Family Ties fails to provide money or accounting

March 4, 2013
Lisa Niesen

Lisa Niesen

Keeping them homeless


(Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series about San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services and the nonprofits managing the program.)

A San Luis Obispo based fiduciary has failed to return a formerly homeless man’s money or to provide an accounting for expenditures as requested.

Cliff Anderson agreed to make Family Ties his representative payee in 2009. After becoming homeless in the aftermath of a fire at his apartment, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) case managers told Anderson making Family Ties his payee would guarantee him a bed at the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter.

The saved money was supposed to be used to help place the now 69-year-old into housing.

In late January, Anderson asked his CAPLSO case manager for money for a pair of shoes. When rebuffed, he asked for an accounting of the $41,420 in Social Security payments sent to Family Ties since 2009. His CAPSLO case manager, who gave him a weekly check from Family Ties for $100, failed to provide him an accounting.

On Feb. 14, under a limited power of attorney for financial records requests, CalCoastNews served both CAPSLO and Family Ties with a demand for an accounting of Anderson’s funds. Lisa Niesen is the president of Family Ties and San Luis Obispo County’s chief deputy public guardian.

On Feb. 18, Anderson’s attorney Stew Jenkins, sent a demand for the return of Anderson’s money to Family Ties and canceled his CAPSLO case management.

Anderson currently is in privately arranged housing, but is unable to pay his rent and other bills because Niesen controls his funds. Niesen called Anderson Feb. 21 at about 9 p.m. telling him he could lose his housing if he did not tell her where he lived “so she could write a check for his rent.” She did not write a check for his rent or return his money to him.

Shortly after midnight on Feb. 22, Niesen and a friend arrived at Anderson’s rental wanting him to sign documents that Family Ties was not required to produce an accounting as legally requested. He did not sign.

CAPSLO has not responded to the records request. Family Ties hired attorney Joseph Diehl who responded to the request on Thursday with a letter stating Anderson’s accounting will not be turned over until he has a chance to review the records. Diehl has not yet turned over the records.

CAPSLO claims that clients’ funds are returned within 24 hours of canceling case management. However, Anderson’s money, which could be between $5,000 and $22,000, has not been returned to him. Family Ties failed to follow federal laws while serving as a fiduciary for Anderson, as a result, his Social Security disability benefits have been suspended.


JQ Public

Are the District Attorney investigators involved yet?


Your faith in “public servants” is admirable.

As the world turns

rOy, you should like someone who knows “public servants” very well, especially attorneys.


The DA is there to do basically one thing: protect those in county power from getting convicted of acts that will bring liability to the County.


I was just thinking that since SSI only requires that a Trustee keep track of records for the last two years, then the two attorneys can get together and agree to only report the excess funds withheld from Cliff that encompass that time period. By law she owes Cliff an accounting and all his funds but she doesn’t have to report all of that to SSI.. This could save Cliff from being cut off from benefits for a couple of years because as it stands now, that is what will happen when SSI finds out how much money is really owed to him.

The lawyers can work out how much is really owed Cliff without reporting it all to SSI and it could be a win/win for Lisa and for Cliff and for the taxpayers and it would all be legal.

JQ Public

The problem is the one with the claim to the excess funds saved is the Social Security Administration; not Mr. Anderson. So, Mr. Anderson’s lawyer and Ms. Niesen’s lawyer don’t have the power to make such agreements to settle anything.

A re-created accounting or a mitigated agreement worked out by the attorneys doesn’t satisfy the requirements of the Social Security Administration regulations.

There is far more at stake here than just money owed to Mr. Anderson. Family Ties Inc handled many more accounts for other SSA/SSI recipients in the community.

JQ Public

To staff:

Have Mr. Anderson’s SSI funds been restarted?

Does he have funds to meet his needs for this month?

If not, do you have an address where your readers can send small donations of cash to be given to Mr. Anderson directly or to pay up his rent and utilities in advance and give him some grocery money?

JQ Public

We don’t want to make Mr. Anderson ineligible for SSI due to donations. Is there a church group who would accept funds on condition that Mr. Anderson’s rent, utility, household supply, transportation and grocery needs would be met until his SSI is restarted and then the balance used for other needy people?


The SSA letter of 2/15/13 states that Cliff’s was no longer eligible for SSI because he had $5,000 in a Rabobank checking account. As the beneficiary of this account, Cliff should have access to information on this account. Have Cliff and his attorney requested copies of statements from Rabobank? Have they filed fraud and theft claims against Family Ties with SSA?


This is probably a collective trust account and only Lisa or an auditor can clarify how much belongs to whom. Either way, at this point I would be filing theft charges with the DA.


The DA doesn’t investigate crimes. He is entrusted with prosecution. The DAIs further investigate crimes that are submitted to them.

Anderson needs to go to SLOPD to file embezzlement charges. They can either file a complaint request in his name to the DA or do an investigation themselves. Sadly they will probably say it’s a civil matter even though fraud is in the Penal Code (PC503).

Anderson needs to insist on a private person’s arrest (not a physical one) and that his statement be filed with the DA for a complaint. He should probably have his attorneys go with him as these are complicated cases and most street cops will get glazed looks in their eyes if he rambles much. The corpus of the crime is as follows:

504a. Every person who shall fraudulently remove, conceal or

dispose of any goods, chattels or effects, leased or let to him by

any instrument in writing, or any personal property or effects of

another in his possession, under a contract of purchase not yet

fulfilled, and any person in possession of such goods, chattels, or

effects knowing them to be subject to such lease or contract of

purchase who shall so remove, conceal or dispose of the same with

intent to injure or defraud the lessor or owner thereof, is guilty of


JQ Public

Even if it is a collective account, the account title still needs to identify Mr. Anderson as the beneficial owner of a portion of the account funds. That’s another Social Security Administration requirement.


If Cliff was really “the beneficiary” he would have $5K.


These are simple records to produce. SSA has already provided us with the benefits they sent to FT on behalf of Cliff. It’s now simply a matter of adding up the payments that FT issued to Cliff or to CAPSLO on Cliff’s behalf and of course, whatever fees that Lisa charged Cliff for her services (cough). And, voila’, the difference belongs to Cliff.

Currently, she is between a rock and a hard place, in my opinion. She can’t produce a statement with only $5K because to lie will be “theft” but the truth will also cost her dearly. The more she mismanaged means the more personal liabilities she has incurred.

She owes all the sanctioned monies that the beneficiaries will suffer due to SSA 2K threshold violations. I do hope that all the withheld trust funds are at least in tact, otherwise that is theft and of course I hope she has personal liability insurance to cover all the lost benefits of her clients otherwise the liability will flow back to CAPSLO and the taxpayers.

YUP, I would get an attorney too if I was looking at a minimum of 18K – 20K of personal liability. As soon as she produces the statement, that is what it will personally cost her as SSA will apply more sanctions to Cliffs benefits and how many others are there? What to do? tap, tap, tap….


JQ Public

Good concept, Cindy, but not quite right in my opinion.

They are simple records and no private attorney is required. Family Ties doesn’t get to try to re-create the records they didn’t keep. They can’t because they need receipts.

You are right to start with SSA information on income.

Then, the only funds to CAPSLO are the actual amounts paid as rent for CAPSLO housing. That cannot exceed 30% of his income for the month in which he occupied the housing. Nothing else. CAPSLO said they do not charge for their services. If Ms. Niesen sent more money to CAPSLO than for the maximum housing limit while Mr. Anderson was in CAPSLO housing or otherwise, then Ms. Niesen and Family Ties are liable for that amount.

Family Ties Inc or Lisa Niesen cannot deduct FFS fees unless they were a legitimate 503(c) organization. It appears they were not because they lacked a Board of Directors and annual meetings.

If Family Ties Inc can prove they were a legitimate 503(c) organization AND if they have letters from Social Security Administration covering each reporting period under question authorizing them to collect FFS fees, then they can collect the fees. For example, in 2011, the fees were $37 for each month in which services were provided. In 2013, the fees are $38 per month. If in doubt that these requirements were met; deny claims for FFS fees. An accounting should include copies of these Social Security Administration letters.

If Mr. Anderson recalls he received $100 each and every week, then deduct that amount.

If he actually recalls receiving any more cash, deduct that.

An accounting should also contain records of specific dates and amounts of deposit into banks and specific dates, amounts of withdrawals and itemized receipts for any and all funds that were not paid to Mr. Anderson in cash.

If an adequate accounting is not issued ASAP showing concurrent record keeping, then it is just Ms Niesen’s claim vs Mr. Anderson’s claim.

Family Ties Inc/Ms Niesen will be liable to Social Security Administration for the balance. If Mr. Anderson hasn’t received the balance of at least $5,000 by now then Mr. Anderson’s entitlement to SSI funds needs to be restarted through Social Security immediately along with his claim for any months of income he is missing that was not sent to Family Ties.

JQ Public

I want to emphasize that if Ms Niesen and her attorneys are trying to re-create an accounting, that is not the accounting needed to satisfy Mr. Anderson’s demand. Ms Niesen and Family Ties had a requirement to keep individualized concurrent accounting for Mr. Anderson. Providing that accounting would have been a simple trip to the photocopy machine.

If a concurrent accounting with SSA FFS authorization letters and actual itemized store receipts does not exist, then what Ms Niesen is producing and her attorney is reviewing is just her claim and nothing more. It is only what she alleges where the funds went. That will not satisfy the concurrent accouting requirements.

Family Ties, Inc is actually liable for the accounting and for any unaccounted for funds.

Does Family Ties Inc have an insurance carrier to cover errors and omissions?

Mr. Anderson does not need to concern himself with those issues. That is for Social Security Administration to investigate and prosecute if necessary.

Mr. Anderson just needs to let Social Security Administration know that he is removing Family Ties/Ms Niesen as his personal representative payee, let them know she has not made the accounting or any excess saved funds available to him and ask to immediately re-start his Social Security SSI payments. He needs to go to the local Social Security Administration offices with his documents from his doctor saying he is not legally incapacitated to do this.


JQ, I’m not talking about whether there are illegal deductions to Cliff’s trust account. That can’t be determined until the statement is produced and as it currently stands, we know it will reflect service fees deducted, legal or not. I’m simply talking about producing the record as it currently exists and if they have added cash deductions, then they’ll have to prove it. They paid Cliff each week by check, this isn’t hard stuff. They also occasionally gave him an extra check, like at Christmas, they gave him a check for an extra $20.00 to spend on himself!

Lets not convolute the process. it starts with a statement, then it is analyzed from there. This is not hard stuff and there is NO REASON that it should be.

JQ Public

I agree it is not hard stuff and there is no reason to convolute. However, I am trying to distinguish a re-created accounting from just copying an exiting accounting that was concurrently created as the months went by. A re-created accounting is NOT an SSA required accounting! A re-created accounting is what Ms. Niesen needs to argue with Social Security Administration as to how much money she has to pay SSA. Right now, SSA is expecting Ms. Niesen to use the $5,000 for Mr. Anderson’s monthly needs until that fund is spent down and he becomes eligible for SSI again.

I respectfully disagree that once the accounting is given that there comes a time for Mr. Anderson to review the accounting and haggle over the line-by-line entries. All excess funds withheld go back to Social Security Administration. It benefits Mr. Anderson not one whit to haggle over allowable or unallowable line items.

Mr. Anderson’s sole interest is getting $5,000.00 back immediately so he can spend that money down and become eligible for SSI again. Alternatively, if he gets neither the concurrent accounting nor the $5,000, he can become immediately re-eligible for SSI again with back-pay for any amounts not already sent to Family Ties; or sent to Family Ties after they were removed as Social Security Representative Payee.


I disagree. It’s too late for Anderson to become automatically re-eligible for SSI by simply spending down the 5K. He received benefits for 6 months during a time that he was in violation of the 2K threshold. Those funds have to be paid back or he has to miss 6 months of funds. FT is liable for those funds that are due back to SSI and they are liable for the funds that they owe Cliff.

If FT pay’s the 5K to SSI that they’re holding for Cliff, that will be a violation of his trust funds. FT owes Cliff his money and they owe SSI the return of the funds that Cliff received when he was in violation, so that he can be re-instated. FT owes double in other words. As for Cliff, when he gets his 5K, he will have to spend down 3K immediately to re-qualify.

JQ Public

I that Family Ties Inc’s report to Social Security about the $5,000 was pure fiction. It would be so easy to hand that money over to Mr. Anderson; if Family Ties had it. Since that is not happening, the question is who got the money. Was it handed over to CAPSLO in cash; that was put in envelopes and picked up daily? We don’t know.


go to Guidestar online and search for family ties inc. i cannot find them


thanks. me stoopid or has fat fingers



JQ Public

I just re-read your post, Cindy and thought of something.

You stated, “It’s now simply a matter of adding up the payments that FT issued to Cliff or to CAPSLO on Cliff’s behalf and of course, whatever fees that Lisa charged Cliff for her services … .”

Cindy, you may be right in your perception that the money went to somebody over at CAPSLO.

In the third article of this series, it stated, “Niesen said none of the accounts she manages through CAPSLO contain more than $2,000, and most have only $20 to $30. If there are issues, she contends, it is with CAPSLO’s case managers.”

However, CAPSLO says they don’t charge for homeless shelter beds or for use of the other facilities such as showers, toilets and the dining area. The food is provided by People’s Kitchen and that is free. When he was placed into housing that was $335 a month for about 9 months. He received some cash each week from his CAPSLO case manager.

A Social Security Representative Payee is the one who has the duty to make up a budget and see that the beneficiary’s needs are met. If the RP goes to buy something they get a receipt. They must keep detailed, individual itemized accounts. They can co-mingle a bank account with other beneficiaries as long as the beneficiary’s name is on the account.

It appears that when Ms. Lisa Niesen split the function of receiving the funds from Social Security Administration and had CAPSLO managers continue the day to day case management, she may also have forwarded the funds she received to CAPSLO.

That’s why she doesn’t have a detailed, itemized, individual, concurrent accounting required for a SSA rep payee. That’s why she doesn’t have the money. That’s why she went to a lawyer. Maybe they are trying to get the people at CAPSLO to do the accounting now.

If the money went to CAPSLO, how did it go? In cash in envelopes to the same drawer where the money was kept for the socks, forks and razors?

That’s why Ms Niesen originally said that if there were any financial issues it would be with CAPSLO’s case managers. Ms Niesen doesn’t know where the money ended up or how it was used.

That’s my impression.


The only real justice in this country is street justice!


but what can this poor boy do……


Are you advocating violence? Please think before you make a statement like what you did; the justice that will be served is when the homeless are treated in the manner that they should be treated; when the funds that are supposed to be used to service them are actually doing that; and when anyone who has broken any law that is connected with the whole affair is prosecuted. Street justice usually means taking the law into one’s own hands; we don’t need that- it may “sound” inspirational, but anarchy isn’t going to serve a society with any sort of “good” results.


Please put away the pitchforks.

The wheels of justice/mis/fortune turn slowly.

We will get there.


BobfromSanLuis & Kettle.

While I am still not sure exactly what the truth is here (there could be some important information not revealed that makes this story slightly off-target), something doesn’t pass the smell test.

In theory, your “justice will come” points are fine. But in practice, people could die while those wheels of justice slowly grind. At what point do we hold people accountable for actions that are apparently both illegal and immoral? Do we wait while people abuse the legal process to cover their asse(t)s no matter what happens to their victims? Is there anyone in the local judicial process that is even interested in pursuing justice unless they are forced to do so? If the hue and cry about it is limited to this website, will the state or federal justice departments care enough to act at all (to say nothing of acting promptly) — particularly when the local political powers don’t want it and are largely of the same party as the state and federal authorities who could act?


While I cannot and will not speculate for Kettle’s response, I will say that “street justice” is NEVER justified, period. I agree 100 % that those who are violating the laws and taking advantage of the homeless have a special place in Hell reserved for them, but your point about state and federal justice departments being of the same political party as some of those in question do not indicate what will happen. If Kamila Harris, our State Attorney General does get involved, I fully expect her to prosecute anyone to the fullest extent possible.

Most people who enter into a government career do so with an ideal of public service as well as having a stable job and a retirement package; political alignment isn’t that much of a an ideal unless one is working very closely with elected officials, even then, most do not let their political ideology overrule their sense of duty and fairness. Please don’t denigrate all who are employed as public servants based on the actions of a few.

I fully believe that heads are going to roll because of the reporting that has taken place on this story.


With all do respect, Bob, the list of those public servants who shouldn’t be “denigrated” is growing shorter and shorter. How many work for CAPSLO who KNOW what is going on but turn a blind eye because they need to feed their families? Kinda makes their paycheck “blood money”. Feeding your family, taking your vacations, on the backs of the very needy is criminal, IMO. Everyone who is involved in this in any way should be held to review and recourse.


With all due respect Danika, I am not talking about the various department heads or those who happen to be connected directly to this story; I am talking about denigrating ALL government employees, most of whom do serve the public, do perform work for the greater good, and do their job as well as it can be done. I would also mention that it is very possible that some who do interface with CAPSLO recognize that there is something “fishy” going on, but do not have a position that allows them to call out anyone directly, but can report to their supervisors or even to reporters like Karen, Josh and Daniel. Where do you think most of the sourcing for these stories comes from? There are government employees who see the abuses and law breaking, have possibly reported it to their superiors and noticed that nothing was being done about it so they finally contacted CCN to attempt to get the story out so something could be done about it.

Not all government employees are corrupt, lazy, indifferent or just “going along to get along”; my suspicions are that those who feel that way are in a very small minority and most take great pride in working in a manner to serve the public.

Let’s get more facts out on the table before we demonize all government employees, please.


I don’t recall demonizing ALL govenment employees, Bob, as that would be an absolute statement and very easily disproved. I steer clear of making absolute statements. Learned that many moons ago.


Has anyone contacted the State Attorney General with these allegations? What about anyone on the Federal level? Like you said, Bob, not all Government workers are uncaring, and I would think if they are out of the purvue of Adam Hill, they would take these allegations very seriously. Also, aren’t there State or Federal programs that advocate for the poor, elderly or disabled? Has Mr. Jenkins contacted anyone outside of SLO to advocate for Mr. Anderson? Just wondering.

JQ Public

I am concerned that they are trying to re-create an accounting that was never done.

There is no requirement whatsoever that a private attorney review an accounting due from a Social Security Representative Payee to a Social Security SSI/SSA recipient or attorney-in-fact using a power of attorney for records.

The real accounting needs to be kept concurrently with receiving and spending the SSI and SSA funds. It must be very detailed. It consists not only of actual bank account entries (so the bank records will be needed) but also the receipts for expenses paid. These receipts are issued by stores. They are date stamped and state the items purchased and the amounts.

The Social Security Guide for Organizational Payees

•Keep separate records, for each beneficiary for whom you are payee, for at least 2 years. You must keep records of all payments we make to you, all bank statements, and receipts or cancelled checks for rent, utilities, and any major purchases made for the beneficiary. For example, if you withdraw $100 from the beneficiary’s account and buy an $80 item, then there must be a receipt for the $80 and a record reflecting the disposition of the remaining $20;


JQ: I think you have hit the nail firmly on the head on the crux of the situation here; is there actual accounting that is in accordance with the requirements of the SSA- if there is, then those records need to be reviewed by an independent auditor. If no records can be found, then we really have to get down in the weeds of how wrong this whole situation potentially is; if no records can be produced with the required date stamps, an indication of wrong doing becomes much more likely.

Given the depth of all of the allegations of mismanagement, potential theft or corruption, possible collusion and intent to defraud, every single individual connected to the upcoming investigation had better be prepared to answer for their actions and inactions. One lawyer has already been hired; I have to wonder how many more will be for those involved in this whole affair.

The saddest part about this situation is that if everyone in every agency simply did the job that they were hired to do in the manner it is supposed to be done, there would be no hint of scandal, no hint of corruption, collusion or any laws being broken; instead, we would have the homeless being served, donated items going to those that they were intended for without the severe restrictions that have been reported on. This whole thing is a real shame and I am very saddened by the apparent depth and breadth of the various agencies and individuals who are “circling the wagons” trying desperately to protect themselves from all of the damning allegations. When you know that you have done wrong, it is always better to acknowledge it and work to correct the situation than it is to try to deny any wrong doing and cover it up. I fully expect this is going to severely shake up all the agencies connected once all the facts are uncovered and investigations completed by the various upper governmental offices and agencies like the Social Security Administration and our State Attorney General’s office. Anyone who tries to “laugh” this off is deluded in my opinion; there are too many serious allegations that need to be answered.

JQ Public


It appears to me that Family Ties, Inc does not have an indivualized, concurrently created accounting for Mr. Anderson of his SSA/SSI funds. It doesn’t exist.

Apparently they also have not handed over the excess funds withheld that were reported to Social Security Administration. It appears Family Ties does not have those funds in their possession.

As you say it best; it is time to get down to the weeds. It is time for the Social Security Administration and for the District Attorney to run their investigations and do their part here. It is time for Ms. Biz Steinberg to move forward to find out what CAPSLO’s role has been in this and make the necessary corrections. It is time for the government funding sources to assign people to this and find out if their community action partnership method of delivering fundamental social services needs to be restructured. It can’t be “business as usual” and “they are all disgruntled ex-employees and therefore everything they say are lies.” That’s not going to work anymore.

As to Mr. Anderson, I can only hope Mr. Jenkins is helping him get his SSI funds again from Social Security.


This gets better and better every day, I like the part about the midnight visit, now what rational person would pull some sort of stunt like that,knowing that with what had been going on up to that time has been ferreted out by the press what would make her think that his little escapade would go unnoticed, besides thinking that under the cover of darkness she wouldn’t be noticed.

What is it about govt that makes,I’m gonna guess here, decent people, do really stupid stuff, I know not all the reps of the govt are that way but the biggest lot of them seem to be.


Desperate people do desperate things. These are things are done everyday, right Adam!


This story should be promoted like a movie – “Taken 3 staring Lisa Niesen.”

County employee steals money from the homeless through shell corporation! Sleuth reporter searches for truth! Valiant attorney fights to right the wrong! Only in SLO…