ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. — Under legal guardianship, Jan Garwood has lost his home, his car and all his rights.
We reported in 2020 how she used a secret cell phone and social media to escape from a locked dementia unit and had her rights reinstated.
PREVIOUS COVER: Florida woman escapes guardianship by using secret phone and Facebook to contact media
But nearly two years later, Garwood, now 73, is still struggling to get his life back after escaping Florida’s broken guardianship system.
In his small apartment, Garwood tries his luck on a toy slot machine.
He doesn’t pay cash, but the ringing bells and flashing lights remind her that she’s winning.
Garwood escapes conservatorship, despite tough odds
“God smiles at me all the time,” Garwood said.
She attributes her faith and optimism to her strong Jewish faith.
Garwood overcame almost insurmountable odds to get his rights reinstated after spending three years under the supervision of two professional guardians.
“I was very lucky,” Garwood said, describing his release from conservatorship.
But she says Florida’s court-appointed guardianship system offers no resources for people once their rights are restored.
ABC Action News’ I-Team first spoke to Garwood in April 2020. She messaged on Facebook, then called Facetime from a locked dementia unit using a secret cell phone introduced by his son Alex.
“It’s hard to put a word on that. Heartbreaking, frustrating, difficult. Trying to outrun people. Hiding my phone so I can go out and call people and try to get help,” Garwood said in our first recorded phone call. “There shouldn’t be anyone who should be able to control anyone’s life 100 percent.”
One of Garwood’s biggest concerns at the time was that COVID was spreading through her ALF and she had no way to protect herself from infection.
“I went to Facebook and said if anyone reads this I’m locked up in an assisted living facility and can’t get out and I need a lawyer,” Garwood said in a recent post. interview.
Garwood landed in conservatorship in 2017 after being injured in a car accident while mourning the death of her son.
A judge ruled that she was not capable of taking care of herself and stripped her of all rights and ability to control her resources.
“Are you Janice Garwood?”
Disgraced former professional tutor Rebecca Fierle was appointed to look after her.
Garwood first met her when Fierle rang her doorbell.
“She just looked at me and said are you Janice Garwood? And I said yes. And she said fine. Get your keys. You’re coming with me, Garwood said.
Fierle later resigned from all of her cases after state investigators alleged she was responsible for the death of a man she was caring for.
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Fierle has been charged with two crimes and is awaiting trial.
Denise Willis has been named Garwood’s new guardian.
At this hearing, Willis requested permission to sell Garwood’s home to an employee of the assisted living facility where Garwood lived.
The house has not been offered for sale and has never been formally appraised.
The house was in a neighborhood of $400,000 to $500,000, but was sold to the ALF employee who had a business relationship with Willis for $250,000.
Garwood, a former real estate agent, objected to the sale.
“It’s money and I really blame myself. Every penny I have is gone. It’s not fair,” Garwood told the judge during the hearing.
He authorized the sale.
The doctor determines that Garwood has the ability
Shortly after, Garwood started a plea on Facebook, and guardianship reform lawyer Hillary Hogue paid him a visit.
Hogue put her in touch with attorney Vito Roppo.
“I filed a motion to be appointed counselor at her request and indicated in it that I believe she should be re-examined,” Roppo said.
Another judge ordered a re-evaluation by a doctor, who gave her a near-perfect mark stating that “she is fully capable of managing and carrying out her own personal, medical and financial day-to-day affairs”.
Within weeks, Garwood regained his rights.
She now shares an apartment with her son Alex and his girlfriend.
“I only have my social security. She took everything else,” Garwood said.
Records show Willis deposited $171,000 from the sale of Garwood’s home into a special needs trust that Garwood cannot directly access.
Her current apartment is furnished with furniture she found in the trash or purchased from a nearby thrift store.
“It’s not what I would buy, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I was lucky the day I moved in, they started moving furniture out,” Garwood said.
A program from his mother’s funeral, a family menorah and a photo of Garwood’s late father were among the few items Alex was able to salvage from Garwood’s 2,700 square foot home.
“The rest just disappeared. We don’t know if it’s in a dumpster or in a warehouse,” Garwood’s son Alex said. “There’s no communication from Denise Willis trying to make it right.”
County and state investigators identify guardian who committed multiple violations
Willis was investigated by the Seminole County Inspector General’s office last September, which found that Garwood’s Nissan Rogue was sold undervalued, 13 months of his Social Security earnings n had not been accounted for and the tutor had not obtained the required court approval before depositing the proceeds from the sale of Garwood’s home. in a special needs trust.
The Florida Office of Public and Professional Guardians revoked Willis’ registration in April after finding multiple violations in six cases, including incomplete accounts, failure to visit services and missing personal property.
Willis did not respond to our request for comment.
Garwood said despite all her challenges, she knows God is always smiling.
“I believe I have to go through what I have to go through so I can tell someone else what happened and save them from going through it,” she said.
If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, email us at [email protected]