9 urns with cremated remains found at office of embattled Orlando guardian, AG says

State appointed guardian accused of abusing power

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist, Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida investigators recovered nine sets of cremated remains while executing a search warrant Monday at the office of a state court-appointed guardian accused of falsifying do not resuscitate orders, the office of Attorney General Ashley Moody confirmed to News 6.

Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Orange County sheriff's investigators executed the search warrant Monday at the office of Rebecca Fierle on Hillcrest Street in Orlando. Fierle is under criminal investigation.

Fierle resigned last month when she came under fire for allegedly abusing her power by filing do not-resuscitate orders on many of the wards under her supervision without family or court permission. A judge stripped her of nearly 100 cases less than a month ago after the accusations came to light.

The cases were based in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

FDLE agents and Orange County investigators found nine sets of cremated remains, or cremains, at the office, inside urns, the attorney general's press secretary Kylie Mason said in an email.

An additional set of unidentified cremains, possibly belonging to a dog, was also found, Mason said.

"As this investigation continues, we will be focusing on whose cremains are in the urns, medical records that identify the cause of death, how long the cremains have been in the target’s office and much more," Mason said. "As this is a very active criminal investigation, we cannot comment further at this time."

In July, Fierle submitted a letter of resignation to the state, after judges in multiple counties reassigned dozens of her guardianship cases.

The action came days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded an investigation and review of the state guardianship program following the death of a Central Florida man under Fierle's care. 

A state investigation revealed Fierle refused to remove a do-not-resuscitate order on 75-year-old Steven Stryker, even though he told her and family members he wanted lifesaving measures used. 

An Orange County judge removed and revoked nearly 100 guardianship cases from Fierle after it was discovered.

Also this week U.S. representatives and senators from four states introduced corresponding bipartisan bills that would add protections to the nearly 1.3 million people currently under the care of guardians.

The Guardianship Accountability Act, filled by Reps. Darren Soto (Florida), Charlie Crist (Florida), Gus Bilirakis (Florida) and Debbie Dingell (Michigan) on Wednesday, would implement oversight and add data collection measures to hold guardians, such as Fierle, accountable.

U.S. Sens Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, filed a companion bill in the Senate this week.

“In Orlando, we saw firsthand the abuse of a former guardian which led to a preventable death," Soto said. "We owe it to our seniors and to those living with disabilities to provide protections from ill-intended bad actors who abuse the system designed to provide a better quality of life.

"Guardianship is a critical resource that gives Americans support when they need it most. This bipartisan legislation will empower the good guardians and allow them to continue serving those in need, while combating against fraud and abuse.” 

The Guardianship Accountability Act would expand the availability of grants under the Elder Justice Act to fund state guardianship databases, training for court visitors and sharing guardian background checks.

The legislation would also establish a watchdog group, called the National Online Resource Center on Guardianship, to oversee the data collected through courts, states and local governments about guardians and people in their care.

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