Disability advocates want state to strengthen laws
WICHITA -- Advocates for the mentally ill are hoping public indignation over the convictions of two Newton group home owners will prompt lawmakers to strengthen state laws protecting disabled people.
On Tuesday, a federal jury ordered Arlan and Linda Kaufman to forfeit $85,187 and four real estate properties, including the Potwin farm where naked residents worked. The ruling came a day after jurors convicted the couple of enslaving patients and coercing them to perform sex acts in videotaped therapy sessions billed to Medicare and their families.
Arlan Kaufman, 69, was found guilty of 31 federal charges and his wife, Linda, 62, was convicted of 30. They include health care fraud, Medicare fraud, forced labor and holding clients in involuntary servitude at the Kaufman House Residential Treatment Center.
The forfeited properties -- which the Kaufmans conveyed to their children for $1 just 11 days after a 2001 raid by authorities -- include the two group homes where the residents lived, the Kaufmans' home and office in Newton, and the family farm in Potwin.
"A terrible flaw in Kansas law perpetuated the abuse at the Kaufman House and I think helped create it by putting people in disability at risk," Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said Tuesday.
The Kaufmans incorporated their unlicensed treatment center in 1980 and ran it until their arrests in October 2004. The events leading up to the Kaufmans' arrests and failures that allowed continued operation of the treatment center were detailed by Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Tim Carpenter in a three-part series in late June.
Prosecutors -- who have called the group home a "house of horrors kept financially afloat by fraud" -- have contended the Kaufmans controlled the lives of the mentally ill residents, defrauding their families and Medicare. The couple was accused of forcing residents to masturbate, fondle each other and shave each other's genitals while Arlan Kaufman videotaped them.
The Kaufmans claimed the nudist lifestyle and other treatment methods had therapeutic value for schizophrenic patients and that having residents act out problem behavior helped them avoid repeating it.
Arlan Kaufman insisted at trial that the residents' behavior was voluntary.
It took authorities years to shut down the facility, despite a 1991 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the facility needed to be licensed, repeated reports of abuse, and a 2001 raid in which videotapes of nude therapy sessions first were seized. Arlan Kaufman's social work license was suspended in 2001, and later expired, but he billed Medicare for therapy at the home after the suspension. Linda Kaufman's nursing license was suspended in 2004.
But it took so long for regulators to pursue the case that the state's statute of limitations had expired for many of the crimes, prompting Attorney General Phill Kline to press federal prosecutors to take the case.
The Kaufmans were arrested under a law that makes it illegal to hold or sell another person into "any condition of involuntary servitude," which is prohibited by the 13th Amendment banning slavery. Subsequent indictments also charged the couple with physically, psychologically and sexually abusing group home residents and defrauding the Medicare program.
The Legislature this past session tightened regulations governing smaller facilities, such as the Kaufman House, that treat mentally ill adults, and created a new state crime of "trafficking" in forced labor or involuntary servitude.
But the Disability Rights Center and Attorney General Phill Kline have said the Legislature didn't go far enough in making changes to state law to protect mentally ill adults, and plan to renew those efforts in the coming session.
Advocates for the mentally ill want to change state laws governing the guardianship of mentally ill adults so that it would prohibit such conflicts of interest as allowing a guardian to also be the service provider. Arlan Kaufman was the guardian of one mentally ill woman who lived at the treatment center, as well as her therapist, landlord and service provider.
In the case, Arlan Kaufman would sign and write checks payable to the Kaufman House out of the woman's account, Nichols said.
About $100,000 from her account is still unaccounted for, Nichols said.
"There are many, many other situations out there where guardians are the service providers. It happens far too frequently in our state, and it is because Kansas law has allowed it to happen," he said. "The guardian is the one appointed by the court to stand up for the person with a disability, to stand up to the service provider to make sure everything is on the up and up."
Advocates also want the state to create an abuse, neglect and exploitation unit that would oversee the various protective service agencies.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment regulates the care of adults in nursing home facilities. The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services' Adult Protective Services oversees the rest.
Adult Protective Services conducted six investigations into the Kaufman House and didn't take any steps to shut it down, Nichols said.
The Kaufmans are being held without bond until sentencing Jan. 23. The two face up to 20 years in prison for each of the conspiracy, forced labor and involuntary servitude charges; up to 10 years for each health care fraud charges; and up to five years for each of the other charges.
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