By Sarah Mansheim
A post-trial hearing for a man found guilty of embezzlement last month has been postponed. On Monday, Mar. 7, James M. Cagle, an attorney for Jeffrey Einer Lewis, who was convicted last month of embezzling over $800,000 from a trust he managed, made a motion to postpone a post-trial hearing for his client.
A jury found Lewis guilty of embezzlement on Feb. 19, and found him not guilty on a charge of financial exploitation of an elderly person. The case focused on Lewis’ handling of a trust benefitting John K. Dawkins, from which, according to prosecutors, Lewis’ embezzled $832,000.
On Monday, Cagle made a motion to set aside the guilty verdict and grant Lewis a new trial, based on the assertions of pre-trial ruling errors, a lack of evidence, the denial of right to cross-examine a witness and a lack of evidence to support the inclusion of a $137,000 “finder’s fee” from selling mineral rights in the embezzlement charges.
Cagle asked the court to “enter a judgment of acquittal or award a new trial in this case.”
This delay is the most recent salvo fired off by a tangle of attorneys, trustees and charities all seeking to find out who, exactly, owns the right to Dawkins’ inheritance.
While the criminal court decides what to do about Cagle’s motion to acquit Lewis or grant him a new trial, a civil court is overseeing a battle over who gets what’s left of Dawson’s inheritance.
John K. Dawkins was not supposed to live this long. “Kay,” as he is known, was born with spina bifida. Now in his 70s, Dawkins was told he wouldn’t make it past his 20s.
His father, the late John R. Dawkins, set up a $1 million trust to provide care for his only child in 1998, believing the money would be enough to provide medical care for his son for the remainder of his life.
John R. Dawkins died in 1999, leaving the balance of his estate to the Shriners Hospital for Children and local charity the Hollowell Foundation.
The first trustee to oversee the funds was Lewisburg attorney and former Senator Jesse O. Guills. Guills had prepared the elder Dawkins’ will and served on the board of directors of the Hollowell Foundation throughout his tenure as trustee.
In 2009, a complaint was filed in the Circuit Court of Greenbrier County to remove Guills as trustee, claiming “extraordinary, unjustified and unjustifiable fees and expenses.”
The complaint stated that Guills’ fees outpaced Dawkins’ expenses, and, while Guills was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, the balance of Dawkins’ trust had dwindled significantly under Guills’ watch.
According to police, Lewis, a CPA, was named trustee, and within four months, sold mineral rights on a Pennsylvania property owned by the trust in the amount of $2.7 million. Police say he failed to tell Dawkins, Hollowell or Shriners Hospital that he’d sold the mineral rights, instead, depositing the money in the trust’s name with Texas financial firm, H.D. Vest.
A complaint filed in 2015 by Hollowell and Shriners alleges that Lewis then “improperly withdrew more than $750,000” from accounts containing the signing bonus, including that $137,000 “finder’s fee” which Lewis’ attorney is currently questioning.
Regardless of how Lewis’ criminal case shakes out, the fact remains that Dawkins, against all odds, is still alive, and his care remains expensive as ever. That original $1 million left to him by his father has dwindled, and now, Dawkins wants what he says is his share of the $2.7 million from the mineral sale.
Hollowell and Shriners disagree. They insist that the elder Dawkins’ will was clear: $1 million was to go to John K. Dawkins, and the rest of the trust is theirs. Anything left over after Dawkins dies is also theirs, they say.
The charities filed a lawsuit in April 2015, insisting that the $2.7 million belongs to them. They claim Lewisburg attorney Ed “Ted” Knight, who is now overseeing Dawkins’ trust, is spending some of that money on Dawkins’ care, and that money belongs to them.
Dawkins, through his attorney, John Hussell of Wooton, Davis, Hussell, & Davis PLLC, says he doesn’t owe Shriners or Hollowell anything. Guills, his attorney says, influenced the elder Dawkins, who was in poor health and “limited capacity,” to include the Hollowell Foundation in his will as a major beneficiary.
Prior to Guills’ involvement in the will, Dawkins’ attorneys say his father intended to use his wealth to ensure the health and wellbeing of his son, with the charities to receive assets only after the younger Dawkins’ death.
Dawkins, through his attorney, wants the will nullified and “all of the money and assets wrongfully obtained or withheld” by Shriners Hospital and the Hollowell Foundation returned, and the court to bar the charities from interfering in any way with the estate. They also want Shriners and Hollowell to deposit an amount equal to the funds they’ve already received from the estate.