How Con Artists Target Heirs

When she taped her deposition against her accountant, Sue Bright was dying.

"I have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and it may be terminal in two months," says Bright.

Her accountant, along with his sons, had persuaded her to invest the money that would have gone to her heirs -- $100,000 -- in a highly questionable company.

"He assured me, assured me, assured me that this was safe," says Bright.

But, it wasn't, reports CBS News Economics Correspondent Ray Brady.

"The company was run by five or six people," says Sue Bright's attorney Robert Banks."They went out rented themselves a bunch of fancy offices, bought a lot of fancy furniture, and traveled around the world ostensibly for business purposes and Mrs. Bright never saw her $100,000 again," says Banks.

Neither did her two sons.

One could look for more cases like this to happen. With the World War II generation gradually dying off, some $170 billion a year is going in inheritances from them to the baby boomers -- a tempting target for the dishonest, whether lawyers, financial planners or even friends.

"Tell me about it," says Ken Monier. Ken's father gave his lawyer, a close friend, sole power of attorney over his estate so no one had legal power to stop anything the lawyer did.

As a result, all Ken inherited was this worthless pile of papers. They show that the lawyer sold Ken's father's blue-chip stocks and invested in speculations like the Tree Corporation of America.

The company's prospectus says it's a farm to grow trees for golf courses. Monier was puzzled as to the difference between a tree and a tree groomed specifically for a golf course.

Bottom line: Ken claims his father lost $500,000 on that particular investment without even knowing it.

Then, the lawyer bought a tree farm retail site. It was supposed to become the retail outlet for those golf course trees. Apparently, that investment flopped too and racked up a huge loss instead of a huge profit.

"Our attorney said there was pretty close to $400,000," says Ken Monier.

Florida Attorney William Johnson, the senior Monier's attorney, went to jail for bilking the Moniers and 47 others out of $10 million.

Monier says the district attorney's office estimates $1.7 million in losses to the family, all told. Had Ken's dad listened to him, that loss might have been avoided.

"I said, 'Dad, if you talk with any attorney with any reputation, they'll tell you the same thing: You never under any circumstances give any attorney complete power of attorney to the estate,'" says Monier.

That's advice that might have save Ken a lot of heartache and money.

The more important lesson? It's easy to lose in a moment what it took a lifetime to build.

Reported by Ray Brady
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

On Twitter