Death of a Defendant
On January 11, 1994, Attorney General Grant Woods announced the dramatic culmination of an intense criminal investigation.
"We allege that hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen from elderly people who could not care for themselves," Woods told the media. "They were dependent on Wayne Legg and Webber Mackey to handle their estates."
The announcement came four months after a New Times report ("As Helpless As Children," September 8, 1993) detailed how Legg, a prominent attorney, and Mackey--a private fiduciary who worked for Legg--had looted the assets of at least two dozen elderly Valley residents. The AG filed charges in cases that involved eight victims, all deceased.
The multicount felony arrests of Legg and Mackey marked a high point in the AG's oft-trumpeted war against elder abuse.
But endless pretrial delays in the criminal case left family and friends of the victims frustrated and confused.
And that was before the death last week of the 79-year-old defendant Mackey, universally considered to be Legg's subordinate in the lucrative scheme.
"What in the world is going on out there?" asks Cinthia Gannett, a New England resident whose late grandparents lost much of their estate to Legg and Mackey. "I am very aware that Mr. Legg isnot without influence in Arizona, and the proof of that is how he's been able to literally find escape clauses in the justice system."
Mackey's attorney, Mike Kimerer, says his client's failing health made it unlikely that he ever would have gone to trial.
"With his diabetes, the death of his wife and the criminal charges hanging over him, I think he finally just gave up," Kimerer says. "Webber knew he had done some things that he shouldn't have done, and he felt very badly about it. But in the weeks before he died, he realized--finally--that Wayne Legg had taken advantage of him. This was a man he had trusted completely."
Assistant attorney general Sherry Stephens says she sympathizes with those who wonder if and when justice will be served in the case.
"They have an absolute right to feel that way," Stephens says, "and I would probably feel the same way in their shoes. I was prepared to go to trial a year ago, but a variety of unfortunate things just hasn't allowed that to happen."
Stephens notes that theft/fraud/forgery cases "involve a monumental amount of paperwork for all concerned." Kimerer and Legg's defense attorney, Larry Debus, have had unrelated cases to try and continually have asked Superior Court Judge Brian Hauser for postponements.
Wayne Legg's trial now is scheduled to start January 6.
"I will say that our evidence has gotten better over time," Stephens says, declining to be specific.
Dubbed the "King of Probate," the 65year-old Legg was a partner in a high-powered Mesa law firm. He had once served as county chair of the Republican party. Legg had a vast base from which to lure potential victims.
Mackey's and Legg's modus operandi was simple: Legg would find aging clients with money, ideally those without immediate family in Arizona. At some point, many of those clients needed a guardian-conservator--a private fiduciary--to manage their financial and day-to-day affairs. Legg invariably would recommend Mackey.
Legg, who has not spent a minute in jail while awaiting trial, is no longer practicing law. But several sources say he continues to administer trusts and do other financial work for an unknown number of senior citizens. In Arizona, one doesn't have to be an attorney to act on behalf of a trust.
Cinthia Gannett says she's resigned to whatever happens in the protracted case.
"I just hope when they do take Wayne to trial, they do it right," she says. "It would be nice to see the law and justice prevail at least once in a while.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.