When an elderly woman told a local financial adviser she wanted to turn her life savings over to a couple she'd known only a few months, the adviser, Bob Lane, didn't question her decision, he testified in court Wednesday.
During the second day of Maurice McDaniel's trial, Lane testified that he helped Mildred Edgerly, a retiree from Michigan who lived in Citrus County, to transfer thousands of dollars from her savings and assets to Maurice McDaniel, who was one of Lane's clients and longtime friends.
"I didn't feel it was my place to question this person (Edgerly)," Lane said.
McDaniel, 58, is accused of swindling Mrs. Edgerly and her husband, Harry, out of nearly half a million dollars. McDaniel and his wife, Anne, 41, were arrested in 2002 on charges of exploitation of the elderly, organized fraud and grand theft.
Anne McDaniel took a plea deal from the state and testified Tuesday against her now-estranged husband, telling the court she and her husband broke their promise to care for the Edgerlys, instead taking their money to build a large home and putting Mrs. Edgerly in an assisted living facility after Harry Edgerly's death. Mrs. Edgerly died in the facility in November 2002.
Anne McDaniel was again called to the courtroom Wednesday afternoon to give a deposition about a newly discovered document, prosecutor Phil Hanson said. Defense lawyer Patrick Doherty said Wednesday morning that one of Anne McDaniel's previous lawyers found a red notebook she used as a diary. He said the diary contained information about the Edgerlys.
It was not clear Wednesday whether the diary would be allowed into evidence in the trial.
In the second day of McDaniel's trial, much of the testimony centered around whether the elderly couple were able to make independent, informed decisions.
Lane described his meetings with Mrs. Edgerly, who liquidated her considerable financial reserves and turned the money over to Maurice McDaniel and his wife.
"She seemed to know exactly what she was doing," he testified.
No one has disputed the close bond that quickly formed between Maurice McDaniel and the Edgerlys. Although McDaniel was not a blood relative, Mrs. Edgerly called him "son," and he called her "mom."
The defense continued to build an argument that the McDaniels helped the Edgerlys defend their money from a Michigan couple who were trying to take it.
Maurice McDaniel's motive was to protect the Edgerlys, according to his defense attorney. The Edgerlys' neighbors in Michigan were trying to take the Edgerlys' money and claimed to have a real estate contract with the Edgerlys for their Michigan home, the defense lawyer said.
Lane said Mrs. Edgerly didn't trust the court system, bankers or lawyers, and wanted to keep her money safe, particularly from the Michigan neighbors. When Mrs. Edgerly came to see Lane, who also advised the McDaniels in financial matters, Lane did what Mrs. Edgerly told him to do, he said _ namely, he liquidated Mrs. Edgerly's savings.
Mrs. Edgerly's request was unusual, he said, probably the first time he'd seen an elderly client who wanted to divest all of her assets. But he saw no reason to prevent Mrs. Edgerly from doing with her money as she saw fit, he testified.
He said he saw no conflict of interest in advising both Mrs. Edgerly and the McDaniels in financial matters, he said.
"I certainly didn't, because I was doing what Mrs. Edgerly wanted done," he said.
Lane's situation as an adviser to both parties is one to be avoided, Inverness lawyer Tom Slaymaker testified. An expert on elder law, Slaymaker became involved with the Edgerlys when lawyer Dan Snow petitioned the court to examine the Edgerlys' competency.
Snow met the Edgerlys when he was hired to alter their will to give the McDaniels power of attorney should the elderly couple die. At the time, Snow said, he had no idea the McDaniels and Edgerlys had known each other only a couple of months.
When Snow learned more about the situation, he was alarmed, he said, and filed a petition with the court.
That's when Slaymaker and another lawyer, Patricia Moring, met the Edgerlys. The more they learned about the situation, the more alarmed they became, both testified on Wednesday.
As the Edgerlys' representative in the guardianship proceedings, Moring's job was both to look out for the Edgerlys' best interest and to do what they wanted, she said.
When she tried to meet with Mrs. Edgerly to talk about the situation, Maurice McDaniel stopped the meeting, an incident that heightened her concerns, she said.
"I was extraordinarily concerned that she was being taken advantage of by Mr. McDaniel," Moring testified.
She also was worried that Maurice McDaniel had given Mrs. Edgerly a false impression of his financial situation, she said.
Mrs. Edgerly told her McDaniel was a wealthy man who could "buy and sell" the Edgerlys, she said. In reality, she said, the Edgerlys were financially worth far more than McDaniel.
Moring would have been even more alarmed if she knew the financial dealings between the Edgerlys and the McDaniels, she said. But at the time, all of them told her there was no financial relationship between them.
Taking into account what she now knows, Moring said McDaniel's advice to the Edgerlys was biased and self-serving.
"Unbiased? No," Moring testified. "He was giving advice for himself."
Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 860-7312 or vansicklesptimes.com.