The heirs of a Belfast woman whose estate was raided by a former Maine legislator have expanded a lawsuit against the estate’s trustee to include the bank where the trust funds were set up. The expansion is part of an effort to recover more of the $3 million that vanished from the estate of Phyllis Poor from a long-term theft that landed the trustee, 54-year-old Robert Kenneth Lindell Jr., in prison for 10 years.
Attorneys Sarah Irving Gilbert and Christopher MacLean of Camden allege in a new filing in Maine Business and Consumer Court in Portland that Bar Harbor Trust Services, a division of Bar Harbor Bank and Trust, did not properly oversee the activities of Lindell, the estate’s trustee who was convicted of theft and tax evasion in November. The attorneys also allege that once Bar Harbor Trust Services learned that Lindell was suspected of stealing from Poor’s estate, employees tried to cover up what had happened.
They are seeking punitive damages from the Bar Harbor-based bank.
In August, Gilbert and MacLean won a $3 million pre-judgment attachment on Lindell’s real estate and personal property. The attachment prevented Lindell, formerly of Frankfort and Cloverdale, California, from selling his real estate holdings or personal property before repaying the stolen money.
Jurors found that Lindell drained more than $3 million from Poor’s estate between 2013 and 2017. Poor died in 2012 at the age of 92.
As the trustee of Poor’s estate, Lindell had access to two trust funds. Those funds were set up with Bar Har Trust Services, which, according to the lawsuit, should have paid closer attention to how much money Lindell was withdrawing.
The amended complaint accuses the bank’s trust division of fraud, negligence, conspiracy, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other activities that weren’t in the interest of Poor’s heirs.
“This financial institution was asleep at the wheel,” Gilbert said last week. “For years it allowed [Lindell] to take money from Mrs. Poor’s estate.”
Eric Wycoff, the Portland attorney who represents the bank, on Friday described the claims as “meritless.” The bank has asked the judge to dismiss them from the lawsuit.
“Bar Harbor Trust Services feels very strongly that it has at all times acted appropriately, not done anything wrong, and that the claims contained in the second amended complaint against it are meritless,” Wycoff said.
Poor’s estate was valued at nearly $6.7 million when she died, the complaint said. During Lindell’s criminal trial, the estate should have been valued at $5.5 million.
It was to be divided into thirds to be distributed equally among a trust for Poor’s son, Frederick J. Poor, a disabled Vietnam veteran who lives in Florida; a trust for her grandchildren; and money for Waldo County charities. Her will stated that she and her husband had provided for their other children during their lifetimes so they were not included in the will.
Bar Harbor Trust Services no longer is overseeing the trusts, according to Gilbert.
She also said that while a substantial amount of money has been collected from Lindell’s real estate holdings and personal property, Poor’s heirs have not been made whole. If the judge finds Bar Harbor Trust Services did not properly oversee Lindell’s activities, he could order the bank to repay a portion of the money Lindell stole.
In sending Lindell to prison for 10 years, the maximum sentence for theft in Maine, Superior Court Justice William Anderson in April described his conduct as “outrageous.”
The judge said that Lindell wrote checks from the trust accounts to support his “lavish lifestyle,” including the purchase and renovation of a house in California wine country, and credit card bills for expensive travel and dining in the U.S. and Europe. He also paid for his child’s private high school and college tuition with stolen funds.
Anderson ordered Lindell to pay $750,000 in restitution to the Poor trusts and a second victim who lives in France. The judge based that amount on what he estimated Lindell could afford.
Gilbert said that amount is included in the $3 million pre-judgment attachment.
Lindell served in the Maine House of Representatives as a Republican from 2004 to 2006, when he was defeated in his re-election bid.
A hearing on Bar Harbor Trust Services’ motion to dismiss has not been set.