a result, this summer a new guardianship reform bill led to legislative changes to help prevent abuses.