By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
Like her father, Hillary Sheiowitz is also active in the Bronx Democratic Party, serving as treasurer of Bronx Young Democrats, as well as other political committees. She was awarded $2,250 for assisting Schlein. There was one more legal layer applied to Johnson's finances. An independent court-appointed attorney received $2,955 for examining the accountings to make sure they were properly compiled.
The Mary E. Johnson case was not one of those cited by Judge Pfau in removing Schlein from court-appointment eligibility. But despite the close scrutiny it was supposed to have already received, a review of Johnson's file suggests there are a few important questions that could be raised.
Back when Harrison, the family's attorney, was involved with Mary Johnson's case, she had written to the state comptroller's office of unclaimed funds to see if any of Johnson's assets had gone astray. She received a letter back listing several accounts and stocks that appeared to belong to Mary Johnson. One of the accounts was with Republic National Bank of New York and was supposed to contain about $38,000. Harrison then forwarded the state comptroller's letter to Judge Targum with a note suggesting that the new guardian should seek to obtain the funds, a practice known in the field as "marshaling the assets."
But Schlein never acquired the accounts. Instead, state comptroller records show that the office sent a July 2001 letter to Schlein's City Island home address stating that since it had not heard from him in over a year it was rendering Johnson's request file "inactive." The state representative then provided instructions to be followed if Schlein decided to "re-establish" his claim.
A spokesman for State Comptroller Alan Hevesi said last week that the funds were still being held as unclaimed property.
Asked about the matter, Schlein said his recollection was that he had been told that there were no assets to be claimed.
But the slipshod handling of the finances isn't the only question raised by the filings. After Schlein took charge of Johnson's funds, he merged most of her money into a large savings account at Doral Bank of New York that currently holds more than $240,000. Yet records show that the funds are barely earning any interest. In 2003, the Doral account earned just over $2,200ï¿½about 1 percent. In 2004, the account brought in just $1,200, about 0.5 percent. The bank's rate listings show that its highest deposit rate is 4.6 percent for a three-year CD. Its lowest is 0.5 percent. That's for its Christmas and vacation clubs.
Schlein, maintaining that it would be improper to discuss his client's affairs, suggested that he had deliberately kept the earnings on the account low because Johnson faced the likelihood that her assets would be taken in a Medicaid repayment action. He declined to provide specifics, and his filings contain no reference to a potential Medicaid problem.
But Doral, a Puerto Ricoï¿½based bank, appears in Schlein's own personal financial disclosure statements, which he is required to file with the city's Conflicts of Interest Board. Those records show that Schlein holds 22,500 shares of stock in Doral Financial Corporation. In 2004, he listed the stock as worth more than $500,000 and indicated that he earned more than $30,000 in dividends from it.
Did he know Doral officials?
"I did a litigation and a lease for them," he said. "About $35,000 worth of legal work. And I bought their stock. They are the largest bank in the Caribbean. They are a growing bank here in New York, and I think they are a good bank that services the community. The financial investments are appropriate."
As for his elderly ward Mary Johnson, Schlein insisted he had visited her "periodically"ï¿½as required under guardianship regulations. He said he hadn't heard from any of the relatives or from Catherine O'Neill, Johnson's friend, but he denied that anyone had had trouble contacting him. "I am never missing in action," he told the Voice. "You know that."
In Florida, Catherine Vitanyi, whose mother was Johnson's sister, said last week that she had been able to make just that one trip north back in 1998 to visit her aged aunt, a circumstance she regretted. "The last thing my mother said was 'Take care of Mary.' And I am in this situation where this man doesn't even want to talk to anyone, so it makes it kind of difficult. He wouldn't cooperate to even send a Christmas card. Easter, I have always sent a plant to her. I have never gotten any acknowledgment back. I asked Mrs. O'Neill one time about a poinsettia plant I sent. She said there was none there."
Officials at the nursing home said they were not allowed, under federal privacy rules, to comment on whether or not Schlein has been to see his ward, Mary Johnson. Catherine O'Neill, however, said she's never met him.
"I visit Mary all the time. I can't tell you anything about him. I never heard from him. I never saw him." She said her visits had been interrupted last fall when she underwent a hip replacement. "But I do keep in touch with the social worker there."
Up until the operation, she said, she had made all of her visits to the facility on the bus, walking the 18 blocks back and forth from the bus stop because the promised car service money had never been provided. "I take the bus," she said. "The cab fare they don't give at the nursing home, and I can't afford it."