National Post (Latest Edition)
Senior’s lottery winnings wishes blocked by bank
94-year-old’s competence questioned
VANCOUVER • Ailing at 94 but still getting around, Carlos Rodriguez would like to visit the only family he has left in Cuba, leave them a few dollars and say a final goodbye.
But the aged Vancouver resident can’t pay for the trip because his bank has restricted his access to what remains of a half- million in lottery winnings.
The Scotiabank branch believes he may be mentally incompetent despite legal and medical documents declaring otherwise.
“This has been an uphill battle against this powerful financial institution, and up to this date Mr. Rodriguez does not have access to his money to cover his basic needs,” his lawyer Andres Abogado said.
“You cannot presume someone is incapable because they don’t speak English or because they look old.”
In June, Abogado filed a complaint against the bank with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Ottawa for discriminating against Rodriguez based on his age and country of origin.
He thought that would prod it into doing the right thing.
It didn’t. Abogado, who is the local lawyer for the Consulate of Mexico, said the commission is conducting an investigation but he is also seeking an expedited hearing to obtain a B.C. Supreme Court order to force the bank to surrender the money.
Rodriguez came from Cuba to Canada more than half a century ago as a 32- year- old carpenter.
He never married, had no children — a lifelong bachelor, so far, he laughed. He has no family in Canada.
Rodriguez lived simply, socialized within a small Latin American community and, though he became a citizen, never learned English.
The biggest event in his life occurred in 2017 when he won $ 500,000.
“It was a big surprise,” he said through Abogado.
Rodriguez said it was a huge amount of money and suddenly he found himself with new friends, having to deal with the bank and making financial decisions for which he was unequipped.
“It brought a lot of challenges into my life,” he said.
“A lot of people who didn’t speak with me before started talking to me afterward.”
He didn’ t like to talk about the impact on his life because it upset him so much, Abogado interpreted: “It’s not fruitful.”
One woman, in particular, befriended Rodriquez, Abogado said, and she persuaded him to give her power of attorney and became his intermediary with the bank.
But in February 2019, Rodriguez reached out to Jose Yuman, a friend of 27 years, saying he was being abused and needed help.
Rodriguez blamed himself for the mess — he was too trusting, too unsophisticated.
Abogado was brought in to help in March 2019.
“I interviewed Mr. Rodriguez alone to make sure he had mental capacity and that there was no undue influence,” he said. “I was satisfied.”
Abogado terminated the power of attorney held by the woman, replaced it with one in Yuman’s name and attempted to get Rodriguez access to his money.
“We provided to the bank a medical certificate stating he was of sound mind … made by a certified psychologist fluent in Spanish, and still the bank refuses to give him access to his account,” the lawyer maintained.
“The bank made no effort to interview him at any point … the bank said, ‘ No, we’re not going to talk to you, we’re not going to interview you, we’re going to hire lawyers, we’re going to freeze your account and we’re going to force you to go to court to bring a court order to say that the power of attorney is valid.’ “
In a July 29, 2019, letter, the bank’s lawyer Scott Kerwin told Abogado the medical capacity report “contained glaring inconsistencies which required explanation. You repeatedly refused to provide any further evidence to assist your client in dispelling these questions.”
Since then the two sides have been deadlocked. There is about $ 350,000 left, Abogado said. When asked for comment, Kerwin directed Postmedia to the bank’s Toronto headquarters.
“At Scotiabank, we take the concerns of our customers very seriously and thoroughly review any instance where our customers feel we have not met their expectations,” responded Clancy Zeifman, senior manager of media relations and issues management. “However, with respect to any matters before a tribunal or a court, Scotiabank cannot comment.”