The authors are NOT acting as attorneys by giving this advice. Go find an honest attorney that you picked based on someone's experience, their court record, and on what they fought. Anything sounding accusatory in this writing is still an allegation, but I do not write anything which for which I do not have proof.)
This is the story of Bertha Shulklapper and her husband Manny Kornicki, Jewish refugees from Poland who came to the United States via German displaced persons camps in December, 1950. They were in the retail bakery business for 50 years.
It is also the story of how the greed and self-entitlement of some children of an elderly couple can inadvertently lead to the court stepping in with the pretense of helping, but instead of protecting the person and their estate, the court appointed professional fiduciaries and attorneys exploit for their own gain the elders and those of the family who try to help them. See how they profit by depleting the estate needlessly, by not only drawing things out in court, but ignoring the facts and then going after the family trying to help, and making allies of the family who are also exploiting the victims. The human suffering is beyond words.
There was concern about Bertha’s behavior for awhile and in 1997, both her internist and cardiologist diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease. On November 28, 1998, she was admitted to the ER with an embolic stroke. The doctor in ER said that she was also “virtually blind.”
A crooked daughter starts the problem-
On December 29, 1998 Terri Kornicki Kaminer, one of their daughters, became power of attorney for each of her parents obtaining control over all of their assets using Bertha’s diagnosis as an opportunity to rip them off. Terri asked Manny to buy a house on Cape Cod for her, her husband and her friend, Juana Contreras. He refused.
A few weeks later, she told Manny that she bought a house on Cape Cod. At that time, there was a big withdrawal from Manny and Bertha’s Smith Barney brokerage account. When confronted by her father about the purchase, she said that her husband paid for the house. She was lying and he said he knew it. She printed checks for her parents’ primary checking account that said, “Terri Kornicki, POA.” She never used her married name.
On April 12, 1999, a neurologist diagnosed Bertha with Alzheimer’s Disease. In December, 1999 Bertha had another stroke and again on January 7, 2000. In November, 2003, Manny called his broker at Smith Barney and told him, “Do not allow Terri to withdraw money from our brokerage account.” He then went to Florida hoping the warm weather would be good for Bertha.
While they were in Florida, Terri went to their house and shredded all the documents from his business. Terri had begged Bertha and Manny to come and work for them when their accountant retired in 1986 writing a pleading letter to them. Although, a CPA, she said she was insecure about doing the accounting and recommended her friend, Mark Mottel to be CPA, while she was the bookkeeper.
On January 26, 2004, Bertha was admitted to ICU at Memorial Pembroke Hospital where she remained until April, 2004.
Terri drove to Florida with her husband and children with a typed letter to a brokerage company for Manny to sign. She wanted to gift herself and her children. Manny refused to sign it. She also demanded that he disinherit his other daughter, Marian who lived in California and had just returned there after visiting her mother in the hospital.
When Manny and Bertha returned to New York in May, 2004, Manny learned from the broker that he had allowed Terri to take a $50,000 margin loan on Manny and Bertha’s joint brokerage account. The broker reported to Manny that Terri called and told him that there was an emergency, and she needed to pay taxes on their property. After Manny spoke to him, the broker called Terri to repay the loan. She repaid a very small amount, and Manny had to sells securities in the account to pay off the loan.
From June, 2004 to August, 2004, Manny asked Terri to return his paperwork, documents and statements because he wanted to handle things himself.
But Manny was ignored by both his daughter Terri, and Mark Mottel as he tried to sort out what had been happening. During a visit from Terri he confronted her, and told the other daughter Marian that Terri had been stealing from him and had bought homes in New Jersey, New York, and Florida after she became his and Bertha's Power of Attorney. He told Terri to stop using his checking account. But it was too late. By January he discovered that Terri had stolen over $3,000,000 from him and Bertha via a joint checking account which he had not known of, and by transferring money from his joint brokerage accounts with Bertha into other, illegally created joint brokerage accounts with Bertha and with non-family members which he did not know about. She made wire transfers, used ATMS and wrote checks.
On September 17, 2004 Manny revoked Terri’s power of attorney. A lawyer for Manny contacted Mark Mottel, who sent eight years of Manny and Bertha’s tax returns and also included Terri’s notes to him. Terri sent 50 pages of useless copies of mixed brokerage statements. Terri retained a lawyer.
Manny then found a cubic zirconia in his safe deposit box instead of the diamond ring that he bought for Bertha.
As if all of this were not enough, Manny found more evidence of embezzlement by his daughter, that Terri had put her name on a joint bank account that Manny had with just Bertha.
On January 20, 2005, Manny filed a complaint with the Nassau County District Attorney. They did a forensic accounting calling her “a professional criminal.” On February 3, 2005 Manny and Marian filed an order to show cause to become co-guardians for Bertha. The lawyer that did the filing was John Newman in Nassau County.
The court takes advantage by claiming family conflict means a professional must be appointed- Remember, a person's constitutional rights are being removed because of their child's bad behavior, not their own, under the excuse of “protection.” Interference by the court becomes further financial exploitation.
A notice arrived from the court naming Debra Isler as court-appointed lawyer for Bertha, and an attorney named Peter Levy as Court Appointed Evaluator. On March 8, 2005, Isler and Levy arrived at Manny and Bertha’s house for a meeting with Manny and Marian. Marian came in from California specifically for this meeting. John Newman did not attend.
Manny and Marian thought that Ms. Isler and Mr. Levy would observe how well-cared for Bertha was by her husband and the full-time aide he employed, but Ms. Isler went on a wild, irrational attack of both Manny and Marian, like a “bull in a china shop” She sent Marian out of the house so she could question Manny alone. She asked to see Manny’s medication. She asked Manny if he had given money to Marian. She then went into Manny and Bertha’s bedroom where Bertha was in her hospital bed. She called Marian in and Isler read a legalese document to Bertha who was incapacitated. She told Manny and Marian that she was going to be talking to Terri.
On March 14, 2005 Marian and Manny showed up at the Nassau county supreme court for what they thought was going to be a hearing. Debra Isler, Peter Levy, John Newman, went into to Judge Stack’s chambers with Harlan Lazarus, a lawyer representing Terri.
When they came out, Manny and Marian were told by John Newman that there was no hearing and that the judge told Ms. Isler to do an investigation until the next “hearing.” Isler told Manny that he shouldn’t expect to get Bertha’s ring back. It was part of estate planning.
On April 15, 2005, Ms. Isler and Lyn Vaughn, a court-appointed social worker, came to talk to Manny at his house. Ms. Vaughn offered to get Manny and Bertha’s medication from the pharmacy on a regular basis. Manny told her he does it himself, and doesn’t need assistance. Debra Isler told Manny to get hand railing for the bathroom which was then contraindicated by Bertha’s doctor, “you don’t get hand railing for an incapacitated person!” They don’t know how to let go!
On May 13, 2005 Manny came home from grocery shopping and was surprised to find Debra Isler, Lyn Vaughn and a translator sitting at his dining room table. He had no idea that they were there. He did not give them permission to be there! Debra Isler told the guard that she was Bertha’s lawyer and barged her way into the complex, and then barged her way into the house with the aide. They came to the house because they thought Manny would not be there. He sent a letter to the judge who never responded to him.
Mr. Newman told Manny and Marian they were not going to be appointed as co-guardians for Bertha because Debra Isler and Peter Levy were not going to recommend them as fiduciaries to the judge. They were informed that there was not going to be a hearing to discuss it. There was no concrete reason given for this violation of law. Family are supposed to be the priority choice.
Manny and Marian asked if they could withdraw their petition. They were told that they could not because when the court in New York State becomes aware that there is an incapacitated person they’re going to appoint a guardian! They decided to ask Rudy Shur the first cousin of Bertha if he would consider being the guardian.
On May 23, 2005 Rudy met with Debra Isler and Peter Levy at the courthouse. On June 29, 2005 Marian, Rudy Shur, and some friends and neighbors of Bertha and Manny went to court. Manny was not there. He was at North Shore hospital recovering from a heart attack.
Debra Isler, Peter Levy, John Newman and Harlan Lazarus went into the judges’ chambers. Terri was not present that day, and Marian waited in a little conference room with her parents’ friends. Manny and Marian's attorney, Mr. Newman, came in and said Rudy Shur was appointed co-guardian with a lawyer for Bertha. The same lawyer was appointed Personal Needs Guardian because the judge said if Marian did not agree to be co-guardian for personal needs with her sister Terri, that is what she would do.
Ellyn Kravitz was the lawyer appointed as Guardian. Mr. Newman told Manny and Marian that she was a “best friend and like a sister” to him. She was a club member. Another lawyer, Lisa Blaustein was appointed as Court Evaluator.
On January 18, 2006 Terri was arrested and charged with grand larceny.
Sadly, in early May, 2006 Manny died of a heart attack. The funeral was on May 10, 2006 and on May 11, 2006, Ellyn Kravitz sent in another court-appointed social worker to do a report during the mourning process.
On September 11, 2006 the Nassau County ADA Connie Gentile sent a letter to Terri’s lawyer, “the proof against Terri Kornicki, which remains even after her father’s passing and the advanced incapacity of her mother clearly makes out a class C felony, grand larceny, second degree…”
On November 7, 2006 Marian retained an attorney to file an order to show cause to become her mother’s guardian. Ellyn Kravitz agreed to resign. Following many grueling months of cruel antics by Leon Segen, Terri’s lawyer, on September 25, 2006 Marian was finally appointed as Personal Needs Guardian, and Ellyn Kravitz and Rudy Shur, were co-guardians for property. Judge Stack did nothing to rein him in! Marian lived with and took care of her mother for twelve years, relocating back from her home in Tiburon, California where she lived and worked as a psychotherapist.
Terri was sentenced on June 22, 2007 and she took a guilty plea to a Class A misdemeanor and placed on probation for three years and her CPA license was suspended. Restitution was expected, according to Assistant District Attorney, Terri's attorney, hired another attorney, named Albert Brackley, to have a meeting with Judge Donnino. Strangely, Marian and Bertha were not given that Restitution in the guardianship matter.
After Terri had thrown a pillow in Bertha’s face and was causing other troubles in the home Marian had to call the police. A friend of Manny came and explained to the police about Terri’s recent arrest and now harassment of Marian and Bertha. On October 11, 2007, Judge Stack suspended Terri’s visitation to Bertha.
But then Judge Stack retired. Judge Asarch was appointed. Ellyn Kravitz hired a lawyer, Dave Smith, another member of the club of guardianship lawyers. Rudy Shur, the co-guardian was concerned about the expense, but Kravitz said “that it is nothing coming out of your pocket; it's going to be coming out of the guardianship account.” She and Rudy Shur filed a “right of election” against Manny's Will, even thought Manny had provided for a lifetime trust for Bertha because of her incapacity.
More draining of the estate for nonsensical reasons- Enter Sandra Busell, exploiter extraordinaire. So, who is Ms. Busell supposed to be helping?
Endless conferences with Judge Asarch ensued, which generated thousands of billable hours at thousands of dollars of combined legal fees for each conference.
On June 24, 2009, Judge Asarch appointed Sandra Busell as the successor guardian and co-guardian with Rudy Shur, and Marian continued as Personal Needs Guardian.
On August 9, 2009 Sandra Busell came to the house to meet with Marian and demanded a copy of the Right of Election. She also asked Marian to write a summary of what happened and to send it to her. She shared all of this with Terri’s lawyer. On Friday night, August 14, 2009, Sandra Busell called Marian to tell her that she arranged a visit for Terri and her children. Marian explained to her that all visits were suspended by Judge Stack because “Terri’s behavior put Bertha at risk.”
On September 25, 2009, Sandra Busell unilaterally arranged for a hearing following a conference in judge’s chambers and the judge ordered visitation for Terri with Sandra Busell supervising. He also agreed to a social worker supervising in the future. Terri’s lawyer accused Marian of preventing Terri and her family from visiting Bertha and wanted to place Bertha in a nursing home where they would be able to visit her frequently.
On October 25 and December 29, 2009, Sandra Busell supervised two 20-minute visits with Terri. On September 28, 2010, Amy Miller of Visitations Alternatives supervised a visit because there was finally a court-order for a social worker. She told Terri that she was required to take a mental status exam and history which would include the medication she was taking for future visits. During that visit Terri whispered in Bertha’s ear that Marian has stolen her money.
Terri continued causing problems during visitation, including arguing with and bossing around Bertha's professional aide, and calling Leon Segen, her lawyer. It was clear Terri was not interested in seeing her mother, and was just creating more suffering. Terri did not ask to visit her mother again.
Terri was deposed on July 7, 2010 and again on September 2, 2010. Her lawyer, tried to have it canceled, saying “she shit in her pants on the way here.” There was another deposition scheduled. The lawyers showed up but Terri did not. The lawyers billed for this!
court ordered a forensic accounting. The CPA was selected by Sandra
Busell and Rudy Shur. There was already a forensic accounting in
probate court, and another by the Nassau County District Attorney’s
office. On September 15, 2010, Marian gave all of the completed work
to that CPA and instructed her own forensic accountant to hand over
her spreadsheets to him. Chris Ronan, Marian’s lawyer, allowed
Terri and her lawyer to spend a day in his office reviewing
everything. He reported that they took pages out of the work he
shared. Marian had asked him not to share the work with them, but he
did anyway. He cared about one thing - billing Marian. He also
arranged to have his friend, a lawyer appointed as guardian ad litem
in probate court. She was the one who approved all of his bills.
How did THAT come to be? See the letter from Busell, below
On October 19, 2010, Sandra Busell sent out a settlement stating that Terri was a partner in Bertha and Manny’s business and all the accounts that Terri had opened was because of that partnership and Terri had done nothing wrong and nothing without their permission. Bertha and Manny's house was also to go to Terri.
Sandra Busell called the forensic accountant, and told him that the settlement was pending. So he sent his final bill to Rudy Shur, who called Sandra Busell and told her she wasn’t the judge. The forensic accounting was reestablished, but no one supervised the CPA. Neither Sandra Busell or Rudy Shur ever followed up with him.
Ms. Busell transferred Bertha’s brokerage account to another firm where she knew the broker, and she went to his office regularly to discuss the account. Several years before, Rudy Shur had transferred the account too to a different branch of the brokerage firm where he knew the broker. Busell withdrew $100,000 from Bertha’s guardianship checking account and deposited it into another bank with $15,000 in a checking account and the rest in a CD. She then took a very large distribution from Bertha’s retirement account and deposited it into the guardianship checking account.
Marian received a letter from Social Security addressed to Bertha notifying her that her monthly Social Security would be reduced now because of the large distribution that Busell made to the guardianship account.
filed a complaint with Social Security and was called by an
investigator who told her that since
there was a guardian, there was nothing he could do.
Ms. Busell told Marian, “things aren't going to be loose like they
were they were with Ellyn Kravitz,” even though Marian was
submitting all of her household expenses with copies of checks,
statements of bills and credit card statements. She didn’t want
Bertha’s money to be used to pay for Marian’s food even
though Marian was living in the house and taking care of her mother.
Busell's financial management was cruel, picayune and unreasonable. She demanded every grocery and drug store receipt, and if there wasn't a receipt, she subtracted that amount from what was reimbursed to Marian. She even refused to pay the accountant that Manny had hired after he exposed Terri’s embezzlement.
Marian fired her attorney Chris Ronan because he said if Sandra Busell was refusing to go after Terri, there was nothing he could do. Marian was also dissatisfied about him not going to the District Attorney.
Court Evaluator, Lisa Blaustein asked Marian to meet her at Rudy Shur’s office. The Evaluator had just come from Sandra Busell’s office and Sandra Busell said she visited Bertha four times a year. When Marian saw the report, she said that she would not sign off on it as Personal Needs Guardian because Sandra Busell had lied. The Court Evaluator then said, “that is her testimony.”
Bertha was hospitalized, and on December 26, 2014, when Marian returned from visiting her at the hospital, she found a letter from Sandra Busell to a Judge Phelan that she was copied on. Judge Asarch had died. Sandra Busell was asking the new judge for a conference to remove Marian as Personal Needs Guardian for her mother, claiming that Marian was preventing her from visiting Bertha. Oddly, Marian's new attorney was not copied on the letter, and it turned out to be intentional.
And soon thereafter, Judge Phelan died on February 19, 2015. On April 29, 2015, Sandra Busell filed a motion to have Marian removed as her mother’s personal needs guardian and again sent it to just Marian, but not her lawyer. When he called Sandra Busell, her assistant lawyer said that they didn't want to bother him. He, then, responded with his motion and then she responded to his motion. She billed Bertha and he billed Marian, so both Marian and Bertha were being even more financially drained by attorney shenanigans.
The new judge Arthur Diamond, had a conference in chambers with Rudy Shur's lawyer, Bob McDermott, Sandra Busell, Ms. Busell's companion lawyer, who she always traveled with billed for, and Marian's lawyer Joe Gaffney. The judge told them they all had to get along or he'd just put in his own people. He acted as if he did not care that Sandra Busell was lying, or did he care about the facts of the case.
There was an effort made to resurrect a turnaround proceeding, but it was a pyrrhic victory because of all the time, suffering and the money withdrawn by guardians, lawyers of guardians, and accountants for a non-existent problem and ignoring the facts.
First Judge Diamond scheduled April 18, 2016 as a trial date. Then he said he wanted mediation, and so the parties showed up for that, with two mediators at their office. Since 2012, Terri had been representing herself pro se (self-representation) because she said she was a poor person, but actually Leon Segen continued advising her until his death on December 14, 2014. Then she hired a new lawyer. Sandra Busell also asked to hire a lawyer.
Then Ms. Busell resigned, stating in writing that she has been made very sick because of this case, and would be out of the country. There was no trial.
Robert McDermott and Rudy Shur decided to settle with Terri even though Marian did not want to. They gave Terri hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond what she had already stolen. Marian was told by her lawyer that there was nothing she could do about that because she was only a daughter, even though she had been taking care of her mother.
Rudy Shur resigned, and a new guardian named Deborah Rosenthal was appointed. Judge Diamond also replaced the Evaluator, Lisa Blaustein with Jim McGahan, ordering her to step down for doing just one report, but she was still paid for everything she billed for. The new guardian hired yet another lawyer and immediately wrote herself a check for $25,000 for reviewing some paperwork. She billed $400 per hour and Judge Diamond approved it.
Bertha had no access to her Social Security and her retirement money. From February 1, 2016 until Bertha’s death on May 8, 2018, Marian had paid all of her bills, which included taxes for the house.
Deborah Rosenthal and Jim McGahan wanted to come to the house to do an inventory. Marian refused stating that the house had furniture from 1980 and the visit would cost more than the value of these things. Deborah Rosenthal also said she would not reimburse Marian for the home health aides. Marian’s lawyer said, “this is how the system works.” Marian fired him. The matter is now with a public administrator and the public administrator’s lawyer. (Public Administrators are just other fiduciaries appointed by the court) They want Marian to turn over 1/3 of her father's estate to them, which Marian refuses to do.
The public administrator’s lawyer has sent a letter to Marian threatening that if she didn’t turn over the money, he was going to the probate judge and ask that Marian pay interest on what was due them. Marian was also told that Deborah Rosenthal did not have to tell Marian what she did with the money that was in the guardianship account.
Today, Marian is exploring options for filing a lawsuit against New York State for allowing such an unregulated system to exist and cause harm to vulnerable people at the most vulnerable time in their life, and to their families.