by: OMER GILLHAM World Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2008
5/11/2008 11:32:59 PM
A local psychic healer used undue influence to gain control of hundreds of thousands of dollars of a retired school teacher's estate, court records show.
Court findings show that CaSandra Matthews used her friendship and her personal attorney to transfer or spend $460,000 from the estate of Mary Augusta White. Matthews is a self-described psychic healer from Jenks.
White was a retired Tulsa Public Schools teacher and world traveler who died Jan. 19, 2006, at the age of 93. At one time, her estate was worth an estimated $600,000, records show.
Taking on the role of friend, caretaker and psychic guide, Matthews took advantage of White by manipulating her to rewrite her will and leave most of her estate to Matthews, said Terry Alford, a family member of White.
''This has been terribly upsetting to the family and to think that this happened to Mary is hard to accept,'' said Alford, who lives in Vermont.
''Our primary motivation for pursuing all this litigation is to expose CaSandra (Matthews) so that this never happens to some other family.''
Alford is a first cousin, once removed, of White, who never married and had no children, court records show.
Terry Alford and his brother, David Alford, have won legal battles against Matthews in Tulsa County District Court, restoring White's original will, which did not include Matthews as a beneficiary.
The Alford family has now turned its attention to Tulsa attorney Greggory Colpitts and his law partner, Clifford Magee.
Colpitts is a friend and attorney for Matthews. He rewrote the will and trust documents that made Matthews the primary beneficiary of White's assets, records show.
The Alfords filed a civil lawsuit against Colpitts and Magee Jan. 15, alleging they failed to provide independent advice to White and failed to halt the alleged embezzlement of White's assets.
''This lawsuit and the claims against me are totally false,'' Colpitts said. ''I made Mary aware of my (client) relationship with CaSandra (Matthews) and she did not object.''
Police officials said the complaint is being investigated.
Matthews said she is being wrongly portrayed as an exploiter of the elderly. She said she met White in 1997 at a metaphysical fair in Tulsa. The two struck up a friendship that grew into a daughter-and-mother relationship that benefited them both, Matthews said.
''They are portraying me as a sleazy con artist and they twisted around everything about my relationship with Mary,'' Matthews said.
''Did I influence her? If love is influence then, yes, there was influence; but it was never to her detriment,'' Matthews said. ''I loved her and I took care of her because the family would not do it.
Matthews operates CaSandra Consultations. Since 1995, she has offered meditation classes, relaxation tapes and healing touch. She charges $90 an hour for her work.
Matthews' psychic or intuitive abilities were first noticed when she was about 12 years old, she said. At the time, she had a dream-like vision of Jacqueline Kennedy the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, Matthews said.
Court records show Matthews benefited handsomely from her relationship with White. Shortly after White changed her will in 2003, Matthews facilitated the transfer of 6,480 shares of General Electric stock into her name. The stocks were valued at $184,291.
Other large gifts Matthews received from White included $50,000 in cash on Oct. 19, 2004, and $30,000 in cash on March 15, 2005. Matthews received a $6,000 cash gift two days before White died.
Alford said his family did not learn that White had changed her will and made Matthews the main beneficiary until after White was buried.
''I knew CaSandra (Matthews) was getting involved in helping Mary,'' said Terry Alford, who visited White occasionally including birthdays. (On one visit), I tried to ask Mary about her finances but CaSandra walked into the room and Mary stopped talking.''
In September 2006, District Judge Linda Morrissey set aside White's will and reinstated her previous will that made Alford and his brother equal beneficiaries of White's will and trust.
Sigrid Myers, a friend of White, was also an equal beneficiary. Myers is also a plaintiff in the Alfords' lawsuit. White also left money to First Baptist Church.
Morrissey also ruled that Colpitts and Magee failed to provide independent counsel for White because Colpitts had a client relationship with Matthews, records show. In addition to helping Matthews with legal matters, Colpitts had participated in meditation classes held by Matthews.
Records show that Matthews drove White to Colpitts' office to consult on rewriting her will in 2003. A few days after the new will was finalized, she drove White to the stock broker to transfer the GE stock into Matthews' name.
In addition to making White aware of his relationship with Matthews, Colpitts said he took additional action to avoid a conflict of interest when he advised White on her estate. He said he had Magee discuss the new will with White before it was finalized.
But Morrissey ruled that did not meet the test of independent counsel or advice for the elderly.
Matthews appealed Morrissey's findings, but the findings have been upheld by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.
Terry Alford said his family had questions about Matthews and her relationship with White but they failed to follow up for fear of being characterized as money-hungry relatives.
''When we met CaSandra (Matthews) in about 2003 and learned she was a psychic, I remember my brother being more suspicious than me,'' Terry Alford said. ''In hindsight, I can now see that things were happening that I wish I had said something.''
Laura Dempsey-Polan, who works with LIFE Senior Services of Tulsa while also serving as the chairwoman of Tulsa County Vulnerable Adult Task Force, said that White's case is not that uncommon.
''Usually the financial exploitation involves a family member but it can be an outsider,'' Dempsey-Polan said. ''There are warning signs that you can look out for.''
Matthews said: ''Mary was very generous to her friends. She gave away money. I received the money as payment for service and as gifts.''
In addition to using undue influence to gain control of White's estate, there was also a disturbing act that brought a lasting hurt to the Alford family, Terry Alford said.
When White died, Matthews failed to contact the family even though she was given instructions to keep them aware of White's health and condition, Terry Alford said.
''I felt violated when we found out that we had not been contacted and we missed the funeral,'' Terry Alford said.
Matthews admits that she should have contacted the family upon White's death.
'When she died, I probably should have called them,'' Matthews said. ''I don't have a good answer for not doing it. I was wrong.''