Had VA officials conducted a background investigation, they might have learned about Chavis' bankruptcy and the disciplinary action by the nursing board. They did not.
Chavis, meanwhile, got additional referrals from outside the VA and began securing court appointments as a conservator.
One of her first clients was an 89-year-old woman living in a nursing home. Her most valuable asset was her house. It was vacant when Chavis took charge of her affairs. It did not stay that way for long.
An Untruthful 'No'
Helen Smith moved to Los Angeles from Kentucky as a young woman. She and her late husband, Luddie, worked laundry and construction jobs to buy a modest white bungalow on Denver Avenue in South Los Angeles.
By 1993, Smith was in the Marlinda nursing home in Lynwood, suffering from dementia, with no one to manage her affairs.
Chavis said she learned about Smith while chatting with an elder-care investigator in a supermarket checkout line. In August 1993, she filed a petition with Los Angeles Probate Court to become Smith's conservator.
She was required to obtain a surety bond. The application asked whether she had ever filed for bankruptcy.
Had Chavis answered truthfully, her career might have ended right there. Instead, she marked "no."
Chavis allowed her son, Orlando Johnson, then 29, to live in Smith's house rent-free. She paid the utility bills from Smith's bank account.
In the summer of 1994, Chavis sought a restraining order against her son, whom she described as a paroled murderer and drug user. In court papers, she said he had threatened her.
She also said he was stealing Smith's belongings.
That fall, Chavis asked the Probate Court for permission to sell the house to pay Smith's nursing home bills.
She said she had found a buyer willing to pay $85,500. That was $9,500 less than a court-appointed appraiser had said the house was worth.
Another unusual feature of the sale was that Smith was lending the buyer 20% of the purchase price.
Also surprising was the identity of the buyer. Chavis swore in court papers that it was her lawyer, C. Brian Smith.
In fact, it was Chavis herself.
In an interview, she acknowledged that her lawyer agreed to serve as a straw purchaser because she could not obtain a mortgage. Chavis said that she, not Brian Smith, made the mortgage payments.