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WVSDB bombshell
  • Updated

32 ‘noncompliances,’ 28 ‘findings’

add up to uncertainty

Study finds fault in 8 broad areas

The 44-page outline of the state’s review found failings in nearly every area of the operation, from leadership to instruction to residential care and financial compliance.

In all, 32 points of noncompliance with state policies are listed and another 28 findings are noted.

“The compilation of the above findings and noncompliances indicates the school has strayed from its original mission and vision,” the report concludes.

Moreover, “the administrative staff have allowed the desire to increase student enrollment to overshadow accurately evaluating and providing appropriate supports to students with disabilities,” the report says.

And in its detailed look at leadership, the report says this:

“Decisions, such as hiring of personnel, scheduling, and transporting students to home goings, were based on the needs of adults as opposed to students.”

The focus on enrollment led the review team to determine that 40 of WVSDB’s 94 students need additional evaluations to determine their eligibility to attend school here.

The review pointed out that 22 students had their eligibility for services changed just prior to being enrolled at WVSDB although their IEPs — individual educational programs — didn’t show any additional evaluations conducted that would have been used to determine the need for changes.

Other issues noted with special education at the school included students receiving more related services than the IEPs called for, which the report said kept those students out of the classroom and also affected staffing decisions.

The director of special education was conducting all IEP meetings and usurping the work of teachers who are case managers for each child.

Problems existed in all 8 areas the review team addressed: student care, instruction, special education, facilities, transportation, finances, personnel and leadership.

Among the most major issues:

• Classroom observations were not conducted as required for teacher evaluations.

• American Sign Language wasn’t being used as widely as it could be at the School for the Deaf.

• Nurses complained to the review team that student mental health issues aren’t being addressed adequately.

• The review team noted the issues with facilities highlighted a few months ago in WVSDB’s comprehensive educational facilities plan, including doors that don’t close and inadequate and outdated air systems.

• Sending residential children home weekly is more frequent than needed.

• The bus garage had no inventory of the parts it keeps on hand.

• Employees who could not work at the beginning of the pandemic received $126,558.16 in pay that was incorrectly coded in bookkeeping.

• Required paperwork to verify expenditures was often missing.


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Foreclosure costs bank $2.2 million
  • Updated

When Shirley Bowen paid off her house in Delray back in 2006, she did what many older homeowners do and took out a reverse mortgage to provide her a little more financial security.

But when her lender was bought out, the new owners, California-based CIT Bank, tried to foreclose on her – an “aggressive” action that ended up costing them more than $2 million.

Bowen passed away at the age of 81 in January 2019, but her estate continued the lawsuit that had begun 2 years earlier.

Two weeks ago a Hampshire County jury found that CIT Bank breached its contract with Bowen, illegally foreclosed, violated state consumer protection law, filed false documents with the county clerk, abused legal process and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the woman that was “atrocious, intolerable and so extreme as to exceed the bounds of decency.”

The jury awarded Bowen’s estate $200,000 for the foreclosure, $60,000 on 5 other charges, $500,000 for emotional distress and $1.5 million in punitive damages — a total of $2.26 million.

The parties have until July 26 to file post-trial motions. CIT Bank has the option to appeal the verdict. Their attorney, Randy Saunders of Huntington, did not respond to a request for comment.

When CIT Bank took over Indymac Bank, which held Bowen’s reverse mortgage, in 2015 it ramped up foreclosure procedures on such deals. Bowen’s suit maintains CIT Bank went from 193 such foreclosures a month in 2015 to 777 a month in 2016.

Essentially, CIT Bank claimed that Bowen was no longer living at the property, violating the terms of the agreement. CIT said it sent notice of intent to foreclose to Bowen in December 2015, although the address it used does not exist and has never been identified as a mailing address for the property.

Two months later, CIT Bank bought the property for $116,000 and turned it over to the Federal National Mortgage Association, which demanded Bowen vacate the premises in March 2016.

When Bowen’s family informed CIT Bank that she had lived there since 1989 uninterrupted, the bank tried in December 2016 to quietly rescind the foreclosure and reinstate the reverse mortgage.

The “oops, we’re sorry” approach didn’t work.

CIT Bank’s rescinding effort had to go through circuit court here and presented Shirley Bowen as the defendant in the case, claiming (incorrectly) that she defaulted on the note and deed, and justifying its actions.

Bowen’s attorneys, Jonathan Brill and Sam Byrer, counter sued, laying out CIT Bank’s mistakes. Three years of legal wrangling ensued, including an effort by the bank to have the claims tossed out because they were filed after the statute of limitations expired.

Eventually, Judge Carter Williams ruled in favor of Bowen’s estate on that claim and the case came to trial here in June.

In a civil trial the jury decides by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” as criminal trials require.

On June 16, after an afternoon of deliberation, the jury unanimously found for Bowen’s estate on all 7 issues they were asked to decide:

• CIT Bank wrongfully foreclosed, for which the jury awarded $200,000.

• CIT Bank slandered the real estate’s title, costing the lender $10,000.

• CIT Bank breached its contract with Bowen, costing it $20,000.

• CIT Bank violated the state’s consumer credit protection act, costing it $10,000.

• CIT Bank willfully and intentionally committed abuse of the legal system, costing it $10,000.

• CIT Bank intentionally inflicted emotional abuse on Bowen, which the jury said was worth $500,000 in compensatory damages.

• CIT Bank caused fraudulent documents to be filed in the county land records against Bowen’s interests, costing it another $10,000.

Finally, the jury was asked to decide “by clear and convincing evidence” if CIT bank’s actions showed “conscious, reckless and outrageous indifference” to the health, safety and welfare of others.

The jury’s affirmative response to that question let it impose $1.5 million in punitive damages on the company.


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A year in the death
  • Updated

A grieving mother remembers Johnny

In between lies a mother’s grief.

Rohini Benjamin, who gave birth to Johnathan Benjamin Adams, visited the gravesite of her only son on his birthday, June 5.

“I miss him so much it still hurts,” Rohini wrote on her Facebook page. “I’m dying inside and wish I could see your smile.”

Rohini decorated her son’s tombstone with flowers, balloons and a bobblehead of the New England Patriots.

“He was a very loving kid who loved sports,” she said. “He was friendly and outgoing with a lot friends and a great student. He was just a bundle of joy.”

Johnny’s body was discovered last July 18 in a shallow grave in a hard-to-reach wooded area in the Hanging Rock subdivision, off North River Road.

Austin Holmes-Evans, a 16-year-old cousin of Johnny’s, was charged with 1st-degree murder in March. A pre-trial hearing on the murder charge and others is scheduled for July 31.

Johnny arrived in Hampshire County in March of 2020 after his foster parents, Angel and Janis Jaquez (Johnny’s great-aunt), sent him here due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The reason why Johnny was staying with the Jaquezes, is that they were family members of my ex-husband, and I didn’t want him in the system,” Rohini explained. “I wanted him with family.”

Although Rohini had no parental rights regarding Johnny, Angel Jaquez says, he and Janis still tried to keep Rohini in Johnny’s life.

“It was very open with Johnny,” Angel says. “‘You want to go see her? Go see her.’ But we had no obligations.”

Regular visits went by the wayside in the fall of 2018, Angel says, after Johnny cut a visit short and came home in tears over name-calling.

“A long time passed before he asked me to go back and see them,” Angel says.

Both Angel and Rohini acknowledge a strained relationship.

“The family and me don’t get along,” she says.

“My wife and her, they really don’t get along,” Angel says, but adds, “My wife did recognize tremendously that Rohini was the mother and she was in pain. Before the death of Johnny she had been through a lot.”

That included a divorce from Johnny’s father, who went to prison in 2010 on sexual assault charges, and her own personal struggles.

And then there’s this: a vivid dream Rohini says she had prior to finding Johnny was missing.

“My son was standing there and blood was pouring from his head,” she recalls. “I was talking to him in the dream asking him, ‘Baby why are you crying? Why are you bleeding?’”

Within days of his disappearance, both Rohini and the Jaquezes ended up in Hampshire County looking for the boy.

When his body was discovered last July 18, their lives changed, family dynamics changed and both Rohini Benjamin and Angel Jaquez began a new search.

“We want justice for Johnny,” Angel said.

Review Senior Editor Jim King contributed to this report.


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Delta variant arrives here
  • Updated

The Delta variant of Covid-19 has shown up in Hampshire County.

The Health Department here was notified Monday that the variant, known as B.1.617.2, was detected through routine screening.

The Delta variant spreads faster than the original Covid-19 strain that has plagued the nation for the last 15 months.

The news of the variant arriving here coincides with a slight uptick in cases in Hampshire County. The Health Department reported 7 new cases over the last week, with 5 still active although nobody is hospitalized.

Over the course of the pandemic, 1,961 Hampshire residents have tested positive for Covid-19 and 37 have died from the virus.

County health officials on Monday reminded that the Delta variant is not more severe than the original strain, but it appears to spread 50% faster.

Masks and social distancing provide some protection, but vaccinations are the best defense against contracting the disease.

In that regard, Hampshire is stuck in low gear. About 35% of residents age 12 or older have received a full dose of vaccine. Only a few percentage points more, 39%, have at least 1 dose.

“We are early in our efforts to understand variants and are sharing what we know currently,” the Health Department’s release on the Delta variant said. “What we know is based on the evidence we have now and may change as new data emerges.”

Hampshire County’s positivity rate — the number of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population dropped to below 2 this week.

The state’s website that tracks the disease had the county green on its 5-color tracking map. Hampshire’s infection rate — the percentage of new cases reported over a 7-day rolling average — was 1.3%.


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Ripe for the picnicking
  • Updated

Hampshire corn’s in time for the 4th

Spring Valley Farms had its first corn picked yesterday morning, and in the afternoon it was on sale and ready for the flocks of folks looking to supplement their holiday picnic meals.

Spring Valley’s Eli Cook explained that the early corn would be on sale for $6.99 a dozen, 60 cents an ear or 120 ears for $60, and he pointed out some of the reasons why early corn is more expensive.

“You have to plant it in plastic and cover it,” he said. “The soil needs to be above 50 degrees.” This crop of early corn was planted around March 27, Cook said, and there has been a stretch of strange weather this spring that has kept things interesting.

“We’ve had a lot of cold nights and weird weather spells,” Cook mused. “The other week it was 45 degrees at night for a few nights, and corn just doesn’t grow.”

These cold nights resulted in a bit of bad news for the other big grower of the summer delicacy, Arnold Farm: for the 2nd year in a row, the farm’s early crop won’t be ready for July 4.

“We always shoot for July 4, and we’ve always had it in time, for 13, 14 years now,” said John Arnold III. “Except the last 2 years.”

Because of the series of cold nights, Arnold said the corn was stopped in its tracks, though it should be available soon.

“I’m thinking by the end of next week, hopefully I’ll have some corn,” Arnold said. “For the 1st week or 2, it won’t be an abundance, but the later corn, which is always the better corn anyway, all of that looks good right now.”

The 1st of the late corn crop should be available within the next week and a half, and will be on sale into August.


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