COLORADO JUDGE ends CONSERVATORSHIP
Denver, Colorado | December 2, 2022
By Brett Darken
Plotz’s ruling is groundbreaking because once a person is placed into a conservatorship, it is rare that a “client” or “subject” of the conservatorship escapes.
The “liberation” of Hart from her conservatorship comes just a year after a judge in California freed the pop-star Brittany Spears from the court-ordered supervision she was in for more than a decade.
According the National Guardianship Association, “…conservatorship, is a legal process, utilized when a person can no longer make or communicate safe or sound decisions about his/her person and/or property or has become susceptible to fraud or undue influence.”
WebMD cites information about conservatorships from the National Council on Disability: “About 1.3 million guardianship or conservatorship cases are active at any given time in the United States, managing assets that total at least $50 billion for people whose rights have essentially been stripped from them.”
Conservatorships (and guardianships) are severe and powerful events. The NGA warns that “because establishing a guardianship may remove considerable rights from an individual, it should only be considered after alternatives to guardianship have proven ineffective or are unavailable.”
FIVE YEAR LEGAL BATTLE
Margarita Salcedo Hart is an immigrant who amassed a multi-million dollar net worth in a 50-year career in Denver area real estate.
According to Plotz’s summary, the case began in 2017 when Margarita’s sons Gerardo and Rizalino Salcedo, discovered that she had been the victim of a “romance scam.” When her family learned that their mother had been defrauded, the son’s were afraid that she would waste the family fortune. They wanted her—and her fortune—protected from financial predators.
The sons turned to the Colorado legal system to intervene, hiring attorneys who forced Margarita into litigation and then into “mediation.” In an effort to “calm the seas” after being defrauded, Margarita agreed to a voluntary conservatorship as a way to provide oversight, checks and balances over her decision making and finances.
In the summer of 2017, Melissa Schwartz was given limited conservatorship over Hart.
In 2019, Margarita Hart voluntarily submitted to psychological testing. Dr. Richard F. Spiegle, Psy.D. found her to be competent. Hart asked to be released from the conservatorship. Hart asked to be released from the conservatorship, but she discovered that though she had voluntarily entered into the arrangement, she was not free to leave.
Her children objected to her “emancipation” and so did the conservators in charge of her “care.” Attorney Cyndi Lyden was appointed Guardian Ad Litem and they worked to keep Margarita locked in the conservatorship.
In an effort to fight the termination of the conservatorship, the children and their attorneys paid for a second psychological evaluation of Margarita by Dr. Wachtel. Wachtel’s findings contradicted those of Dr. Spiegle, and the issue devolved into a lawfare standoff.
THE BILLING RACKET
A racket is when a group or person creates a problem, and then charges people to “fix” or “manage” the problem. In gangster movies, a “protection racket” is when the people who want to be paid for their “protection” from harm or damage are the same people who are causing or threatening the harm.
The core fraud in a billing racket is that people are charging the target or victim for goods or services that are unneeded or unwanted.
Margarita had never been accused, indicted or convicted of a crime. She had not been deemed incompetent by a court, yet she remained locked in the conservatorship for five years. Margarita had volunteered to enter into the conservatorship, but once she was in it, she couldn’t escape.
She was trapped: The people running the conservatorship worked to keep her locked in a deal where they would be paid for their “protection.” The longer the conservators could keep Margarita in the conservatorship, the more they could bill for their “protective” services.
In their efforts to keep Margarita bound in a conservatorship, the Colorado courts allowed the conservators to bill Margarita to argue against her desire to be liberated.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid by Margarita for people to argue over her “care.” She paid for both sides of the legal debate: Her children could hire attorneys to argue against Margarita’s wishes, and they could bill their attorney’s fees to Margarita’s accounts. The longer they could argue and keep Margarita in the conservatorship, the more they could bill for their “protection.”
Under Colorado law, this is not considered a conflict of interest.The courts approved this arrangement for five years, until Plotz’s ruling put an end to it.
The role of a guardian and/or conservator is to guard the “protected person” or “ward” from predators.
But while the conservator Melissa Schwartz and guardian ad leitum Cyndi Lyden were working to keep Margarita’s locked into their “protective” care, they failed to defend Margarita’s finances.
Last month, Margarita’s son, Geraldo Salcedo was indicted by Arapahoe County District Attorney John Kellner on two felony counts of theft.Salcedo is accused of stealing from his mother by using money from Margarita’s business accounts to pay his personal bills.
The thefts from Margarita’s accounts occurred during the time when she was paying Schwartz and Lyden for their “protection.”
The felony charges were filed against the same Geraldo Salcedo who in 2017 had started the guardianship process by claiming that his mother needed protection from financial predators. For more on Mr. Salcedo’s felony indictment story, go here:
FREE AT LAST
It took five years, hundreds of pages of documents, and more than quarter million in fees, but in less than 100 words, Judge Plotz gave Margarita Salcedo Hart her freedom:
“…it is hard to find any evidence that would clearly support a limited conservatorship and that there is a lack of evidence to support the continuance of this arrangement by any legal standard….she is competent to handle all of her own affairs.”
The process was costly, but Margarita is now free.
One legal issue yet to be determined: The final billing.
Brett Darken writes about families, finance and fraud.