For Immediate Release, August 30, 2018
Contact: Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-901-6913
FLORIDA FLAGLER COUNTY COURT CONTINUES TO ENDORSE HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION OF A SENIOR
89-year-old African-American Woman Abducted and Isolated
from Core Family for Two Years
PALM COAST, FL – Today marks the two-year anniversary of the abduction of Dr. Lillie Sykes White in one of the most egregious elder exploitation cases in Florida. An overview video can be viewed at www.elderdignity.org. Dr. White’s only living sibling, 82-year-old Columbia University-trained journalist Janie Sykes-Kennedy, has been blocked from seeing her sister for 730 days, and Dr. White’s fifty-plus nieces and nephews also don’t know her whereabouts. While she is being sequestered in an undisclosed location, a team of attorneys, including three agents appointed by the Flagler County Court, have spent and/or are billing upwards of $1 million against her assets. It follows the “Isolate, Medicate, Steal the Estate” pattern that has been documented in fraudulent elder guardianships across the country. It has been equated to Nazi Germany and modern-day slavery-seniors are taken and isolated for the sole purpose of financial exploitation.
Dr. White moved to Palm Coast twenty years ago for her retirement. On August 30, 2016, she left home with her niece, companion and caregiver of five years, Sheila Kennedy Bryant, in order to go to the doctor and then vote in the local election. While Ms. Bryant was in the other room filling out paperwork, emergency temporary guardian Sara Caldwell, Esq. of Daytona Beach and Attorney ad Litem Tance Roberts, Esq. of St. Augustine, both appointed unnecessarily by Circuit Judge Margaret W. Hudson of Flagler County, seized Dr. White from the doctor’s waiting room. There was no notice or hearing. The family has not seen her since and Judge Hudson ignored multiple Emergency Motions for Judicial Review.
“My aunt did not leave home that day with a suitcase or the intention of never returning again. She was taken against her will. I still have nightmares and traumatic stress related to Aunt Lillie being stolen right under my nose,” said Ms. Bryant.
Dr. White’s abduction seems to have been part of a calculated scheme based on bad intent and premeditation. Two months earlier, on July 1, 2016, Ms. Caldwell and Ms. Roberts made fraudulent representations in the form of a false “missing person” and “abandoned house” claim to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and accused Ms. Sykes-Kennedy of “doing something” to her sister. Contrary to those claims, Officer Priester wrote: “I observed the house to be clean and orderly. At the time of my visit, White was not incapacitated… I did not suspect abuse or neglect.” She also wrote, “Caldwell stated she is the responsible party for White and she will be making living arrangements for White… I requested that Caldwell fill out the FDLE missing/endangered person report form, but she could only provide limited information due to having never met White.” In other words, Ms. Caldwell had a “one-size-fits-all” plan before even meeting Dr. White, being in her home, or discussing her expressed desires. This violates F.S. Sec. 744.361(13)(a). A Sheriff’s report on August 11, 2016 again indicated that, “The house was clean and tidy, and all necessities appeared to be taken care of…” In the report, Ms. Caldwell stated she “did not have any intentions on removing Lillie from the home if she was being cared for.”
Nothing changed between August 11, 2016 and August 30, 2016 to warrant Dr. White’s abduction. She was safe in her home. There was no emergency or danger, Dr. White still had the right to choose with whom to socialize and her expressed desire was to be in her home with her sister and niece. She had the financial means to remain there and receive any care she may need in the future. Her abduction was in violation of her fundamental right under F.S. Sec. 744.3215(1)(f) to remain as independent as possible, including having her preference of place honored. Yet, this deceptive move was supported by the court-appointed Guardian ad Litem Sean Bogle, Esq. of Winter Park, Dr. White’s estranged granddaughter, Lisa Marie Rene of Bowie, Maryland, and her team of attorneys at Shuffield Lowman & Wilson, P.A., namely Stephanie Cook, Esq., Heidi Isenhart, Esq., and Alexander S. Douglas II, Esq.
Three weeks later, in a closed hearing excluding Dr. White and Ms. Sykes-Kennedy, Dr. White’s last two rights–the right to vote and right to choose with whom to socialize–were stripped from her. There was no cross-examination of the examiners and no opposing voices allowed. Judge Hudson accepted Ms. Rene’s claim that Ms. Sykes-Kennedy was not an “interested party.” Judge Hudson’s “abuse of discretion” and continued dismissal of due process and evidentiary requirements facilitated the full takeover of Dr. White. In order to defend her sister, Ms. Sykes-Kennedy has been forced into expensive and time-consuming appeals to combat the improper actions. It seems to be part of the strategy to make the family go away. Currently pro se, she is looking for a law firm and/or civil rights attorney to take the federal case.
“We’re not going anywhere. I want to see my sister. I have that basic constitutional right,” said Ms. Sykes-Kennedy. She added, “Now that they have Lillie, they’re on me. I didn’t know such evil people existed. Through all of the lawyers working together as a collusive group, they are coming full force to destroy me with over $750,000 in sanctions and their legal fees. It is an unfair fight–like a legal shell game and they know how to move all the pieces around–but there is no way I can turn my back on my sister and do nothing. Lillie asked me to help her and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Ms. Sykes-Kennedy worked for five decades on five continents, along with her late husband Dr. James Scott Kennedy, to promote international relations through communications. In the 1960s, they were in the civil rights fight in America and lived/worked in Africa. In the 1970s, they were invited by the Australian government to introduce new concepts of people through media. In the 1980s, Ms. Sykes-Kennedy was one of fourteen American women selected by the U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Housing & Urban Development to start trade talks with the People’s Republic of China.
“Since we’ve lived around the world, it is shocking to see this brazen violation of human rights in America,” Ms. Sykes-Kennedy said. “There seems to be an added layer of arrogance since we are African-American. It’s almost like they are saying that Lillie should not have accumulated wealth and therefore it is their right to steal it. At one point in the courtroom I felt it was a ‘legal’ lynching. It’s hard to fight a corrupt system,” she added.
The Court has issued orders that violate the law such as voiding Dr. White’s Living Revocable Trust and providing no notice to Ms. Sykes-Kennedy who was a party to the Trust. She was finally allowed two phone calls with her sister in October and December 2017. On both calls, Dr. White said that she wanted to go home and see her sister. Soon thereafter, Ms. Caldwell put Dr. White’s house up for sale. On December 4, 2017, Judge Hudson was disqualified from the case and Judge J. Michael Traynor was appointed. On June 28, 2018, Ms. Sykes-Kennedy filed a Motion for Fraud on the Court demanding a hearing and jury trial. After two months, she is still waiting for Judge Traynor’s response.
Independently living her life in Palm Coast, Dr. White should never have been under guardianship. However, “family friend” Chauncey Ford entrapped her in 2012 by filing for plenary guardianship and then contacting the estranged granddaughter. Ms. Rene took it from there waging a multi-year campaign to strip away her grandmother’s rights. Ms. Sykes-Kennedy, who was originally appointed Limited Guardian and Trustee in Orange County per her sister’s request, was removed for “illness” by Judge Hudson. Ms. Sykes-Kennedy’s blood pressure shot up given the worry for her sister. She appealed and the Fifth District Court of Appeals denied it providing no opinion. Thus, even though there were clear errors of law, the ruling cannot be appealed in the Florida Supreme Court. Justice is being thwarted at multiple levels.
Recent changes in the law have brought new hope. In March 2016, the Office of Public and Professional Guardians (OPPG) was formed. On July 28, 2016, Dr. White’s niece Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy filed a complaint with the Florida Elder Abuse Hotline against Ms. Caldwell. In March 2017, OPPG disciplinary action and guidelines were put in place. In July 2017, the Inspector General on behalf of the OPPG initiated a formal investigation into Ms. Caldwell. The family is waiting for their final report. On January 8, 2018, the OPPG filed its first Administrative Complaint in a case against Guardian Elizabeth Selden Savitt. Dr. White’s family is hoping that their next major action will be against Ms. Caldwell.
Teresa Kennedy explained, “Over the last two years I’ve reached out to the offices of Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Judge Terrence R. Perkins, Secretary Mike Carroll of the Florida Department of Children and Families, among others. No one has stepped up to help because there was a Judge involved,” She added, “Now that OPPG is investigating Caldwell, we hope they use the full weight of their power to take significant disciplinary action.”
On the federal level, S.178 Elder Prevention and Prosecution Act became law on October 18, 2017. Among other things, it increases training of federal prosecutors and investigators, and penalties for criminals who target seniors. On February 22, 2018, Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions announced the largest sweep of elder crimes in history. It was a coordinated law enforcement action that resulted in charges against more than 250 subjects who collectively victimized over one million people causing losses of more of $600 million. At the press conference, David Bowditch, acting deputy director of the FBI, indicated that the cases often involved “outright theft by people the victim should have been able to trust, to include their attorneys, financial advisors, and, even more egregious, their guardians and caregivers.”
Anyone is at risk of being targeted. However, according to the NAACP, there are multiple cases of elder exploitation of African-American victims in Palm Coast, including at least one other under Judge Hudson involving lack of due process. There have been convictions at the federal level, such as the April Parks case in Nevada featured in The New Yorker article, “How The Elderly Lose Their Rights.” Now is the time for Florida to get more aggressive with federal prosecutions.
“Aunt Lillie was taken under Color of Law. Caldwell may have had the general authority to change my aunt’s residence but under the circumstances, she did not have the right. There was no danger. She abused her power similar to a false police arrest. This is kidnapping, human trafficking, fraud and racketeering. These are federal crimes,” said Teresa Kennedy.
The Sunshine State is a hotspot for guardianship abuse. Since you can “legally” be snatched for your assets, certain parts of Florida are simply not safe for seniors even if you were diligent in your estate planning. There is no “security of justice” as Dr. King spoke of in his “In Have A Dream” speech. Many of the Judges are complicit with the unscrupulous attorneys .
Ms. Bryant said, “Just as the U.S. State Department issues a travel advisory for certain countries, there should be a ‘Level 4 – Do Not Travel’ advisory for all seniors going to specific areas of Florida. No one should endure what our family has experienced. Whoever wins the upcoming gubernatorial race must take more aggressive action to safeguard seniors. Otherwise, instead of a retirement haven, Florida should be considered retirement hell.”
Ms. Sykes-Kennedy added, “My sister turns 90 on September 6th and I would like to celebrate with her. Is that too much to ask? What is the recourse for stealing this precious time from us?”