Two former bankrupt brothers banned from the poultry industry for a total of 17 years for animal cruelty have been hit with sanctions over the failure of their aged care business to return deposits to families of former residents.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has ordered Chronos Care, which owns aged care homes in Alphington and Mount Eliza, to return the deposits within 28 days.
Brothers Chris (front) and Gerry Apostolatos outside court in 2015.Credit:Jason South
The company founded by former poultry farmers Gerry and Chris Apostolatos could have its funding cut and status as an approved provider of aged care revoked if it fails to comply with the order by August 5.
A spokesman for the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission also confirmed that Chronos Care had been banned from charging “accommodation payments and accommodation contributions” for three months, which is expected to place further financial strain on the embattled business.
“The commission will continue to monitor Chronos Care Ranelagh Gardens and Chronos Care Alphington Aged Care through its quality assessment and monitoring program, which includes unannounced site visits,” the spokesman said.
The sanctions were imposed on July 8 after the company was issued with a non-compliance notice on June 15.
It is unknown how many families have been affected by the serious breach of prudential regulations, but The Age revealed on Monday that a disgruntled relative of a former resident at the Mount Eliza facility had issued Chronos Care with a statutory demand to return a deposit of $500,000.
Stuart Reynolds, whose mother-in-law died at the Mount Eliza facility in July 2020, said he was forced to take legal action last week after more than three months of obfuscation by Chronos Care.
“Chronos Care’s management have blatantly ignored their responsibilities in respect of the timely return of our refundable accommodation deposit. They have been contacted by our agents on numerous occasions seeking an explanation for the delay. Their responses have ranged from spurious excuses to outright lies,” Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds was advised by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on Monday that sanctions had been imposed on Chronos Care over serious breaches of prudential regulations.
Another family, of a woman who died in Chronos Care’s Alphington facility in February, is also considering legal action over a $225,000 deposit that should have been refunded in April.
They had been repeatedly told by Chronos Care management that the company was in the process of refinancing and had been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
If Chronos Care fails to return the deposits, the federal government would then be required to cover the bonds with public funding.
Probity concerns about Chronos Care were first raised by The Age in February, when it was revealed the company was founded by the Apostolatos brothers in 2014, when both men had been declared bankrupt with combined debts of more than $5 million.
The pair were also facing serious animal cruelty charges over the shocking mistreatment of more than 1 million chickens and eventually pleaded guilty in March 2015 – about five months after they purchased the Mount Eliza aged care home known as Ranelagh.
They based themselves in offices near Camberwell Junction and appointed Gerry Apostolatos’ stepdaughter, Rita Kohu, as the director of a company called Mali Nominees, which was approved by the federal government as an aged care provider.
The brothers used aliases, dummy directors and a family trust to conceal their roles with Chronos Care, while also funnelling funds from the business to pay for their mortgages, holidays and luxury cars.
Gerry Apostolatos used the name “Andrian Gorman”, while Chris Apostolatos became “Ross Epson” in correspondence with Chronos Care staff, a NAB business banker and even the company’s lawyer, according to dozens of emails obtained by The Age.
The involvement of the Apostolatos brothers over the past six years raises serious concerns about the regulation and oversight of the nation’s aged care sector. There were 655 deaths from coronavirus in Victorian aged care homes last year.
In March, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety delivered a damning assessment of the nation’s aged care sector, in particular its weak regulation and ineffective governance.
The report contained 148 recommendations, including the introduction of an independent inspector-general to monitor and investigate governance, higher prudential standards and greater oversight of those holding management or director roles.
Chronos Care did not respond to questions from The Age.
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