Misconduct, strong-arm tactics during Calif. Dept. of Justice raid of elder abuse defendant Silvia Cata’s home, alleges daughter
My name is Ionela Lup, and my nickname is Ella. I would like to describe the events that took place when I would visit my mother, Silvia Cata, at her residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE), Super Care Home, in Sacramento, California.
My mother was the kind of woman who kept everything nice and neat. Clean and organized, she has always liked to have everything perfect. I would go on weekly visits with my children, especially on birthdays and holidays. My mother always wanted the whole family together, and that meant everyone. Over the last 10 years, I can honestly say that my mother, Silvia Cata, has been a caring, loving woman who has worked hard for her residents.
I would like to go back to the month in 2012 when my mother called me and said that she wanted me to go with her to the California Department of Social Services’ (DSS) Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) meeting that was issued for her on behalf of Georgia [Holzmeister, who, according to a Jan. 28, 2013 felony complaint against Silvia Cata by California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA), died due to elder abuse and involuntary manslaughter]. Of course, as Silvia Cata’s daughter, I wanted to go with her and be by her side while her story was told. I wanted to be by her side, not only as her daughter, but also as her friend. My mother has an amazing heart. She would give you the coat off her back if that would make you happy.
Another reason I wanted to go with my mother to the DSS meeting was because of the way that this society looks at a human being who is bilingual. The licensing department at times looked down on her because of her accent. It was not always easy for her to express herself in English as it was in her native language, Romanian. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to go with my mother to the meeting at the local Sacramento office of DSS’ CCLD.
I remember sitting in the room with two DSS licensing program analysts (LPAs) and two managers while being asked questions like why, when, where, and how. Many moments when my mom would pause to actually answer the questions right from Romanian to English, DSS LPAs Renee French and Mary would get frustrated with my mother and try to answer the questions themselves. At times, it just seemed that my mom’s words were getting twisted out of proportion due to the pressure of the LPAs. I actually went home very upset and disappointed at how some state officials downgrade people who are bilingual and do not have the sufficient English skills that the state would prefer.
I also remember the day that LPA Renee French came to my mom’s house for weekly visits after Georgia’s death. On one of the days, my mom called and asked me if I could stop by because the DSS LPAs made her feel uncomfortable. Also, my mom felt that the LPAs from the state judged her by the way she expressed herself and her accent. I, of course, rushed right over to my mom’s house to give her support. As I walked in through the door, I introduced myself as Ella Lup. In response, the CCLD LPA said, “I’m the state!”
I wondered how people such as California Community Care Licensing Division LPAs Renee French and Mary could downgrade others and abuse their jobs and titles they had so that they could treat people like garbage. I have seen firsthand how RCFE administrators or licensees get mistreated by state officials because of the power, names, and positions they have. On many occasions, I have noticed my mom answer all the LPA’s questions while I was standing in the kitchen watching them. Most of the times, my mom would talk, and LPA Renee French would just nod and write on her laptop computer for a few hours. Then Ms. French would hand over a paper and make my mom sign it. I remember on one occasion when my mom told Ms. French that what Ms. French had written was not correct and that my mom would not sign the paper. Ms. French got frustrated and commented, “I’m not gonna rewrite it. You need to sign it!”
Renee French came out every week for a few months. On one occasion, I remember calling Ms. French to ask her about a class that was mandatory for my mother to take. Ms. French and I got into a long conversation about the possibility of my becoming a licensed RCFE administrator. Ms. French asked me if I would be interested in taking over for my mom and why I did not add myself as an administrator for Super Care Home. Ms. French told me that she thought I should add myself to her files at CCLD. I told Ms. French that I was not going to get involved with that facility and that my husband and I wanted to open our own facility. So Rene French responded, “Oh, you’re a smart girl!”
As time passed, my mom ended up getting a new California Community Care Licensing Division LPA, Lauren Olsen. This was a major turnaround from the other two LPAs, Rene French and Mary, because Lauren Olsen was actually doing her job properly and was treating people with respect and decency.
I want to go to the morning on November 15, 2012, when my mother’s and father’s lives got turned upside down. Around 8:00 a.m., my husband got up to look outside of our balcony because our dog was barking. My husband looked very surprised and said to me, “Get up. There are ten to twelve officers outside your parents’ home taking the big gate off its wheels and trying to get in!” I jumped out of bed, opened the sliding door, and heard one man say, “Go to the back house. That’s where the residents are.”
I quickly ran out of the house while my husband was yelling at the men, “Hold on. There’s no need to break the gate. We can open it for you.” As I got outside, my dad was coming from the back house with my two older kids, Noah, nine years old at the time, and Adam, seven years old. As I was walking towards the house, agents from the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA) told me not to move and asked me who I was. I told the DOJ agents that I was Ella, Silvia and John Cata’s daughter, and that Noah and Adam were my children. The DOJ agents rudely told me to take my kids and get them out of there. So my husband grabbed our children and took them home while I stayed with my mom and dad. The DOJ agents stated that they had a warrant for Super Care Home and for Georgia’s files. I wondered why it took 12 police officers to get a resident’s paperwork.
As soon as we all went in the house, the DOJ agents said, “Sit down and don’t move!” The woman who seemed to be in charge of all of this was California Department of Justice Special Agent Tina Khang, who works in the DOJ’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse in Sacramento. Tina Khang quickly approached my mom and told her that she needed to talk to my mom in private. When I offered to go with my mom, Ms. Khang did not allow it. Ms. Khang took my mom in the backroom and interrogated her for three hours! While Special Agent Khang was interrogating my mom, I was sitting down on the couch with two residents and one of my mom’s friends. At the same time, a DOJ agent continued to watch us so that we did not move. I did not understand why, while I did not have rights, the residents did not have rights either.
One resident who was her own responsible party was in her nightgown and did not even get a chance to brush her teeth. When I asked the DOJ agent if my mom could make the residents breakfast, he said, “No, no one move.” Then I asked the agent if one of the residents could at least get some coffee, but the agent said, “No!” The residents and I were on the couch for four hours without moving from the area.
After some time, I got so upset that I told the agent that it was not right what the DOJ agents were doing to us and that it was against our civil rights to be treated like that. The agent said, “You need to be quiet.” I watched for four hours as the DOJ agents turned the house upside down while I was sitting on the couch and being treated like a criminal! I also asked why it took 10 police officers from the DOJ to come in to get paperwork on a resident when all they needed was at the state licensing department. But the DOJ agent completely ignored my question.
I then noticed that my mom came out of the room where Special Agent Tina Khang had been interrogating her. When Ms. Khang asked my mom where her office was, my mom said, “We don’t really have an office. My paperwork is under the stairs.” Ms. Khang asked my mom again, “What do you mean you have no office?”
When Ms. Khang asked my mom what was upstairs, my mom said there were two bedrooms and a little kitchen. Ms. Khang got frustrated and asked my mom why she kept going upstairs when an LPA was at the house in August. My mom explained that she has a fax machine upstairs and had to make copies for one of the CCLD LPAs during a visit. I thought that it was very strange that Special Agent Khang knew so much about what had happened on one of the days CCLD LPA Renee French had come to the house in August because Ms. Khang was not there that day. It also seemed strange that Ms. Khang would ask such questions.
When I overheard Special Agent Khang ask my mom how many residents were in the back house, my mom said, “None.” Ms. Khang then asked my mom, “Why did your husband keep going to the back house on some of the occasions an LPA was at Super Care Home?” My mom looked at Ms. Khang in confusion and asked her, “Why would an LPA care if we go to the back house or not? That’s my home also. Am I or my husband not allowed to go back there?” Special Agent Khang looked as if she was angry with my mom’s response.
I too was getting angry about the way the California DOJ agents were treating my mom. So I got up and said that I could not sit any longer and that the agents were not treating the residents properly. I told a DOJ agent, “I think that the residents’ rights are being violated!” The agent told me that I had to remain quiet.
So I sat down again and saw another DOJ agent come from outside and through the kitchen door who said, “We found nothing.” Yet another DOJ agent at the table responded, “Nothing?” One of the female DOJ agents quickly said, “Okay, then we can go!”
I noticed that the DOJ agents were moving three large boxes with them while leaving the house. I also noticed and overheard two female agents talking to each other about the warrants. One of the agents asked Special Agent Tina Khang, “Did they get a copy of the warrant for the back house?” Ms. Khang just looked at the agent and said, “Well, we have no time for that. We need to go.” The officer told Ms. Khang, “We can’t leave until they have both copies of the warrants.”
One of the female DOJ agents then asked my mom, “What’s the address to the back home?” My mom said that the address was 331. The agent appeared confused and asked my mom why the back house and main house addresses were different. My mom explained to the agent that the back house is a separate property. My mom asked the agent why there was a warrant for the back home and why the DOJ agents had to go to the back home. The agent did not answer my mom.
As DOJ agents were leaving through the kitchen, I noticed my dad and four other agents coming from the back house. I cannot even adequately describe the look on my dad’s face and how these DOJ police officers invaded his personal home and space. My dad looked so humiliated and horrified. When I quickly went over to my dad and asked him if he was all right, he began to cry. I tried to encourage him as much as I could, but I could see that what had just happened had deeply changed him.
As the DOJ agents left the house, they did not even care enough to say they were sorry about the intrusion and to even acknowledge what they had put the residents through. I will never forget that day and how it made me feel. For the first time in my life, I was disappointed in being an American citizen. I wondered how the DOJ agents’ conduct in our home could happen in America and what right a person has in his own home. I came to the painful realization that while the DOJ agents were intruding our and the residents’ home, we had no rights.
As I looked at both of my parents, I could see that they were in shock. My dad said, “I can’t even feel my feet anymore. I will never be the same!” I quickly went into the house to check on my mom, and she was preparing food while tears were running down her cheeks. I cannot even describe the emotions I was feeling while looking at my mom. I thought to myself, “This woman works hard all her life and lives life by the rules, and she gets treated like this?”
I then noticed that one of the residents who was sitting at the table looked so confused and scared and kept asking my mom, “What happened? What happened? Why did we have to sit down for so long? Why did they treat us like this?” I was asking myself the very same questions. It is very difficult to answer a resident with questions like that. My mom just wiped away her tears and calmly said, “Everything is all right. You’re safe, and you have nothing to worry about.” I just sat for a moment and actually realized what had just happened.
My dad then walked in and asked me if I had seen the warrant for the back home. I told him that I had not gotten any paper work. My mom said she had received a warrant only for Super Care Home.
My dad then explained to us what had happened with him and the DOJ agents in the back house while we were in the front. My dad was so angry that the DOJ agents had taken his pocket knife and completely broken down one of the doors upstairs that was locked so that they could enter and search. (That door was locked only because my young children were not allowed in the room by themselves with the computer and my dad’s personal belongings.) When my dad asked the DOJ agents why they had just broken down the door when there was a key next to the door, they responded, “Make a complaint!”
My dad told us that the agents made him go in the backyard while they looked through all the bushes. My dad said that the DOJ agents officers even made him take the cover off the pool. My dad also told us that after going inside the house, the agents asked my dad why he had video cameras up and told him to wait outside while they looked through the entire house, including every room, closet, dresser, and even the attic.
I learned that the California Department of Justice agents had also deleted the video recordings from the video cameras that were inside and outside of the house. Did the DOJ agents delete the video recordings so that my mom and dad would not have video evidence of the DOJ agents’ strong-arm tactics and misconduct during their search of the property? If Special Agent Tina Khang and her DOJ agents’ search was totally proper and lawful, then why did the DOJ agents spoil my mom and dad’s video evidence?
The next day [on November 16, 2012] at 9:00 a.m., I called DOJ Special Agent Tina Khang and left her a voice mail. I told her that the way she and the other DOJ officers had conducted themselves at our home was wrong and that my dad’s pocket knife needed to be returned.
I also called California Department of Social Services LPA Lauren Olsen and explained to her everything that had happened the day before and how the DOJ agents had mistreated us. I also told Ms. Olsen that the DOJ agents had said they had not taken anything from the back house or my dad when in fact they took my dad’s pocket knife. Ms. Olsen suggested that I make a complaint about the DOJ agents’ conduct because she said that the way the residents had been treated during DOJ’s search of my mom and dad’s property was not right.
A few hours later on the same day, my dad’s pocket knife was returned.
During the following months, DSS LPA Lauren Olsen continued doing her weekly visits to my mom. On February 11, 2013, my mom called me around 9:00 a.m. and asked me if I wanted to go with her again to a meeting scheduled for the the next day on February 12, 2013. My mom said that DOJ Special Agent Tina Khang had called her and said, “Silvia, are you home? I wanted to let you know that we have a meeting tomorrow morning with the licensing department.” My mom said that she had asked Special Agent Khang if the meeting was going to be with Lauren Olsen at the licensing department and that Ms. Khang said,“Yes.” My mom also told me that she had told Ms. Khang, “Yes, I can come.”
I was more than happy to go with my mom especially after the way the California Department of Justice agents had searched my parents’ home and mistreated us. But little did I know that DOJ Special Agent Tina Khang had been dishonest and that the only reason she called my mother was to make sure my mom was home so that Ms. Khang could arrest her.
Around 6:00 p.m., I got a frantic call from my dad telling me to come home quickly because my mom, Silvia Cata, had just been arrested. My dad said that he had no idea what was going on. A DOJ agent had just called my dad informing him that my mom had been arrested and was in custody.
I rushed home to find my two small children, a five-year-old and one-year-old, left home alone with three residents who were not capable of taking care of themselves, including a resident on hospice. I was completely shocked! I could not understand how agents from the California DOJ’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse could leave three elderly residents and two small children alone without supervision and without meeting their needs.
I had many questions about these agents working for DOJ’s BMFEA in Sacramento. When the DOJ agents arrested my mom, did they find someone else to take care of the elderly residents that were left behind? Why didn’t the agents from the DOJ’s BMFEA ask my mother if someone could stay with the elderly residents and children while the agents took my mom away? What would have happened to the elderly residents if the DOJ agents had not been able to contact my dad and we had not known that we had to rush home? Did the DOJ agents think about the welfare of the residents? Did the DOJ agents think about the danger of leaving three elderly residents and two small children alone without adult supervision?
The answers to my questions were disturbing to me. No, they did not. The California DOJ agents who arrested my mom did not care about the welfare of the elderly residents or children they abandoned. According to my dad, when he rushed home, the DOJ agents had already arrested my mother and put her in the back of a police car and then just left with my mom in the car, not even giving a second thought that three elderly residents with dementia and two small children were left alone.
I remember finding my dad in the house crying with my children in his lap. When I asked my dad if the residents had eaten dinner, he said they had not. I asked if I could help in anyway. My dad asked me to come back in the morning and call the DSS LPA, Lauren Olsen, for help.
On February 12, 2013, my life was turned upside down. I went to my mom’s facility, Super Care Home, to watch the residents and to call Lauren Olsen. After I left her a voicemail, Ms. Olsen quickly called me back and said that she was on her way to the facility.
An hour later, Lauren Olsen came to Super Care Home with some papers and asked me questions. I explained to Ms. Olsen how the agents from the DOJ’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse in Sacramento had left the elderly residents and my young children alone in the house when they arrested my mom. Ms. Olsen was shocked as well. She asked me if I would be willing to stay with the residents while my mom was away because my husband and I both had our RCFE license to be administrators. I told Ms. Olsen that I would stay with the residents. She asked me if I would be willing to take the residents across the street to my facility if circumstances later changed. I again told Ms. Olsen that I would take the residents to my facility if the residents and their families wanted that.
Lauren Olsen left after an hour but returned again around 6:00 p.m. with a Community Care Licensing Division manager, George M., and LPA Renee French. I was very shocked to see Rene French with them, and I am not sure why she had to be there. But they all walked in and told me that they had come to temporarily close down my mom’s facility and that the residents had to be moved. I let Lauren Olsen, George M., and Rene French know that I did not have a hospice waiver for my RCFE and that one resident from my mom’s facility was on hospice. These CCLD officials all told me that not having the hospice waiver was no problem and that they had all the papers necessary signed and ready to go.
I mentioned to the CCLD officials that I did not want to move the residents at that moment because the news reporters were outside the house and ready to take pictures of the innocent residents. After waiting until 8:00 p.m., the CCLD officials then moved the residents from Super Care Home to my RCFE, Simplicity Elderly Living.
Since February 12, 2013, I have taken over my mother’s problems and been attacked and harassed by the California Department of Social Services’ Community Care Licensing Division. The CCLD officials have been visiting weekly and watching me closely. I truly feel as though my rights are being violated.
I hope that my personal story about how some CCLD LPAs and Special Agent Tina Khang and her agents from the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse in Sacramento have mistreated my family will help others understand how the state violates the rights of citizens in this country. What happened to my family must not be permitted. I don’t want the injustice that Attorney General Kamala Harris’ BMFEA has inflicted on my family to happen to any other facility.
[Written by Ionela Lup, daughter of Silvia Cata]
Related story: “Elder Abuse Defendant Silvia Cata’s Family on CA DOJ Strong-Arm Raid” by Elder Abuse Exposed.com, June 10, 2013
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