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State Bungled Earlier Complaints About Group Home

State investigators failed to respond to prior complaints about an illegal assisted living facility in Austin shut down by Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday, and one of Paxton's employees is under investigation concerning powers of attorney related to the case.

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As the Texas Attorney General moved on Friday to shut down an illegal assisted living operation in Austin, The Texas Tribune has learned that the state failed to investigate previous complaints about the facility, and an employee of the attorney general's office may have been unlawfully assisting one of the facility's associates.

On Friday, Attorney General Ken Paxton's office obtained a temporary restraining order against Zoe's Safe Place, one week after the state Department of Aging and Disabilities Services sent investigators to interview residents there. After determining that Zoe's was operating as an illegal assisted living center, the department relocated five people and referred the case to Paxton's office. 

State law requires any facility to have an assisted living license if it offers personal care services such as administering medications or helping residents dress or bathe themselves. 

According to affidavits filed by department investigators, residents at Zoe's Place were found to be living in bed bug-infested conditions in the group home where the thermostat registered 87 degrees and roaches roamed freely. Some residents went without bed linens, and others without beds altogether. 

"I observed two people sleeping in the hallway and in the common area," wrote Barbara Hanshew-Swenson, a DADS investigator. "I observed live roaches crawling throughout the building," 

One resident told a DADS investigator he recently had been raped.

In a press release issued Friday, Paxton praised investigators' work.

“The diligent work of DADS protects and supports the elderly and disabled of Texas, and I commend the investigators who dedicate themselves to safeguarding some of our most vulnerable,” Paxton said. “Thanks to their hard work in this case, we were able to take appropriate legal action and seek justice against those who continue to threaten the health and safety of our loved ones.” 

But the Tribune learned that two previous complaints — in October 2014 and last February — about Zoe's Safe Place received by DADS were never investigated. "We didn't investigate the complaints," said Cecilia Cavuto, DADS spokeswoman. "It fell through the cracks."

Also, DADS investigators discovered through interviews that 15 of the approximately 60 residents living at Zoe's Place had recently been moved from a Belton group home called God's Blessings, which was temporarily shut down on Aug. 20 because it too was operating as an unlicensed assisted living facility.

Cavuto confirmed on Friday that officials from the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General have contacted DADS about the God's Blessings group home, which is owned by Renee Segura-Livingston. 

Also on Friday, the Attorney General's office confirmed it was investigating allegations that one of its employees assisted with or approved paperwork granting Segura-Livingston power of attorney for several residents who were paying to stay at God's Blessings. Group home owners who do not accept Medicaid or Medicare sometimes have residents sign over their Social Security checks to pay rent.

"We received an allegation of this nature concerning one of our employees and we're investigating those allegations," said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Paxton's office.

Pressed for more detail, Castle responded: "All I can give you is what I just said."

Attempts to reach Segura-Livingston and Tommie Yvette McKinney, owner of Zoe's Safe Place, were not successful. 

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Courts Criminal justice Health care Attorney General's Office Ken Paxton