CHARLOTTE, MICH. - Haiden Rivera is a 9-year-old boy with severe physical and mental disabilities. Since shortly after birth, he has had brain damage, cerebral palsy and other health problems. As his attorneys wrote in court documents, he "will never work, live independently, have a family, or even have the capacity to care for himself."
Three years ago, Haiden paid $240,000 for a house on the outskirts of Charlotte.
Now, one or both of his parents could face criminal charges and be held liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars drained from his estate.
Haiden was born Sept. 12, 2008, in an Army hospital at Fort Hood, Texas. Within hours, he had a series of seizures and exhibited signs of brain damage, court records show. He was airlifted to another hospital and eventually diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
“He wasn’t crying when he was born,” his mother, Kasie Rivera, would later tell the Killeen Daily Herald, a newspaper near Fort Hood. “I knew that something wasn’t right. He wasn’t moving; he didn’t cry. He wouldn’t drink out of a bottle.”
Kasie Rivera and her husband, Higinio Rivera III, who was a soldier when Haiden was born, later sued, alleging negligence by military doctors before and during their son’s birth.
In 2013, Justice Department officials settled the lawsuit for $6.5 million.
Most of the money was placed into a reversionary trust that can only be used for Haiden’s medical care — if he dies before the funds are depleted, the balance is returned to the government.
About $550,000, however, went directly to Haiden.
Kasie Rivera told the Daily Herald that her son, 5 years old at the time, was nonverbal and required a feeding tube to survive.
"I fought for (Haiden) because I knew in my heart that there was injustice done, and it’s a sense of pride and relief knowing I was able to fight for him,” she said.
After Higinio Rivera was granted an early discharge from his enlistment, the family — the couple has another son — moved to Michigan.
The settlement check from the Justice Department would be paid directly to Haiden, so Kasie Rivera petitioned the Eaton County Probate Court to be named conservator of her son’s estate.
In March 2014, she was granted management of the estate and soon opened a restricted account at a local branch of Huntington National Bank, court records show. Still waiting for Haiden’s settlement check, she deposited $10 into the account.
By definition, financial conservators are supposed to spend the money they control only in ways that benefit the person they represent. A judge must approve every expenditure, and banks may release funds only in response to a court order.
In Haiden’s case, the money never made it into his bank account.
'Wild personal spending'
On June 24, 2014, Kasie Rivera received a $551,979 check made payable to Haiden’s estate. She deposited the check into her personal account, rather than the restricted one earmarked for Haiden’s money.
Two days later, court records show, she contacted her attorney, Neil Kimball, because she wanted help buying a house, a car and furniture.
Kimball said Kasie Rivera stopped responding to his letters and messages after he advised her against the purchases.
“I believe she’s followed a path I advised against,” he’d later tell Eaton County Probate Judge Thomas Byerley.
Bank officials would ultimately determine that, less than a year after the check was deposited, virtually all of the $551,979 was gone.
Kasie Rivera, who in court documents is alternately listed as Kassie Rivera or Kasie Pruden-Rivera, could not be reached for comment. According to divorce paperwork Higinio Rivera filed earlier this year, the couple has been separated since 2014. No one answered the door Monday at the home outside Charlotte.
Rather than deposit the money into the restricted account, and receive permission from a judge before spending the money on expenses directly benefiting Haiden, Kasie Rivera spent the money as if it were her own, said Ken O’Deen, an attorney who was named Haiden’s financial conservator after Kasie Rivera was removed.
O’Deen, in turn, sued Huntington National Bank on behalf of Haiden’s estate.
In a letter to the bank, David Brake, who filed the lawsuit for O’Deen, wrote that it is “difficult to understand how the bank allowed the conservatorship estate funds to be deposited into Kasie Rivera’s personal bank account.”
“The improper use of the (money) should never have occurred,” Brake continued. “It is our position that Huntington Bank shares in the responsibility for the losses.”
In response, the bank reached a tolling agreement, which essentially pauses the lawsuit while Huntington Bank goes after Kasie Rivera for the money it may be held liable for. In the meantime, the bank deposited $20,000 into Haiden’s account.
Peter Rhoades, the bank’s attorney, said the money Kasie Rivera spent was later tracked into four categories: the $240,000 home, about $60,000 for numerous vehicles, transfers to other people and “wild personal spending.”
Rhoades did not respond to a request for comment.
‘Makes my blood boil’
Kasie Rivera, 32, has apparently refused to appear at any of the hearings related to her conservatorship of Haiden’s estate.
And earlier this summer, she was ordered to spend three days in the Eaton County jail because she failed to show up for court-ordered alcohol tests after pleading guilty to driving drunk while transporting a passenger younger than 16.
Kasie Rivera also failed to pay property taxes on the home, O’Deen said, and didn’t have homeowners insurance.
“I’ve paid the taxes,” using Haiden’s money, O’Deen said. “I had to get an insurance policy for the house. That was not easy because she wouldn’t let anybody into the house.”
Concerned about Haiden’s well-being, O’Deen said he asked Eaton County Sheriff’s officials to conduct a welfare check. While it's not clear whether any action was taken after the check, the Riveras have not lost custody of their children.
Byerley has also entered a default judgment against Kasie Rivera for nearly $306,000, which represents the missing money minus what was paid for the house.
Huntington National Bank, which could eventually be held liable for that amount, began garnishing her wages in August.
According to her request for a court-appointed attorney in the 2016 drunk driving case, Kasie Rivera reported earning $4,000 per month for “in-home care for my son." It's not clear if that money is being paid out of Haiden's medical trust or another source.
Huntington National Bank has also moved to hold Higinio Rivera liable for the missing money even though he was not listed alongside his wife as Haiden’s conservator.
Court records indicate O’Deen, Judge Thomas Byerley and other attorneys involved in the case have openly discussed the prospect of criminal charges against Kasie Rivera.
“It makes my blood boil,” Byerley said at a hearing in 2016. “Are criminal charges pending?”
O’Deen responded that he’d been working with a detective about possible charges, and he hoped to have the case “gift-wrapped” for police.
At a later hearing, O’Deen told Byerley that Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd had declined to press charges.
Reached Thursday, however, Lloyd said the case is still under investigation.
“We are still reviewing documents,” he said. “My economic crimes attorney is reviewing that case and no decision has been made.”
In the meantime, Kasie Rivera and her two sons appear to still live in the 2,400-square-foot home just outside Charlotte, which sits on 4.3 acres of land and includes a large outbuilding along with a trampoline, swing set and other toys.
© 2017, Lansing State Journal