A Delaware County woman accused of financially exploiting elderly people for whom she served as a court-appointed guardian failed to come to a Philadelphia City Hall courtroom on Tuesday for a hearing on how she spent a Northeast Philadelphia woman's funds. Her attorney also didn't appear.
Gloria Byars, 57, of Aldan, had been removed as guardian of about 100 elderly clients in the region after past convictions for fraud, passing bad checks, and forgery came to light.
Orphans' Court Judge John Herron said at the hearing Tuesday that Byars must repay about $35,000 to the estate of Estelle Segal.
The judge was angry that Byars did not come to the proceeding, and said he was "frankly shocked" at the absence of her lawyer, Sharon Alexander. "I don't understand a practicing lawyer intentionally failing to appear at a hearing and failing to ask for a continuance," he said.
Herron held the hearing with lawyer James Tyler, who was appointed as Segal's executor after her February death.
Byars' record was chronicled in a March 30 Inquirer and Daily News article highlighting a lack of state requirements, including background checks, for guardians who manage the affairs of people deemed incapacitated. The article featured the case of a Fox Chase couple, Edmund and Margareta Berg, for whom Byars also had been appointed guardian.
Herron in May had ordered Byars to pay $63,079 to the Bergs, including $34,112 for improper expenditures. Byars has not paid any of that money. Despite that order, Byars spent tens of thousands of dollars on a July 14 wedding reception at the Manor House at Prophecy Creek Park in Ambler.
Byars already was married to Leon DeShields, 57, and had asked guests to a "vow renewal," according to the invitation. Copies of the Manor House bills obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News show the planned reception for 163 adults and 34 children cost about $35,000 for meals, hors d'oeuvres, a shrimp-and-clam station, a dessert station, a patio tent, and facility charges.
Heidi Austin, a niece of the Bergs', said she was "disgusted" to learn about the reception.
"It has been a challenging year and a half, and still the woman is free to spend all the money she stole from the elderly," Austin wrote in an email. "My uncle just turned 90, and I would at least like to tell him that there is justice in this world before he leaves it."
Austin discovered Byars' fraudulent past and through an attorney brought it to Herron's attention. As a result, Philadelphia now requires that a state criminal history report be submitted for proposed guardians.
The new requirements mirrored recommendations proposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee. In June, the justices approved new statewide rules requiring background checks; they take effect next June.
At Tuesday's hearing, Tyler said that Byars' lawyer had emailed him Aug. 16 and said she was aware of the hearing date but was going to be out of the country.
In his review, Tyler said he found that Byars had not accounted for $35,405 that she had spent of Segal's funds.
"Essentially," the judge said in court, it appears that Byars "converted [the $35,405] to her own uses and purposes."
Byars has not been criminally charged in any guardianship cases. Herron earlier this year referred the Segal and Berg matters to the District Attorney's Offices in Philadelphia and Delaware County. The office of State Sen. Art Haywood (D., Montgomery-Phila.) referred another case to the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office.