Disability Services of Illinois CEO Reuben Goodwin Sr. arrives at court on the 24th floor of the Daley Center. Friday, December 16, 2016.
A man with developmental disabilities who had been missing since the state revoked the license of his group home provider weeks ago was found wandering Chicago’s streets in the cold Wednesday night. Another man was discovered outside his old group home, attorneys for the state revealed Thursday.
Three people remain missing from the network of homes, and attorneys for the Illinois Department of Human Services leveled additional allegations that Disability Services of Illinois CEO Reuben Goodwin Sr. was obstructing the search.
Those attorneys told a Cook County judge that the man found wandering had told a witness that Goodwin offered to find him a job if he avoided moving to a new group home managed by a different provider. That man also told the witness he feared being punished by Disability Services if he cooperated with caseworkers who had been searching for missing residents, attorneys for the state said.
Thursday’s hearing featured the latest twists in the frantic effort to ensure that the former residents of Goodwin’s homes were safe.
Goodwin’s attorney, Michael Kelly, said the allegations about the job enticement weren’t true and that Goodwin has been cooperative with the search. Yet, the fact that a resident was found outside in the cold cast doubt on Goodwin’s assertion that state officials were overreacting to the situation; he has said each of his former residents had left with their families for the holidays and were not out on the streets.
Other former residents told caseworkers last week that Disability Services employees said people were trying to kidnap them, told them to turn out the lights and hide when caseworkers came to the door of their group home and, at one point, spirited them away to a hotel in Indiana.
On Thursday, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Pantle ordered Disability Services to give state officials the money from Social Security disability benefit checks that it received this month for all of its former residents. Group homes use that income to offset some of the costs of providing services while setting aside $50 monthly for each resident.
Goodwin’s business lost its license Nov. 28 over safety concerns, but Goodwin continued to collect the money. Attorneys for the state alleged that neither Goodwin nor his employees released the Social Security cards and other documents the former residents needed to transfer benefits to their new group home providers.
Michael Kelly, attorney for Disability Services, protested. But Pantle said the December federal payments belonged to the residents and could not be used to offset whatever amount the group home provider feels the state still owes.
"You can’t hold their Social Security checks hostage," Pantle said.
The Tribune’s "Suffering in Secret" series, published in November, exposed problems at Goodwin’s group home network, which used to be known as Southwest Disabilities Services & Supports. After the Tribune shared findings with the head of Human Services, inspectors went to all of Goodwin’s group homes. Concluding that the 45 residents who lived there at the time were at "imminent risk," the department revoked the business’ license and began moving the individuals to new homes.
Not all of those residents have been accounted for, leading to a series of court hearings and sharp questioning of Goodwin about where those people might be.
Pantle had asked state attorneys to file missing persons reports last week, and Homewood police subsequently identified one of the residents as 35-year-old Latrice Charleston. She was last seen leaving her group home in the 18600 block of Center Avenue on Dec. 1 with an "unidentified female." Police said "it is unknown if Latrice has her medications with her."
Anyone with information on her whereabouts should call Homewood Police at 708-206-3420.
The other two residents went missing from group homes in Chicago, but a Chicago police spokesman declined to release their names or identifying details.
Pantle on Thursday issued an order allowing police, state officials and caseworkers to access records that would allow them to track when and where the residents’ food-stamps debit cards were used.
Last week, citing the possibility of "irreparable injury," Pantle ordered Disability Services to turn over 18 residents to caseworkers who planned to move them to safer homes managed by different providers.
Goodwin said six of those residents, who serve as their own guardians, left with family members, though he said he couldn’t give the names or phone numbers of those relatives or even verify the date the residents departed. He told the judge Dec. 16 that residents functioned independently and could come and go as they pleased.
"When they leave, they say, ‘I’m going,”’ he said last week in court. "When they’re back, they say, ‘I’m home.”’
Attorneys for Human Services in legal filings Thursday said the missing individuals required more supervision than that. They asked the judge to review privately the confidential service plans for the residents because they detail the disabilities and needs of the missing people.
Pantle agreed to review the plans; she also called for another hearing Friday morning and ordered that Goodwin and two of his employees be present.
Twitter @TribuneTrish, @PeterMatuszak