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Phoenix News – As Helpless As Children

Phoenix New Times
by Paul Rubin

“There would be times when someone would fly in,” Philip Holmes recalls, “and Wayne would call me and say, ‘Could you bring the van over to pick these people up at the airport? Meet us at the Arizona Club for lunch. And then I want you to show them around.’”
Law enforcement sources and defense attorneys contacted by New Times say Legg’s actions with the van may constitute felony theft under an Arizona law that states, “A person commits theft if he converts for an unauthorized term or use services or property of another entrusted to the defendant.”

Legg was on the road with his clients’ property for as long as a month at a time, Geneva Holmes says. That left her without a vehicle. (Legg’s attorney, Harry Stewart Jr., declined comment on the van and on other allegations in this story.) “Webber Mackey always let me drive his pickup truck,” she says, “so I would have to take these ladies and men shopping [in] the pickup.”

Legg and Mackey routinely had their van expenses approved by Probate Court. They had few difficult moments.

In October 1991, Mesa-based Court Commissioner Elizabeth Yancey ordered Mackey to explain why she should approve $1,875 in “service fees” he had charged the estate of his incapacitated ward Grace Gannett. On March 4, 1992, Yancey ruled that the service fees “could be determined to have been in violation of the guardian-conservator’s fiduciary duty to the ward.”

But then Yancey caved in.
“[Mackey's] fees charged for the ‘trips’ are not unreasonable on their face,” Yancey wrote, approving the service fees charged to the Gannett estate. (Citing the “Judicial Rules of Conduct,” Yancey declined to comment on this or any other case involving Legg and Mackey.)

In May 1992, Webber Mackey sold the van at auction for about $6,000.
The van was one of many things that led members of Grace Gannett’s family to scratch their heads. Once the family members convinced themselves that something very wrong was happening in Arizona, they fought back.

@sub:Grandma Gracie
@body:Grace Gannett’s story parallels that of Delores Reichwein, in that much of her estate vanished during the time Wayne Legg and Webber Mackey controlled it. A big difference is how members of her family did something about it.

The Gannett clan flew to Arizona from around the nation in June 1992 to attend Grace Gannett’s funeral, after she died on her 93rd birthday. Only then did the family learn of a second will, one Legg and Mackey had convinced her to sign to their potential benefit.

Born in 1899, Grace Soliday grew up in DuBois, Pennsylvania, the daughter of a farrier. Though her eyesight was poor, she read voraciously as a youngster. It was a love that lasted a lifetime.

During high school, she met Herman Gannett, a teenage emigrant from the Ukraine. The tiny redhead tutored the eager young man in English. The two married in 1922.

The young couple then worked as a teaching team at one-room schoolhouses in rural Ohio. Grace taught the young kids, Herman the older ones. Herman later became a school superintendent.

“They lived the American dream,” says granddaughter Cinthia Gannett, a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire. “Herman and Gracie. Wonderful people. They weren’t rich, but he made sure she would be financially comfortable if he wasn’t there for her in her later years.”
The Gannetts didn’t have children of their own, but they adopted a son, Paul. Grace and Herman Gannett moved to Mesa after they retired in the early 1970s, because Paul Gannett’s brother, Ed Phillips, lived in the Valley. The Phillipses spent many happy times with the couple.

The Gannetts lived a modest, comfortable life in Mesa that centered on their faith and on each other. Wayne Legg became the Gannetts’ attorney in the late 1970s, after he met them at church. He prepared their wills, which called for the couple’s assets to be split among family members. Grace Gannett’s will called for Ed Phillips to become the estate’s executor after she died.

Herman Gannett died in 1980. In the late 1980s, a series of strokes landed Grace Gannett at a Mesa nursing home.

In August 1988, Probate Court Commissioner Michael Jones declared her incapacitated and appointed Webber Mackey as her guardian-conservator. Wayne Legg would now serve as the estate’s attorney.

That gave Legg and Mackey legal control over Grace Gannett and her money, estimated in late 1988 to be about $120,000. The Legg-Mackey team assured the Gannett family that the estate was in sound shape.

But public records show that the Gannetts’ $120,000 estate shrank to $87,448 by June 1990, then to $42,903 by June 1991. The payments Mackey made from the estate to Wayne Legg and himself accounted for a significant part of the shrinkage.

“We didn’t know they were bleeding off what my grandpa and grandma had earned,” Cinthia Gannett says. “We may not have known much, but we knew they’re not allowed to suck people dry.”
Court Commissioner Michael Jones, however, approved every bill submitted by the men. He tells New Times he doesn’t recall specific cases involving Legg and Mackey, but adds: “I do remember several cases that Wayne and Webber had that were extraordinary in terms of the fees, but I never had a clue that something smelled fishy or looked fishy. They really seemed to care for their ‘protected’ individuals.”

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