Shortly before he died, executor Rick Guerard moved more than $105,000 from the estate of Arlene Bowsher to his own accounts, the attorney trying to recoup more than $180,000 for five of the estate’s beneficiaries disclosed Thursday in court.
The revelation came as part of the ongoing mystery about what happened to $900,000 left behind by Bowsher, a south side woman who died in 2007 at age 91. The five beneficiaries include the Capuchin friars and a food pantry.
Earlier, it was disclosed that Mitchell Barrock, a Brookfield attorney who represented Guerard, collected nearly $260,000 from the estate.
Guerard, who died virtually penniless last year just six weeks after receiving his final $39,000 from the estate, was the executor of Bowsher’s will, a document the nearly blind woman signed less than three months before her death in 2007.
On her deathbed Bowsher instructed Guerard to share half of his inheritance, a total of $340,000, with the five beneficiaries. That translates to about $68,000 each. When it was discovered that all of the money did not reach the beneficiaries, the dispute landed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.
“Did it wind up in the hands of someone else? I don’t know,” Robert Rondini, the new executor of the Bowsher estate, said in the hearing before Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Brash.
“I want to get to the bottom of what happened to the money” Rondini said.
The beneficiaries are the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order Inc.; Virgine Lawinger, a peace activist and retired nun; Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin; and Bowsher’s friends Maureen Stelega and Dorothy Drury. The Capuchins received no money, and the others were shorted by about $30,000 each, court records show.
“There is a substantial amount of money owed to people,” Rondini said during the 30-minute hearing. “They would like an explanation of what he did with the money.”
Questions about the missing money have prompted the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office to look into the handling of the estate, according to three sources with knowledge of the probe. Barrock, who did not attend the hearing, has said that Guerard was responsible for disbursing money from the estate.
Rondini is asking Brash to find Barrock and/or the trust that Guerard left after his death in contempt for not paying the beneficiaries the amount they were owed. A 2009 court order mandated that Bowsher’s beneficiaries get paid before Barrock received his fees and that the lawyer’s fee was to come from Guerard’s inheritance — not directly from the estate. Barrock’s fees were to be one-third of Guerard’s net inheritance, according to the order.
Barrock was paid one week after the order was issued, records show.
A hearing on whether Barrock should be found in contempt was postponed to June 26, during which time he would show “he didn’t do anything wrong,” said his lawyer, Denis Regan, of Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, a prominent criminal defense firm.
Rondini said he agreed to delay the contempt hearing after he gave Barrock’s lawyers “documents that will refresh his recollection regarding the fees he received in this case.” Regan declined to comment after the hearing.
On Thursday, Brash ordered that Chase Bank, which held Guerard’s money, give Rondini “all records, bank statements and canceled checks” for Guerard’s accounts from September 2009 until May.
Rondini said in court that Guerard was entitled to receive $226,800 from the estate but actually collected $285,470, including the $105,000 he received in the final months of his life.
Guerard died of lung cancer last year, and Ladd Frank, Guerard’s nephew who is the trustee of his uncle’s trust, “has absolutely no idea” what happened to the money he received, said Frank’s lawyer David Kingstad.
Estate funds shifted to executor’s account, lawyer says
May 23, 2013
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel