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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2008

Ex-lawyer McConnell Hancock accused of more thefts; additional $170,800 taken from 11 estates, reports say

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Attorney Jim Caruso, who was appointed in February as a special master commissioner to review the probate cases, filed reports recently on each of the cases in which money was found missing. Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger forwarded the information to the county prosecutor s office Monday.

The $170,858 figure does not include the $130,000 that Ms. McConnell Hancock admitted to embezzling earlier this year from the estate of a murdered Toledo city worker.

Judge Puffenberger said yesterday that he expects one more case to be reviewed before the investigation is complete in probate court. The investigation then will be considered by the prosecutor s office, which has been reviewing Ms. McConnell Hancock s case files for many months.

All these people, they were never aware that they were victims. We never had anyone call here and complain, the judge said yesterday. What happened was that the assets were not reported or underreported. If the lawyer doesn t give us the right number to begin with, we don t know that there is something else out there that exists.

Each of the cases investigated by Mr. Caruso involved estates set up on behalf of deceased residents. In one case, Ms. McConnell Hancock is accused of taking nearly $31,000 from the estates of both a husband and wife who died within three years of each other.

According to the reports, Ms. McConnell Hancock used her legal escrow account to inappropriately deposit and withdraw funds. The investigation revealed that Ms. McConnell Hancock would deposit money from the estates into the account but only legally paid out small portions of it.

The report labeled the rest of the funds as missing.

Judge Puffenberger said that the estates will be reopened and that a status hearing will be scheduled for each. He said that the beneficiaries and their attorneys will be advised to file a claim against Ms. McConnell Hancock and the Client Security Fund of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Also, judgments will be ordered in each of the cases, Judge Puffenberger said.

Attorney Jerry Phillips, who is representing Ms. McConnell Hancock, said that his client has cooperated with the investigation to date, including meeting with investigators several times and opening her files to them. He said he anticipates the case being resolved shortly.

We ve met with the various authorities on at least three different occasions , he said. I think you would classify her involvement as most cooperative at this time. She s done everything she can to help the investigators get what they need.

Ms. McConnell Hancock sent a letter to the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year to resign as an attorney after she was found guilty Jan. 29 of a misdemeanor charge of making false alarms. The charge evolved from her admission that she fabricated a story in December of being kidnapped from downtown Toledo and dropped off in Georgia.

Ms. McConnell Hancock was sentenced April 9 to two years of probation with a three-month jail sentence suspended, a $300 fine, and 40 hours of community service.

On the same day she admitted guilt for the misdemeanor charge, Mr. Phillips filed a consent agreement in probate court saying she admitted guilt to the embezzlement of more than $130,000 from the estate of Rodney Coley, Sr., who was killed in his home in February, 2006.

The case was one of many allegations of theft by clients and former clients and was the first one resolved. Also pending against her are civil lawsuits filed on behalf of former clients who claim they did not receive settlement checks in cases in which they were represented by Ms. McConnell Hancock.

The Lucas County prosecutor s office is investigating the allegations and reviewing possible criminal charges, Assistant County Prosecutor J. Christopher Anderson said.

We hope to conclude our investigation soon, he added.

The mother of two, Ms. McConnell Hancock recently filed for divorce from her husband of four years claiming incompatibility and extreme cruelty on the part of Lawrence Hancock, Sr. She filed paperwork May 30 in Lucas County Domestic Relations Court that also requested that she be named as residential parent and legal custodian of the children.

Also named in the filing as third-party defendants are Ms. McConnell Hancock s parents, Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell and Tempie McConnell. The couple were listed because they have limited interest in the minor children who are the subject matter of the action, court documents said.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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