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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Estate Battle Rekindles Corruption Claims

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - A Florida lawyer claims he has new evidence that Panamanian Supreme Court justices were bribed into stripping him of control over a $150 million estate.

Attorney Richard Lehman says he secured an affidavit to help prove the foreign court illegally removed him from his position as executor of his client Wilson Lucom's estate. Lehman was supposed to oversee the estate and donate a portion of it to "needy Panamanian children," but Lucom's widow instead took it over after her legal team bribed several judges, Lehman claims.

The affidavit is part and parcel of Lehman's latest lawsuit in Palm Beach County court. It's drawn from the statements of a "prominent real estate developer" who heard a post-factum discussion about the bribery, according to the lawsuit.

"The corruption of the Panamanian judicial system is not mere speculation. The actual meeting ... where [the widow's] lawyer offered and negotiated a $1 million bribe to one of the Justices of the Panel, was reported ... to the prominent real estate developer," Lehman's lawsuit states.

"Due to the concern for the safety and welfare of Plaintiff Lehman and the Affiant, the Plaintiffs will seek to introduce this Affidavit to the Court in this action under seal and through confidential order," the lawsuit states.

Lehman's lawsuit marks the latest installment in a legal battle that stretches back to Lucom's death in 2006.

Lucom, a wealthy American expatriate, appointed both his widow Hilda and Lehman as executors of the estate in his original will. But he made modifications to the document, which, after his death, contributed to controversy over who should control the estate and its coveted tract of land on Panama's Pacific coast.

For years, Lehman sparred in court with Hilda overseas, arguing that the widow was ignoring her late husband's wish to donate certain estate assets to a trust fund for impoverished kids.

Meanwhile, Hilda, a well-to-do woman once married to the son of a Panamanian president, filed criminal complaints in Panama, accusing Lehman of "aggravated swindle" and theft of family funds. Hilda's lawyers at one point reported that Lucom's death was caused by heart trouble that he suffered after Lehman tried to whisk him out of the Paitilla Medical Center, where he was being treated for respiratory disease.

Lehman purportedly ended up on the International Criminal Police Organization's list of wanted men. He was jailed briefly in Panama but was cleared of the criminal charges.

Back in Florida, circuit judge John Phillips issued a million-dollar judgment against Lehman, asserting that he had improperly removed funds from the estate to fund his courtroom scuffles with Hilda. The judge called Lehman's actions those of an "intermeddling volunteer."

"Although Lehman attempted to portray himself at trial as a protector of the assets of the overall estate, the credible evidence showed him to be a covetous opportunist," Judge Phillips wrote following ancillary proceedings in Florida.

Lehman's latest lawsuit seeks to have Phillips' judgment set aside, on the grounds the judge had been misled by the findings of a Panamanian court official named Juan Molina, who Lehman claims was corrupt.

The malfeasance had not yet come to light, and Phillips never knew that "the Panama Orders placed into evidence by Defendants ... were illegal and obtained through bribery and corruption," Lehman says in his complaint.

Lehman claims that higher up the ladder, three Panamanian Supreme Court justices were on the take as well. He argues that in 2010, when the justices gave Hilda full control of the estate, they did so in exchange for a massive bribe from Hilda's legal team.

"In consideration of a several million dollar bribe paid to the three Panamanian Supreme Court Justices ... the Supreme Court of Panama issued the indefensible decision ... that repudiated Plaintiff Lehman's status as Executor ... and nullified Plaintiff Lehman's efforts since July 2006 to carry out his professional duty to defend the Will and implement its provisions," Lehman says.

Lehman's lawsuit includes one count for fraud, and one for injunctive relief to void Phillips' judgment.

Hilda passed away in 2011, so her own estate is named as a primary defendant in the lawsuit, alongside Edna Ramos Chue, Hilda's erstwhile attorney. Several parties, including Hilda's children, are named as defendants because they may claim an interest in the Florida action: Valores Globales S.A., Madelaine Arias, Margarita Allinson, Melinda Morrice, Gilberto Arias, Isabel Maria Clark, Robert Clark, Alexander Clark, Delanda Clark, Cassandra Clark and Larry Miller, as curator of the Estate of Wilson Lucom.

Lehman pursued the bribery allegations previously, as part of a United States federal court case.

In that case, Lehman sought racketeering damages from Molina, Hilda's family, her lawyers at Infante & Perez-Almillano, and among others, the three Panamanian Supreme Court justices who Lehman says were lining their pockets with dirty money. Lehman lost and then took the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against him in August 2013, affirming that his claims were time-barred.

With the latest lawsuit, Lehman continues the legal battle despite having been unsuccessful in high courts both at home and abroad.

Conrad DeSantis, a North Palm Beach lawyer speaking on Lehman's behalf, told Courthouse News that Lehman is a "brilliant tax attorney" who has been "slandered and libeled" to no end.

"The level of corruption was so unbelievable," DeSantis said. "To bring illegal court orders into this country ... it's like bringing cancer into the justice system."

"There are some strange people in Panama, and sometimes they do strange things," DeSantis said.

DeSantis would not reveal the identity of the "prominent real estate developer" cited in Lehman's new case.

Lehman says that in addition to the affidavit from the developer, he is armed with revelations that Hilda long ago had transferred "all of her interest" in the probate matter to a Panamanian organization, causing her to lose her legal standing in the subsequent litigation.

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