Attorneys: State officials hired company to auction hospitalized Rockland man’s possessions for well below value

This waterfront property in Owls Head, that was valued by the town at nearly $500,000, was sold by the state for $205,000 while its owner was in a psychiatric hospital.
This waterfront property in Owls Head, that was valued by the town at nearly $500,000, was sold by the state for $205,000 while its owner was in a psychiatric hospital.
Posted Aug. 07, 2013, at 3:30 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 08, 2013, at 1:15 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The sale of a Rockland man’s waterfront home in Owls Head by the state for less than half its value was only the beginning of a nightmare that has seen an undetermined amount of valuable personal items sold for little in return, according to attorneys working on the case.

“You couldn’t have dreamed this up,” said attorney David Jenny.

Jenny, who lives in Owls Head and Maryland, is referring to the case that involves the sale of property belonging to William T. Dean Jr. and his sister Claire Dean Perry of Liberty.

Dean was hospitalized in 2012 at the state-run Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. He has since been released and lives in a group home in Camden, according to Jenny, who is a longtime friend of both siblings.

Jenny said that the state has taken a man who had more than $650,000 in assets and virtually assured that he will he become a ward of the state because of its management of his estate.

Attorney Cynthia Dill, who represents the sister in a lawsuit against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in her legal career she has never seen a case like this.

Not only does Dill say the state illegally sold the home owned by William Dean at 9 Castlewood Lane in Owls Head, but that it has since hired an auction company to sell the remaining family belongings and has done it with few records to show what has happened to the items or the money received from the sales.

The Deans’ parents in 1972 bought the Castlewood Lane home, which has since been a place for family outings. Claire Dean Perry had been living in the Owls Head home while her brother resided at 298 Broadway, Rockland, which had been their parents’ primary residence and owned by the Deans since 1957.

The state obtained conservatorship of Dean’s finances in September 2012, four months after he was involuntarily admitted to the state-run mental health hospital. When the state learned that back taxes were owed on both properties — $5,192 on the Owls Head home and $2,329 on the Rockland property — it sought and received permission from the Penobscot County Probate Court to sell the properties for a fair market price in order to cover those costs.

An affidavit filed Sept. 5, 2012, in probate court by Janice Archer, a licensed social worker for DHHS who was Dean’s caseworker, stated that there was already a buyer interested in the Owls Head property. The name of the interested party was not listed and a call to Archer early Wednesday has not been returned.

Claire Dean Perry was kicked out of the house and the locks changed, Dill said.

Perry and other family members, however, contested the move by the state, saying they could raise the money to prevent both properties from going into foreclosure for nonpayment of the approximately $7,500 in property taxes. The state, however, moved ahead quickly and sold the Owls Head waterfront property to James Taylor of Danvers, Mass., and Owls Head for $205,000, less than half the $476,840 value placed on it by the town. The human services department moved the date of the sale up by a day to Jan. 9, knowing that the family was going to court the following day to block the transaction, Jenny said.

The Owls Head property consists of nearly 1 acre with 100 feet of ocean frontage and a two-story, 1,000-square-foot home.

After selling the Owls Head property, the state turned to disposing of the Rockland home. The state had reached an agreement with a party that was willing to pay $65,000 for the Rockland property that was assessed at $177,200 — again less than half its value. Dill said the potential buyers backed out after learning of the family’s looming legal challenge.

The state surrendered its conservatorship in March. On Aug. 1, the probate court appointed Dean’s cousin, Pamela Vose of Union, as conservator over his remaining properties.

But Jenny and Dill said that after the sale of the Owls Head home and before the change in conservatorship, there was a fire sale of possessions owned by both Dean and Perry for reasons they cannot understand.

The state hired David Thistle of Brunswick to auction off the belongings. The state did not seek bids for that service nor did it sign a contract for the service, the attorneys said. The arrangement with the state did not specify how much money the auctioneer would get to keep and how much would go to the state for Dean’s future care.

Dill said she recently took statements from Thistle through a deposition that is part of the lawsuit Perry has against the state.

The state submitted a statement to the probate court in which it estimated the value of the belongings that had been in the two homes at $2,500. But that figure did not even account for a small fraction of the true value of the goods, Dill and Jenny said.

There were three musical organs in the home and one had a value in 2008 of $24,000, the attorneys said. Jenny noted that the auctioneer had an $8,000 offer on one of the organs, meaning that this sale alone was more than three times the state value of the total contents of the homes, he pointed out during a Tuesday telephone interview and in a Feb. 27 probate court filing.

Another glaring example of the state’s mismanagement was the sale of Dean’s 2000 Cadillac Eldorado. The book value of the vehicle was at least $5,600 but the state sold it for $385 and paid $218 to have it towed for the new owner, netting only $167.

Dean also owned model railroads valued at $3,000 that are not fully accounted for, Jenny said.

Dill said it has been difficult to determine the extent of the sales of personal items because of the lack of good record keeping. She said Thistle was allegedly selling the belongings at his auction house after the state no longer had conservatorship rights over Dean’s estate.

“This is shocking,” Dill said.

She said the most recent sale recorded was on May 25.

An accounting of items was filed by Thistle on June 5. The list details some items sold, including a maple bed set that went for $400, of which the estate received $280. A Ruger rifle was sold for $125 and the estate received $87.50.

The organs were saved, Dill said, and one of them is now at the group home where Dean lives. She said he plays for residents there. Jenny said Dean is a savant who can play any song that people request even though he does not read music.

The items that were not sold were moved to a storage unit in Warren on June 6 in response to the legal challenge.

Dill asserted that because of the state’s poor record keeping, valuable items have disappeared. The belongings in the house included a high-end bed set, antique lamps, Roseville pottery and marble table tops.

“There was a vase that the parents gave to Claire when she was born. There were cherished household items, the only things left from their parents that have value beyond the monetary,” Dill said.

Two telephone messages and one email message for Thistle starting Tuesday evening were not returned.

Dill said she will seek to negate the sale of the Owls Head home.

Taylor could not be reached for comment. He received approval last month from the Owls Head Planning Board to build a private pier on the property despite opposition from some residents.

Jenny said he believes the state’s actions violated the probate court order because the sales failed to return the mandated fair market value. The attorney also maintains the probate court erred in not having hearings when sales for dramatically less than the items’ values were proposed.

“I’ve been a lawyer for 20-plus years in Maryland and five years in Maine and I’ve never seen a case even remotely like this,” Jenny said.

He said conservatorship is supposed to be a process in which the rights of a person under state care are protected, but in this instance the state took actions that stripped Dean of his liberty and property.

DHHS filed a bill with probate court on June 17, to be paid from the estate, seeking $2,788 in reimbursement for 80 hours of work on his conservatorship.

Dill said she had taken depositions from Thistle and Taylor. Depositions of state officials are pending, she said. Two potential witnesses listed by Dill in filings with the probate court are David Vaughan, an estate management specialist for DHHS who signed the sale papers for the Owls Head property, DHHS caseworker Archer, and Darlene Emerson, who was appointed by the court to oversee Dean’s rights.

In a Feb. 11 filing in probate court, Emerson stated Perry would not be the appropriate conservator or guardian for Dean and she was not sure whether Vose should be appointed.

Dill also noted that when state officials took control of Dean’s properties, they had his beloved cat, Caterpillar, euthanized without asking family members if they could care for the animal.

Assistant Attorney General Katherine Greason, who represents the human services department in the lawsuit by Claire Dean Perry, said the department cannot comment on any matter related to the case while the lawsuit is pending. DHHS officials who were involved in the case also declined comment or did not return telephone calls.

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