The federal jury trial of the former office helper who said she found a document leaving the bulk of Hays multimillionaire Earl O. Field’s estate to her is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Nov. 14 in Wichita.
In 2016, Ellis County District Court ruled in a probate case that Field’s 2010 will bequeathing most of the wealth to the Fort Hays State University Foundation, not to Wanda Oborny, was the only valid last will and testament. In January, a federal grand jury indictment of Oborny on seven counts of mail fraud was filed in U.S. District Court in Wichita. The court initially set the trial for May 9.
However, Oborny’s attorney, Sal Intagliata with the Wichita law firm Monnat and Spurrier, requested the case be designated as complex and unusual and that the judge grant an approximately six-month continuance. U.S. attorneys did not object, and the court granted both requests in May.
Oborny is released on a $25,000 bond. Minutes of the arraignment hearing in March reflect her response to the criminal felony charges: There’s a check mark in the “Not Guilty” square.
Field was a 98-year-old widower with no children when he died Feb. 19, 2013, in Hays. He owned a land abstract and title business, as well as farmland and/or mineral rights in western Kansas. His extensive investments in bonds, stocks and mutual funds put his overall estimated wealth in excess of $20 million, according to court records.
The will deemed valid by the court designated some mineral interests to brother-in-law Carl Brecheisen, now deceased, and $25,000 to each nephew, Steve Brecheisen, Brian Brecheisen and Scott Brecheisen; a life estate to Vincent Burghart and Timothy Burghart, managing Field farmland in western Kansas; and the remainder to the FHSU foundation. The foundation also would gain the property title to the farmland upon the deaths of the Burgharts.
On the day Field died, Oborny said, she went to the office and found a letter dated Jan. 23, 2013, that changed the beneficiaries and left one-half of the estate to her; one-fourth to Field’s attorney, Joseph Jeter; and one-fourth to the FHSU foundation. When Jeter saw the letter, he told her it wasn’t a valid codicil to the will because it lacked the signatures of witnesses.
Less than a week later, Hays resident Steve Little called Jeter. He and wife, Kathy Little, had observed the signing by Field of a similar letter dated Jan. 22, 2013, and that codicil to the will also gave half the estate to Oborny, one-fourth to Jeter and one-fourth to the foundation. Oborny subsequently said she found the Jan. 22 letter, and in March 2013, she petitioned the court for probate of the will and the letter/codicil.
Attorneys for the FHSU foundation, the Burgharts and the Brecheisens challenged the codicil. That led to investigations, depositions, and the enlistment of experts analyzing handwriting and writing and typing styles.
The battle stretched nearly three years before it went to a non-jury trial in Hays on Feb. 29, 2016. Presiding over the approximately nine-day trial was Senior Judge William “Buck” Lyle Jr., of Reno County.
“There is no doubt in my mind that she (Oborny) became more than an office helper to Earl. He made gifts to her during his lifetime that would have shocked most office workers. The amount on the record of these lifetime gifts exceeded $800,000.00,” Lyle wrote in his judgment.
“One had to wonder, after hearing about the way Earl ran his life and his business, whether or not he would have hired Wanda had he known she had been let go from, or allowed to quit, two former jobs due to misuse of funds,” he continued.
“The witnessed will/codicil that was later found at the office by Wanda was dated 1/22/2013. This was the document allegedly witnessed at Steve Little’s office by Steve and his wife, Kathy. Kathy was a longtime friend of Wanda’s and there are numerous contacts between the two of them by phone both before and after the alleged signing that took place in Steve’s office,” Lyle wrote.
“The day that Steve called Joe Jeter to tell him that they had witnessed the signing of the will/codicil by Earl Field in Steve’s office was February 25, 2013.
“Wanda had her car serviced on February 25, 2013 at the dealership where Steve worked. She originally stated that her car was serviced in the morning and she left without any contact with Steve. Later it was shown that the service on her car was completed in the early afternoon and the time shown as the completion time of work on her vehicle was the same time that was recorded on Steve’s call to Joe Jeter to tell Joe that Steve and Kathy had witnessed the signing at Steve’s office on January 22, 2013,” Lyle wrote.
Lyle was skeptical about Oborny’s explanation for the paper-shredded handwritten draft of portions of the codicil, in Oborny’s handwriting.
“The Court also must agree with the experts who concluded that not only did Earl not sign these letters/codicils, but they were not typed by him,” Lyle also wrote.
Prior to the trial, the Littles died in a murder-suicide in August 2015 at Webster Reservoir. The coroner’s report stated they had been contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a grand jury hearing.
Mail fraud charges
The decision in the Ellis County case was finalized in late 2016, according to court records. On Jan. 18 the grand jury’s sealed indictment was filed in U.S. District Court.
The indictment uses initials to identify the seven recipients of mailings that are the basis for the seven counts of mail fraud against Oborny. The beneficiaries in Field’s valid will align with the initials: C.B./Carl Brecheisen; S.B./Steve Brecheisen; B.B./Brian Brecheisen; S.B./Scott Brecheisen; T.B./Timothy Burghart; V.B./Vincent Burghart; and F.H.S.U./Fort Hays State University.
The U.S. accuses Oborny of:
“the intent to defraud, devised and participated in a scheme and artifice to defraud and obtain money by materially false and fraudulent pretenses and representations, and in order to execute and attempt to execute the scheme and artifice to defraud, knowingly and willfully caused a thing and matter to be sent and delivered by the United State Postal Service, in interstate commerce, according to the directions thereon, that is, the defendant mailed and caused another to mail several documents to the person and institution identified by initials below, representing that E.O.F. (Earl O. Field) was deceased and that one document contained within this mailing modified E.O.F.’s Last Will and Testament by dividing the residuary estate as follows – one fourth to an educational institution (FHSU), one fourth to the person who drafted E.O.F.’s 2010 Last Will and Testament (Jeter) and one half to defendant Wanda Oborny.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Barnett filed a motion Feb. 21 asking the court to unseal the indictment.