COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- We often protect those we love the most, nurturing and supporting our loved ones, especially our parents as they grow older.
But it doesn't always happen that way, especially for one elderly man in El Paso County, Gary Cummings.
At age 89, Gary often described his lust for life as his "most treasured gift." The athletic pickle-ball enthusiast, pictured below, enjoyed life on and off the court.
According to his friends who saw him three to four times a week, his competitive spirit was "thriving."
Here's what the group told us about Gary's demeanor in late 2018.
- "He plays a mean game of pickleball"
- "He was a happy-go-lucky guy. He had no care in the world."
- "He was very happy... he smiled a lot."
- "He was coherent and interested in other people."
During this time, Gary paid his longtime friend, Nefthali Capua to care for him.
The two lived together for seven years -- adventuring in Colorado and playing pickleball.
But, that all changed in a mere four months. Gary's life took a drastic turn.
"All of a sudden he's just gone," said Don Nelson, one of Gary's close friends.
Gary was isolated from his caretaker Capua, his friends; months later, his physical condition began deteriorating.
So how did this all happen? Let's go back to November of 2017.
- Friends said Gary wanted landscaping work done on his home, but he was having trouble with his checking account.
- In late Nov. of 2017, Gary transferred $35,000 to Capua, requesting Capua make a payment on his behalf.
- The money was sent in three $10,000 increments. That immediately flagged Gary's bank and alerted the potential fraud to Adult Protective Services or (APS) who launched an investigation into Capua.
- Yet documents prove Capua immediately transferred that money to the landscaping company. Weeks later, Capua was cleared from the bank.
Capua was cleared, but the investigation turned to Gary. APS deemed him incompetent, requesting emergency guardianship and conservatorship.
This isn't uncommon.
A guardian is the legal caretaker of an incapacitated person. Whereas, a conservator is financially responsible for someone physically and mentally incapable.
But, Gary didn't fit either description. And there's video to prove it. Fourteen months after Gary was declared mentally incompetent, he's seen in the video doing his taxes on March 4, 2018. Nearly a year after being declared physically incompetent, Gary is seen playing competitive pickleball.
Gary felt his competency evaluation was rushed and biased, according to a phone recording of him describing the demeanor of the psychologist who evaluated him.
"The psychologist... and he comes up and says he's starting to go [motioning to his head] he can't do any of this," said Cummings.
Yet, despite proof of his good condition -- Gary Cummings lost all personal and financial freedom.
Records show that Tammra Hasling, the former temporary conservator assigned to Gary's case, took control of his bank accounts, property, and other assets. Yet documents show Hasling failed to pay a number of Gary's bills like utility accounts, credit cards, sports club membership dues, and property taxes on his $622,000 home.
That's five failed payments. Yet, Hasling faced no penalty.
Investigative Reporter Stephanie Sierra questioned Hasling about that.
"I'm just trying to understand why that wasn't done?" Sierra asked.
"I can't answer that question," Hasling said. "I will have to ask my attorney if I can talk to you."
Gary's case turned over to the permanent conservator, Janice Eder. From there his assets were liquidated and in mid-April of 2019, Cummings was forced from his home into a nursing facility that prohibited visits from nearly all his friends.
Except one, Gary's close friend, Don Nelson -- who managed to see Gary by mistake of the nursing staff.
"He had lost a lot of weight, he was sad, and he tried to get away and they drugged him," Nelson said.
During that visit, Nelson said Gary gave him a letter pleading to leave the nursing facility.
"The first thing he said was, 'Get my bag, I want to get out of here,'" said Nelson, before he was asked to leave.
The following day, Nelson tried to visit. But, Gary was moved.
"I don't even know where he is," Nelson said.
Rumors spread Gary was sent to another nursing home. But, exactly where remains a mystery.
What we do know is Gary's children filed the petition stating they believe their father is incompetent. Yet according to Nelson, Gary hasn't been in contact with his children for years.
I tried calling each of Gary's four children to get their side. I didn't receive a call back. But, after the story aired our team received an email from the family attorney, Robert Erler.
The message wrote:
"We wish to state that we, as Gary’s family, have been closely involved and carefully watching throughout all of our dad’s court proceedings to make sure that his best interests are being looked after. We have and continue to fully support what APS, the Court and the professionals have done and are doing to protect our father. Our dad is safe and doing well in large part because of what these professionals have accomplished."
The email also pointed out there are legitimate reasons why Gary’s privacy, including his location, are being protected. But those reasons were not disclosed.
We sat down with attorney Terrence Doherty, who has experience fighting elder abuse cases. He said most often the motive is simple.
"9 out of 10 times... it's greed," Doherty said.
While we can't confirm that's the motive for Gary's case, failed payments and unexplained isolation point toward his current caretakers, conservator Janice Eder and guardians Kyndra Carpenter and Genie Black.
We wanted to know why Gary is being isolated from his friends, why he is being forced to live somewhere he hates, why evidence proving his competency is being ignored, and most of all, why a seemingly alert 89-year-old deteriorated in a mere three months time?
We brought these questions to his conservator, Janice Eder.
"I understand you are the conservator for Gary Cummings," said Sierra. "Can you explain to us why Gary has been isolated from his friends for 10 months now? We want to hear your side."
"Uh, you have to go through my attorney," Eder said.
We tried to ask Eder why she failed to pay property taxes on Gary's home. But, she refused to answer.
We've since received a letter from Eder's attorney, Jack Donley.
"KRDO does not know who it is dealing with. It does not know why the court appointed professionals and the court took the drastic measures they took. At best, that is reckless and constituted a wilful and wanton disregard for Mr. Cummings' rights and feelings as well as his safety and well being. It is outrageous," Donley wrote.
Nefthali Capua, Gary's former caretaker, was previously arrested for neglect and violating his restraining order -- both charges pertaining to Gary's case. It's unclear where the criminal case stands.
El Paso County's Adult Protective Services responds to roughly 3,500 reports of elder abuse and exploitation each year. Yet many of those reports aren't getting the attention they deserve as cases continue to get backlogged at the county courthouse.
The guardians requested Gary be prohibited from having any contact with any of his friends. We're told that request was granted by Judge Robin Chittum.