Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Partners Report Lawyer to Conn. Officials, Allege $3 Million Theft From Client's Estate

State attorney disciplinary officials are seeking an interim suspension for a Southbury attorney, claiming he collected exorbitant fees of more than $3 million while acting as executor and trustee for a now deceased client's estate.

The application for order of interim suspension was filed against attorney Robert J. Barry on Nov. 3 in Superior Court in Waterbury. In the application, Assistant Chief Disciplinary Counsel Desi Imetovski asserts Barry "poses a substantial threat of irreparable harm to his current and prospective clients." The application notes he has about 70 pending cases in the seven-town probate court district that includes Southbury. "Respondent continues to represent numerous individuals in trusts and estates with access to untold monies," the application states.

The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel also asked the court to appoint a trustee to protect the interests of Barry's clients. The court had not scheduled a hearing or taken any action on the application as of Nov. 4. The disciplinary counsel's office declined to comment on the case beyond what is outlined in court documents.

Barry, of the law firm Sturges & Mathes on Heritage Road in Southbury, was admitted to the bar in 1967, according to the state Judicial Branch, which indicates he has no public record of discipline. A message left for Barry seeking comment was not immediately returned. It was unclear whether he has hired another lawyer to represent him in the matter.

Attorney Kevin Thornton, who works at the same firm as Barry, said he learned about the $3 million fees after hearing staff in the office express concerns about exorbitant fees being taken in a client's case. After checking the firm's financial records, Thornton said he and another attorney at the firm, Lisa Wnuck, met with the disciplinary counsel's staff to discuss what they had discovered.

The firm's website lists the three attorneys — Barry, Thornton and Wnuck. Barry's areas of practice include estate administration, estate planning and real estate. Thornton said the extent of the financial situation is still being evaluated. He said after the situation was discovered, the partners argued and Barry tried to kick Thornton out of the building.

"I think this is the tip of the iceberg," Thornton said. "No one else [other than Barry] was looking at the [financial] books until very recently. Of course, I am concerned about the firm's reputation. It was founded in 1908 and its reputation has been stellar."

According to court documents, in December 1998 Barry began representing Catherine Wilens. He prepared her will testament and set up a revocable trust agreement.

From 2010 through February 2014, Barry held a power of attorney for Wilens. During this time, he wrote checks payable to his firm, Sturges & Mathes, in excess of $743,000, the disciplinary counsel's office claims. Barry then became the estate trustee prior to Wilens' death, and as such, he wrote trust checks payable to his firm in excess of $900,000 between 2010 and 2014.

Wilens, who had been a Southbury resident, died on March 1, 2014. Barry was also the executor of her estate, which was valued at $9 million at the time of her death, according to the application for temporary suspension. Under the terms of the trust, two individuals, Madison and Megan Mahoney, were to receive $100,000 each, with the balance of the assets to go to the Cornell University's medical school, to be held as "The Catherine Williams Wilens Memorial Fund," documents show.

But from March 2014 through November 2015, Barry executed checks payable to his firm in the amount of about $1.4 million, the disciplinary counsel's office claims. Overall, it alleges Barry as fiduciary issued his firm fees in excess of $3 million in connection with the representation of Wilens.

In May 2015, Barry filed a federal estate tax return, listing the value of the estate at only slightly over $8 million, omitting almost $1 million in assets, according to disciplinary counsel's office.

Full Article & Source:
Partners Report Lawyer to Conn. Officials, Allege $3 Million Theft From Client's Estate

1 comment:

Mike said...

I bet it was hard to have to turn in a partner, but they did the right thing. And they had to do it to save themselves too.