BELFAST, Maine — A Belfast lawyer accused last year of financially exploiting two elderly clients was indicted by the Waldo County grand jury on charges of theft and misuse of entrusted property on Thursday.
Last October, the Waldo County Probate Court removed two elderly women from the control of William L. Dawson, 60, who had been granted power of attorney by both women. In one year, Dawson allegedly paid himself nearly $150,000 from the bank accounts of an 86-year-old woman who suffers from memory loss and depression, according to documents filed at the probate court. In a nine-month period, Dawson allegedly paid himself $178,500 from the bank accounts of a 98-year-old woman, who suffers from dementia.
Both women were widows with no children and few family members living nearby, according to court documents.
Dawson was charged by the grand jury with two counts of Class B theft and two counts of Class D misuse of entrusted property. According to the indictment, Dawson allegedly stole from one client between February 2009 and March 2013. He allegedly stole from the other woman from July 2012 to March 2013.
If found guilty of the Class B theft charges, Dawson could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
The alleged financial exploitation was first brought to light by concerned bankers, who contacted officials with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to say that they suspected something bad was happening, one of the women’s newly appointed guardians told the BDN last year.
Jacquelyn Parisi of Machias, one of the new guardians, described the then-98-year-old woman who was like an aunt to her as “the sweetest person and very trusting.”
Dawson submitted many pages to the court to show why he had charged the two women so much money, with his attorney bills at times adding up to $20,000 per month. He wrote that he and his staff would check on his clients’ homes, pick up items for them at stores and review their bills, among other work. Both women resided at the Harbor Hill assisted care facility in Belfast.
DHHS caseworker Joanne Cookson submitted a request for temporary guardianship in May 2013, writing in court documents that both women were “at risk of further possible financial exploitation.”
The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, which was created by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to govern the conduct of attorneys, initiated a grievance against Dawson last October.
Based on a recommendation from the board, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in December that Dawson can still practice law in Maine for the time being, but under strict conditions. Those include that he cannot act under a power of attorney for any person and that he cannot manage finances or control funds for any client. Additionally, he is obligated to cooperate with an independent audit of his checking, savings and bank accounts.
Dawson is scheduled to be arraigned on the criminal charges at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 30.