About Cathy Schottenstein

The Systematic Abuse of Britney Spears:

How the Legal System Allowed a Criminal Family to Seize Control of One Woman’s Life

britney spearsThe New Yorker recently published a comprehensive article entitled “Britney Spears’s Conservatorship Nightmare” chronicling how the pop star’s father and a team of lawyers seized control of her life, her career, and her finances—and held onto that control for well over a decade. Spears, thirty-nine, has spent the past thirteen years living under a conservatorship, “a legal structure,” The New Yorker defines “in which a person’s personal, economic, and legal decision-making power is ceded to others.” Commonly called a guardianship, the arrangement is intended for people who cannot take care of themselves.

The conservatorship was instituted by Spears’s family—in part out of real concerns for her mental health, people close to the family told The New Yorker. But the family was divided by money and fame, and Spears was ultimately stripped of her rights to such an extent that she recently called 911 to report herself as a victim of conservatorship abuse and alleged in public court that one of her most basic rights—her reproductive freedom—had been taken away. (You can find a link to The New Yorker article at the bottom of this blog.)*

Conservatorships can protect people who are elderly, or who live with severe disabilities or debilitating mental illness. But The New Yorker points out that there is also a wide range of alternatives to conservatorship that are less strict than what Spears has experienced, such as conditional powers of attorney or formal shared control of finances.

By outward appearance, since the establishment of Spears’s conservatorship, the pop star’s career has never been better. According to the article, she has released four albums, headlined a global tour that grossed a hundred and thirty-one million dollars, and performed for four years in a hit Las Vegas residency. Yet during this time her conservators have controlled all her spending, communications, and personal decisions, and most of her family members (including both her parents) receive an annual salary from the pop star as part of the conservatorship.

This past April, Spears requested a hearing, in open court, to discuss the terms of her conservatorship arrangement. Before the hearing, members of Spears’s team, most of whom have had little or no direct contact with her for years (despite being on her payroll), didn’t expect drastic changes to result. On June 23rd that sentiment quickly changed as she began her searing testimony.

For twenty-three minutes over the phone, Spears described in shocking detail how she had been “isolated, medicated, financially exploited, and emotionally abused.” She blamed the California legal system, which she said let it all happen. She added that she had tried to complain to the court before but had been ignored, which made her “feel like I was dead,” she said—“like I didn’t matter.” She wanted to share her story publicly, she said, “instead of it being a hush-hush secret to benefit all of them.” She added, “It concerns me I’ve been told I’m not allowed to expose the people who did this to me.” At one point, she told the court, “All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and for my boyfriend to drive me in his fucking car.” Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

Protecting Elders from Abuse is a Global Problem

Beverley Schottenstein-Protecting Elders from Abuse“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Mahatma Gandhi made that statement in the early 1900s, right at the start of the 20th Century. Who are those most vulnerable members? Certainly, they include children, the mentally and physically disabled, and our aged population. Today, 21 years into the 21st Century, Gandhi’s words come back to haunt us as we enter World Elder Abuse Month this June. A decade ago, The United Nations designated June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to raise mindfulness and knowledge of elder abuse and the various forms it can manifest which include financial, emotional, and physical abuse.

Experts have identified seven types of elder abuse to watch out for: physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, neglect, abandonment, financial abuse, and self-neglect. Financial abuse strikes a particular nerve with me since that is what happened to my 94-year-old grandmother Beverley Schottenstein. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elders are more willing to self-report financial exploitation than other forms of abuse. They are often fearful to report physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect due to the possibility of being harmed. Most elder abuse victims are dependent on their abusers to meet their basic needs, placing the abused in an extremely vulnerable position, fearful of retaliation. Like what happened to my grandmother, most acts of abuse are committed by family members (40% adult children, 15% spouse, 38% other family members). In fact, only 7% of elder abuse cases are committed by non-family members. Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

Behind the scenes: What it was like to work with Bloomberg News

When journalist Tom Schoenberg, a longtime reporter for Bloomberg News, was contacted by a family friend about my grandma’s upcoming trial against her grandsons Evan and Avi and their former employer J.P. Morgan, he reached out to better understand the dynamics of the legal proceedings.

My first call with Tom took place on October 9, 2020, just one week before Nanny’s FINRA trial was set to begin. It was a conference call, with Tom in Washington D.C., me in New Jersey, and Nanny in Florida. My grandma’s devoted live-in aide Dawn Henry also participated on the sidelines as Nanny spoke, occasionally chiming in to remind her of certain key dates and facts.

I didn’t know it then, but that first hour-long conversation with Tom would be the beginning of a five-months-long working relationship with Bloomberg News. It was a rich and eye-opening experience that has made me even more respectful of professional journalism, and particularly of Tom and of Bloomberg News—the outlet’s careful evaluation of all sides, the integrity and fairness in their final reporting, and once the story was out, their astonishing global reach. Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

Isolation and Loneliness Among Elder Americans Must Be Addressed

Elder Abuse Loneliness

Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” In fact, she had that phrase embroidered on a pillow. And the actress knew what she was talking about. After a celebrated career and multiple Academy Awards, her later years were marred by illness: recurrent breast cancer and then a stroke that distorted her face. She died, alone and far from home at age 81, alienated from her eldest child.

Compared to the famous actress, my grandmother led a charmed life. Beverley Schottenstein and her husband Alvin raised their four children in the quiet tree-lined suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. Though part of a wealthy and influential family, Beverley always kept a low profile. She never took her good fortune for-granted and worked hard to set an example for others. She was a philanthropist who generously contributed to numerous causes and doted on members of her close-knit family. Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

My Grandma is a 94-Year-Old #MeToo Warrior

Beverley SchottensteinWhen activist Tarana Burke started the “Me Too” movement in 2006, her goal was to raise awareness of the full extent of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in society. She wanted to tell survivors, “You are heard. You are understood. You are not alone.”

In 2017 after The New York Times published its exposé detailing sexual abuse allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, many high-profile celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Lawrence, and Uma Thurman came forward with their own harrowing tales of sexual harassment. Their courage—and the resulting widespread media coverage—helped make the “Me Too” movement a topic of conversation across America. The phrase #MeToo went viral and became synonymous with female empowerment. Over time, #MeToo developed into an even broader movement. While sexual abuse and harassment are the most prevalent grievous acts associated with the movement, at its heart, #MeToo is about women standing in solidarity, telling their truths, and refusing to be victimized. Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

Institutional Malfeasance: Another Ugly Form of Elder Abuse

Institutional Malfeasance J.P. Morgan

My cousins Evan and Avi Schottenstein are not the Menendez brothers. They did not kill our nonagenarian grandmother. Yet, in misappropriating her fortune for years as they worked as her “financial advisors” at J.P. Morgan, and in using her advanced age against her in a shameful attempt to influence people into thinking she had dementia, they did kill something inside her: they killed her trust.

Not every case of elder abuse is financial—but far too many are, and the abuse rarely occurs in a vacuum. For my grandmother, her situation was a combination of psychological and financial abuse perpetrated by family members who were aided and abetted by the biggest bank in the world, J.P. Morgan. Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

Making the Painful Decision to Testify Against My Cousins

Cathy and Beverley Schottenstein PattapPeople may believe, since I am writing a book about my grandma’s ordeal and her experience with elder abuse, that I jumped at the opportunity to support her during the actual trial. The truth is this: I wavered for weeks about getting involved in the process. Ultimately, reality and morality won over my personal reticence, and I agreed to take the stand on my grandma’s behalf and testified against the perpetrators, my two first cousins Evan and Avi. They had done our grandmother a terrible wrong. They had to be brought to justice, they had to make restitution, and they had to stop their intolerable harassment.

Although we had never been close, I am closely related to Evan and Avi. They are sons of my Uncle Bobby, my father’s younger brother. At best I have neutral memories of Evan and Avi growing up, but at many of the momentous occasions of my life—my Bat Mitzvah, my wedding, my first-born son’s bris—they were there. We share a lineage and a history, and no one wants to aid in ruining another person’s life. But they had crossed a dangerous line with heedless disregard to the consequences. Now they would have to face the music. Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

A ‘Dawning’ Instinct Sheds Light in a Dark Place

Beverley Schottenstein walks alongside her caretaker Dawn Henry in the kitchen of her condominium in Bal Harbour, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Photographer: Scott McIntyre/BloombergFive years ago, my grandmother whom I call Nanny, Beverley Schottenstein, had no idea that anything nefarious was going on within her account. Though she did ask her grandsons Evan and Avi why she wasn’t receiving monthly statements, they assured her that J.P. Morgan no longer sent paper statements to their clients, and since Nanny didn’t have a computer, they said they were diligently reviewing her holdings and overall account performance on their own. They swore they were doing an incredible job, that her account was appreciating considerably, and that she was outperforming major market indexes on a regular basis. Actually, none of that was true. Both grandsons were living high on the hog with her money—she just didn’t know it yet.

In 2016 Nanny broke her hip and began looking for daily care. She asked around, and several acquaintances highly recommended a woman named Dawn Henry. Dawn was a highly experienced caretaker with several licenses and a long history of caring for the elderly. Dawn, born in Jamaica, West Indies, now lived in a lovely home in Hollywood, Florida, a thirty-minute drive from Nanny’s home, with her husband, Lance Henry, a general contractor, and her college-age son Zach. When Dawn and Nanny first met, there was an instant connection. “I fell in love with this lovely little woman immediately,” Dawn said. “I knew she was a real mensch.” Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

Elder Abuse Impacts the Famous and Non-Famous Alike

Mickey Rooney

Actor, Mickey Rooney

Many seniors are fortunate. They are being well cared for, whether in assisted-living facilities or in their own homes, even though some may be mentally or physically compromised in their advancing years. By contrast, other vulnerable elders are being neglected, abused, isolated, and financially exploited. The sinners committing these crimes may be care facility workers, home health aides, financial advisors—or yes, sadly, even family members.

Elder abuse, which is on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, is an ongoing, often hidden social, cultural, and ethical problem. It affects as many as five million people each year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. Another non-profit watchdog organization, The National Council on Aging, lists seven aspects of elder abuse, which are often commingled: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, confinement, passive neglect, willful deprivation, and financial exploitation.

Being rich and famous is no protection from predators. In 2011 the Los Angeles Superior Court issued restraining orders against Chris and Christina Aber, the stepchildren of Mickey Rooney. Rooney’s lawyers claimed they emotionally abused and financially exploited the beloved actor. Rooney’s stepchildren were even accused of denying Rooney basic food and medicine. The legendary star died a few years later in 2014. Read more

About Cathy Schottenstein

My 94-Year-Old Grandmother Wants to Wake Us All Up to the Tragedy of Elder Abuse

beverley schottenstein watching the trialOver the last few months, the media has been covering my grandmother’s court case against her two grandsons, Evan and Avi Schottenstein, for massive financial fraud. After over two years since the initial discovery, they, along with J.P. Morgan, were found liable for misappropriating tens of millions of dollars of her money. Together, they were ordered to restore over $19 million to my grandmother. But something else happened in that courtroom that is far more important than any amount of money. The three presiding arbitrators described her experience as a clear case of “elder abuse.”

In a cruel attempt to excuse their criminal activities, Evan and Avi tried to paint my lovely, always meticulously groomed, sharp-as-a-whip grandmother as a liar who suffers from dementia. I was with her throughout this entire journey, and I felt her anguish, sleepless nights, stress that resulted in hair loss, loss of appetite, and other side effects including the anguish that came from having to weather the slanderous lies her grandsons fabricated. These were the heartbreaking results following Nanny’s refusal to let Evan and Avi “off the hook” for the sake of the family name and reputation, as some urged her to do.

Though none of Evan and Avi’s accusations about Nanny were true, the irony is, if they had simply come clean, she would have forgiven them. They did not need to lie or cheat or steal. They just needed to level with her and treat her with the dignity she deserved. She trusted them, and they took advantage of her. No senior deserves this treatment—especially not from one’s own flesh and blood. Read more