Belfast attorney accused of 'financial exploitation' of two elderly clients
Belfast — A Belfast lawyer is being accused of mishandling the finances of two of his elderly clients, both of whom court records show have medical conditions that limit their abilities to manage their own estates.
According to records on file at Waldo County Probate Court, Belfast attorney William Dawson is being accused of "financial exploitation" in his capacity as Power of Attorney for two different women who currently reside at Harbor Hill in Belfast. One of the alleged victims is 98 years old and court records state she suffers from dementia, and the second woman is 86 years old and court documents state she has multiple medical conditions including memory loss, anxiety disorder, depression and severe congestive heart failure.
Joanne Cookson, a licensed social worker with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, filed affidavits of support for a temporary appointment on behalf of the two women May 7, and stated in both affidavits that a temporary appointment "is necessary to prevent serious, immediate and irreparable harm to the financial interests of the person alleged to be incapacitated/in need of protection."
Referring to the allegations against Dawson concerning the estate of the 98-year-old woman, who has been at Harbor Hill since July 2012, Cookson stated she visited the woman in February and again in April and observed the woman was "not aware of her finances and has left complete control to her current [Power of Attorney] Mr. William Dawson, Esq."
The 98-year-old appointed Dawson to that position in June 2012.
Cookson further told the court the 98-year-old has money in two local financial institutions. At Key Bank, statements as of March 20, 2013 showed she had $261,830.43 in checking and $242,845.38 and $200,224.22 in two separate certificates of deposits.
"Over the last year, Mr. William Dawson has paid himself $123,800 as [Power of Attorney]," stated Cookson.
At Camden National Bank, the 98-year-old had $26,019.60 in her checking account, and the social worker stated Dawson had paid himself $54,700 as Power of Attorney over a nine-month period.
"[The 98-year-old] is at risk of further possible possible financial exploitation and is in need of immediate intervention in order to have all of her finances preserved for her care," Cookson stated.
In reference to the 86-year-old woman, who according to court records has resided at Harbor Hill since 2009, Cookson stated she visited the woman in February and April of this year and offered similar reasons for petitioning the court for the temporary order.
Like the elder of Dawson's clients, Cookson said the 86-year-old had left complete control of her finances to Dawson. The woman appointed Dawson as Power of Attorney in Sept. 2005, stated Cookson.
During those visits, Cookson observed the 86-year-old "has significant memory loss and limited insight concerning her physical and intellectual capacities. [She] is unable to manage her finances and she forgets she cannot provide for herself without staff assistance."
The 86-year-old, stated Cookson, also has money at Key Bank and Camden National Bank, and as of April 9, Key Bank statements indicate the woman had $11,539.32 in checking and $10,895.65 in savings. Bank records also showed Dawson paid himself $32,000 as Power of Attorney in the past year.
Camden National Bank statements indicated as of April 4, the 86-year-old woman had $7,310.96 in a checking account, $540,081.41 in savings as well as $165,000 and $40,000 in two separate certificates of deposit. In reference to those accounts, Cookson stated Dawson paid himself $117,275 for his services in the past year.
Since Cookson filed that affidavit with the court, Probate Judge Susan Longley approved the appointment of Susan Thiem to serve as the attorney for both women for the purposes of the hearing to address the petitions from DHHS for the appointments of guardians and conservators in both cases.
Court documents show that on June 4, Longley issued an interim order addressing pretrial issues pertaining to the request from DHHS on behalf of both women.
"Agent under existing advanced directive shall refrain from writing checks to himself, his firm and/or his family," stated the order.
The hearing on the matter is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5, according to court documents. The matter has been continued due to scheduling conflicts and in at least one case, Longley granted a request to continue the hearing because she stated Dawson failed to produce documents pertaining to the financial records of both women, and the services Dawson provided to each of them.
Court records also show Thiem requested permission from the court to exceed the maximum fee she could charge for her services to both women because "documentary evidence is extensive and time consuming to acquire and review."
During this ongoing process, court records state Longley appointed social worker Diana Brown as a visitor for both women in May. Brown visited Harbor Hill and spoke with both women May 17, according to court records.
Referring to her visit with the 98-year-old woman, Brown stated the woman "seems to be a very friendly lady, whom I feel is extremely vulnerable of being taken advantage of. [She] does not seem to ask any questions and seems to completely believe what people are telling her. It seems that she would be willing to sign any documents without reviewing them, I fear that [her] assets could be taken from her without her knowing," stated Brown.
In reference to her visit with the 86-year-old woman, Brown stated the woman "seemed very confused about the State of Maine petitioning for guardianship and conservation. [She] had been given information showing how her assets were being used, however she did not seem to understand that a great deal of money had been going to Mr. Dawson. [She] reported that she was angry at the state for accusing Mr. Dawson of stealing and she called Mr. Dawson's office. She grew more upset after not being able to reach him. [She] reported that she did not want the state controlling her... I feel that the state would be the best guardian because I get the impression that [she] is unable to make [a] safe choice of who she wants to represent her and be her guardian. I feel that because of her memory loss she is unable to understand information about her health, safety and assets."
A call from The Republican Journal to Dawson's office Friday morning, Oct. 4 seeking comment on the allegations from DHHS was not returned as of 4 p.m.
This is not the first time Dawson has been accused of misconduct.
According to a finding and order from the grievance commission of the state Board of Overseers of the Bar, three complainants (a Maine woman, a Massachusetts woman and a Florida man) filed grievances against Dawson in the spring of 2011. In all three complaints, Dawson was accused of failing to follow through in a timely manner on estate-related matters and included statements from all three parties that Dawson could not be reached for information regarding the statuses of their cases.
Records from those grievance proceedings stated Dawson and his wife had faced family challenges that caused them to take guardianship over two minor relatives in 2007, litigation that was later challenged and caused stress-related illness for both Dawson and his wife.
"At the disciplinary hearing, Attorney Dawson expressed his remorse for his serious violations of the then applicable Code of Professional Responsibility and current Maine Rules of Professional Conduct," stated the order, dated June 27, 2011.
In the order, the panel set deadlines for Dawson to rectify the issues the three complainants outlined in their grievances and also imposed public reprimands on Dawson.
207-338-3333 ext. 109
Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
Recent Stories by Tanya Mitchell
Dec 04, 2013
Nov 28, 2013
Nov 26, 2013
Nov 22, 2013
Nov 14, 2013