Angela Woodhull says she's been fighting for 10 years to get prosecutors to investigate professional guardian

Nearly a decade before law enforcement began investigating a professional guardian, Gainesville resident Angela Woodhull was desperately trying to get anyone’s attention to share her concerns about Rebecca Fierle.

State and federal investigators initially dismissed her claims. Lawyers threatened to sue her. She was discredited in court and local media outlets wouldn't listen.

Woodhull, an accordion-playing comedian who also happens to be a licensed private investigator, claims that the former guardian drained nearly $700,000 from her dying mother's bank account after being fraudulently being appointed by the courts.

Woodhull sued Fierle and two local nursing homes in circuit court in 2008, claiming embezzlement and asking for Fierle to be removed as guardian. The case was dismissed.

She says she is glad investigators are starting to look into guardianship cases managed by Fierle.

“It’s pretty horrific what’s going on,” she said.

Fierle, 50, became well-known in Florida medical circles in the late 1990s and 2000s for assisting vulnerable seniors whose family members were unable or unwilling to provide them with adequate care.

Almost anyone can be appointed a guardian, though the process must be done through a court. A guardian is given legal authority to care for and make decisions for people and their assets when they become incapacitated or disabled. Guardians are often paid from the patient's yearly income.

The Orlando Sentinel, which has covered the case extensively, reported that Fierle is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in connection with the death of a Central Florida man after she refused to lift a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order that the man purportedly didn’t want. The case has opened the door for prosecutors to investigate some of her other patients' cases, too, whose family members have expressed similar concerns as Woodhull's.

Since the Fierle investigation began in July, law enforcement found cremated remains of nine unknown people in her home. Family members for some of Fierle's past clients are beginning to speak out about their concerns with the guardian's practices.

Though much of the focus has revolved around her work in Orange and Seminole counties, Fierle cared for patients all over the state, including at least nine in Alachua County and one in Marion County, according to court records.

She resigned in July as a professional guardian. Her attorney did not return two calls placed to his office in recent weeks. Additional efforts to reach Fierle were unsuccessful.

One of Fierle's companies, Geriatric Management, contracted with and was paid by several hospitals around the state, including UF Health Shands in Gainesville. Woodhull says she came in contact with Fierle while trying to move her mother, Louise Falvo, from Ohio to Gainesville.

“I knew when I met this woman that something just wasn't right,” she said.

Woodhull said she never agreed to have Fierle care for her mother and that Woodhull's signature was forged on documents. Woodhull said her mother had close to $700,000, which soon went toward attorney and guardian fees.

Woodhull tried to go through the courts to remove Fierle as guardian, but says she was disparaged and the case was dismissed. Woodhull admits to not having the best childhood growing up with her mother. She was abused growing up, she said, and her mother suffered from a personality disorder — those details were exploited in court, she said.

In 2008, Woodhull began investigating Fierle, devoting years to research and reviewing at least 15 of her other patients who, collectively, she said, lost millions in assets while under guardianship. She found that Fierle had more than 300 wards in 13 counties across the state.

In 2009, Woodhull sent a 21-page complaint in 2009 to former Attorney General Bill McCollum. She sent a 66-page report to former Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2012, detailing her claims. Nearly 200 pages of backup documents were also sent, and Woodhull said she became devoted to her research at the expense of her private life.

Still, prosecutors didn’t bite.

“It just about killed me to give up everything I love,” Woodhull said. “But there is something about injustice that engages the soul.”

Now, 10 years later, Woodhull's reports are finally being reviewed by state prosecutors and court officials in Seminole County. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Ashley Moody's office confirmed they received and are reviewing Woodhull's work as part of a separate Medicare investigation.

Aside from Falvo, there were at least eight other people in Alachua County who were placed under Fierle's guardianship. Woodhull says she has extensive reports on several of those cases, too.

In most cases, she said, here's how events unfolded: Attorneys advise families to enter into guardianship. When they do, the patients’ closest family members are “demonized” and replaced with a licensed professional to care for the ailing family member. When it goes to court, the patients’ assets go toward legal fees on behalf of the guardian.

“I cried out to the courts for many years,” Woodhull said. “It went on for a long time, and I finally just gave up. You don’t realize all the people who work in coordination together."

Last week, The Sentinel reported that a judge threatened to hold AdventHealth officials in contempt of court because the Central Florida hospital company failed to hand over records related to its ties to Fierle.

UF Health Shands spokeswoman Rossana Passaniti said the hospital never received any complaints about Fierle during the time it contracted with Fierle's company, and that she couldn't comment on specific cases. She said the hospital has not received any requests from state or judicial officials regarding Fierle, but health officials would cooperate if asked.

“At UF Health, the privacy of our patients is of utmost importance, and therefore we cannot comment on any particular situation,” she wrote in an email.

After more than a decade of reaching out to every state agency "under the sun” hoping someone would listen, Woodhull said she's gratified that officials seem to be taking the case seriously.

“Even after 10 years of knowing about this, my jaw is still dropping,” she said.