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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dondon_1055

throughout the series of articles, I have not seen this question posed: Is it possible that other bills were paid out of payee accounts, such as medical bills, without the knowledge or consent of the clients? I’m not saying that if such bills were paid makes it right, because it doesn’t, the client should be involved at all times and informed of what is being done with their money and what’s being paid. but that could explain where missing monies went. Just a thought . . .


IronHub

But… at all times, at every moment, a true, accurate, and honest accounting should be easily available — for the client on request, or for general consumption, which ever comes first.


dondon_1055

you said it better and more succinctly than I. thank you


kettle

An honest accounting that any accounting software/program written in the last 10 years could print out a statement in 5 min.


So either capslo / family ties homeless housing program is broken or Mr Cliff Anderson is being punished by some homeless program employee for using his freedom of speech and asking questions.


Pick one.


MaryMalone

Since Cliff Anderson couldn’t even get a pair of new shoes out of his case manager, I think trying to get payment for pricey medical needs would be a little far-fetched.


doggin

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

Powerful? These people in charge are spent Colostomy bags who prey on the trusting and needy to feed their greedy little worthless existences.

Patience people, patience, as the bigger they are,the harder they fall.


Booty JuJu

The next predictable, well worn chapter will be for the affected governmental and quasi-governmental agencies to fiercely resist problem solving and engage in concerted wagon circling. In the chapter following that, clear evidence of wrongdoing will surface and a very few unlucky pilgrims will be forced to admit that “mistakes were made” and suffer minimal consequences. The final chapter will see the rest of the rats continue to ply their dirty trades in various public or quasi-public agencies as if nothing ever happened (this is not the first rodeo for some of these cowpokes). Some may even receive financial windfalls for “harm” done to them during the investigative process. Same as it ever was.


mkaney

This is interesting. I found this New Times article from April 15, 2009 which talks about Phoebe Hearst Cooke. Apparently Ms. Niesen was the conservator for her estate and Phoebe was concerned about money being spent without her consent.


http://www.newtimesslo.com/cover/2388/phoebes-side/


Cindy

“Phoebe was concerned about money being spent without her consent.”


LOL LOL LOL, That isn’t a surprise considering that Niesen purchased poor Cliff a burial plot on the very day that CCN broke this series. Then she voided the check, no doubt the purchase had been a knee jerk reaction and someone told her to reconsider as it was inappropriate in so many ways. I wonder what other

spending she did that Cliff will be surprised about. After all, there is approximately 15-18K that got spent someplace but where? The analysis of the account will be very interesting when Stew Jenkins completes it. I have a feeling there will be more questions than answers for sometime.


mkaney

She was worth BILLIONS. It is RIDICULOUS that a local conservator should have been put in charge of her money, especially considering the amount of influence George had in the area. The poor woman, who served on the board of the Hearst Corporation and was a well known philanthropist, must have been insulted that a person of the stature of Lisa Niesen had legal control of her assets.


Cindy

Mkaney, My friend was managing the apartment that Phoebe was living in after she was conserved. I recall him telling me the story about her and the how she hated the fact that someone else was controlling her money. He said that she complained about it all the time and he was surprised that she wasn’t living a bit more upscale. He said that Phoebe complained to him when ever she saw him, that the county had stole all her money. This incident with Phoebe (when the court conserved her) occurred several years ago but I do recall him saying that her estranged family members said that she had become vulnerable and had been giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time to people that she didn’t know. At the time that they conserved her, she literally had people knocking on her door with low down stories, usually designed to take advantage of her wealth and poor judgement, which was due to her failing mental health. She believed all the stories and gave them all money and refused all help from her family members.


mkaney

Well ultimately, who do you think got more of her money… the people with the low down stories, or the county? Maybe she felt like giving to people, and figured she could not help if some of them were shady. She could have just been giving out what she didn’t need or seem to particularly want anymore (except for the horses), and letting the cards fall where they may. In order to protect her, the county vultures swoop in and perhaps instigate some of the family’s actions. I would LOVE to know the full series of events including who first sounded the alarm, who first interviewed her and what they concluded, and so on.. I bet the devil is in the details on this one, or devils.


MaryMalone

I think it is highly likely that the OIG will, once they get a gander at Cliff’s case, will expand their horizons in SLO County fraud investigation.


MaryMalone

Good catch, mkaney. Thanks.


slojustice

I would like to acknowledge the Salvation Army in helping to expose these vultures. In my opinion the Salvation Army is a class organization.


pasoparent5

Well said, slojustice. I gladly donate to them during their red kettle fundraiser over the holidays and this story makes me even MORE willing to do so now. They have low overhead and give back locally. And kudos to social worker Hildy Gal for doing the right thing and speaking the truth!


lakerhater

Pay the man the $403.00 he has in his account now! He is obviously in need. Any little bit helps.


MrM

Just because the SSA has ‘referred the case’ to the OIG does not mean that the OIG will accept it; let alone authorize an ‘investigation’.


To report that an investigation has begun is premature.


But if an investigation does occur, I hope that CCN will just let it happen without drama.


And if by some chance the investigation reveals that the CCN allegations are not true, then I expect that CCN (and its supporters) will freely and sincerely apologize to CAPSLO and Family Ties; and admit that the CCN reporting was incorrect.


zaphod

Which part of the eight presented is lacking essential truth, in your opinion MrM ?


Cindy

MrM, The proof is already there, what part of any of this is untrue? Tell me, what part? WOW talk about wishful thinking.


From here on out, it’s just a matter of how much more there is to all this, but even if we already know all that there is to know, it’s very serious.


MrM

All information presented by CCN is second hand from unnamed (and more importantly not vetted) sources.

I will not make decisions based upon allegation alone.

Verifiable fact is required.


I am confident that CAPSLO and Family Ties ( as they are reputable organizations) will (in addition to of their usual financial audits) insist that the CCN allegations be investigated by an impartial party.

A report concerning the allegations will be released.

Until the report is issued, all else is unverifiable speculation.


My question remains.

If an impartial investigation occurs that show that the CCN allegations are not correct, will CCN and its followers admit their error and apologize to CAPSLO and Family Ties?


DennySLO

Furthermore, MrM, before you start asking for apologize from CCN and the many HONEST supporters let me ask you one simple question;

When Lisa Niesen was asked to respond and show accounting for all monies related to Cliff, the wheels of damage control started to spin! Why if there is no wrong doing present from this “reputable” (your words NOT mine) fiduciary has she not been forthcoming and “transparent”? This is a man’s life we are all taking about here sir!


Also, if you’re close to this maybe you can be a champion and do the right thing yourself.


r0y

If everything is proven wrong, sure, I’ll eat all my words. If they are not (as I suspect), you will no doubt just disappear into the nether regions, like all the other nay-sayers who doubted CCN and their investigative reporting in the past…


This is a well-familiar “phase” in the process, folks like you popping up and claiming what-if’s, issuing juvenile challenges, etc. – then time passes, the sh!t hits the fan, the trib/ksby have to look even lamer, and your types are nowhere to be found… we know this tune.


pasoparent5

Apparently MrM has forgotten CCN’s track record. Shall we do a brief review? Kelly Gearhart…Lisa Solomon Chitty…Yagudas…and soooo many more!


LAH

MrM says: All information presented by CCN is second hand from unnamed and most importantly not vetting sources…..

Really? Are you just closing your eyes when a witness talks? Are you trying to convey that Jana Hanson, Cliff Anderson, Hildy Gal, listed named employees of CAPSLO are unnamed, Do you really think closing your eyes to the evidence will make it “just not true”?OR are you close enough to be scared of the outcome? IF there is ZERO wrong doing then why would SSA bother to engage OIG? IT’s sad positions (like the one you are taking) that create the abuse and allow it to continue. Shame on anyone who takes advantage of those in need. I am sickened by what has gone on and am Grateful it’s finally out in the open!

Family Ties has a legal obligation to take care of their clients’ finances. If they fail to do so, they Better be investigated. Just another clue: Why in world wasn’t Family Ties Paying the Electric bill for Hildy’s client?? That IS their job!


kettle

It is clear “mrm” is on the adam hill mailing list as both comments show the same spin and lies that have been circulating for some time.


So MrM you drank the kool-aid or you are in on the cover up whisper campaign.


Second hand? Do you even read?


SanSimeonSam

I am sure that CCN would gladly apologize if they are proven wrong. But Mr M (hmmm is it possible that Jan Marx is married ?) its not likely that they are wrong.

As a supporter of CCN i will publicly apologize if proven wrong. I doubt that will be necessary.


kettle

Good one, it does sound like a Marx statement.


falconbh

In the near future you will see the “Five Cities Homeless Coalition” and County on the front page for breaking State and Federal regulations and gift of public land paid for by taxpayers and held in trust..


Reality Check

Thank you CCN for continuting to pursue this story! The intimidation and attacks on family members and associates are further proof that the facts are against Family Ties and CAPSLO, so they attack the messenger [reaction to Karen V’s comments on Dave Congleton’s show].


Family Ties has mismanaged or most likely commited criminal acts. The retaliation against Mr. Anderson reveals an arrogant, lack of humanity. If an honest mistake had occurred, an honest well-managed business would have apologized and remedied the problem. Retaliation shows spite and consciousness of guilt.


That said, let’s not overlook the root cause of the problem. CAPSLO policy requires homeless to sign over their income to Family Ties or give their income to CAPSLO in the form of cash / money orders. This policy is fraudulent, illegal, immoral, unethical and reveals that CAPSLO cares less about helping the homeless than it does about lining its own coffers. [OR is there imbezzelment of the funds by CAPSLO staff?]


Each of us can help set this entire situation to rights. We can contact CAPSLO board members, educate them [there must be some who will listen and learn], use our power of the ballot to eject the polititions who put up with / support this wrong-doing. CAPSLO needs to be removed from City and County funding and other agencies need to step forward to fill any voids in service to the homeless.