AUGUST 11, 1997 VOLUME 5, NUMBER 6
Mesa, Arizona, attorney Wayne Legg was once known locally as “the King of Probate.” That was before he was indicted in 1992 on thirteen counts of stealing money from incapacitated clients. Last month he was convicted on all counts, and now faces a minimum of twelve years in prison.
Legg, formerly a highly-respected attorney in the Phoenix area, had a busy practice in handling the financial affairs of incapacitated elders. He regularly worked with a private fiduciary, Webber Mackey, sometimes representing Mackey in administration of conservatorship estates. In 1992, spurred by the complaints of a nephew of one of Mackey’s wards, authorities conducted a review of several of Legg’s and Mackey’s cases, leading to the indictments against both men.
Mackey died in 1995, without having been tried on the charges against him. Legg’s first trial, last year, ended in a hung jury (reportedly the jury voted 11 to 1 for conviction, but criminal juries must act unanimously). The retrial began this summer, and lasted one month.
Legg and Mackey were also the subjects of a lengthy 1993 article in the Phoenix New Timestitled “As Helpless As Children.” As a result of that notoriety, their case has been closely watched by the Arizona elder advocacy community.
According to prosecutors, Legg and Mackey conspired to loot more than $1 million from the estates of two dozen Phoenix-area elders. Typically, Mackey would become the guardian and conservator for an elder, and Legg would represent him. The pair would then engage in a pattern of double-billing the wards, prepare new wills and provide over-priced services to their victims.
One of the more dramatic cases detailed by prosecutors involved the estate of Delores Reichwein, now deceased. According to the prosecutors’ evidence, Legg and Mackey used Ms. Reichwein’s considerable estate to purchase a residence which they then turned into a for-profit adult care home. Ms. Reichwein was charged $3200 per month to stay in her own home, while Legg’s mother stayed there for free and his aunt paid only $800 per month. Over the course of four years, Legg and Mackey billed the Reichwein estate for nearly $200,000 in attorney’s fees and conservatorship fees.
In another case, Grace Gannett signed a new will prepared by Legg a few months before her death in 1992. That will named Mackey as her executor, instead of her brother (who had been named in earlier wills). Upon investigation, it developed that Gannett had signed the will in the hours after she suffered a debilitating stroke. It was Gannett’s nephew who, although not a beneficiary of her estate, complained to the probate court about what he thought was Mackey’s looting of the estate, aided by Legg; that complaint led to the investigation and indictments.
One of the more troubling aspects of the Legg investigation was that it revealed the shortcomings of the probate review process. Although Legg and Mackey were taking advantage of wards like Reichwein, they were also accounting for their actions, in detail, to the probate court in Phoenix. Until the review of those files begun in 1992, no one in the Court system challenged or questioned the fees or accounting practices.
Legg is scheduled to be sentenced on August 26, 1997. The minimum sentence available to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Susan Bolton is twelve years in prison.
Legg’s is the second Arizona case of fiduciary abuse to result in a conviction this summer. In June, former Mohave County, Arizona, Public Fiduciary Michael Daw was sentenced after he plead guilty to eight of 78 felony counts of stealing from estates. Daw was accused of having taken at least $870,000 from numerous estates entrusted to his care over a five year period, and was sentenced to ten years in prison (see Elder Law Issues, May 19, 1997).