PURCELL’S FIRM SILENT ON MISSING MILLIONS
THIS IS THE FOURTH IN A SERIES ABOUT PROTECTING THE ASSETS OF YOUR FAMILY
OR BUSINESS IN THE WAKE OF NEW RULINGS FROM TENNESEE’S COURTS.
December 18, 2018
Special to www.stopprobatefraud.com
The “Little Case from Leiper’s Fork” just got bigger. Millions bigger.
More than $2 million in assets are missing from the accountings produced by the Nashville based law firm of Farmer, Purcell Lassiter and White. (The firm was previously known as Lassiter, Tidwell, Davis, Keller and Hogan.)
The discovery was made after a multi-year legal battle forced the firm to deliver the accounting and legal records of an estate. Records that they hid from their own clients.
Woody and Nancy Darken had moved to Nashville in the early 1990’s to be close to their son Eric, a musician. The couple met attorney Bill Lassiter and Lassiter introduced them to his firm’s tax and estate-planning expert, Randle S. Davis.
Through the next two decades, Davis and Lassiter’s firm did the legal work for three generations of the Darken family.In 1997, Nancy Darken died of cancer.
In the years following her death, Woody Darken met Cherry Lane Broadwell and they decided to get married with a pre-nuptial agreement in place. Ed Yarborough, a partner at the Nashville firm of Bone-McAllester, wrote the agreement for CherryLane, and Randle Davis wrote the pre-nuptial for Darken.
Years later Darken died and his surviving wife Cherry Lane was the executrix of his estate.Darken’s two sons, Eric and Brett Darken were trustees and beneficiaries of their father’s estate and the family’s trusts. The men and their family’s were also clients of the firm Lassiter, Tidwell, Davis, Keller and Hogan (now known as Farmer, Purcell, Lassiter and White.)
Trial testimony details that when the trustees asked for their late father’s legal and financial files, the executrix refused. When they asked Lassiter’s firm for their late father’s legal and financial files, they, too, refused to provide them.
Instead, the executrix hired the firm to write a list of accounts and give the trustees that substitute list of rather than the actual records.
For more information on “substitution fraud” in this case, click here:
FIGHTING FOR TRANSPARENCY
It took the trustees two years and $250,000 in legal fees before Judge Timothy Easter ruled that the firm and the executrix must give the trustees their late father’s legal and financial records.
One of the files finally delivered to the trustees was the accounting disclosures in the pre-nuptial agreement the firm had written. The file contained more than one hundred pages of financial details including a list of assets that were missing from the estate accountings that were substituted by the firm and the executrix.
“The nature of fraud is deception. So, like many frauds, things on the surface seem OK,” said trustee Brett Darken. “In our case, all the accounts in the list that we were given actually checked out, and seemed to be in order. The problem is that there were many assets in our family’s portfolio that were hidden from us. You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Missing from the firms accountings is a trust valued at $447,000; $800,000 from another trust; mortgages worth more than $200,000; thousands of shares of stock; real estate valued in excess of a quarter million dollars; fine art, antiques, and vehicles.
THE TENNESSEE TWIST:
Easter, in addition to ordering the delivery of the family’s documents, ordered the executrix to mediation for the losses that had been inflicted on the trustees.
But the executrix was able to refuse Easter’s mediation oder. She demanded a trial.
It took another a year for the family to go to trial. In that time Judge Easter was removed from the case and promoted to the Tennessee court of appeals. He was replaced by Judge James Martin III.
Court transcripts show that at trial, Davis admitted on the stand that the firm had concealed Darken’s accountings from the trustees “for no good reason.”
But when the executrix finally got the chance take the stand to defend her actions and explain the missing millions, she refused to testify in her own defense.
In refusing to testify, she prevented the trustees from asking her about the assets missing from her accountings.
Judge James Martin III stepped in and exercised the court’s Rule 641, where a judge asks direct questions of a witness. Martin questioned the executrix on the stand for nearly half an hour but never asked her about the $2 million dollars in assets missing from her accountings.
NOT FRAUD IN TENNESSEE
Judge Martin did not order a forensic accounting. Instead, he ruled that in Tennessee, it is not fraud or even a breach of fiduciary duty to hide assets or legal and financial documents from the trustees or principals of an estate.
The trustees appealed Martin’s ruling to the Middle Tennessee Court of Appeals, but the appeals court upheld Martin’s logic.
The legal costs of “The Little Case From Leiper’s Fork” exceeded $650,000. All paid for by the trustees.
An accounting for the missing assets has never been delivered.
“It’s pretty stunning,” said trustee Brett Darken, who lives in Virginia. “I don’t know of any other state in the U.S. where hiding accountings is legal. But the courts in Tennessee have spoken. The big question is how many other times the courts in Tennessee have approved fake accountings?”
PURCELL SILENT. COURTS SILENT.
The editors at www.stopprobatefraud.com asked for comment from Bill Purcell, William Lassiter and Elizabeth Sykes who are all partners at the firm Farmer, Purcell, Lassiter and White. We received no response.
The editors also reached out to Barbara Peck, the media relations representative for the Tennessee Supreme Court. Peck did not reply.
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Next up in our series: The Onion of Fraud: How One Fraud Reveals Another