Shannon Clark Quoted in Article


Shannon Clark Quoted in Article

G&K shareholder and co-leader of the firm's catastrophic injury law team Shannon Clark was sourced as an expert contributor for a recent 3TV/CBS 5 story by Morgan Loew. In "Buckeye family believes insurance agent spent dead mother’s money," Shannon provided context on the challenges associated with recovering money in this type of case.

By Morgan Loew
Published: Dec. 12, 2023 at 6:00 AM MST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2023 at 6:00 AM MST

BUCKEYE, Ariz. (3TV/CBS 5) - By all accounts, Bonita Bell lived a financially comfortable life. Her daughter says after her parents divorced, her mother had about $1 million in assets. So after Bonita died in July of 2022, her children were shocked to find those assets were largely gone.

“There were charges being made in Scottsdale and Avondale and Glendale and we knew my mom wasn’t traveling to those places,” said Kimberly, who is Bonita’s daughter.

“The sum total looks like over $500,000, over a year and a half,” she said.

The spending coincides with Bonita’s interactions with an insurance agent. The man, who we are not identifying in this story because he has not been charged with a crime, helped Bonita keep up with bill payments and other financial issues, according to Kimberly and a Buckeye Police report.

In addition to the money being spent, Kimberly says the agent sold her mother a $250,000 annuity. That’s an insurance product that pays back an investment over a long period of time, often decades. At the time of the purchase, Bonita was 76 years old and in poor health, according to Kimberly.

“It makes no sense and to me, that’s criminal.” said Kimberly.

The family also discovered items were missing from Bonita’s home, including valuable jewelry. According to the police report, the insurance agent sold at least some of the jewelry to a Scottsdale jewelry store.

The circumstances of this situation are all too familiar to Shannon Clark, who is an attorney and shareholder at the law firm of Gallagher and Kennedy. Clark is not involved in this case.

It’s a very challenging situation. And for family members who are affected by this, there aren’t a lot of very good remedies.

Shannon Clark

According to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, there are as many as 7,000 victims of fraud, who are elderly, each year in Arizona.

The Buckeye Police Department investigated Bonita’s case, but quickly ran into an obstacle.

“Because she has passed away, we don’t know what her wishes were. We don’t know if it was her intention to give the money away. We don’t know if the money was used for care. And we don’t know if the money was stolen,” said Sgt. Andrew Fletcher, who oversaw the case.

Legal experts say this highlights a challenge in taking these cases to court, in both criminal and civil cases: if the victim is dead, it can be difficult to prove intent.

They have to show that (the victim) did not intend to give the money to this caretaker or the fiduciary, or whoever this person is. To hire a lawyer can be an expensive proposition. And if you win, is the money that was stolen still going to be there?

Shannon Clark

Even if the case is proven, there is no guarantee the family members would recover any money.

In Bonita Bell’s case, there appears to be little question of whether the insurance agent used or spent the money. The evidence says he did, according to the police report. That is the most frustrating part of this to her family.

“Really, what this has taught me is crime does pay,” said Kimberly.

Buckeye Police say they still hope to resolve the case.

“We want to produce that resolution. And ultimately in this one, it’s extraordinarily frustrating not to be able to offer that to the family,” said Sgt. Fletcher.

Experts recommend that if you have an aging family member, have open and honest conversations about finances and be aware of what money is being spent and where. And if someone is taking care of your family member’s finances, make sure the responsibilities are in writing, along with any benefit that person is entitled to.

Read this story on 3TV/CBS 5