By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
In the fall of 1999, Wenckelium, who says he handles his aunt's affairs, began searching for just the right assisted-living facility for Vicky. "I contacted quite a few of them before deciding on the Carlyle," he says.
Bodnar had never lived in an assisted-care home, and Wenckelium wanted reassurance his aunt would feel secure in her new environment. (Bodnar, a resident of Miami-Dade for 25 years, lived in Homestead until Hurricane Andrew hit and then moved into an apartment in Miami Lakes until she started becoming "forgetful," her nephew says.) It didn't take much for Rose Wilson to sell Wenckelium on the Carlyle. "[Wilson] came across as a very helpful person at first," Wenckelium says. "But as time went on she started not returning my calls for updates on my aunt, questions primarily dealing with her health and about the imminent closing of the facility in May."
By February, Wenckelium alleges, all communications with Wilson had ceased. Perhaps this was owing to the nature of Wenckelium's calls; he was trying to collect $8900 he claims the Carlyle owes his aunt. For about ten months prior, beginning in February 2000, the Carlyle stopped receiving electronic checks from social security as payment for part of Bodnar's rent. "There was some kind of lapse on the Carlyle's part in getting paperwork in, and that's why social security began withholding the checks," Wenckelium alleges. Bodnar compensated by paying the $1500 monthly rent with money from her savings and from her deceased husband's veteran's pension. Then this past February, social security released Bodnar's money to the Carlyle in a lump sum of $8900 to give to the resident. But Bodnar says she never received it.
According to Wenckelium, he tried contacting Wilson, but she never returned his calls. Then, in late April, a few days after reading the letter announcing the Carlyle's impending close, Wenckelium finally spoke to Lourdes Franco, who had been newly hired as the facility's administrator. "She [Franco] told me there was nothing to worry about, that my aunt would get her money back," Wenckelium says. Franco even sent Wenckelium a statement with the amount owed, stating that Bodnar would receive a check for $8900 within 45 days of terminating residency at the facility. Bodnar ended her contract with the Carlyle on May 31 and moved to Royal Retirement Villa; she'd been released during the chaotic days before the Carlyle's closing.
Forty-five days passed and no Carlyle check came in the mail. Wenckelium claims he called Carlyle co-owner Burton Weisberg and left him a message, but Weisberg denies receiving a message. "I can honestly tell you I know nothing about these cases," Weisberg maintains. "And in fact we've already paid money to residents who've filed claims with us." Subsequent calls made by New Timesto Stanley Neimark and Harvey Silverstone went unanswered. And, Wenckelium insists, "as of today, we haven't received a penny."
Bernard and Rose Stern, an elderly couple now living in the Peninsula on Hallandale Beach Boulevard, claim they also are owed money. Just as residents were being moved to other facilities, the Sterns made a formal complaint to the Longterm Care Ombudsman Council, a program funded by the state and made up mostly of volunteers who inspect assisted-living facilities and advocate for the rights of the elderly. An Ombudsman lawyer is now working on the case. "We'll make a formal complaint to AHCA if we don't come to an agreement with Burton Weisberg," says Ramon Keppis, coordinator for the Ombudsman Council of North Dade and Miami Beach, one of two councils serving North and South Miami-Dade.
But AHCA officials insist residents must pursue their claims through civil court. Because Carlyle owners voluntarily surrendered their license, civil matters fall out of the agency's jurisdiction, AHCA employees Greg Rice and Kim Reed explain.
Ellen Cooper, a former Carlyle resident, says she's not owed money but alleges items of personal value were stolen from her room. "Honey, someone stole my gold watch, a gold locket I had with a diamond inside, eighteen-karat-gold faceted earrings, and four Saint Anthony dollars. Out of Hell, into Heaven," Cooper sighs with relief while giving a tour of her cozy studio apartment at Presidential Place in Hollywood. "Rose Wilson reminded me of a cobra with her black eyes. And you never knew when she would strike."
Cooper, an avid reader of John Grisham novels, who keeps her books in tote bags hanging from her walker, alleges she was often forced to share a room with the mental-health patients who also resided at the Carlyle. One day, Cooper says, she walked into her room, turned on the light, and her roommate threatened her: "She said, “Cooper, turn out the light or I'm gonna kill you.' So I called the police. Of course when the police arrived, Rose Wilson gave them the impression I was the crazy one.
"I broke my body, my dear, but I haven't lost my mind."