Fraud Claims Dog Purcell’s Firm: Partners Silent
Updated April 5, 2019
Special to www.StopProbateFraud.com
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series about defending your family’s assets from fraud and financial predators in probate, trusts and estates.
The law firm of Farmer, Purcell, Lassiter and White is back in the spotlight again.
While the firm still remains silent on the nearly $2 million in assets still missing from an estate they constructed, they face new questions rising from audits of their billing in that same estate
The firm is the business home of Nashville’s former mayor and Harvard lecturer, Bill Purcell.
Newly reviewed records show that the firm (previously known as Lassiter,Tidwell, Davis, Keller & Hogan) billed its client more than $30,000 to probate a small estate with an uncontested will. The firm’s fees were among the highest administrative costs billed to a Tennessee probate.
ONE CASE; MULTIPLE FRAUDS
The case is a common story: Nashville resident Woody Darken was widowed and Brentwood resident Cherry Lane Broadwell was divorced when they met. After a courtship, they agreed to marry with a pre-nuptial in place.
Ms. Broadwell’s portion of the pre-nuptial was written by former Federal prosecutor Ed Yarborough, now a partner at Bone-McAllister.
Mr. Darken’s attorney was Randle S. Davis, who was the senior managing partner at Lassiter, Tidwell, Davis, Keller and Hogan. (The firm is now called Farmer, Purcell, Lassiter and White, and is the business home of Nashville’s former Mayor, Bill Purcell. )
But when Mr. Darken died, case files show that his wife Cherry Lane wanted more money. She was named executor of his estate and hid the pre-nuptial accountings from Mr. Darken’s children, who were trustees of Mr. Darken’s estate and the family’s trusts. This portion of the story is detailed here:
Nearly two million dollars listed in Mr. Darken’s accountings are still missing as reported here:
NEW LAYERS OF FRAUD:
While the hidden files and missing assets have been detailed, an audit of the case has raises new questions about the massive probate bill delivered to the estate by the firm now called Farmer-Purcell.
The firm’s $30,000 bill triggers a red flag for fraud because it is more than fifty times greater than the actual court costs of less than $400 to probate a will in Williamson County.
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, there are hundreds of types of fraud. In the case of Farmer-Purcell, the first issue is rooted in the firm’s concealment of their bill. In all areas of business fraud alarms are triggered when a bill is more than the industry standard.
But in this case, Farmer Purcell hid its administrative billings along with the family’s other documents. This prevented the trustees of the estate from auditing the firm’s fees: What the firm was charging and why.
“We got ambushed,” said Eric Darken in an interview last week. Darken and his brother are trustees of their family’s estate. “We asked, but we didn’t see a bill from the firm for nearly two years. If we had seen their charges, we could have fired them. But they kept everything hidden from us: Our family’s contracts, legals records, accountings and their billings.”
BILLING FRAUD DETAILS:
The second issue with Farmer Purcell’s billing is that it appears that they charged the estate for unneeded work. In fraud terms, when someone delivers a bill for unnecessary or redundant work, it is called bill “churning” bill “padding,” “featherbedding” or “price-gouging.”
An audit of the firm’s bills shows thousands of dollars of charges billed to the estate for “research.” But in this case, the need for “research” was unnecessary because the firm’s managing partner, Randle S. Davis, was the attorney who had already been paid to write the estate plan. In fraud terms, this is called “double-dipping.”
“They used our family’s estate as an ATM,” said Darken. “When our parents were alive, they billed the family for estate planning. But after they had died, the firm billed us a second time for “research” on the estate plan that they wrote! They actually billed the estate for time they spent hiding our family’s legal and accounting files.”
HOW MANY OTHERS WERE TARGETED?
Davis has testified that he had more than one hundred estate clients. In addition to Davis’ clients, Farmer Purcell’s website now lists four attorneys who work in trust and estate planning, including Elizabeth Ryder Sykes, William H. Farmer, John Overton Belcher and the firm’s founding partner William H. Lassiter Jr.
The editors from www.stopprobatefraud.com contacted each individual trust and estate attorney at Farmer-Purcell for comment on the facts of this story and the billing standards used by the firm.
None of the attorneys responded.
Stay tuned as more of this case is revealed.
Our volunteers work to spot and stop fraud in probate, trusts, guardianships and estates. If you have been a target of fraud, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.