Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Beechview attorney, county clerk face charges in alleged estate scheme

A Beechview-based attorney and an employee of Allegheny County's Department of Court Records Wills/​Orphans’ Court Division have been charged criminally today in relation to the filing of an estate that was later voided.

Attorney Thomas O’Neill, 75, of Beechview and county probate clerk Thomas Halligan, 58, of Wilkins both face charges of securing execution of documents by deception, false swearing, tampering with public records and obstructing administration of law.

According to an affidavit by detective Jackelyn Weibel, of the Allegheny County Office of the District Attorney, the two worked together in August on the million-dollar estate of doctor John D. Wargo, who died in July. A friend of his who lives in Virginia sought to open an estate as the executrix, but had only a copy of the will, not the original.

The friend had initially contacted another local attorney, who told her about the difficult process of determining whether there is an available, original will. She later called that attorney, according to the affidavit, and said “she had decided to go down another road.” The other attorney later reached out to investigators.

The affidavit describes the “other road” as a winding one featuring the two charged men and a suspicious signature.

Video surveillance of the wills office showed that on Aug. 11, Mr. O’Neill approached the counter at which Mr. Halligan worked, and “slowly and painstakingly signed” an estate document, according to the affidavit. Mr. Halligan then put it into a counter drawer, according to the affidavit. The executrix was not present, but the investigation later showed that her name was on one of the signature lines.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Halligan sought two weeks later to “reverse” the estate — an act which the affidavit described as “very unusual.”

According to the affidavit, when detectives later interviewed Mr. Halligan, he “stated that he made a mistake in judgment,” and voided everything. He told detectives he “did not watch O'Neill sign the forms” but confirmed that he “doesn't know how else they would have gotten signed.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in September reported the existence of an investigation into Mr. O’Neill and the office. Four people who had filed estates with the office said they had been steered by staff to Mr. O’Neill.

Such recommendations are at odds with county policies, under which members of the public with legal questions must be referred to the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service.

Mr. Halligan was suspended from his $47,590-a-year job at the time.

Full Article & Source:
Beechview attorney, county clerk face charges in alleged estate scheme

1 comment:

Betty said...

It makes me wonder how many cozy relationships like this are formed and are stealing from the elderly.