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"It [the paperwork] should have reflected that the car, upon Mr. Cousino's death, was returned to the lender," Cooper answered.
"I think this is yet another AVSC accounting where I am missing pages," Franks said. "I don't think I've seen an AVSC accounting recently that was complete. . . . This one obviously makes no sense."
Franks asked Cooper exactly when her agency contacted a real estate agent to list Cousino's home for sale.
"I believe that was in August," Cooper replied.
"Of what year?"
"Of that same year?"
"I think you're wrong." (Cooper was wrong, by almost a year.)
"Whatever the dates are, you are telling me that what happened is that AVSC thought the realtor had it listed for sale. The realtor didn't have it for sale, and so the house sat around for a long time not being listed for sale and nobody doing anything with it. Is that correct?"
"And whose fault is that?"
"I would say AVSC's for not monitoring it."
"I think you are probably right."
Cooper then revealed how AVSC had "floated" $9,087 from the estates of other wards to cover Cousino's mortgage.
"So are there other protected people that, if we add up what's missing from their various accounts, it's going to come to $9,087?" Franks asked.
"I can't answer that," the AVSC fiduciary administrator replied. "I don't know."
"Well, then, somebody answer it. You know, a lot of this country operates on smoke and mirrors, but fiduciaries aren't supposed to do that. If the money was spent and if it wasn't Mr. Cousino's, whose was it, and where is it?. . . . From the perspective of all of these other protected persons, they still don't have back this money. Right?"
Later in the hearing, Franks asked Dawn Miller to testify. Miller alleged how Cooper had asked her to make the Cousino account look solvent on paper.
"In my conscience, it didn't seem right," Miller said, "because the interest [to the other wards] did have to be paid for all that time it was in the hole. And in our particular system, it would not show any other accounts out of balance. But in the banking system where the money was held, those accounts are minus that money and are not accruing interest on those amounts."
After the hearing, Franks dictated a four-page memorandum, concluding:
"The Arizona Veterans Service Commission has mismanaged this estate. Specifically, AVSC continued to pay expenses on the decedent's house for a lengthy period of time after his death without ensuring that the house was, in fact, listed for sale or that any efforts were being made to sell the house. The AVSC, in fact, spent $9,087 belonging to other wards to maintain the decedent's house.
". . . As the testimony presented at this hearing shows that the AVSC's trust account has been in arrears since December of 1996, the court also has concerns that the AVSC has not only mismanaged this estate, but has also mismanaged the estates of all of its other wards in that money and interest belonging to those other wards has been spent for the benefit of the Cousino estate."
Franks denied AVSC's request for fees. (For its alleged efforts on Cousino's behalf, AVSC had billed his estate $1,733.11.)
Finally, the judge ordered AVSC to provide the court by June 1 with a complete accounting of the trust account from which the agency lifted the wards' money.
"This whole AVSC affair has been pathetic and disappointing," says Franks, who is transferring to Juvenile Court on May 1. "If the stakes weren't so high, it would be laughable."
Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org