Family files suit against Lawrence Federal, law office

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

A Dayton couple whose family's estate was plundered by an Ironton paralegal has filed a $1 million lawsuit against Lawrence Federal Savings Bank, attorney David Reid Dillon and former paralegal William Walker, in an effort to recover their lost money.

Anita Nielson is the niece of the late Mary Marting, who died in 2001. In their lawsuit that was filed on Wednesday, Anita Nielson and her husband, Harold, who is executor of the estate, contend that officers at Lawrence Federal Savings Bank should have exercised greater caution in allowing paralegal William Walker access to the Marting Estate. Further, the lawsuit alleges that Dillon failed to properly supervise Walker's activities, allowing him to steal money.

Walker, 45, of Ironton, was sentenced in January to four years in prison after he pleaded guilty to taking $100,000 from the Marting estate and money from office accounts of attorney David Reid Dillon, for whom he worked.

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Anita Nielson said Walker began a relationship with her elderly aunt while he was employed by attorney Craig Allen. In January 2001, Allen's law license was suspended for nine months by the Ohio State Supreme Court. At that time, Walker began working for Dillon, and was employed by Dillon until the time he was indicted on the theft charges.

"She treated him like a son," Anita Nielson said. "He had full reign and knew our family's finances better than I did."

Nielson said that in December of 2001, Walker forged Harold Nielson's signature and liquidated a certificate of deposit that was on deposit at Lawrence Federal. The CD was worth $100,000, not including interest. Nielson said that Walker then opened an estate account at that bank, and again forged Harold Nielson's signature on a blank signature card that he was allowed to take out of the bank.

Common procedure is for an officer to personally verify the identity of a person opening an account and personally witness the signature of each person whose name appears on an account. Anita Nielson said her family had not known the CD even existed.

Walker forged Nielson's signature to cash checks on the account, depleting all but approximately $700 of the funds.

The Nielsons maintain that Walker hid his theft by concealing bank statements from them and from his employers.

The thefts were discovered when Walker became ill and Allen, who by that time had returned to his law practice and had begun handling the Marting estate once more, found the Lawrence Federal account statements and questioned the Nielsons.

"He asked us why we had two estate accounts and we said we didn't have, and he said 'yes, you do,'" Anita Nielson said. "We were shocked. We didn't know."

Rogus maintains that the bank should made more effort to verify signatures and to verify that Nielson actually gave permission for the CD to be cashed in and an account opened in the name of the Marting estate. Because of bank officers' lack of oversight, the Nielson's are asking that the money be refunded.

"We want it made whole. We want the money he took plus the interest it would have accumulated in the time he had use of it," Nielson said.

"That CD, under Ohio law, is a note of the bank governed by the Uniform Commercial Code," Rogus said. "Ohio law specifies that a note can only be enforced or paid to a person entitled to enforce it, such as an estate. Then the bank also gave Walker a blank signature card and allowed him to leave the bank with it, and they allowed him cash checks.

"The bank is responsible for forgery; when they cash a check they are acting at their own risk. The problem is, they just didn't exercise any oversight at all, basically allowing him to have unfettered access to the Marting estate money without any way of him getting caught."

"It's been such a nightmare," Anita Nielson said. "We can't let this happen and them walk away from it. It's the principle of it."

The Ironton Tribune contacted Kevin Blum, the attorney for Lawrence Federal Savings Bank, and Jack Blair, the bank's president. Neither were available for comment on the matter.