The 7 Investigators continue to get results for grieving families in Michigan. The Attorney General is terminating one of the public officials accused of cashing in on a controversial probate practice, and another public official has resigned.
And even though new legislation has been introduced because of our investigation, the Attorney General is now telling the 7 Investigators that he wants the changes to the law to go even farther.
“They’re messing with my home -- where I live! How dare they,” said Joanne Zaremba.
Several local families say they nearly lost their late relatives’ homes after some Attorney General-appointed lawyers called Public Administrators teamed up with real estate agent Ralph Roberts to cash in on probate estates.
“I find properties. I believe there’s a benefit, so I then tell a public administrator, here’s the benefit there,” Ralph Roberts told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo in November 2016.
The Public Administrators bill the estates for thousands of dollars in fees. Court records show that Roberts’ company, Probate Asset Recovery, often tried to take 1/3 of the value of the assets, plus Roberts earned real estate commissions (often 4% instead of the typical 3%).
Oakland County Sheriff’s investigators and federal agents recently raided Ralph Roberts offices as part of an ongoing criminal probe.
And now Attorney General Bill Schuette has terminated Kemp Klein lawyer Barbara Andruccioli from her Oakland County Public Administrator duties. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General says their office has received 5 complaints about Andruccioli since the 7 Investigators first reported on her in May.
The 7 Investigators showed you in May how heirs like Zaremba said she had no idea that Andruccioli had opened an estate in Joanne’s late mother’s name.
“She has a duty to the estate which means to the heirs of the estate. She’s completely failed on that,” said attorney Carol Kramer, who now represents Zaremba.
After our initial investigation, the Attorney General also disciplined, and then later accepted the resignation of Macomb County Public Administrator Cecil St. Pierre.
Now Wayne County Public Administrator Joseph Xuereb has resigned as well. He, too, had teamed up with Ralph Roberts during the last 3 years to open probate estates. Xuereb resigned after the 7 Investigators filed paperwork to record one of his upcoming hearings; it was a case that was filed in court after the Attorney General’s recent order to suspend foreclosure and tax forfeiture probate cases.
In his letter to the Attorney General, Xuereb said his filing of the cases was “inadvertent” because he had misunderstood the order from the state.
Two new bills have been introduced in Lansing to change the Public Administrator law to better protect heirs – but Attorney General Schuette's spokeswoman now says they don’t go far enough, and he wants criminal penalties added to the law.
Attorney Xuereb also told the 7 Investigators that while he was working as a Public Administrator, he always tried to do what was best for the heirs, and made sure that they got notified about the probate proceedings.
Barbara Andruccioli, the former Oakland County Public Administrator, is not commenting about her termination.
If you have a story for Heather, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 248-827-4473.