I-Team investigation prompts policy change in Santa Clara Co.

November 21, 2012 7:22:39 PM PST
An ABC7 News I-Team investigation uncovered a Bay Area county violating a federal regulation an now the county is changing policy.

An ABC7 News I-Team investigation uncovered a Bay Area county violating a federal regulation. Now, the county is changing policy and moving a woman back into her home. The I-Team's Dan Noyes has the results of his investigation.

Lillie Scalia's family says she never wanted to move out, but Santa Clara County didn't give her a choice. After our investigation, the county is being forced to move Scalia back home. This is the ride Lillie Scalia's family has been waiting for her to take. "She's coming home to her house after two years," says. The 92-year-old is conserved by Santa Clara County.

The public guardian took control of Scalia's estate and decision-making in 2009 after family members were accused of taking advantage of her financially, allegations the family members deny. Scalia was moved out of her house in October 2010 and has been living in an assisted living facility. "She would say, 'I want to go home, I want to go home,' every time I went to visit," said.

In November 2010, the county took out a reverse mortgage on Scalia's house to help pay for her care.

Dan Noyes: Is it proper, in your mind, to take out a reverse mortgage, the county to do that, when the person is not living in the home?

Lee Pullen with Santa Clara County Aging and Adult Services: My understanding of the requirement, a reverse mortgage, is that you need to be in the home and be there in order to have a reverse mortgage.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a person must live in the home in order to qualify for a reverse mortgage with the exception that a person may be out of the home for only 12 consecutive months. Scalia was gone more than two years. "We certainly wouldn't want to violate any HUD or banking regulations," Pullen says.

After the ABC7 News I-Team exposed what the county was doing, Scalia has been moved back into her home. "We got a hold of ABC7, the I-Team, and that's when things started really moving," Scalia's niece Montye Puma says.

Scalia pointed out her house to the driver when she arrived home. Earlier in the day, a new bed arrived and a caregiver moved in. The county spent Scalia's money to fix up the outside of the house. The garage got a fresh coat of paint as did the front porch, but Scalia wasn't allowed to walk in the front door. Instead, the county rushed her into the garage to avoid our camera.

Her niece says she's just happy her aunt is home. "It's going to be a lot of fun seeing her in her own house, listening to her own music. She loves listening to her records," says.

Our story has forced a change in policy at the Santa Clara Public Guardian's Office. Now, the head of the department will have to personally approve reverse mortgages. Puma says her family plans to celebrate Thanksgiving at her aunt's house.

Do you think a government agency isn't doing what it's supposed to do? Call the I-Team tip line or email Dan Noyes through the I-Team page on ABC7News.com.

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