By Lou Ann Anderson
As Texas native and actor Randy Quaid along with wife Evi face legal issues both in a Santa Barbara Superior Court and a Canadian immigration court, the couple’s “Hollywood star-whackers” claims continue to fuel questions of the couple being crazy, paranoid or on drugs. Answers remain unclear, but one thing is certain: the “crazy and outrageous” claims made by the Quaids about their own estate theft and networks of organized professionals seeking to loot estate assets parallel probate corruption cases that quietly happen every day.
It’s easy for the general public and legal industry insiders to summarily dismiss these claims as “they’re nuts,” “that can’t happen” or “they must have asked for it.” The reality, however, is that contrived scenarios enabling Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) actions – illicit confiscations or diversions of property via trusts, wills, guardianships/conservatorships or powers of attorney – are becoming more common and impacting a wide range of Americans.
An August 2010 Courthouse News article describes a lawsuit filed by Randy and Evi Quaid:
Randy Quaid and wife, Evi
Actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi, claim their former lawyer and estate planner created a fake living trust in their name, stole their money and disqualified future lawyers from acting on their behalf.
The article further discusses a series of events alleging fraudulent access and use of escrow accounts, falsified probate files and fake trusts.
Despite the Quaids’ seemingly erratic behavior, it is important to point out that unscrupulous individuals absolutely operate using today’s legal and financial systems to loot assets exactly as described by the couple.
Creative people not surprisingly might add a dramatic spin to their presentation (or view) of facts. But theatrics aside, the story – even the targeting of folks in the entertainment industry – is not that crazy.
The legal industry comprises lawyers, judges and other court-associated personnel. Lucrative revenue streams are created when they work in concert with networks of financial professionals and social services workers to hijack the personal freedom and property of unsuspecting Americans. This abuse of probate venues and probate instruments (wills, trusts, guardianships/conservatorships and powers of attorney) may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it happens. Public-private partnerships (PPP) are a trendy model in pubic policy circles and this legal industry growth area has co-opted the model to mount a financial assault against Americans and their property rights.
Here in Texas, an October 2006 hearing before the Texas Senate Committee on Jurisprudence brought the following testimony:
“These people in these specialty courts, they truly have a probate business. They are running it for profit. And it profits their small group, their small circle… I learned that this circle of friends has a name in Harris County. It’s called the ‘Tomb Raiders Club’ and they pride themselves on making a living out of this particular industry that they have created.”
The court of Denton County Probate Judge Don Windle became similarly known and perhaps was impetus for his decision to not seek re-election. Activities surrounding Denton County’s probate court received attention starting May 2005 when The Dallas Morning News published a story about a group of lawyers and other professionals viewed as significantly profiting off probate court appointments handed out by Judge Don Windle. Another article suggested the potential of Windle “playing favorites” with a special Denton County panel that oversees real estate price determinations for eminent domain cases.
And with that, here are other “outrageous” cases which some would say “can’t happen,” but did. They illustrate the danger probate actions can pose to an unsuspecting public – to folks in the entertainment industry and anywhere else.
Connecticut: Josephine Smoron, an elderly Connecticut woman, believed estate planning documents would ensure her longtime caretaker Sam Manzo’s inheritance of Smoron’s 80-acre farm and cows valued at more than $1 million. Recognizing local interest in developing her property, Smoron was adamant that churches previously involved in a dispute over her brother’s estate have no claim to her estate. As Smoron’s health deteriorated, Manzo was replaced as her conservator by a court-appointed conservator under the orders of Southington Probate Judge Bryan F. Meccariello. Before her death, Meccariello approved a change in Smoron’s will designating all property be given to three area Catholic churches. Manzo was disinherited and there appeared no evidence this change reflected Smoron’s wishes. A purchase agreement with a local developer promptly surfaced and plans for Smoron’s farm becoming home to an $18 million indoor sports complex generating $200,000 of new tax revenue were announced. Manzo filed a complaint with Connecticut’s Council on Probate Judicial Conduct that resulted in Meccariello being “censured” for the second time in three years causing the judge to withdraw his bid for re-election. An attorney for the developer says the land sales contract is still valid while Sam Manzo, the rightful heir, is suing to overturn Meccariello’s disregard of Smoron’s estate plan and diversion of her assets. Manzo may one day gain control of the property to which he is legitimately entitled, but this hijacking will cost him money and time that will never be recovered.
Tennessee: Raymond Simmons, a retired Nashville firefighter, also engaged in “proper estate planning” with a will designating the Tennessee Children’s Home as sole beneficiary of his $800,000 estate. Instead of distributing the assets as Simmons clearly directed, estate executor Daryl Bornstein wrote checks totaling $100,000 to himself. In addition to losing estate funds investing in Iraqi currency, Bornstein lost $340,000 with Hanover Corp., a now bankrupt capital investment group described as an $18 million Ponzi scheme for which Bornstein is facing charges along with two top company officers who are under federal indictment. The estate was described as “almost a fully liquid estate,” but now only about $50,000 remains including a $25,000 retainer returned from an unnamed attorney who previously represented Bornstein. Recovery of additional funds through the Hanover Corp. bankruptcy action is being investigated, but the estate has largely been squandered. And interestingly, this case would probably never have received attention had a reporter not been in the Nashville probate court one Friday back in August covering a hearing on the conservatorship of Nashville singer/songwriter Danny Tate.
Texas: An elderly man married a woman 63 years his junior. Financial generosity from the relationship’s early stages continued during the 14-month marriage with all involved aware that the woman was being provided for during the man’s lifetime in lieu of being included in his extensively documented estate plan. Upon the man’s 1995 death, the woman filed a lawsuit citing an unsubstantiated oral promise as grounds for receiving half her husband’s estate. In anticipating bad news from a seven-month Houston jury trial that ultimately found the woman’s claims meritless and uncredible, the woman opened an additional litigation front with a California bankruptcy filing. This pursuit of assets from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II continues today. Neither the 2006 death of Marshall’s son and legitimate heir, E. Pierce Marshall, nor the 2007 death of the litigation-initiator, Anna Nicole Smith, has hindered the proceedings. Smith’s estate executor Howard K. Stern continues this legalized financial assault on J. Howard Marshall’s estate plan while Marshall’s family continues efforts to defend the man’s final (and documented) wishes.
Texas/New Jersey/Florida: Lillian Glasser was a wealthy widow and lifelong resident of New Jersey. In February 2005, her daughter Suzanne Matthews, a Texas resident, visited her mother during a Florida vacation, fired a long-time caregiver and convinced her mother to come to Texas until a replacement was hired. In the years prior, Matthews is alleged to have not only began making a case for her mother’s incapacitation, but she also appears to have worked in concert with a series of legal and financial professionals, including a cousin employed by Goldman Sachs and his associates, to incrementally take control of Glasser’s estate. In what some viewed as venue shopping, the 2005 Texas relocation became the entry point of Suzanne Matthews filing for guardianship of her mother and gaining complete control of the estate. Mark Glasser, a Florida resident and Glasser’s son, contested his sister as guardian. Rulings from various courts have been rendered in this case. Suzanne Matthews no longer controls her mother’s estate and a 2007 court order instructed her to repay roughly $20 million to her mother. By 2007, legal fees primarily paid from Glasser’s estate were said to have reached $2 million. “It’s a poster child for court appointees enriching themselves off the estate of someone who never wanted to subject themselves to that court,” Russell Verney of Judicial Watch, a watchdog group at the time doing a study of the Texas probate courts, said. Glasser now resides in Florida.
Florida: Barbara Kasler, an elderly Fort Lauderdale widow with an estate once estimated at $5 million, is taking legal action against her neighbor former Broward County Judge Larry Seidlin, the now-retired judge who presided over the Anna Nicole Smith body disposition hearings. In her civil lawsuit, Kasler claims Seidlin “exploited her for personal gain, and that he, his wife and in-laws feigned friendship to steal her money and jewelry and change her will for their benefit.” The lawsuit, filed in June 2009, names Seidlin, his wife Belinda and his in-laws, Barbara and Oren Ray, as defendants. A south Florida accountant along with three attorneys were later added. Per the Sun Sentinel, “The suit said the accountant and attorneys assisted Seidlin in his attempts to buy Kasler’s property at a discount and change her will to benefit himself and his family.” Dorothy Colletto, a former girlfriend Kasler’s deceased son, was also later added. Seidlin may be controversial within his peer group, but three decades of being a judge appears to have its perks – especially when one is getting sued. Legal gamesmanship has been a component of this case and included an unexpected change of venue after the case was underway and two hostile attempts to have Kasler put under a guardianship. A guardian brought in to oversee Kasler’s care would have great power – including the ability to control her multi-million dollar estate and the lawsuit against Seidlin. That Larry Seidlin and family ended up with significant Kasler assets is not in dispute. The dispute surrounds the circumstances in which the assets were relinquished. The Seidlin clan claims all was done voluntarily while the picture painted by the Kasler legal team depicts a questionable scenario complete with undue influence and manipulation. At times, Kasler has seemingly become a target for legal harassment upon daring to seek justice. After stalling and delays, case depositions, including that of Seidlin, started this past fall and are scheduled to continue in the new year.
Tennessee: Using an alleged extreme (and unsubstantiated) drug habit as a basis, an “emergency” ex parte hearing took place in Judge Randy Kennedy’s Nashville probate court without notice to singer/songwriter Danny Tate resulting in his rights and property being stripped along with he and his property being put under control of his brother. For 32 months, Tate was kept under this “temporary” conservatorship and denied a hearing that would have allowed his “day in court” to fight the status. An extraordinary relief application filed with the Middle Tennessee Court of Appeals seeking to reverse a Kennedy ruling finally compelled a final conservatorship hearing. The court in fact reversed Judge Kennedy with the ruling described by Nashville Scene as “meaning the Probate Court had strayed so far from established legal procedure that an extraordinary judicial slap on the wrist was dealt to Kennedy. More remarkable still, Judge Frank Clement, the jurist who issued the Appeals Court decision, used to sit in Kennedy’s seat in Probate Court.” Danny Tate was released from the conservatorship on May 24, but an assault on his assets continues. Despite having regained his freedom and basic rights, three years later he is left with a once substantial estate now depleted and the prospect of bankruptcy looming.
These cases are examples of outrageous abuse being perpetrated on Americans of all persuasions and economic levels. In this light, the probate crimes espoused by Randy and Evi Quaid start sounding less far-fetched. The predators that perpetrate these acts are smart. They know how to pick their targets. That people in the entertainment industry with heightened egos, accepted eccentricities and vulnerabilities/insecurities galore could be rich (in many ways) targets makes perfect sense. A guy like Randy Quaid whose career has included playing a host of “whacked out” characters could be viewed a true prize in being easily discreditable as people are already comfortable viewing his persona – whether real or pretend – as somewhat unbalanced.
Think what you want about the Quaids. But when it comes to their estate theft claims, think again. By design, these IRA actions happen quietly so that an unsuspecting public stays unaware of the growing threat to their property and personal freedom.
Beware – all you have could someday depend on it!
Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture. She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com and a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com