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Phoenix News – As Helpless As Children

Phoenix New Times
by Paul Rubin

In another case, Grace Gannett changed her will at Mackey’s urging in a Mesa hospital room hours after she had suffered a stroke. It named Mackey as the executor of her $120,000 estate, which meant more money for him and for Legg, the estate’s attorney.

ù The Probate Court judiciary has exercised little control over the private fiduciaries it appoints as guardian-conservators and executors. The only requirement to become a fiduciary, says a court investigator, “is the ability to breathe.”

Webber Mackey’s best qualification to manage millions of dollars in estate assets was that he knew Wayne Legg. The 77-year-old Mackey remains a member of the Arizona Association of Professional Fiduciaries, an unlicensed, self-regulating group he helped found and for which, as recently as 1990, he served as president.

No criminal charges have been filed against Legg or Mackey, despite the weight of evidence against them under Arizona’s theft statutes and the state’s elder-abuse law. Enacted in 1991, the law is designed to punish those who physically, mentally or financially abuse senior citizens.

It also calls for criminal charges against anyone–judge, law partner, whomever–who fails to contact police or other authorities after having “a reasonable basis to believe that . . . exploitation of [a] vulnerable adult’s property has occurred.”

The attorneys Legg and Mackey have hired–Harry Stewart Jr. for Legg, Mike Kimerer for Mackey–told New Times that neither man would be available for comment.

Criminal-defense attorney Kimerer predictably blames Legg for what went wrong. “My client relied on the advice of his counsel at the time–Mr. Legg–in these matters,” Kimerer says. “That’s the bottom line.”

Stewart says nothing he’s seen so far “has led to charges or proves that Wayne Legg is guilty of anything. He’s had an impeccable reputation for a long time.”

What happened to Delores Reichwein and the other victims has particular importance to Arizonans because of the state’s vast senior-citizen population. Arizona has the highest percentage of incapacitated wards of any state in the nation, and veterans of the county’s Probate Court say financial abuse of the elderly is widespread.

“The only difference between these men and some other people is they got caught,” warns Deborah Primock, who supervises the Probate Court’s investigators. “What happened to these people can happen to anyone.”

@sub:The Team of Legg and Mackey
@body:One of Wayne Legg’s ex-law partners provides little insight into the man and his motives. “I suppose he had some financial needs and was worried about his retirement,” says Douglas Cook.

The irony of that statement doesn’t escape Mesa auctioneer and real estate broker Philip Holmes, who has known Legg for 30 years.

“Wayne always seemed like a holier-than-anybody sort of guy,” Holmes tells New Times. “A lot of people in Mesa still feel he’s the greatest thing that’s ever been. Wayne’s own needs have always been No. 1, and you just don’t say no to him.”
The lawyer apparently has been that way for a long time. A Valley woman who attended ASU with Legg as an undergraduate almost four decades ago recalls that “Wayne was out for one thing–Wayne. But he was good at getting people to go along with him.”

Legg returned to Arizona in the late 1950s, after being graduated from Drake University Law School in his native Iowa. In those days, Mesa was a small town with just a handful of lawyers. Among the most prominent of the town’s firms, then and now, was the one founded in the early 1950s by Max Killian and John Rhodes.

Wayne Legg was a great catch for the firm. He was an aggressive young family man who excelled at beating the bushes for new clients. Legg wasn’t a handsome fellow, nor was he a charmer. But he did excel at networking, long before someone coined the term.

As Mesa and the law firm grew, Legg’s reputation and bank account grew with them. He was a polished public speaker who oozed sincerity as he discussed how to properly prepare for one’s golden years.

Legg spoke often in the trust-inspiring settings of East Valley churches, where he met many future clients. He was masterful at giving probate an aura of complexity it often didn’t deserve.

Legg’s verbal skills and the uncanny sway he held over the county judiciary paid off handsomely for him as the years passed. He bought several large farms in rural Kentucky, where his mother, Ruth, had been raised. He moved into an expansive home on Val Vista Road in Mesa.

Webber Mackey met Wayne Legg more than 20 years ago. Mackey migrated to Arizona after a chain of gas stations he had owned in Pennsylvania failed. In Mesa, he did various odd jobs and attended church on Sundays. It was there that Mackey met Wayne Legg’s parents, who introduced him to their well-known son.

The two eventually became a team. The well-connected Legg would find aging clients with money, ideally those without immediate family in Arizona. At some point, those clients would need a guardian-conservator to manage their affairs. Legg would recommend Mackey for the job.

The job is not easy. A guardian-conservator is responsible for every aspect of an incapacitated ward’s life. A ward may no longer receive money, pay bills, even marry or divorce without permission. The guardian-conservator has a legal duty to submit all expenditures to the Probate Court.

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