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Guardian stole more than $500,000 from elderly Pinellas man, deputies say

Traci Hudson, 51, spent the money on personal purchases ranging from utilities to jewelry to Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets.

For the latter part of his life, Maurice Myers lived on his own in a small home south of Sarasota.

Then, in March 2017, when he was 92, Myers was hospitalized twice with numerous health complications. He was released to a rehabilitation facility, then moved to a senior care home in Pinellas Park. There, he’d be closer to his daughter, who oversaw his affairs.

But just months, later his daughter unexpectedly died in October 2017. Staffers at the elderly care home knew he couldn’t care for himself. So they reached out to a professional guardian they knew named Traci Hudson.

Myers soon signed over his power of attorney and healthcare decisions to Hudson. In the 11 months she spent overseeing his care, Hudson swindled more than $500,000 from Myers, according to investigators, and spent it on things like jewelry and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets.

A lengthy Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office investigation ended Thursday with Hudson’s arrest. The 51-year-old Riverview woman faces a charge of exploitation of an elderly person and is staring down court orders in dozens of court-appointed guardianship cases she oversees, demanding she explain herself.

Deputies booked her into the Pinellas County jail on Thursday. She was released Friday after posting $250,000 bail. She did not return calls for comment.

The investigation started in November 2018 with a tip from the Florida Department of Children and Families that Hudson may be exploiting a man who she had power of attorney over. The complaint describes this timeline:

After Myers was hospitalized in 2017, he was moved into a rehabilitation facility in Sarasota. He was diagnosed with conditions including kidney failure, hypertension and heart disease.

Myers was discharged from the rehab facility in May and moved into Grand Villa of Pinellas Park, a senior care facility at 8980 49th St. N, at the request of his daughter, Virginia Myers. She died later that year at age 61.

Doctors at Grand Villa told detectives that Myers suffered multiple falls, was showing signs of possible dementia and could no longer care for himself. Staff members knew Hudson because she acted as a guardian for other residents at the facility. She was floated as a possible caretaker for Myers.

Hudson, who previously went by Traci Samuels, completed training and testing to become a guardian in early 2016, according to the complaint. She runs her own company called Florida Guardianship Services, according to state business records, and is listed as the president of the Guardian Association of Pinellas County

Grand Villa staffers reached out to Hudson to see if she’d be willing to take on Myers. She agreed. Myers signed documents Nov. 9, 2017, giving Hudson power of attorney over his affairs and naming her as his healthcare surrogate. Her name was added to his two bank accounts that same day. Unlike court-appointed guardians, power of attorney and healthcare surrogate roles don’t go through the court system and are not subject to the same financial oversight.

In May 2018, Hudson moved him to Princeton Village, a memory care facility at 333 16th Ave. SE in Largo. That September, he was admitted to Morton Plant Hospital with a hip injury. He was discharged after surgery to Wrights Healthcare, a rehab facility, then hospitalized again at Largo Medical Center in October 2018. He was released a few days later to hospice care and died at age 93 on Oct. 9, 2018.

The investigation found that Hudson had been charging Myers $100 an hour for power-of-attorney services. Department of Children and Families investigators who interviewed Myers before his death reported that he wasn’t aware Hudson was charging him that fee, and that he didn’t know why she had been attached to his bank accounts.

She ultimately transferred $541,541 from Myers’ accounts into two bank accounts that she controlled and a third controlled by her and her husband, the investigation said. That money was moved via 46 checks that included memo lines such as “caregiver refund, clothing, fees"; “home sale”; and vague references about savings and Myers’ daughter.

This is Hudson’s first arrest in Florida, but she is trailed by a string of complaints and accusations, according to government records and news reports.

The Pinellas County Inspector General’s office has received numerous complaints about Hudson, said Inspector General Hector Collazo. The office investigated and closed several of them. Collazo would not disclose the outcome of those investigations, but said two remain open.

In May, Hudson filed a libel lawsuit against four women she called a “vigilante mob," accusing them of making false reports about her to investigative agencies. The suit stems from social media posts and complaints against Hudson, alleging she takes guardianship under false pretenses, then exploits her wards and blocks family members from seeing them.

One of the women named in the lawsuit, Hillary Hogue, said Friday that she was troubled by Hudson’s conduct for awhile and disheartened that none of the agencies she and others complained to intervened.

Hogue said she started monitoring the court-appointed guardian system after her father was fraudulently assigned one. The system too often lets bad actors continue operating with no repercussions, she said.

“This is why I’m overly excited — because we don’t get many wins,” she said. “I never thought this day would happen.”

Hudson made headlines this year when it was discovered she served as the guardian for 84-year-old Genyte Dirse even though Dirse’s nephew, who had been living with her for 15 years, was actually caring for her.

In February, WFTS-Ch. 28 reported that real estate agent Diana Sames tried to buy the beachfront hotel Dirse owned. When Dirse sold it to her nephew, Gedi Pakalanis, instead, Sames pushed for the court to appoint a guardian. Hudson was awarded guardianship, then sued Pakalanis to block the hotel’s sale.

Both lawsuits remain open.

Sam Sugar, an advocate with the Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, said Hudson’s arrest highlights the need for reforms to Florida’s guardianship program.

“Today’s arrest of another apex predator in the Florida guardianship mob puts the president of the Pinellas County guardianship Association behind bars,” Sugar wrote in a post on the organization’s website.

“We can only hope that this latest Florida guardianship scandal ... will finally convince law enforcement authorities throughout the state of Florida and in every other state that they have been asleep at the wheel or worse by denying justice to the families of guardianship victims nationwide.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated to clarify the difference between court-appointed guardianships and power-of-attorney and healthcare surrogate roles.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at 727-893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn

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