Unfortunately, feuds over family wills are all too common, but a story reported by Thomson Reuters highlights a tragic case which could deprive impoverished Panamanian children of millions, and includes allegations of corruption, bribery and theft.
The case involves Florida attorney, Richard Lehman and his wealthy friend and client Wilson Lucom, a millionaire who retired to Panama and began buying up prime oceanfront property. By the time he died in 2006 he had accumulated more than 7,000 acres. Lehman was with Lucom during his final months, and was present to sign the will in which Lucom left his entire estate, including land in Florida and Texas, to a foundation which feeds Panama’s impoverished children. Probate court named Lehman as the wills executor, and at the time the estate was valued at around $50 million. Unfortunately this will wasn’t popular with Lucom’s widow, Hilda Arias Lucom, in spite of the fact that he left a monthly allowance of $20,000 and the use of the marital home for her lifetime, but he left nothing to her children from a previous marriage.
This led to a prolonged battle over probate, and apparently Lehman has seen corruption taking place at the highest levels of the judiciary. Lucom’s widow alleged that Lehman had coerced Lucom into creating the charitable trust solely so that he could manage it, and an initial lawsuit saw Lehman removed as the estate’s executor but found the will to be valid. A further appeal upheld this decision, but a final appeal to the Supreme Court of Panama upheld the will but rather strangely ruled that Lucom would have wanted his wife to benefit from his fortune. To this end the judges overturned the distribution of the will, naming his widow as the principal heir.
This decision was challenged by several people including the notary who signed the will and a prosecutor, but the Supreme Court has yet to issue another ruling. Lehman has now filed an 84 page civil racketeering complaint in federal court in Florida accusing the three Supreme Court judges of accepting bribes of around $1.5 million each. The bitter feud has seen Lehman accused of murdering Lucom, being falsely arrested in Panama, and at one time he was even on an Interpol alert list.
Lehman is seeking damages of $732 million on behalf of himself and the charitable trust. In the meantime property in Panama has appreciated considerably, and it is now estimated that the estate is worth around $150 million, but unfortunately is of little benefit to the children in Panama.