ORLANDO, Fla. — State agents have identified the cremated remains found last summer in the Orlando office of embattled professional guardian Rebecca Fierle.
- FDLE executed search warrant on guardian's office in August 2019
- Rebecca Fierle is subject of criminal probe into her handling of "wards"
- Agents recovered cremains in urns; all but 1 individual identified
Gretl Plessinger with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told Spectrum News that agents were able to identify the cremated remains of nine humans and one pet. One individual has not yet been identified.
Agents recovered the remains August 5, 2019 during a search of Fierle’s office on Hillcrest Street as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Fierle has not been charged with a crime, although she remains the subject of a FDLE criminal investigation related to allegations of abuse and wrongdoing involving seniors she was court-appointed to care for as a guardian. Fierle is also the focus of a Medicaid fraud investigation being conducted by the Office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.
“The investigation into allegations against Fierle and her business is on going,” Plessinger said in a statement. “The presence of the cremated remains recovered at the office does not necessarily constitute a crime.”
With most of the cremated remains identified, investigators said they're in the process of obtaining court orders to release the remains to their families.
Fierle has been the focus of multiple investigations since the 2019 death of Brevard County's Steven Stryker. Orange County Judge Janet Thorpe appointed Fierle as Stryker's guardian in September 2018. The court appointment gave Fierle full legal authority to make health-care decisions for Stryker as well as control his money and assets.
State investigators say Stryker died in part because of neglect by Fierle.
Spectrum News later learned Fierle was registered as a guardian for at least 450 people, or "wards," in 13 counties.
Two investigations by the Orange County Comptroller’s Office accuse Fierle of mishandling cash and assets belonging to her wards, as well as receiving almost $4 million by overbilling AdventHealth and the court system.
Family advocates also place blame on the court system itself, saying judges routinely fail to provide the necessary oversight.
"Except for maybe one brief appearance in front of a judge, a judge never sees these wards ever again, and — in fact, one of our biggest complaints — do they not only not see them, but they forget about them, and they fail to do their job of monitoring every guardianship they create," said Dr. Sam Sugar, founder of the group Americans Against Abusive Guardianships.
Spectrum News’ extensive investigation found that Thorpe later revealed, when revoking Fierle’s guardianship status, that Fierle had not been insured as a guardian in six years and failed to notify the court of several employees.
Reporting about Fierle has led state leaders to call for changes in the state’s guardianship system. Gov. Ron DeSantis included a $6.4 million increase in his state budget proposal to expand guardian oversight by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. There is also a pair of bills filed in Tallahassee for the upcoming legislative session that seeks to increase protections for seniors under guardianship.