Helen Jones sits in a wheelchair, surrounded by strangers who control her life.
She is not allowed to answer the telephone. Her mail is screened. She cannot spend her own money.
A child of the Depression, Jones, 87, worked hard for decades, driving rivets into World War II fighter planes, making neckties, threading bristles into nail-polish brushes. She saved obsessively, putting away $560,000 for her old age.
Her life changed three years ago, when a woman named Melodie Scott told a court in San Bernardino that Jones was unable to manage for herself. Without asking Jones, a judge named Scott — someone she had never met — her legal guardian.
Scott is a professional conservator.
In the series “Guardians for Profit,” Los Angeles Times reporters Robin Fields, Evelyn Larrubia and Jack Leonard outed the secret of Scott and other California conservators.
The paper’s reporters pieced together a patchwork of abuse after extensive research. They discovered that conservators were fleecing the elderly people they were assigned to protect.
“Protecting the vulnerable has long been a hallmark of the best journalism, and this L.A. Times series that exposes systematic predation of the elderly by for-profit conservators certainly follows this tradition,” the judges said.
“Slogging through 2,400 court cases in three years and interviewing key players produced this series that fires reader indignation,” the judges said. “The result was legislation that for the first time requires conservators in California to be trained, licensed and monitored.”
These reforms were born out of California Chief Justice Ronald M. George’s reaction to the tireless travails of the Times staff.
“George said the Times stories ‘raised everyone’s consciousness’ about the problem and ‘served to illuminate that it should be a top priority and given immediate attention,’ ” said Los Angles Times Editor Dean Baquet.
Baquet was pleased with the persistence of his writers and the prevailing message of their work.
“These revelations did not come ready-made from a task force report or a grand jury investigation,” Baquet said. “The reporters discerned this story on their own, and fleshed it out piece by hard-won piece.
“It could happen to any of us. This is the central message of ‘Guardians for Profit,’ and it is why the Los Angeles Times series makes such powerful reading.”