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Maine Woman Sues State DHHS Over Assets Sale
05/14/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

A Liberty woman has filed suit against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Key Trust Company National Association over what she says was a breach of fiduciary duty, violation of her due process rights and the improper sale of some family property for substantially less than fair market value. The case arose after a member of the woman's family became incapacitated. DHHS then allegedly took over his assets, secretly sold them and had his cat euthanized without his knowledge. Susan Sharon has more.

According to the lawsuit, Claire Dean Perry of Liberty began having questions about the management of a trust her mother had created for her and her brother, William, about three years ago. Large sums of money appeared to be missing, and Claire Dean Perry says she wasn't receiving her annual payment and her Key Trust Company advisor was not being forthcoming with information about the account.

Eventually, William confessed that he had wrongfully withdrawn nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the trust. The two worked out an agreement for William to pay Claire back. That included an arrangement for Claire to live in William's Owl's Head property until it was sold. In exchange, Claire agreed not to take legal action against him.

But then, their mother died. William's mental health deteriorated. He was hospitalized and later transferred to the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.
Enter DHHS as a temporary conservator for William.  A conservator administers the assets of an incapacitated person.

"My concern with respect to my client is that they did not provide due process to Claire," says former Maine U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Dill, who is the attorney representing Claire Dean Perry. Dill says there are a number of troubling steps that DHHS took in the past year.

"DHHS kicked her out of the place, locked her out, made her move all her stuff - essentially accused her of being a squatter," Dill says, "but then sold the property for substantially less than what it was worth without William having any meaningful participation or giving informed consen,t and really for no reason."

A spokesman for DHHS declined to comment on pending litigation. A spokesperson for Key Trust Company would not comment either. According to the lawsuit, William had several meetings with DHHS about his medical treatment, in which he reported taking large sums of money from the family trust and spending it.

Last September the Office of Elder Care Services obtained an order for temporary conservatorship of William.  But the social worker assigned to be his conservator had "no knowledge, experience or training related to real estate transactions."

That became significant because in an affidavit to the Probate Court, Janice Archer asserted that two properties William owned in Rockland and Owl's Head were in "eminent foreclosure by the respective towns" because of his failure to pay property taxes.

She stated that since William has no income, the only option for payment is to sell one of the properties. William owed the town of Owl's Head about $5,500 for an oceanfront parcel that had been in his family for decades. Tom Edwards is the town's assessor.

"It's just under an acre and it's on the shoreline of Owl's Head Harbor, on the south side of the harbor, and a fairly well built structure," Edwards says. "We had the assessment at somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 and the state sold it for $205,000."

Edwards says the sale of oceanfront property at that price seems strange to him. Dill says what's also strange is that there was no emergency need for a sale. She says Claire's family members were willing to pay the taxes to prevent a municipal tax lien. Dill says Claire and her attorney at the time also tried to stop the sale, which was set for Jan. 11. As soon as they found out, they called DHHS.

"So on January 9th, the attorney for Claire and her sister called and said, 'Look, I'm going to be filing an emergency petition to enjoin the sale because we have an interest in the property and you're selling for less than fair market value, and it's unnecessary,'" dill says. "So, according to the sworn affidavit of the attorney, DHHS got that information, and instead of holding off on the sale bumped it up and had it earlier than they had scheduled it for."

Dill says by the time the emergency petition was before the court, the sale had already taken place. Dill points out that not only did the department sell the property knowing there were family members who objected, but the department also sold William's Cadillac and had his pet cat euthanized without notice or hearing.

"It's shocking to me that this is all taking place before they were appointed permanent guardian and conservator," Dill says.

In an email to MPBN,  a spokesman for DHHS writes that the commissioner has designated the directors of Aging and Adult Protective Services as the responsible parties for those under state guardianship or conservatorship.  John Martins also writes that "it's important to note that the state does not make money from the sale of assets.  Any proceeds go into the estate of the protected person to be used for their care."  

According to Martins, the state currently serves as the conservator for 101 people in Maine.  He says the sale of their property happens infrequently, probably about 60 times in the last 10 years.

 

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