Facing a potential funding crisis, the Guardianship Program of Dade County agreed to freeze property sales on behalf of incapacitated people in exchange for a resumption in $2.7 million in payments from Miami-Dade as county investigators examine the nonprofit’s real estate practices.
The charity receives state and county funding to represent people deemed mentally incapacitated through the court system, a guardianship process that occasionally involves selling a person’s home once they move into a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
A March 7 report by WLRN raised questions about how one company, Express Homes, managed to become a frequent buyer of Guardianship Program properties and generate seemingly quick profits from them. That company, Express Homes, is owned by Carlos Morales, a real estate flipper with deals across Miami-Dade who is also married to Miami’s top lawyer, City Attorney Victoria Méndez.
The Guardianship Program “has been implicated in the alleged exploitation of those in their care alongside private real estate company Express Homes,” Levine Cava wrote in a March 8 letter to Inspector General Felix Jimenez. “Tasked with the protection and financial stewardship of vulnerable families and individuals, it is now being alleged that the Guardianship Program of Dade County used their position of trust to take advantage of our residents through the coordinated sale of private properties.”
This week, the Levine Cava administration accepted the Guardianship Program’s offer to temporarily pause real estate sales in exchange for the resumption of county funding ahead of the previously scheduled April payment of about $230,000. Because the nonprofit received its March payment before Levine Cava’s freeze, it hadn’t lost county dollars during the funding pause.
In a letter to the charity’s director, Carlos McDonald, Levine Cava said the funding was tied to the Guardianship Program’s providing investigators detailed information on past property sales and agreeing to implement reforms tied to real estate transactions.
“Taken together, these actions will ensure that the Guardianship Program can continue to provide needed services while preventing further home sales from taking place until a thorough investigation has been completed, and that needed reforms be implemented to ensure the integrity of your program and restore trust,” Levine Cava wrote in a March 26 letter to McDonald that her office released Thursday.
In her letter, Levine Cava did not elaborate on what reforms were needed but required a report from the Guardianship Program on the changes.
Levine Cava’s budget director, David Clodfelter, wrote in a March 27 letter to McDonald that the freeze on real estate sales was a restriction “proposed by you.” The Guardianship Program also agreed not to sign any more listing agreements with real estate agents for future sales. Clodfelter said one sale already in the pipeline would be allowed to go to closing.
McDonald declined interview requests. In a March 14 email to probate lawyers who work with the Guardianship Program, McDonald did not refute the coverage of the nonprofit but called it “at best incomplete of the facts...”
He described real estate sales as a tiny portion of the Guardianship Program’s efforts on behalf of the roughly 1,400 people it represents. Since 2012, McDonald wrote, the nonprofit has represented more than 4,000 individuals and in those cases, “less than 3% involved real property transactions.”