Trusted Md. Lawyer Accused of Plundering Client's Estate
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Mary P. Jameson wanted to be certain that her money would be safe for her heirs after she died. So as one of her final acts, she hired a lawyer whose credibility was unquestioned in the town of La Plata: Frank P. Jenkins.
Jameson's niece, Cecilia Johnston, was put in charge of executing the will, but Jenkins, a longtime family friend, was to help with the practical matters -- moving money among accounts, paying bills and taxes. Jenkins had performed similar services for two other relatives, Johnston said, and no one noticed any problems.
This time, though, the problems were almost immediate.
Last week, Jenkins, 44, was accused of stealing more than $300,000 from Jameson's estate and charged with theft. Investigators are exploring the possibility that he stole from several other clients, and they are encouraging others who dealt with Jenkins to reexamine their finances for irregularities.
"This was a family that has known our family for decades. He wasn't a stranger," Johnston said. "I mean, how could this happen?"
Authorities in Charles County have the same question.
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To say Mary P. Jameson was meticulous is a bit of an understatement.
After her terminal cancer was diagnosed in April, Jameson, who worked for several decades at the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, sat down with her niece to work out the seating arrangements at her funeral. She instructed Johnston to buy dozens of file folders to keep financial matters organized, and she prepaid for Jenkins's services, telling her niece to contact the lawyer as soon as possible after her death.
Jameson, 73, of Bryantown, knew the drill. Only a year before, she had worked with Jenkins in handling her late husband's estate. Johnston, 47, had never before executed a will.
Jameson died July 10, leaving behind four accounts totaling more than $899,000, according to her niece and charging documents. Jenkins told Johnston to move all the money into one account, and eventually, the lawyer took control of the money, according to the charging documents.
That's when Jenkins started acting strangely, Johnston said. He refused to provide even basic documentation that bills were being paid and that accounts were being maintained, Johnston said. When questioned, he would change the subject, she said.