Burns & Levinson Wins Important Florida Bankruptcy Court Ruling in Long-Running Massachusetts Elder Abuse Saga

Friday, November 30, 2018 - 10:24

 

Burns & Levinson partner Robert J. O’Regan received another victory in his role as the conservator for Alice Migell, whose nearly $5 million estate was pilfered by one of her sons. The son, Andrew Migell, filed two back-to-back Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases (exactly one year apart) in U.S. Bankruptcy Court Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, to protect himself from returning some of the over $2 million under a Massachusetts Appeals Court decision issued on November 2, 2016. 

The first bankruptcy case was dismissed after the judge ruled it was fraudulent, the case was returned to Massachusetts state court for collection. Just as a state court receiver was prepared to liquidate a number of real estate properties, Andrew Migell filed a second bankruptcy petition to take advantage of the automatic stay. In both bankruptcy petitions, he claimed to own real estate in New Hampshire valued at over $400,000 but then, when it appeared the property would be sold through the Bankruptcy Court to repay his mother, he dropped the property from his Bankruptcy Court list of assets. This led to a trial before Orlando U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Karen Jennemann.          

On November 28, 2018, Judge Jennemann ruled that Andrew Migell had attempted to “make a mockery of the judicial system and prevent the Chapter 7 Trustee from liquidating the property,” and authorized the bankruptcy trustee to liquidate the property to satisfy the Massachusetts judgments in favor of his mother.  

The case dates back to 2009 when O’Regan filed a lawsuit (as Alice Migell’s guardian) against Andrew Migell and his wife Kai Sun Migell after uncovering their efforts to divert virtually all of the assets that Mrs. Migell had, either in her own name or as her inheritance following the death of her husband to whom she had been married for over 40 years. O’Regan recovered real estate valued in excess of $2 million in addition to approximately $400,000 that Andrew Migell kept from selling real estate that was held in a trust he controlled. The returned property included a vacation home in Hull, a house in Wayland, and rental property. 

In 2013, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court ruled that Andrew and Kai Sun Migell had orchestrated a “continuous, willful campaign of fraudulent, obstructionist behavior designed to separate Mrs. Migell from her assets.” The court also ordered them to pay $512,680 in attorneys’ costs that Alice Migell incurred to recover her own property and to defend against their attempts to impoverish her after they “set out on a ruthless campaign to totally and utterly deprive his elderly, ailing and recently widowed mother of her entire estate.” These decisions were upheld by the Massachusetts Appeals Court in 2014 and 2016, with the court again requiring the son and his wife to pay O’Regan’s legal fees.

“We have spent nine long years working to regain control of assets that Mrs. Migell should have so she can live out the rest of her time with dignity and in comfort. She is now 85 years old,” said O’Regan. “In over 30 years of practicing law, I don’t think I have seen a worse case of elder financial abuse. I feel fortunate to have been able to serve the court to help Mrs. Migell recover her money and property. The scheme here was to impoverish Mrs. Migell so that the taxpayers would pay her expenses while Andrew and Kai got everything. Anyone who takes advantage of the most vulnerable people in society should held accountable for the damage they do. I hope our continued pursuit of justice in this case sends a loud message that this type of exploitation will not succeed.”