Public Trustee exposed on ABC Four Corners

After 11 years of campaigning, finally a national television program is to reveal the sins of the public trustee of Queensland, or will they? And if they have what good will it do? Will the Qld government set up yet another inquiry to cover up the corruption? Three Queensland Premiers and their Attorneys General have known about the Public Trustee’s criminal maladministration in Queensland over those 11 years and have not fixed the problem. They should place the Qld Public Trustee back into the public service, properly regulated and make advice about ordinary people’s estates free of charge.

State Control: Australians trapped, stripped of assets and silenced reported by Anne Connolly, goes to air on Monday 14th March 2022 at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 15th March at 11.00pm and Wednesday 16th at 10am. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.

Here is one story Four Corners left out.

“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”Franz Kafka, The Trial
 
They left only his hat
On Thursday 16 October 2104 at 10 am I arrived at the Sunnybank home of my friend, Ross, a man of 80 years. I had told Ross through other friends (Bernie and Rosslyn) to expect me. The front gate was not properly locked; I found his two dogs (Harry and Phoebe) waiting behind the glass doors. I could see Ross’s hat hanging up on its stand. He never leaves home without his hat. I went to nearby Sunnybank plaza searching for him.
 
I asked people at the shopping centre who knew him if they had seen Ross. No luck. I returned to the house and rang Bernie.
 
I checked the doors to the house. They were locked as were the windows. Bernie and I discussed where Ross could be. Later that night I received a call from Bernie. He told me that Rosslyn, his carer, had come home from work and Ross was still not there. This concerned me because of the way Ross had been taken advantage of by fraudsters – a crooked accountant, an architect and a political activist. Whoever took Ross had left his two dogs at the glass front door. They had not locked the front gate properly. I was aware that Ross had been under the control of the Public Guardian since 2009 for health, accommodation and contact matters even though he lived in his marital home. His wife Ellen passed away early in 2004.
 
I was always suspicious of the arrangement with the public trustee and the guardian as I had accompanied Ross to make a complaint about how badly his affairs were being managed. Ross asked the Public Trustee what had happened to his main retirement asset, a building in West End. Ross and his friends took the matter to Queensland Civil Administration Tribunal bit to no avail.
 
At 3pm on Friday 17 October 2014, I made a visit to the Office of the Public Guardian at Brisbane Magistrates court on level 3 at 363 George St Brisbane. On arrival, I signed the register and spoke to the receptionist and asked to speak to the guardian about Ross’s whereabouts.
 
After several minutes wait, the receptionist returned saying that I should go to the guardian’s office and gave me an address in South Brisbane on a yellow post-it note. I said I wished to make a complaint, that all I wanted was to find out where he was. It became apparent that someone in the back room was giving me the run around.
 
So, after another delay I spoke with the complaints officer (Megan) who told me that the regional manager was dealing with the matter and was currently with the public trustee and could not be contacted.
 
I said I was not leaving the office without finding out where Ross was and to make sure he was alright.
I gave the complaints officer, Megan, my details and told her that I had tried to contact Kevin Martin, the Guardian, and a case officer, Kelly, earlier in the day but had received no response, only voice messages saying they were unavailable. I told Megan I had made a written request to find out where Ross was. Megan asked me if a person was living in Ross’s house.
 
I said that I was not going to be cross-examined. Megan told me that she would not help me unless I answered her questions. I told her my contact details and the complaints officer left.
 
At 3.20 I rang the a/Public Trustee, Mark Crofton, on his mobile phone and left a message. The Public Trustee is responsible for Ross’s financial affairs. I then rang a solicitor to ask for his advice. He said that I should try to persuade them to tell me where Ross was and, failing that, to make an urgent application to Queensland Administration Tribunal as a friend and support person for Ross.
 
At about 3.40 pm a man came to the counter and said that the regional manager, Therese Craig, would ring me next Monday. He did not identify himself so I asked his name. He said that he was Brian Norman, the office manager, and that he could make no further comment.
 
I said that I did not understand – all I wanted to know was where Ross is and if he was alright. Brian Norman told me that Ross was alive and well. I said that I was Ross’s friend and wished to find out for myself; that I had visited Ross on Thursday and found that he was not at home.
 
I told him that Ross was expecting me and I was concerned that he might be upset. Brian Norman said that he could not help me. I said that I did not understand and left.
 
At 4 pm I received a call from the Public Trustee’s officer, Clinton Myles, who told me that he had been instructed by Mark Crofton acting public trustee to give me a call and let me know who was dealing with the matter. He told me that Ian Spalding at the guardian’s office was handling Ross’s case and gave me his phone number. At 4:16 pm I rang Ian Spalding and received a voice message saying he was unavailable.
 
I left a message.
 
Soon after, I rang another manager, Tim Brown, and received yet another voice message. I left another message.
 
None of the guardian staff ever responded to my messages of concern. On Monday 20 October 2014 at about 10 am, I attended the Office of Public Guardian with another of Ross’s friends, Bernie. I asked to speak with Ms Therese Craig. We waited for some time. While waiting I attempted to ring Ms Craig without any luck. Finally I received a call from Ms Craig and placed the call on speakerphone so that Ms Craig could converse with Bernie who is Ross’s main point of contact and support person. Ms Craig told me Ross’s whereabouts were 100 kilometres away and that he was permitted visitors but was not permitted to leave the facility.
 
After a long period I was informed Ross was being held at the RSL Care facility. Reasons were not given. Later I received an email from Lisa Pool from the guardian’s office which said that Ross had been taken to RSL Care on the Sunshine Coast to better look after his needs. The email said that Ross was high care and that is why he was transferred to the dementia facility at Alexandra Headlands. So I made complaints in person and in writing to the Public Guardian Officers, Tim Brown and Therese Craig.
Tim Brown refused to give reasons for their actions and refused to tell me when I could expect a written response to my complaint and my concerns. Therese Craig said that they would respond to my concerns by 31 October 2014. Ms Craig did not honour her promise.
 
It is now 2018 and Ross is still locked up in a facility over 100 kilometres from his friends and support.
The real reason why Ross was abducted from his home was so that the crooked accountant could sell the property and so that the public trustee could wipe his hands of the matter.
 
There is a transparent attempt by those responsible for his abduction to absolve their departments of elder abuse. They placed Ross in a high secure facility where management were briefed to monitor and record all interactions his ‘Brisbane friends’ had with Ross on our visits. There is a constant refrain from the Office of Public Guardian that visits by ‘Brisbane friends’ are the cause of Ross’s distress when the real cause are the actions all their officers and the fraudsters.
 
Ross is a victim of crime and these ‘sage’ lawyers are no better than those who defrauded him of his retirement savings. Ross was kidnapped so that his crooked accountant could sell his house and the public trustee could wipe his hands of the whole affair.
 
I don’t believe Ross ever had dementia; I think he had a stroke, was grieving for his wife and prone to trusting friends who betrayed that trust.
 
I have visited Ross at the Sunshine Coast. He is now 85 and does have some ageing issues but is still in good spirits.
 
He still wants those ‘thieving bastards’ brought to justice. We now appreciate how different arms of government work against the aged and vulnerable in this case The Public Trustee, Public Guardian and Qld Civil Administration Tribunal (QCAT).
 
Ian Curr
September 2018
 
__oOo__
 

State Control: Australians trapped, stripped of assets and silenced

“It could happen to you, it could happen to me, it can happen to anybody. I’ve seen it.”  Advocate, Tasmania

On Monday, a Four Corners investigation will reveal the stories of Australians who say they’ve been virtually abducted by the state, stripped of their assets and stopped from speaking out, until now.

“They can use your personal funds, your life savings, to fight you, to keep you entrapped in this system.”   Advocate, Victoria

Some 50,000 Australians are currently under the control of Public Guardian and Trustee agencies around the country.   By law, these ‘clients’ are banned from speaking out about what happens to them, and journalists can be fined or jailed for reporting on them.  Four Corners went to court to fight for the right to have their voices heard.

“They are evil. They’re terrible. They are heartless. They are thoughtless. And they’re just money-hungry users.”  Former Queensland Trustee ‘client’

Four Corners has uncovered astonishing cases where individuals say they are being held against their will and prevented from living in their own homes.

“I don’t like being effectively locked up. I want to live in the real world where I can do the things that I have done, and would do, and will do, I’m very lonely here for that reason. I don’t have anybody to talk to.”  Trustee and Guardian ‘client’   

And despite the Public Trustees’ express aim being to protect the health and finances of their ‘clients’, the investigation will reveal startling cases of financial mismanagement and fee gouging by these agencies around the country.

“The Public Trustee are the biggest perpetrators of financial abuse of elders. And this is actually legal, and this is part of the system. So, this to me is state sanctioned elder abuse.”  Advocate, Queensland

This investigation, more than a year in the making, will expose how the system, designed to protect the vulnerable, does the very opposite.

“They’re a law unto themselves, they’re a power unto themselves.   There needs to be some oversight into how their decisions are being made.”  Daughter of a Public Trustee ‘client’, Western Australia

State Control, reported by Anne Connolly, goes to air on Monday 14th March at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 15the March at 11.00pm and Wednesday 16th at 10am. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.

6 thoughts on “Public Trustee exposed on ABC Four Corners

  1. The Public Trustee used Siham’s dying mother’s money to help build a police case against her – it failed – Four Corners

    Siham Benz was prosecuted for stealing from her mother and was found not guilty.(Four Corners: Hugh Sando)

    A woman acquitted of stealing from her dying mother has discovered a government agency took $10,000 in “legal fees” from her mum’s account to help build the police case against her.

    Siham Benz became headline news when she went on trial for stealing $140,000 from her mother, who she was caring for due to her Alzheimer’s.

    During a five-day trial, Ms Benz was interrogated about expenses like shoes bought for her mother’s daily walks, massages the mother and daughter had together and household spending.

    “You would expect in a case like this, perhaps they would’ve brought witnesses,” Ms Benz said.

    “What was the case really built on? It was just the transactions and I’d been pretty up-front with those transactions. I’d never hidden anything.”

    It took 10 minutes for the jury to find her not guilty.

    Last week, Ms Benz was sent a tax invoice showing her mother had been charged almost $10,000 for paperwork, phone calls, emails with police and lawyers in the year leading up to her arrest.

    Another $2,000 was charged for other administrative work.

    “I’m shocked and honestly disgusted,” Ms Benz said.

    “My mother would have been appalled to know that her own money was used to have me charged and taken to court.”
    Ms Carollisen is heavily pregnant and holds her mother’s hand under her stomach.
    Siham (right) with her mother, Amina Carollisen.(Facebook: Siham Carollisen)

    The tax invoice shows her mother, Amina Carollisen, who died five months before Siham was arrested, was billed for services such as:

    $90.99 for sending a “Letter out to Siham Carollisen requesting advice re whereabouts of funds”
    $136.49 for “telephone out to Wanneroo police reporting matter”
    $1,273 for “drafting witness statement for prosecution of Siham Carollisen”

    “If the Public Trustee wants to investigate anything I thought it would have come out of their pocket,” Ms Benz said.

    “But they have charged for every email, every letter, every phone call.

    “If you went to a law firm, that’s the sort of billing you’d expect, not from a government agency that’s supposed to look after vulnerable people.”
    ‘What’s mine is yours’

    The tax invoice came to light as part of a Four Corners’ investigation that shows how vulnerable people are held against their will and charged exorbitant fees under the guardianship and public trustee system.

    Public Trustees are state government bodies that take control of the finances of people who are found to no longer have capacity to make decisions because of conditions like dementia, a brain injury, an intellectual disability and mental health problems.

    They sometimes pursue family members if they think funds have been misappropriated, but the cases rarely go to police.

    The ABC went to the Supreme Court in two states to lift the ban on identifying Siham’s mother and others who feature in the Four Corners program.

    Western Australia’s Public Trustee entered the life of Amina Carollisen after her daughter applied to the State Administrative Tribunal in Western Australia to become her mother’s official guardian and financial administrator in 2015.

    The tribunal granted her guardianship but gave the Public Trustee of Western Australia responsibility for Amina’s finances.

    “A massive relief actually came over me when they were appointed because I had so much pressure and so much going on in our family in the years leading up, it felt like a relief,” Ms Benz said.

    Amina had separated from her husband and moved in with her daughter and young family in 2012.

    At that time, Amina had told her daughter the money coming from her divorce settlement was to be used as she saw fit.

    “All I remember her saying was, ‘You know that what’s mine is yours’ and to me it was a passing statement, and I just went, ‘Of course mum, don’t worry about it’,” Ms Benz said.

    Amina’s son, Mirwan Carollisen, was also present when his mother made arrangements with Siham and supported it.

    “It was mainly around the fact that she felt really guilty for not being able to contribute to the household at that point in time,” he said.
    Former charity founder Siham Benz with her child on a playground.
    Siham says she was disgusted that the Public Trustee used her mother’s money to investigate her.

    Shortly after moving in, Amina was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 54.

    Ms Benz quit work to care for her mother over the next three years – along with her two young children and her husband, who had suffered a brain injury.

    Do you have a story to share about the Public Trustee system?

    Email us at trustee@abc.net.au or for confidential tips visit here.
    ‘It was humiliating’

    When the Public Trustee became involved, it began quizzing Ms Benz about household spending.

    “I bought a seven-seater because I couldn’t physically fit everybody in the car, including my brother,” Ms Benz said.

    “We always had to go everywhere in two cars and I was able to put the wheelchair in the back of that quite comfortably with the baby’s bags.”

    Amina died in September 2016. Five months later, police came to Siham’s home to arrest her on 10 charges of theft.

    “The thing I remember the most was my little kids at the door going, ‘Mummy, who’s that?’ and just the realisation hitting me of what was actually happening,” she said.

    It took two-and-a-half years for the matter to make it to Perth’s District Court. A five-day trial was held in September 2019.

    “To suddenly have headlines, ‘Charity boss steals from her dying mum’. It was humiliating. It was humiliating, not just for me, but for my family,” she said.
    A woman in sunglasses and a long cardigan walks down steps outside the District Court holding the hand of a man in a black coat.
    It took 10 minutes for the jury to find Siham Benz not guilty.(ABC News: Rebecca Turner)

    During the course of the trial, the prosecution reduced the 10 charges to just one charge alleging the theft of $120,000.

    The jury returned with a “not guilty” verdict within 10 minutes of adjourning.

    “I was a shell of who I was. I was broken and exhausted. I was completely depleted. That experience took away from me the ability to grieve my mum when she died.”

    Siham’s brother sent an email to the Public Trustee querying “legal fees” of almost $12,000, which they discovered when they were paid their inheritance of $53,000.
    Siblings Mirwan Carollisen and Siham Benz sit at playground
    Siham’s brother, Mirwan Carollisen (left), supported his sister throughout the trial.

    The Public Trustee didn’t respond until last week when Four Corners made inquiries as part of its investigation into the system.

    “I do believe the Public Trustee should be allowed to pursue people because there are genuinely people who financially abuse elders, but to slate the costs home to my mother to investigate me is astounding,” Ms Benz said.

    She wants the money to be refunded, which would help recoup some of the $50,000 in legal fees she spent defending herself.

    Four Corners asked the WA Public Trustee a number of questions about the case but was told “the WA Public Trustee cannot comment due to confidentiality provisions” of the Guardianship and Administration Act, and Public Trustee Act.

    “They’re a law unto themselves, they’re a power unto themselves,” Ms Benz said.

    “There needs to be some oversight into how their decisions are being made.”

    Watch more stories of Australians who have had their lives up-ended by the Public Trustee and Public Guardian in Four Corners’ full investigation tonight on ABC TV and iview.

  2. Deborrah Tyson says:

    Hello – Our sister Dianne has dementia and was moved from Queensland to NSW after her husband died.

    We (the family) have filled out all documents for Care and Financial management for our sister, which has been through NCAT tribunal and granted.

    PTQ has refused to release Dianne’s funds … QCAT also has not placed Dianne’s care into the hands of her family.

    PTQ SOLD Dianne’s house and place … $100,000.00 of her money into a CHALLENGER LIFE investment which we also are not able to access.

    What amount of fees and charges are being taken by the PTQ and QCAT are still not known to us!

    We are continually contacted by NSW PT for financial records, for our sister and NO records are supplied to us by any of the above!

    Both NSW Public Trust & Queensland Public REFUSE to speak with each other, this to is the case with NCAT & QCAT!

    What is evident is these organisations are set up to make it impossible and defiantly are not in place to help their ‘CLIENT’ nor the families.

    We have been fighting this for three years. We have no idea where Dianne’s money is being spent! I personally have paid for her dental work along with all he personal need.

    Surely the PTQ is a corrupt institution.

    Yours sincerely,
    Deborrah .

    1. Thanks for your comments Deborrah. We will be looking tonight with interest the response from the government and the legal profession. I think ordinary people (I don’t mean millionaires) should be given free advice by the PTO. Part of the problem is the Public trustee is required to provide its own funding. This is wrong. The PTO should be brought back into the public service where it can be properly over-sighted and regulated.

      It is absurd that assets should be invested with QIC which in turn plays the stock market with ordinary people’s money and threw the government into massive debt during the GFC.

      Ian Curr
      14 March 2022

  3. Regarding the ABC’s ‘The Drum’ on 15 March 2022 at 18:14: Stephanie Zillam see https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-15/the-drum-tuesday-15-march/13797384

    Pretty right-wing panel (especially the ABC’s Fran Kelly) … the Four Corners report, though well intentioned, missed the point, the public trustee in Queensland is required by government to fund itself hence the excessive fees and charges defrauding the public. The Public Guardian is the policeman for the Public Trustee’s Office – they give people no choice and take away their decision-making power. The Public Trsutee wills and financial services for the old, weak and incapacitated should be free to ordinary people. The millionaires can get a lawyer and look after themselves.

    Ian Curr
    29 April 2022

  4. Rosslyn Price says:

    Following on the Four corner programme, Clint Van den Berg who was interviewed, has received a letter from the trustee offering an independant review. Independant reviews have been done in the past. Reviewer has looked at trustees files and not taken any information from party requesting the review. Caesar investigating Caesar? The piper calling the tune? https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-15/the-drum-tuesday-15-march/13797384
    Advocacy Tasmania, Leanne Groombridge https://tascoss.org.au/user/89/
    has been making waves in Tasmania.
    Precedents set in one states should flow throughout the country

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