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Umbrella of the Capital District: Ex-volunteer settles lawsuit by agency client

Tuesday, February 12, 2013
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— When Umbrella of the Capital District volunteer Bradley A. Bell first met Ethel Cody in 2009, he agreed to do home repairs and chores around her house.

But within two years and against the organization’s policy, Bell took charge of Cody’s affairs, becoming her health care proxy, power of attorney agent, executor of her will and eventually the owner of her Saratoga Springs home.

The revelation of how involved Bell was with his elderly charge was a surprise to Umbrella’s leaders, who saw Bell as a good worker who helped his customers with light work around their homes. The Schenectady-based organization matches volunteers with elderly people who live in their own homes but need some help with chores, transportation or cleaning. They usually get paid $12 an hour for their work.

“I talked to all of his other customers. They were very happy with the work that he did,” said Ron Byrne, Umbrella’s co-executive director.

Bell overstepped his bounds, Cody’s attorney said in a lawsuit that sought to give her ownership of the house again. The suit, filed Jan. 9 in state Supreme Court in Saratoga County, has recently been resolved, with Bell agreeing to deed the house back to Cody.

Umbrella was not a party to the lawsuit and terminated its relationship with Bell as soon as its leaders found out about his dealings with Cody, Byrne said. Umbrella volunteers are not supposed to get personally involved with their customers.

Cody contacted Umbrella in September 2009 to get help with home repairs and other chores, and the organization matched her up with Bell, who was already doing work for other people through Umbrella, according to the lawsuit.

For a while, it appears he did the work he was asked and no more. But from February 2011 through January 2012, the lawsuit alleged that Bell did work that hadn’t gone through the proper channels at Umbrella and some work that Cody hadn’t requested.

“Certain of the services provided by Mr. Bell were inappropriate because they were beyond the scope of services typically provided to the elderly by Umbrella service providers,” the lawsuit states. “In particular, Mr. Bell spoke with Ms. Cody’s doctors and nurses and other health care providers about her health. In addition, he contacted medical insurance providers and Social Security to discuss benefits available to Ms. Cody.”

The lawsuit alleges that Bradley and Diana E. Bell of Glens Falls signed a contract with Cody in June 2011 that they would pay $70,000 to her estate upon her death in exchange for ownership of her house. She was allowed to continue to live in the house, but they didn’t pay her any principal or interest while she was living, the lawsuit says.

The mortgage that was drawn up required the Bells to pay taxes and water and sewer bills, insure the property and keep it in good repair.

The Bells arrived at the $70,000 figure after having an appraisal done, which Cody alleged was staged to reflect a lower amount than the actual market value. The city’s assessment of her house reflects a full market value of $148,000, which the lawsuit argued is closer to the real value of Cody’s house.

In a will she drew up in June 2011, Cody left to Bell all the items in her home, her two cats and $5,000 to care for the cats. She also made him executor of her estate.

She does not have any family members or close friends to help her make decisions and was vulnerable at the time because she was in poor health, the suit says.

Cody didn’t know what she was signing or realize the ramifications of her decisions, the lawsuit says.

Byrne agrees. “I don’t think Ethel understood at all what was going on.”

The Bells’ attorney, James LaPann of Glens Falls, declined to comment on the case.

Matthew Dorsey, Cody’s attorney, said the settlement is amicable as Cody gets ownership of the house again.

“That was her goal all along,” he said.

 
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