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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Bizarre Adoption Case Takes a Twist

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CN) - An attorney swiped $140,000 from a man who wanted to be adopted by an heir to the Du Pont fortune, who died in prison before the adoption went through, the client claims in court.

David Neal sued Douglas Zeit and the Law Offices of Douglas Zeit in Lake County Court.

Neal claims he hired Zeit in March 2009 to represent him in an adoption proceeding through which he was to be adopted by John Du Pont, and fronted him a $150,000 retainer.

Du Pont, an heir to the Du Pont chemical fortune, died in a Pennsylvania prison in December 2010 before the adoption was complete.

He was serving a 13- to 30-year sentence for the 1997 murder of Dave Schultz, an Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling. Schultz lived and trained at the $600,000 training center Du Pont built for Olympic wrestlers on his 800-acre Pennsylvania estate.

At Du Pont's sentencing, the court ruled that the multimillionaire was mentally ill, but not insane. Friends and relatives testified that Du Pont's behavior had become extremely strange by the mid-1990s, even for an eccentric man with an Olympic-sized mosaic in his pool portraying himself performing the events of the pentathlon.

For example, at the 1995 world wrestling championships, he wore an orange jump suit and asked to be introduced as the Dalai Lama, The New York Times reported.

In his lawsuit, Neal claims: "Upon hearing of the death of Du Pont, plaintiff contacted defendant to discuss the situation. During this phone conversation, defendant advised plaintiff that there were investment opportunities with which he could aid and advise plaintiff.

"Plaintiff was interested in these investment opportunities and allowed the money to remain in trust pending further information from defendant."

When several months passed and Zeit failed to send him any information on the purported investments, Neal says, he demanded the return of his money in trust.

"Plaintiff made an offer to pay a reasonable sum for the work done on plaintiff's behalf, but demanded that the defendant return the unused retainer funds, however, defendant refused to return unearned retainer funds," the complaint states.

"The retainer money was to be held in trust for plaintiff and that at all times plaintiff was the owner of an entitled to immediate possession of the retainer funds.

"The total value of the retainer funds so converted by defendant was approximately one hundred forty thousand dollars."

The complaint does not elucidate anything about Neal's relationship with Du Pont.

Neal seeks damages for conversion and breach of contract.

He is represented by Thomas Zanck with Zanck, Coen, Wright & Saladin.

Zeit did not return a request for comment.

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