HEIR OF OPTIMISM

RELATIVES OF SENIORS WHOSE ESTATES WERE PLUNDERED HOPE FOR JUSTICE

Cinthia Gannett says she's "still waiting for justice for my grandma." She may not have to wait much longer.

Sources say the state Attorney General's Office is about to take a huge step toward Gannett's goal of "justice" with criminal indictments against prominent Mesa attorney Wayne Legg and Webber Mackey, a private fiduciary who worked closely with Legg.

A New Times investigation of Legg and Mackey, published in September (As Helpless As Children"), uncovered a pattern of fiscal abuses that cost Cinthia Gannett's deceased grandmother, Grace Gannett, and more than two dozen East Valley senior citizens and their heirs untold dollars and grief. Through their respective attorneys, Legg and Mackey have denied any wrongdoing.

But those denials ring hollow for people whose loved ones were bilked by the pair. Grace Gannett, for one, lost most of her $120,000 in assets before she died last year because of excessive--and apparently illegal--billings by Legg and Mackey.

In addition, Mackey is unable to account for priceless family heirlooms entrusted to him, including Grace Gannett's wedding rings.

"We know most of the truth about what happened because of the New Times story and what we've seen for ourselves," says Cinthia Gannett from her home in Durham, New Hampshire. "Now we'd just like your system out there to work against the bad guys. These men just stole from elderly people who couldn't protect themselves."
In June 1992, Gannett and other far-flung relatives flew to Arizona after Grandma Gracie--as everyone knew her--died on her 93rd birthday. Upon arrival, they learned of a revised will that Legg and Mackey had convinced Grace Gannett to sign a few years earlier; it favored Legg and Mackey.

The story revealed that legally "incapacitated" Grace Gannett--a "protected" ward of the Maricopa County Probate Court--had scrawled her name on the new will at a Mesa hospital within hours after suffering a stroke.

The Attorney General's Office announced after the New Times story appeared that it was investigating the Legg/Mackey case. Cinthia Gannett and several family members--as well as others familiar with Legg and Mackey--say they have been interviewed at length since then by AG investigators.

"They told us it is a very 'high-profile case' for them, that was the exact phrase," says Cinthia Gannett, a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire. "They do seem very serious about bringing these men to justice."
The state grand jury has yet to issue criminal indictments against Legg or Mackey, and prosecutors are prohibited by law from discussing pending investigations. But sources outside the Attorney General's Office indicate felony charges against Legg and Mackey are imminent.

"I've been told it could be any time now," says Anne Lindeman, the executive director of the Governor's Advisory Council on Aging. "The New Times story gave the AG a road map to follow, and I hear they've been going strong on it. It's a very important case, but it has to be very time-consuming to put together."
About 500,000 elderly Americans currently are wards of a court, unable anymore to handle their financial affairs. Courts routinely appoint a guardian-conservator--usually a family member or private fiduciary--to be responsible for almost every aspect of a ward's life. A guardian-conservator usually works in concert with a probate attorney, ostensibly to monitor and preserve an elderly person's assets and well-being. Wards are among society's most vulnerable citizens.

Additional findings in the New Times story:
ù Legg and Mackey double-billed and levied questionable charges against estates, shrinking them in some cases from hundreds of thousands of dollars to practically nothing.

ù Mackey purchased a new Dodge van with funds from the estates of two aged wards who apparently didn't know each other. He then charged the van's owners and elderly wards thousands of dollars in questionable "service fees." Legg, meanwhile, used the van on out-of-state vacation trips without permission from or compensation to its owners.

ù Elderly, legally incapacitated wards signed revised wills that meant more money for Legg and Mackey. In one case, a 90-year-old woman signed a new will in 1990 that named Mackey as the estate's sole beneficiary. But the woman signed the document after her doctor wrote that she was "unable to make any decision and unable to take care of her financial affairs." Someone cut off the bottom part of the new will, where two witnesses normally attest that they saw the person sign the document. That should have rendered the will illegal, but didn't, because Probate Court Commissioner Elizabeth Yancey approved it.

ù Maricopa County's Probate Court judges and commissioners--most often Yancey, Michael Jones and Stephen Ventre--rubber-stamped outlandish, unsubstantiated fees submitted by Legg and Mackey.

ù Legg and Mackey used a feeble ward's estate assets to operate a for-profit group home for the elderly, all of whom were under their financial control. In a five-year period, that woman's estate shrunk from $654,000 to a few thousand dollars in liquid assets. Meanwhile, Legg's mother stayed at the group home, at no cost, for months before she died in April 1991.

The revelations also have piqued the interest of Arizona legislators, who are looking for ways to curb abuses by private fiduciaries.Currently, there are no academic, legal or other credentials necessary to become a private fiduciary. The profession is unlicensed and self-regulating, though a group called the Arizona Association of Professional Fiduciaries has created a set of "rules" for fiduciaries to follow.

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