Federal agency starts investigation of Family Ties and Niesen

March 10, 2013

oigKeeping them homeless

By KAREN VELIE, JOSH FRIEDMAN and DANIEL BLACKBURN

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

Federal officials launched a probe of Family Ties, the nonprofit that has been at the heart of a CalCoastNews investigative series into the treatment of the homeless in San Luis Obispo County.

The investigation centers on the activities of Family Ties and its head, Lisa Niesen, since November of last year, Social Security documents show.

The Social Security Administration is referring the case to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to conduct the investigations, the attorney for a former client of the nonprofit said. According to its website, the OIG, based in Washington, D.C., is designed “to prevent and detect waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement” in Social Security Administration programs.

OIG officials will not confirm or deny an active investigation.

But Cliff Anderson, a former client of Family Ties, and his attorney Stew Jenkins, said an employee of SSA informed them last week that the OIG will be asked to investigate how Family Ties is managing its accounts.

An exclusive CalCoastNews investigation reveals that complaints of missing funds with Family Ties go back at least five years, complaints that at the time appear not to have prompted an investigation.

While working as the city coordinator for the Salvation Army, Hildy Gal, a social worker, spoke with a previously homeless man who said he was unable to pay his bills and eat on his meager income. While going over the man’s accounts, Gal said she discovered Family Ties was saving a portion of his income each month even though the man had already been placed in housing.

“He got $200 a month to pay his bills,” Gal said. “He didn’t have enough for food and his electric bills. He didn’t have enough money for anything.”

Gal tried to get Niesen to refund the portion that Family Ties had kept, she said.

“I asked for his money back and Lisa Niesen gave him some back, but not all of it,” Gal said.

Gal then reported those Family Ties issues to Social Security Administration officials, San Luis Obispo County and Transitions Mental Health, she said.

“I was told by a man at Transitions that Lisa Niesen was very powerful and they did not want to cross her,” Gal said.

CalCoastNews began a series on Family Ties and the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) after learning Anderson had signed over more than $40,000 in Social Security payments to the nonprofit over a four year period.

CAPSLO, the primary provider of homeless services in the county, requires its clients in case management to provide 50 to 70 percent of their income to CAPSLO or — if a person is on Social Security — to make Family Ties their representative payee.

According to Social Security documents, Family Ties manages bank accounts and makes payments on behalf of its clients. CAPSLO case managers then prepare monthly budgets and are charged with assuring clients’ needs are met. When a client wants to make a request for money or an accounting of their funds, they go to their case manager.

In 2009, Cliff Anderson agreed to make Family Ties his representative payee after becoming homeless in the aftermath of a fire at his apartment.

In late January, Anderson asked his CAPLSO case manager for money to buy a pair of shoes. When rebuffed, he asked for an accounting of his remaining funds, release from case management and for the return of his remaining monies.

Niesen, president of Family Ties and San Luis Obispo County’s chief deputy public guardian, has not returned any money to Anderson though CAPSLO officials promise that people on case management will have their money returned to them within 24 hours.

As Anderson’s payee, Niesen is required to assure funds are spent on a timely basis for a client’s ongoing needs. Federal laws require that people on SSI disability save no more than $2,000.

Because Family Ties failed to follow federal laws and retained more than $5,000 of Anderson’s money while serving as his fiduciary, his Social Security disability benefits have recently been suspended. As a result of his canceled benefits and Niesen’s failure to provide him his funds, Anderson is unable to pay for food or lodging.

Jenkins and another concerned citizen provided funds for two months rent and a handful of county residents have provided the former chef with groceries and other necessities.

Earlier this week, through her attorney Joesph Diehl, Niesen provided CalCoastNews a register of Anderson’s Social Security income and checks written. The documents provided by Niesen were only a portion of those requested by CalCoastNews.

According to Niesen’s records, she returned $4,875 of Anderson’s money to Social Security on Feb. 16, even though Social Security does not report receiving the money until Feb. 26.

The register shows $403 left in Anderson’s Family Ties account.

On Feb. 4, the same day CalCoastNews first reported that Family Ties had more than $2,000 of Anderson’s money, Niesen wrote a check out of his account for a burial plot that she later voided, according to the register.

Purchasing a burial plot requires the client’s permission, an authorization Anderson said he did not give.

“What a kick in the pants,” Anderson said. “My family knows I want to be cremated and my ashes are to be sprinkled out on the family farm.”

Keeping Them Homeless, the series.







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124 Comments

  1. Bluebird says:

    This fiduciariy abuse was reported 5 years ago! How many people have been seriously hurt by this and died prematurely?. Social security looks totally incompetent and I have a hunch there was someone at social security who was in on the fraud. The circle seems to be Family Ties, Homeless services and social security AND an executive director of the whole program Biz Steienbirg who sufferes from extreme hubris as exhibited by her response to the complaints and then couple all of this with a Board of Directors who acted like a herd of sheep and the so called do gooders int the community who don’t want to believe some of their own are thieves and
    liars.

    (46) 50 Total Votes - 48 up - 2 down
  2. Booty JuJu says:

    Obviously the money is gone; the only remaining question is whether anything will be done about it. Violations are irrelevant in the absence of enforcement, which in this county is rare.

    (44) 48 Total Votes - 46 up - 2 down
    • jimmy_me says:

      The county would probably be better off if problems ended with a “lack of enforcement”. As we all know, the way things work in this county is: 1) do something really stupid, 2) get caught doing something really stupid, and 3) receive large settlement from county. These are smart, well-connected people pulling off these scams; imagine how many people are doing similar things and have not been caught.

      (23) 27 Total Votes - 25 up - 2 down
  3. HarryMalone says:

    CapSlo and Family Ties took over $41,000.00 of Cliff Anderson’s money. Now there is less than $500. WE DEMAND A DETAILED ACCOUNTING OF WHERE EVERY PENNY WENT!

    (51) 55 Total Votes - 53 up - 2 down
    • HarryMalone says:

      Sorry, I meant less than $5000.

      (21) 25 Total Votes - 23 up - 2 down
  4. SLOBIRD says:

    Niesen is just plain and pure evil. She owes a client money and in turn prepares to purchase a burial that he has not discussed nor authorized the purchase of. What kind of message is she trying to send Mr. Anderson? Yet, when requesting a pair of shoes in January CAPSLO and Family Ties reject the request. This is so evil. I hope Niesen is sued and loses everything she owns but then I am sure she has probably covered her evil a$$. Fire the bitch!

    (52) 64 Total Votes - 58 up - 6 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      SLOBIRD, ITA. She’s a 110% skeeve.

      (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  5. SanSimeonSam says:

    This is a good start, but we need to clean house.

    It is difficult to express my frustration over the apparent corruption continues to manifest itself in the local government’s treatment of the homeless. I am a firm believer in the concept of “There But For Fortune……..” I have worked hard my life and have been fortunate enough to have gained monetary benefit from that work but it could have easily gone the other way. There are numerous homeless that are “victims” of circumstances and of the economy. They have lost their homes and jobs and have no safety nets to fall back upon. There are homeless that are true social non conformists that have chosen the life they lead because they refuse to conform, don’t give a damn and accept those consequences. There are those that have emotional and intellectual “issues” and have been rejected by our normal society. There are the druggies and true bad guys and bums and every other sort as well. There are also the children.

    It takes special people to assist this segment of our society. The homeless deserve to have sanctuary in our county, or any county. They deserve CHAMPIONS and instead they get the true scum of the earth. We are Americans, we are the mixed breed of the world and we grumble and complain but we do our best to take care of our own.
    The homeless deserve sanctuary, they deserve a break while they get back on their feet. The non conformist, perpetual homeless bum deserves sanctuary, he too is one of the characters that makes our country great and unique in the world. Instead of sanctuary, these folks are exploited. The non conformist is told he has to walk into the Prado day center following a particular path or he will be banned for a month or a year.
    Mothers are forced to buy forks and toiletries and clothes that were DONATED by our citizens and the profits go to…..well we don’t really know.
    A man like Cliff Anderson complains and asks for his money back and that filthy team of Dee Torres and Lisa Niesan use the Social Security bureaucracy to deny him funds to live on.
    Dee Torres, Biz Stienberg, Lisa Niesen, Adam Hill, Bruce Gibson, John Ashbaugh, and Jan Marx should be pelleted with their own filth and sent packing or better yet prosecuted for their crimes and stupidity.
    And all the while people like Shirley Bianchi want to return civility to the BOD proceedings and ignore the true issues of the day. If this was Iraq we would all be throwing shoes at this pack of vermin. But this is America and we will throw them out in the next election. There are many of us who will be steadfast, focused and resolved to rid our county of these vermin.

    (69) 81 Total Votes - 75 up - 6 down
    • zaphod says:

      you lost me at vermin , your remarks dehumanize the elected folks as well as our democratic process, in the same way that juice wine dehumanized another group in the popular culture of the time, your word use sucks and demeans everyone who reads it IMHO .

      (-27) 49 Total Votes - 11 up - 38 down
      • r0y says:

        You got a lot of “downvotes” zaphod, and while I agree with the gist of Sam’s post, I agree that his choice of words are a bit harsh. I have no love for the people he mentioned, and I do understand his frustration… this is just a very difficult thing for people to digest, so I expect tempers to be flaring and words that should have been held back being said.

        I “thumbed up” both you and sam’s post… it’s just one of those things.

        (3) 15 Total Votes - 9 up - 6 down
      • SanSimeonSam says:

        Again Zap, pretty sure you aren’t a John Wayne fan……I am trying to stay civil and it is difficult. If we lose the passion on this the issue will die

        (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      Bianchi’s a tool. Those kinds of fawning kiss-ups make me gag.

      (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  6. rogerfreberg says:

    OMG!!!

    (27) 41 Total Votes - 34 up - 7 down
  7. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    Glad to hear. Lets once and for all get to the bottom of did or didn’t any improprieties take place.

    (33) 41 Total Votes - 37 up - 4 down
  8. brettmx says:

    “Earlier this week, Niesen provided CalCoastNews a register of Anderson’s Social Security income and checks written. According to Niesen’s records, she returned $4,875 of Anderson’s money to Social Security on Feb. 16, even though Social Security does not report receiving the money until Feb. 26.
    The register shows $403 left in Anderson’s family Ties account.”

    So is the accounting accurate?.

    (19) 27 Total Votes - 23 up - 4 down
  9. themarygardener2012 says:

    …what a joke she is….greed will always win….why do people constantly try and play that game…..Lisa Niesen….you are a sick and evil woman!!! People trusted you…I hope they throw the book at you!

    (44) 60 Total Votes - 52 up - 8 down

Comments are closed.