The Bronx Bomber

While rooting the Yankees to a new home, Democratic political fixer Stanley Schlein failed his other clients

It is April 5, a big day for the Yankees, and they have sent one of their stars up to bat. He is the tall man in business-suit pinstripes in the corner of the crowded hearing room upstairs at City Hall. He is watching closely as City Council members cast their votes on whether or not to approve a new billion-dollar stadium for the Bronx ball club. His name is Stanley Kalmon Schlein, and although he has never run for elective office and most people don't know his name, he is to politics in the Bronx what Randy Johnson is to baseball in the Bronx: a crafty veteran with a wicked fastball who can throw over the plate or at your head depending on what the situation demands.

In the hearing room, Schlein is listening to every word as intently as Joe Torre watches his players, alert for the slightest flaws. It is not a shutout. One Bronx councilmember has dissented, criticizing the new ballpark because it will snatch 22 acres of parkland from the green-starved South Bronx with too little in return. But this was expected. A Brooklyn councilman has also voted no, denouncing George Steinbrenner, principal owner of baseball's wealthiest club, for rampant greed. But the councilman is a renegade, a member of no one's team, and this, too, was expected. The committee hearing is a warm-up for the vote an hour later by the full council. The tally there is a lopsided 45-2. The Yankees win. The Yankees win.

Stanley Schlein walks quickly from the hearing room, his BlackBerry to his ear. He is speaking in a low voice to Yankees president Randy Levine, the Giuliani-era deputy mayor who hired Schlein at $450 an hour to help guide the team to this moment. Standing in the City Hall rotunda, the cell phone still glued to his cheek, Schlein accepts congratulations from council aides, other lobbyists, reporters.

He is 58 years old, handsome with thinning brown hair and hooded eyes that have been watching power traded in this building as long as anyone. His first lessons came years ago from the Bronx's wily Democratic Party boss, a man named Pat Cunningham, who also served as a Steinbrenner counselor. When Cunningham went to prison, Schlein worked just as hard for the new party chief, a goateed cigar chomper named Stanley Friedman. Schlein carried out the laborious election-law chores, maneuvering allies onto the ballot, knocking foes off of it.

He held City Hall jobs as well, first as a top adviser to the council's leader, then as an aide to Mayor Ed Koch, who named him to an obscure patronage-filled body called the Civil Service Commission. Schlein has remained on the panel ever since, reappointed by Democrats and Republicans alike. When Friedman was later convicted of bribery and racketeering, Schlein suddenly was the last man standing, the party's political bulwark. As such, he helped to school a new generation of leaders who came out of the borough's now dominant Puerto Rican political clubs.

The current Bronx Democratic Party chairman, Assemblyman Jos� Rivera, stands in the rotunda a few feet away from Schlein. Rivera wears a grizzled white beard and a baseball cap, and carries his ever present video camera, with which he obsessively records every event. His title is not to be confused with decision-making power. Rivera's key contribution here is his progeny. His 26-year-old son, Joel Rivera, is the council's majority leader and the chief of the borough's delegation pushing for the Yankees' plan. But Schlein is clearly the shepherd. He has guided Bronx Democrats to an arrangement with Steinbrenner's team under which the lost parkland will be replaced with new open space and public ball fields, albeit constructed with synthetic turf atop new parking garages.

The local community board hated the scheme, voting 2-to-1 against it, citing high asthma rates and increased traffic. But their vote doesn't count. More important to sealing the deal is a commitment by the Yankees to supply $800,000 a year in grants that Bronx pols can dispense at will. Also included are thousands of free game tickets, as good as cash in New York. This is the deal Schlein has successfully packaged and sold.

That he is on both sides of the negotiation by virtue of his power within the Bronx Democratic Party and his Yankees lobbying retainer is a problem only for ethics watchdogs and spoilsports. "It's as though he sat in a room alone and negotiated with himself," remarked one dissident Bronx Democrat, one of many who have long marveled at Schlein's staying power.

Even those who look askance at the wheeler-dealer's behavior have long acknowledged his rascally charm. "Did I hear the word 'indictment'?" he said with wide eyes and a broad grin as he approached a group of reporters chatting in a City Hall corridor a few weeks ago. He has always been a good quote, a patient and courteous handler of an often ill-informed media. He has a tendency to speak in the staccato cadences of another of his mentors, former Liberal Party boss Raymond Harding, who helped keep Schlein in the fold during the Giuliani years and won him a midnight reappointment to his Civil Service Commission post in Giuliani's last week in office.

He doesn't lack for fans. Former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, who used Schlein's legal talents for his mayoral campaigns and even the real estate closing on his home, calls him "a lawyer of extraordinary skill. He is a careful guy. An ethical guy."

But that talent and charisma have had zero effect on some of those who have encountered him in his role as a court-appointed guardian for those unable to care for themselves. His charm has been lost on the families of an injured Bronx construction worker, an ailing elderly Manhattan woman, and an aging Irish domestic servant, all of whom depended on Schlein to guard the well-being of their loved ones. If he attended to every little detail for his Yankee employers with a hawk-like intensity, he has been deaf to these other clients.


A few weeks before he guided the Yankees to their victory at City Hall, some of those complaints, many of them years old, finally caught up with Schlein. They came in the form of a brief letter from Ann T. Pfau, one of the state's top administrative judges. The February 22 letter informed Schlein that he was being removed from the list of those qualified to serve as court-appointed fiduciaries�those named by the court to handle large sums of other people's money and oversee their property.

Such appointments are the stock-in-trade of every political organization. They are part of the portfolio of perks, patronage slots, and handsome lobbying fees that come with a strong party and the successful exercise of power. Judges, elevated to the bench with the party's approval, routinely name attorneys with clubhouse ties to serve as guardians, receivers, or referees. Many of the appointments are on behalf of the elderly or the infirm, those who have become incapacitated for one reason or another and are deemed no longer capable of managing their own affairs. The positions are highly prized because they usually offer a light workload and a virtually guaranteed payday that can range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands for each case.

As befitting his years of service to the Bronx Democrats, Schlein has long been a key recipient of appointments from judges who come out of the borough's political machine. Since 2000 he has received some $125,000 in fees. But that gravy train came to an abrupt halt with Pfau's letter. While offering no specifics, the judge cited his mishandling of property in two cases, that of a Bronx construction worker named Vincent Robinson, who lapsed into a coma after a construction accident, and an elderly Manhattan woman named Sylvia Friedland, who was institutionalized due to dementia.

"Accordingly, you will be removed from the list of qualified applicants by the Court as of the date of this letter," Pfau wrote.

Schlein refused to comment publicly about his handling of either case, or several others where complaints were lodged about his performance. "I am not going to talk about client matters," he told the Voice repeatedly during three lengthy talks conducted from his cell phone. "It's just not appropriate."

There had been occasions, he acknowledged, when he had failed to file required documents in a timely manner. "Mea culpa. I apologize," he said. "I take responsibility for that." But aside from those occasional lapses, he insisted that his wards had always received the appropriate care and attention. Moreover, he said that his attorney who represented him on the investigation had been told that if he chose, he could apply for reinstatement. Yet he had decided not to do so. "I said it is not worth it to me. I don't make a living out of this thing. It is not the core of my profession. I don't need the aggravation."

His real problem, he suggested, was a heightened sensitivity among judicial overseers to suggestions of political influence in the courts. "I know the county I come from," he said. "Other people may have conducted themselves differently. As for me, I have done everything I can to be a person of honor and ethics."


The family of Vincent Robinson, however, was unconvinced. Stanley Schlein entered their lives in 1998, eight years after an electric saw Robinson was using on a roofing job severed the femoral artery in his leg, causing massive blood loss and ensuing brain damage. Robinson's family received $2.4 million from a civil lawsuit. The family went to court to ask that a guardianship be created to allow them to make decisions about his finances. A Bronx Supreme Court judge named Anne Targum, who came out of the Bronx Democratic organization, appointed Schlein as an "evaluator" to determine if a guardian was warranted. When Schlein reported back that a guardian was indeed necessary, the judge promptly named Schlein to that post as well, allowing him to fully oversee Robinson's property and finances. It was one of 16 such appointments that Targum, who left the bench last year, gave to Schlein in the past decade.

Robinson's wife and adult children objected. Through their attorney, Brian Heitner, the family insisted that they were capable, with the help of professional advisers they would enlist, of handling the finances themselves. One of the things the family said they wanted to do was to build a new home that would accommodate Vincent Robinson so that they could take him out of the nursing home where he had been kept since the accident. There, he would be cared for by his wife, Esther, a nurse who had spent the prior seven years commuting daily to the Westchester facility to care for her husband's personal needs.

The judge, a transcript of that May 1998 session shows, adamantly opposed the idea. "We have this all the time, where the family seeks to invade the incapacitated person's funds and benefit themselves. I would never allow that, sir," said Targum.

Heitner, the family's attorney, said that the judge was "misconstruing" their intentions and pointed out that Vincent's daughter, Veronica, had been handling her father's finances since the accident, and that his son, Patrick, was a college graduate who would help as well.

The judge responded that the earlier finances had been "minimal. Now you're dealing with millions of dollars." The new assets, the judge said, "should be handled very professionally." The Robinsons "are not versed in property management," she said, "and have no possible background in that particular field." On the other hand, the judge said she was "fully satisfied with Mr. Schlein's competency, his conduct and everything else."

A few weeks after Schlein's appointment, the Robinsons and their attorney complained to the judge that they could never get in touch with Schlein and that he was refusing to return their messages. The family then moved in court to appeal the appointment. Two years later, a five-judge panel on the appellate division unanimously agreed, ordering that Schlein be removed, and that Robinson's daughter and son replace him. The judges ruled that there was "no evidence" that Schlein, "other than through his status as an attorney, was any better suited to manage large sums of money than a layman."

But the Robinsons had already learned that the hard way. Despite repeated warnings, Schlein had somehow allowed a Florida condominium that had been bought by Vincent Robinson for $72,500 to be sold at a foreclosure action by a bank that held a mortgage on it. In a motion to Judge Targum objecting to fees being demanded by Schlein, Heitner said that his firm had served notice frequently over several months on Schlein about the pending foreclosure, to no avail.

Nor was the condo foreclosure the only problem, the family said. Because they hadn't been able to reach the guardian, they'd also been unable to obtain the necessary funds to buy clothes for Vincent Robinson, pay for a personal-care assistant to help him at the nursing home, and even to make payment for a wheelchair they'd sought to buy.

Schlein termed those charges "ludicrous" in a blast back in his own court filings, in which he insisted no one had ever told him that a wheelchair was needed. He also accused the family of having purposely abandoned the condo in order to "blame me for the loss," as he wrote. He then went on to seek court approval to pay himself $35,000 in fees from Vincent Robinson's holdings for the work he said he had done on the matter.

There were others from the Bronx Democratic organization with their hands out as well. Schlein also asked the judge to approve $4,750 for his friend Gerald Sheiowitz, the treasurer of the Bronx Democratic Party, who had served as Schlein's accountant and attorney in the matter. In addition, he sought $5,000 to pay Flora Edwards, another attorney friend who is a former law partner of a top Bronx Democrat now a judge. Edwards's role, Schlein said, had been to review the appeals motions made by the family seeking his removal as guardian. In effect, he wanted the family to pay the court costs even though they'd won the case.

Finally, Schlein also presented a bill for $4,500 for the services of a lawyer named Alberto Torres, at the time a law partner of then Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez. Torres's role had been to examine the objections raised by the family concerning Schlein's conduct. Torres punted on that question, never offering his own opinion on Schlein's performance. But he did note in his own filing that, under one interpretation of the statutes governing guardian compensation, Schlein could be entitled to $10,000 more than he'd requested.

Ultimately, the Robinsons decided to drop their objections. Schlein and the other Democratic lawyers all got what they sought. "When push came to shove, the family decided they just wanted to put it all behind them and get Schlein out of their lives," said Heitner. A few months later, in September 2001, Vincent Robinson died. He was 68.


The Robinson family's problems with Stanley Schlein would likely have been buried forever in a Bronx court file if not for a feisty freelance magazine editor named Lisa Goldstein, who waged her own dogged pro se battle against Schlein after her 90-year-old aunt, Sylvia Friedland, became institutionalized and unable to handle her affairs.

Here, too, the incapacitated person, as they are called in guardianship-speak, was loaded. Friedland had about $2.5 million in cash, stocks, and bonds when Schlein was named by Judge Lucindo Suarez, a Bronx Democrat then sitting on a Manhattan bench. It was one of six times Suarez chose Schlein to handle cases.

Because Lisa Goldstein insisted she wanted to share the responsibilities for her aunt's care, Suarez allowed her to be Schlein's co-guardian. To qualify, Goldstein took a required course in court fiduciary procedures.

But the joint arrangement quickly fell apart amid mutual nasty accusations. In a series of letters to the court and various disciplinary panels, Goldstein complained that after she and Schlein were appointed, she was unable to get in touch with him for months at a time. She said that she had had to compile the court-required filings on her own, with no help from Schlein.

"Mr. Schlein just didn't seem to have the time for the guardianship," Goldstein said at a hearing last year on the matter. "Any number of times, I called him, paged him, tried him at his office." She had even asked the judge's clerk to track him down for her.

"I was always available, your honor," Schlein responded.

But Goldstein pointed out that there had been real consequences from the communications gap. Her aunt, already advancing into senility, had failed to file taxes for the two years prior to the guardianship. Interest and penalties were piling up. Goldstein said that she appealed to Schlein for help in getting the taxes up-to-date, but that he was unconcerned. Goldstein wrote to the appellate court disciplinary panel that Schlein had told her that "he felt no compulsion" to file new tax returns since her aunt was already behind in prior years and the interest could be waived. She said that Schlein insisted a special accountant, his friend Gerald Sheiowitz, the Democratic Party treasurer, would be recruited to handle the task. But when Schlein made no move to prepare the filings, Goldstein hired her own accountant.

Goldstein said that she had also entrusted Schlein with some $500,000 in expired stock and bond certificates that her aunt had held in a safety deposit box. The certificates were out of date, either no longer earning dividends or in need of exchange for new forms. Goldstein said that Schlein insisted he would handle the task. But as Schlein acknowledged in the court hearing, his only effort was to call an acquaintance at the state comptroller's office to ask how the expired bonds should be handled. In the meantime, a half-dozen corporations sent her aunt's stock holdings to state offices as abandoned property.

An exasperated Goldstein finally got Schlein to return the certificates so that she could handle the matter. She said Schlein, whose law practice is conducted from his cell phone and his home on City Island, had her pick up the documents from an office manager at the Civil Service Commission's offices in the Municipal Building. There, she said, she sat patiently with the clerk while they went over a list of serial numbers to make sure she had them all.

Schlein scoffed at that account, in- sisting that he had never used the city offices for his private work. But others dispute that. The commission's former general counsel, a Bronx woman named Willena Nanton, said that she and others were often asked to assist Schlein with his own legal chores. "I remember that there was a niece of a woman for whom Stanley was the guardian and that she had complained about him," Nanton told the Voice. "He had the office manager xerox all the stocks for her and then meet with her there."

Nanton, who worked at the commission for seven years, shouldn't be believed, Schlein said, since she is currently suing him and the commission in federal court for racial discrimination in her termination from her post. But two other people who used to work at the commission and are not involved in the lawsuit also said that Schlein used the office and its assistants for private tasks, ranging from filing motions in election law cases to meeting with lobbying clients.

"It's absolutely not true," Schlein responded. "I do civil service work there, not business. If I ever met a client there it was to go out to lunch."

He said that in Goldstein's case, her animus against him had been sparked because she coveted her aunt's fortune. "Ms. Goldstein's only concern," he wrote in an oddly worded letter to the court disciplinary panel, "was preserving estate assets to the detriment of her aunt. My dwarfing her efforts exposed me to her ire." He added that he had intended to seek Goldstein's removal as a co- guardian but that, "sadly, Sylvia Friedland died shortly thereafter, rendering any motion I may have had to remove her moot."

A few days after Schlein leveled those charges in his letter, Goldstein fired back a response, saying that she had never considered herself her aunt's potential beneficiary, since her father was still living. Schlein's accusations, she wrote, were "a fruitless attempt to deflect attention from his own inaction as a guardian."

Goldstein also decided to find out if other people had run into similar problems with the attorney. She went to the Bronx Supreme Court clerk's offices and read through all the files where Schlein had been appointed as guardian. She found four cases where family members had complained to the appointing judge about Schlein, including the Robinsons'. Goldstein then sent letters to several authorities asking for an investigation. Among those she wrote to, she said, were Judge John Buckley, the presiding appellate justice in Manhattan and the Bronx; state chief judge Judith Kaye; the Commission on Judicial Conduct; and the attorneys' disciplinary committee.

Eventually she wrote directly to the inspector general for the state's court system. It was an investigation by that office that resulted in Schlein's removal last February.


Up on Gun Hill Road, on the other side of the Bronx from where the Yankees will soon start building their new temple, resides another of Stanley Schlein's wards. Mary E. Johnson, 87, resides in Kings Harbor Multicare Center, and according to her closest friend from childhood she is happy and well cared for, even though she has been largely unaware of her surroundings since 1997, when she fainted at her residence in Manhattan and was found to be suffering from dementia.

An immigrant from County Kerry in Ireland, Johnson came to America as a young woman and worked as a domestic servant for wealthy families. An ardent Catholic, she was a member of the Blue Army of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an organization of laypeople devoted to promoting Christian values. She never married, but she kept close to her few friends and saw her family when they visited from the other side. Her needs were few and she had a substantial sum, about $400,000 in savings, when she was admitted to the nursing home.

The original plan of Johnson's three nephews in Ireland and a niece who lives in Florida was to have their aunt relocated back to the old country, to live in a comfortable seniors' residence near her family. But while she was uncertain about many things, Johnson expressed herself clearly in her desire to stay in New York. "She considers herself a New Yorker now," said one of the attorneys who interviewed her.

The matter of her guardianship landed in the court of Judge Anne Targum, the same judge who handled the Robinson case. An attorney representing the family, Elaine Harrison, suggested that one of the nephews was willing to make regular visits from Ireland and could serve as guardian. But when Targum said she couldn't appoint someone who lived outside the country, the family offered no strong objections.

The one specific request attorney Harrison made of Schlein�memorialized in a December 19, 1997, letter to the judge�was that he use Johnson's finances to pay for car service so that Johnson's oldest and sole surviving friend in America, a woman named Catherine O'Neill, could visit from her home on Webster Avenue in the north Bronx. Harrison even asked that such a provision be included in the judge's order. "It will be very beneficial for Ms. Johnson," she wrote, "if her friend is able to visit her regularly."

But as in the Robinson and Friedland cases, friends and family reported problems soon after Schlein's appointment. Catherine O'Neill, who grew up with Johnson in County Kerry, wrote Judge Targum in the fall of 1998 to state that "Stanley K. Schlein has not performed his duty." No one can reach him, she said, "and many of the things that Miss Johnson needs are being neglected, for example warm clothes." In addition, she said that she had never heard from Schlein about the cab fare. Winter was approaching, she said, and "being that I am 74 years old I fear walking the 18 blocks round trip to the nursing home from the closest bus stop in the ice and snow. Please do not deny Mary the only person in this world she recognizes, and that visits her on a weekly basis."

Catherine Vitanyi, Johnson's niece in Florida, also wrote to the judge that she had tried repeatedly but failed to get in contact with Schlein in order to arrange a meeting with nursing home staff when she visited her aunt. "As far as I know, none of the family has had any communication from him," she wrote. "The social worker at Kings Harbor also said that they have not met him nor has he met Miss Johnson."

Harrison, the family attorney, also wrote Judge Targum about the matter. Harrison said the staff from Kings Harbor had called her recently seeking permission to buy Johnson some winter clothes. "When I suggested that they contact Mr. Schlein, I was informed that the home was unable to reach him by phone because there is no answering machine. Thus, the only way to reach Mr. Schlein is by letter." She also reminded the judge about the order requiring that Catherine O'Neill's car fare be provided. "I doubt that this has been done," she stated.

Harrison's letter, which sits in the court file of the Matter of Mary E. Johnson, is accompanied by two unsigned, handwritten notes by court staff. Both suggest that Schlein was treated with deference in the judge's chambers. One reads: "On November 13, I spoke w/ Stanley. He stated that he gave her his pager and telephone . He will go to nursing home. I told him that I would call Ms. Harrison and tell her to 'cc' him if she is going to write letters about him." A second note appended to the letter, dated November 16, 1998, states: "I spoke w/ Elaine Harrison. I told her to page Mr. Schlein if she needed to speak w/ him and to write to him if she had anything to say to him."

According to rules governing court-appointed guardians, Schlein is obligated to visit his wards at least four times a year, and to file annual accounts of their finances. But records show that Schlein made no such filings for Johnson until 2002, five years after his appointment. He then submitted so-called "annual inventory and account" filings for years 1998 through 2001. For this, Schlein requested and received a total of $16,358 from Johnson's holdings.

There were no further filings until late 2005 and early this year when Schlein submitted more late reports covering the years 2002, 2003, and 2004. He sought and received permission, this time from Judge Bertram Katz, who took over the case after Targum stepped down, to receive $12,655 for the work. To assist him with the filings, he retained Hillary Sheiowitz, the daughter of Gerald Sheiowitz, who worked with Schlein on the Robinson and Friedland cases.

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 $2,200�about 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 Rico�based 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"�as 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."

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