Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Attorneys and Judges Find Elder's Estates Ripe Pickings

by George Brennan as reported in the Cape Cod Times

They didn’t think of him as a lawyer. They thought of him as a trusted family friend.

So when thousands of dollars went missing and the paper trail led to attorney John “Jack” Roberts of Dennis, they were at first shocked, then hurt and finally angry.

Roberts, now disbarred, pleaded guilty to stealing $137,000 from the estate of Alice May of Sandwich and was sentenced to house arrest. On Friday, he was arraigned on a charge of larceny by a single scheme in the theft of $650,000 from Norm Sasville, a Middleboro builder. Prosecutors said they plan to seek jail time if Roberts is convicted again.

“He pulled the carpet out from me,” Sasville said in an interview before Roberts was indicted. “He was a good friend. He was a goombah.”

Roberts was released on $1,000 bail after his arraignment in Barnstable Superior Court on Friday.

But Roberts is not alone.

In recent years, the Cape has had its share of high-profile cases involving lawyers bilking clients out of thousands.

In 2006, Anthony Bott, an Orleans attorney, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $350,000 in insurance settlements from 12 clients.

He was sentenced to 2½ years in Barnstable County Correctional Facility and 10 years of probation.

And plenty of ink has been spilled on the ongoing tangle of former Orleans attorney Richard Birchall. Birchall has been jailed on contempt charges, a judge finding that he is capable of repaying the $2.7 million he owes to his former client Suzanne D’Amour of Brewster.

But while that case has the added intrigue of D’Amour once spending time in jail on perjury charges for lying to a grand jury investigating the murder of her husband, the other Cape cases involve regular Joes or elderly people looking for legal help from someone they trusted.

“It really is disgusting,” said Adele Lundquist, an 83-year-old Brewster woman who was a victim of Bott. “It’s like your house getting broke into. It’s a violation.”

Lundquist was seriously injured in a car accident. Her car was sideswiped by a woman who blew through a stop sign. Her family attorney recommended Bott, who at the time was considered one of the Lower Cape’s top personal injury attorneys.

Months passed and Bott kept putting Lundquist off telling her settlements could take years. It turned out he got her an $85,000 settlement within months, but like 11 other clients, he had fraudulently signed her name and pocketed the cash.

“You go through stages where you feel betrayed, you feel hurt, you feel angry,” Lundquist said.

Nancy Allen, whose inheritance was partially stolen by Roberts, expressed similar feelings. Her mother, Alice May, had considered Roberts a friend. She said it felt like she had been “physically assaulted” when she figured out Roberts had grabbed the money to feed his gambling habit.

Abridged for E.A.

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