Gainesville woman reopens suit, writes book about guardian Fierle-Santoian | #scams | #elderlyscams
Gainesville resident Angela Woodhull’s life could be the basis of a feature film, not unlike Netflix’s recent Golden Globe-winning crime comedy movie “I Care a Lot.”
Woodhull is an educator, polka queen and private investigator who said she lost her nearly $1 million inheritance in 2008 after Florida courts, against her wishes, appointed her mother a legal guardian named Rebecca Lee Fierle-Santoian.
“I Care a Lot” tells the story of a corrupt guardian who scams money from the people she is supposed to look after, and Woodhull said that’s exactly what Fierle-Santoian — who is currently being criminally investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — did to her mom.
Woodhull is taking the former Florida guardian to court for the second time now to try and get the money back. And she’s finishing a tell-all book called “The Guardianship Racket” that will air all the sordid details and hopefully become a documentary film, she said.
“I’m still in a state of shock, and this happened 12 years ago,” Woodhull said. “It’s absolutely crazy sensational, and it’s all true.”
Control of her mother’s savings
She first took legal action against Fierle-Santoian in 2008 after her mother, Louise Falvo, was put under guardianship based on papers Woodhull said included her forged signature. But at that point, it was already too late, she said.
She was discredited in court and not allowed to care for her mother even though the elderly woman had her full mental capacities and could have lived in her home, Woodhull said.
Meanwhile, she said, Fierle-Santoian had total control over her mother’s savings and spent them on legal representation. That money, at least $700,000 without interest and not including other assets like property, would otherwise have been passed on to Woodhull after her mother’s death.
Guardians are paid either by the state, other court-approved business or their wards’ own money. The latter of which easily allows for fraud, Woodhull said.
She spent years investigating Fierle-Santoian, interviewing other families who worked with her and building lengthy reports before sending them to former Attorney Generals Bill McCollum in 2009 and Pam Bondi in 2012.
Previously:Gainesville woman sounds alarm over guardianship
Background:Guardian for elderly arrested on abuse, neglect charges
Guardian sued over unrequested DNR order
It was not until law enforcement first began investigating Fierle-Santoian in Hillsborough County in 2019 that anyone paid attention to Woodhull’s story.
The guardian, who is from Ocala, has since been embroiled in a high-profile lawsuit in Hillsborough County regarding one of her former wards, Steven Stryker, who died after she refused to lift a do-not-resuscitate order she placed on him that he reportedly didn’t want.
It has been progressing slowly with Fierle-Santoian not showing up at least three times to hearings and many being rescheduled. The next session is planned for May 20 at 8:30 a.m. over Zoom, according to Hillsborough County court records.
So far, Orange County and Seminole County judges have removed all DNR orders Fierle-Santoian placed on her wards in their areas, and the guardian resigned statewide. A 2019 report from the Orange County Comptroller’s Office also found Fierle-Santoian sometimes double-billed her wards and health care providers for her work.
She could not be reached for comment.
‘It’s like a nightmare’
Fierle-Santoian was arrested in February 2020 in the Stryker case, which Woodhull said catalyzed her to ask the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Seminole County to reopen her own lawsuit. As of March 12, Woodhull’s case is once again active. And she said its outcome will make up the final chapter of her novel.
“I’m hoping for a happy ending in this terrible book,” she said. Woodhull said she wants it to help educate people about guardianship and its potential misuse.
“It’s hard to understand or get this when it first happens. Nobody thinks they’re a victim of fraud. It’s going on through court with judges and attorneys, so you think something’s got to be legal about this,” she said. “It still wells me up to tears. It’s unbelievable. It’s like a nightmare … but if everybody knows about this then it can’t happen.”