Friday, August 03, 2007

Connecticut abuse of citizens

Losing Control: Bringing Maydelle Home
Maydelle Trambarulo's expected 30 to 60 stay in Connecticut has lasted over three years.
By Betsy Yagla
Kathleen Cei Photo
Daughter Anne Haines (second from right) estimates travel to Connecticut and lawyers fees have cost her family $250,000.

Maydelle Trambarulo's family has spent the last three years fighting to free the elderly New Jersey woman from Connecticut.

Maydelle is 76 years old and suffers from dementia and Parkinson's disease. Ralph, her husband of nearly 52 years, lives in New Jersey. The Connecticut probate court system has essentially divorced the two by dividing their finances and not allowing Maydelle to go home. Her grandchildren think she's been kidnapped by the courts and her husband thinks she's dead. Maydelle thinks she's being punished. Ralph is 80, and is too ill to travel the five hours it takes to come visit her.

Maydelle's problems started after she fell and broke her hip in 2004. Ralph and Maydelle had recently moved from New Jersey to Delaware to be near their son, Paul. Visiting nurses helped the aging couple. So did Paul and his partner Brian Pincin, who lived just six blocks away. Ralph and Maydelle had lived in a large two-story New Jersey home for 47 years. Their four children worried about their safety, so the couple downsized and moved closer to family.

Teresa Sirico, an East Haven realtor and Ralph's niece, visited them in their new Delaware home after several years of no contact. The Trambarulo family had gathered to celebrate Maydelle's August birthday and help out after she broke her hip.

Sirico told the Trambarulos that Maydelle should go to Connecticut with her to get care from Yale doctors. The family says Sirico told them she would take Maydelle to Connecticut for 30 to 60 days and then return her to her Delaware home. Maydelle was only semi-lucid; she didn't fully understand what was going on. But after some discussion, the family agreed the trip would be a good idea and helped their mother grant Sirico power of attorney over Maydelle.

"That sounded good, we wanted the best for her," says Alice Wright, Maydelle's daughter, in a phone interview from her Florida home.

But three years later Maydelle is still in Connecticut. She missed her husband's 80th birthday. She missed their 50th wedding anniversary. She's missed her grandchildren's birthdays and several graduations. She doesn't understand why her family has to keep coming to Connecticut to fight Sirico and the Probate Court system to bring her home to New Jersey.


Maydelle was brought to Connecticut in August 2004 but was never taken to Yale as Sirico proposed. Instead, she was deposited at an assisted living facility in Woodbridge, and in 2006 she was transferred to Mariner's Point in East Haven after a brief stay in Derby. When she did have hip surgery it was at the Hospital of St. Raphael with a doctor who works both at Yale and St. Raphael. On Sept. 15, 2004, Sirico filed for conservatorship over Maydelle.

There are now two lawsuits going on to bring Maydelle home. There is an appeal at the Superior Court in which her family says Connecticut has no jurisdiction over a New Jersey woman. And there is a motion in the Probate Court to overturn the conservatorship and return Maydelle to her family.

In Superior Court last month, Sirico testified that she notified Maydelle's family of what she was doing. The family gasped and called her a liar. The judge told them to quiet down.

Maydelle's oldest daughter, Anne Haines, says she received notice of the application two days after Sirico filed it.

In 2004, control of Maydelle and her finances was handed over to attorney Mark Dellavalle, who specializes in foreclosures and car accidents. In granting conservatorship to Dellavalle, the judge divided the elderly couple's assets, worth upwards of $1 million, as if they were divorced—Ralph only has access to half of their money, while the other half is being spent by Maydelle's lawyers.

When Ralph decided he wanted to return to New Jersey and buy a home, he had to take out a mortgage.

Dellavalle charges Maydelle $200 an hour for his services. Maydelle also has a court-appointed attorney, Paul Whitaker (who also specializes in foreclosures), and a guardian ad litem, Robyn Berke, a Bridgeport attorney who is supposed to tell the judge what is best for Maydelle. They're also being paid by Maydelle.

All medical and financial decisions concerning Maydelle are made by Dellavalle, with input from Whitaker, Berke and Sirico.

"How can these perfect strangers know what's best for our mother?" asks Haines, the eldest of Ralph and Maydelle's three daughters. "It seems to us to be a tremendous conflict of interest. Is it what's best for my mother or what's best for their checkbook? They're getting paid. If she leaves Connecticut, that's the end of their gravy train."

For the 18 months between Nov. 10, 2004 and May 5, 2006, Dellavalle charged Maydelle $48,555. Maydelle's husband and her four children are fighting their mother's lawyers in court to bring her home. Maydelle's money is paying the lawyers who keep her here.


Maydelle needs help dressing, washing and with personal hygiene. She's depressed and confused. She's told Sirico and her lawyers she wants to stay in Connecticut. But she cries to her children that she wants to go home. "Every time I talk to her she says 'Why am I being punished? Why am I in prison?'" says daughter Alice Wright.

"Every time we're visiting she'll say 'I'm ready, let's go.' We have to say, 'Mom, we're working on it.' She doesn't understand why she just can't go home to New Jersey," says Wright.

"The key question from our point of view is, what does the woman want? And what kind of care is she getting?," says Judge James Lawlor, the state's Probate Court administrator. "I was satisfied that her wishes were being respected and her care is good. I certainly wouldn't ship the woman off to New Jersey just because someone else wants her there."

After hearing both sides' arguments on Monday, New Haven Probate Judge John Keyes says he will visit Maydelle to ask her himself what she wants. But Maydelle does not like probing questions from strangers. Maydelle is warm and sweet with family members. She smiles, laughs and make jokes. But when I visited her she fielded questions from strangers with a "Why do you ask?" instead of an answer.

Theoretically it doesn't matter what Maydelle says, because legally she is considered incompetent. Her lawyers are supposed to do what she wants and what is best for her. Yet how much weight can a lawyer give to statements made by someone who's legally incompetent? Maydelle could say she wants to live on Mars for all the law cares.

There's another legal conundrum here—a vagueness to the current law that allows cases like Maydelle's to go forward. A conservatorship is supposed to be filed in the district in which the conservee, or ward, resides or has domicile. A domicile, legally speaking, is a permanent place of residence. In Maydelle's case, that would be New Jersey, where she lived at the same address for 47 years. A residence is merely where you are living currently. Sirico filed for conservatorship in Woodbridge, where Maydelle had been for less than a month.

Is Maydelle a Connecticut resident? Her family certainly doesn't think so.

The changes to the conservatorship laws might rectify this. Starting in October, when a conservatorship is placed on someone whose domicile is not in Connecticut, the conservatorship must be reviewed every 60 days. It must be canceled if the person hasn't had an opportunity to return home. Maydelle hasn't been given that option yet.

Two of Ralph and Maydelle's children live in New Jersey and two are in Florida. On a good day, it's a five hour drive from the Haines' New Jersey home to their mother's new East Haven residence. Wright and brother Paul fly from Florida when there's a court date. The families rent cars to travel between their mother and their father and pay for hotels in Connecticut.

"This has probably cost our family $250,000" in travel costs and lawyer's fees, estimates Haines.

Sirico was reached by phone but would not agree to be interviewed. Her only comment was: "What I've done is what's in the best interest of my aunt. The court record speaks for itself."

In court, Sirico said she rescued Maydelle from a "despicable" household. Sirico visits Maydelle once a day, sometimes more. She takes her to doctors' appointments and to water therapy.


This isn't the first time Sirico has applied for conservatorship over someone.

Court records show that in 1996, Sirico applied for conservatorship over her mentor, Fred Devita, after he had a stroke. She was denied, but she did get power of attorney. Sirico had worked for Devita until he invited his daughter Mary to work full-time in his realty office. Mary and Sirico did not get along, so Devita asked Sirico to leave. Devita's wife and his other daughters also did not get along with Sirico, according to court documents.

After Devita had a stroke, Sirico began showing up at the hospital and also at the family home. Sirico began to manage Devita's rental properties. She also took him grocery shopping, to doctors' appointments and to water therapy.

In court testimony, family friend and attorney Frank Grazioso says Sirico told him Devita's daughters were neglectful and didn't want to be involved.

But the three daughters took care of their ailing mother who had Alzheimer's and cancer. Daughter Mary even had her mother move in with her. After her mother moved, the locks on the family home were changed.

According to court documents, Grazioso, who was friends with Devita for 45 years, says Devita told him Sirico "was doing this as a favor. It was one of his justifications to me for having her do it. This isn't going to cost the girls anything."

Mary testified she once heard Sirico telling her father's therapist that he didn't want to see his children until after an upcoming court date. "He doesn't want his kids visiting," Mary says she overheard. She entered the living room where Devita, Sirico and the therapist were. "Is that true? Do you not want me here?" she asked her father. He said no, and then took her hand.

The daughters also say that Sirico told Devita that daughter Karen Connolly had poisoned him.

After Devita died Nov. 1, 1999, Sirico tried to remove Mary as the executor of her father's will. After a judge wouldn't let her, Sirico sent the family a bill for $25,000 for services she had provided Devita. The judge ruled in favor of Sirico.

Maydelle's family knows what happened between the Devita family and Sirico. They've talked to his daughters and they've read the court files. But they say they're not going to worry just yet about whether Sirico will sue. Right now they're concentrating on getting their mother back.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

EXPOSED AGAIN!! Mark Dellavlle and Teresa Sirico- YOU'VE BEEN EXPOSED!!!

Anne Haines, the daughter of Maydelle Trambarulo, was invited to appear on the FOX News Talk Show- "The Morning Show with Mike and Julliet". Click on the link or copy and paste into your browser:

and this link:

Thu Feb 28, 06:49:00 PM 2008  

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