Federal agency starts investigation of Family Ties and Niesen

March 10, 2013

oigKeeping them homeless


(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.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Regarding Oprah Winfreys story of :The Happiest Place in the US ….San Luis Obispo….I urge everyone to send her this Cal Coast News Link….perhaps the local corruption n this county might SOMEDAY get exposed.

Either social security staff is totally incompetent or someone in the office is in on the scam. Now that this is in the public media social security can no longer ignore the issue and its been referred to OIG. Whoopee for them!

I wonder how many other people have been harmed by this and have just disappered?

My experience is that if one person reports a serious misdeed to the organizations in charge they do nothing. It takes repeated news coverage to force them into action. Boards are usually useless yes people and they listen only to the director. Calcoastnews thanks for being a voice for the voiceless.

Dear Bluebird…….much of civil service and incompetent go hand in hand.

Things do come full circle in this world. Maybe not in the time frame we would wish for …but THANKS to Karen Velie and CCN’s EXCELLENT investigative reporting, Lisa Niesen (San Luis Obispo’s Chief Pubic Guardian) and the likes of her could hopefully be down the road soon. Hey CCN….perhaps you could give lessons to our local county paper the Fibune otherwise known as the Tribune, as well as KSBY news on how to actually investigate, and do some worthwhile reporting? I have printed out ALL of your reports on this ongoing investigation of FRAUD and distributed it wherever I can to those that think The Tribune or KSBY are the lifeline to find out what is REALLY going on in our community. I even have elderly neighbors now that wait for your new stories. Thanks CCN for standing up for many of those that have lost their voice’s long ago. : ) I have said it before but will say it again………..you remind us of how CBS’s 60 min was long ago. Pulling peoples covers right and left! Keep up the good work, and could you PLEASE start a county paper? The Tribune is not even good enough to take up space in our fireplace anymore.

“The Tribune is not even good enough to take up space in our fireplace anymore.”

Love this.

Can you believe the Trib has the guts to ask people to pay $69 a year to read online? Ba-hahahaha! Wouldn’t contribute 1 cent to the biased Good ol boy club’ paper. Don’t think Cuddy even knows what investigative reporting is, just asks the BOS what they want him to say!

WE do Appreciate CCN- Karen, Josh, David and cohorts knowing we are getting the truth!

You are kidding right?????? The Trib is asking for 69 dollars a year to read their CRAP on-line? Guess that shows how often I search out what the “Fibune” has to say.

@GIVEMEABREAK: I totally agree. As IF I would spend 1 cent for the “privilege” of reading a Bob Cuddy article in which he insults me, and others, for our opinions….which happen to turn out to be 100% correct.

Opinions are neither correct nor incorrect. They are opinions,

Ain’t it great that the news market gives you the choice of paying or not paying, buying or not buying, reading or not reading, news products?

So how can we tolerate that the State replace our voluntary economic choices with their arbitrary ones with things like socialized medicine or “public education”?

Presumably, the reason that the State intervenes in the latter sort of markets is because they consider John Q. Public incompetent to handle his medical and educational affairs. A more sinister explanation could be that the State wants to control and exploit John Q. Public just like a parasite.

But why shouldn’t the State extend its rationale by considering John Q. Public incompetent to handle his news reading, too? Isn’t there a lot of big talk about “cyber attacks” in the news? Where are these “cyber attacks” really coming from, overseas, or from some mysterious computer facilities buried deep in the MIC (Military-Industrial Complex)?

In fact, one could go even further and ask why the State shoudn’t just declare John Q. Public incompetent, PERIOD?

Could it be that, in the shadows and murky hallways of government and corporate buildings, that the State has already done so, and that John Q. Public has just not gotten the news yet?

Could it be that the State actually plans to socialize the ENTIRE economy eventually? After all, since John Q. Public so far has offered little resistance to their depredations, usurpations, and intimidations, why shouldn’t the State do this? Who will stop it?


This article is a great, if ominous, portent of how the State will be treating the rest of us if things in this country keep going the way they are.

Gee three thumbs down, could those be from Hill, Torres, and Niesen???

I would be quite surprised that an OIG office does not have evidence from every gull-durned piece of potential evidence it wants, including medical records.

Doctors, P.A.s and mental-health professionals who treat people, can, and DO reveal to reporting agencies details about which they would NEVER speak to the public. Indeed, in some cases, they are REQUIRED to report, and within a certain period of time.

The agencies to which this information is reported, in my experience, do not share it with anyone else, especially if it is a minor.

If it comes to a criminal trial, I think any pertinent HIPPA-sacrosanct information will have to be revealed, but the media and others, besides the defendant and plaintiff and their attorneys, and the judge, may be barred from the courtroom. We saw this in action in the Jerry Sandusky trials.

QUOTING THE ARTICLE: “What a kick in the pants,” Anderson said

For Mr. Anderson, it must be a “kick in the pants.” After the years of abuse by Dee Torres and her pals, having his rights taken away, his money stolen from him, and especially after his plight has been ignored by the Trib, Anderson must be almost laughing-out-loud giddy with relief that things have finally turned the corner.

My thanks to CCN and other activists who refused to knuckle under to Adam Hill and his Facebook goons (LOL…I still can’t get over the fact that he, a County Supervisor, turned to FACEBOOK to win his points. Sheesh).

Always, always, follow the money.

Their medical records are protected. The people allegedly committing fraud are not, nor are their actions.

We all know that politicians lie, that government employee’s sometimes steal and do bad things. But what is really disturbing is that the corruption within SLO Town government is not a blip in the horizon, it is simply business as usual. In regards to CAPSLO and Family Ties what is really disturbing is that the City of SLO, Katie Litchig, Michael Codron, John Asbaugh, Jan Marx and the new hosing program manager Tyler Corey are so ingrained into the CAPSLO Family Ties system that it just goes to show you who is running and operating our local government. Despite all the facts that are coming out in the paper, the State investigation Ashbaugh and Litcheg are running around town defending their friends Dee Torres and of course Adam Hill. Can’t wait until the investigation is done to see how far and deep the corruption goes in our fine little community.

Hope you are not holding your breath hijinks2. I predict a long, drawn out investigation that results in statements like, “mistakes were made,” “there were accounting irregularities due to people unfamiliar with the software,” “all the money is accounted for and steps have been taken to assure this doesn’t happen again,” “rather than penalize an organization that is working so close to the margin, the decision has been made to put it on probation for a period of three years.”

There will be quiet resignations and maybe a top tier retirement and by then it will be old news and no one will care.

Look at all the players in this game. All, and I mean all are deeply involved with one political party and will gleefully scratch each other’s backs until a comfort level is reached and everyone is sufficiently satisfied.

I know this is cynical, but I have seen it played out before. Hope I am completely wrong though.

So true, I mean, we can kill an Ambassador in front of the world, and just move along as if there’s no big, weapons-smuggling-to-Syria thing going on. Nothing to see here…

What makes anyone think the local yahoo’s are going to handle their less-than-human lives any different from their idols in the federal or state governments?

And don’t you know that this OIG investigation may end up with many tentacles, in its attempts to follow the money. The COUNTY’s public guardian services may actually come under scrutiny, thanks to Liesen’s position with the public guardian’s office.

hijinks2 says “….and the new hosing program manager Tyler Corey…”

Based on the content of the articles, that’s gotta be the freudian slip of the year!

If it took 5 years for an investigation to gain traction yet less then 24 hours to cut off Cliff’s bennies, what does that say about our local SS officials?

Part of the problem???

I know! I know! It means “They instinctively protect their own.” It is a natural reflex, and the processes involved with opening an investigation may actually set it up that way.