$190,000 missing from MSPCA sale; attorney Edward W. Vincent Jr. sued

$190,000 missing from MSPCA sale; attorney Edward W. Vincent Jr. sued

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A judge on March 9 froze the personal and business accounts of Edward W. Vincent Jr, a well known Edgartown attorney and town official, after a client filed a lawsuit that accused Mr. Vincent of failing to transfer approximately $190,000 from a real estate sale.

Bristol County Superior Court Associate Justice Raymond Veary also allowed a motion to attach Mr. Vincent’s property, after a bank reported only $3,506 in his accounts.

An attorney familiar with a second, separate case involving Mr. Vincent said a complaint was filed against Mr. Vincent last week with the state Board of Bar Overseers, the state agency that disciplines lawyers.

As a matter of policy, the Board of Bar Overseers does not confirm or deny reports that it is investigating a complaint. Investigations do not become public until the board decides to begin formal disciplinary action.

In the second matter, the complaint alleges that Mr. Vincent failed to distribute approximately $400,000 from the sale of a Vineyard property. Mr. Vincent is alleged to have accepted funds from the buyer in that transaction, but failed to pay off the mortgage on the property. No accounting for the missing funds has been made.

Thursday afternoon the Board of Bar Overseers acknowledged that it has received two complaints and that it has begun an investigation. Board attorney Constance Vecchione said Mr. Vincent would be given an opportunity to respond to the complaints.

Lawyer in court

According to court documents, Mr. Vincent represented the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in the sale of land and buildings the group owned on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

In their civil lawsuit, MSPCA officials said Mr. Vincent did not forward to them the proceeds from the $950,000 real estate transaction for nearly two weeks, and then did not transfer all the proceeds due. The lawsuit said in the days after the real estate closing, MSPCA finance officials had brief phone contacts with Mr. Vincent, but later, repeated efforts to contact him by e-mail and phone to find out where the missing money was went unanswered, and he did not attend a court hearing where the judge heard MSPCA motions in the lawsuit.

“The circumstances also strongly demonstrate a pattern of evasive behavior,” the MSPCA attorneys wrote. “Mr. Vincent has strung MSPCA along since the closing with false promises that the proceeds would be delivered imminently. There is no legal justification for not delivering every penny of the sales proceeds to his client.”

The lawsuit accuses Mr. Vincent of breaching fiduciary duty, negligence, professional malpractice, and deceptive business practices, under the state’s consumer protection laws.

The MSPCA asked for attachment of Mr. Vincent’s bank accounts and property in the amount of $200,000, monetary damages in an amount to be determined at trial, as well as multiple damages and attorneys’ fees for violation of consumer protection laws.

Shock, sadness

As word of the lawsuit began to filter through the Island’s legal community, several lawyers expressed astonishment, sadness, and sometimes anger at the developments surrounding Mr. Vincent.

Mr. Vincent did not return messages left by The Times at his Edgartown law office. A person who answered the phone in the lawyer’s office on Wednesday, but declined to give his name, said the attorney was on vacation in the Caribbean and would be back next week.

According to state records, Mr. Vincent began practicing law in 1977, and is an active member in good standing of the Massachusetts bar. He has no previous public record of disciplinary action by the state’s Board of Bar Overseers.

Mr. Vincent’s relationship with other local attorneys in the close-knit Island legal community has often been strained, and his reputation as an attorney has suffered for it, according to several lawyers who provided background information to The Times.

Mr. Vincent is active in Island civic affairs. He is the chairman of the town’s conservation commission, a position to which he was appointed by selectmen. He is secretary-treasurer of the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, on which he serves as the elected Edgartown representative. He once served on the board of directors of the Island Housing Trust, but he is no longer listed with that organization.

He is also active in the Vineyard Golf Club, serving at one time as chairman of the exclusive and private club’s membership committee.

According to town assessors’ records, Mr. Vincent or his wife own several properties in Edgartown, including their South Water Street home, valued at $1.3 million.

Trail of trouble

According to the lawsuit filed by the MSPCA, the animal welfare group retained Mr. Vincent in August 2010, to handle the sale of the MSPCA’s property at 276 Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road. The Vineyard Veterinary Clinic occupied the property as a tenant. When the MSPCA ceased operation of its animal shelter on the Vineyard, it moved to sell its property to the veterinary group.

The buyer and seller signed a purchase and sale agreement on January 21. Mr. Vincent represented the MSPCA at the closing on February 15. He recorded the deed on the same day.

Typically, in routine real estate transactions such as this, the buyer’s attorney would transmit funds by check to the seller’s attorney at the closing. The seller’s attorney would hold the funds for a short time in what is known as an IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Account), an interest-bearing account established under specific state guidelines at an approved bank, to hold nominal sums of clients’ money, or large sums for a short period. Typically, according to local attorneys, the proceeds from a sale would be transferred to the seller’s account within hours of the deed being recorded, certainly no later than 24 hours, except in the rare case where problems arise with the paperwork.

The MSPCA lawyers say that after deducting Mr. Vincent’s $5,500 fee and other expenses from the $950,000 sale price, the MSPCA should have received $940,246 from the sale.

On February 16, Amy Fredericks, the MSPCA’s chief financial officer, called Mr. Vincent’s Edgartown office, after he did not respond to an email inquiring about the funds.

The lawsuit documents a series of brief contacts with Mr. Vincent, or associates in his office, over the next 10 days. Each time, according to the lawsuit, the MSPCA was assured by Mr. Vincent’s office that the sale proceeds would be transferred within a day.

On February 28, the MSPCA received a transfer from Mr. Vincent’s account of $750,231, approximately $190,000 less than was due. The MSPCA has still not received the balance.

“He simply has failed to deliver the proceeds, presumably because the money is missing or has been spent,” the MSPCA attorneys argue in their lawsuit. “A one month delay is unheard of and is indicative of a serious problem. The court may reasonably infer that Mr. Vincent has engaged in some type of nefarious conduct, of the nature that would not be covered by a malpractice insurance policy, which does not cover intentional acts.”

Several attempts to contact Mr. Vincent on March 7 and 8 were unsuccessful, the attorneys said. The MSPCA filed its complaint on March 8.

Mr. Vincent did not appear at a March 9 hearing, though court records show he was properly notified of the hearing.

On March 10, the court granted the MSPCA’s request for a temporary restraining order preventing Mr. Vincent from transferring money or assets from his personal or legal practice accounts, except for necessary living expenses. On March 17, the court allowed a motion to attach Mr. Vincent’s property.

The court has granted every motion asked for by the MSPCA, and there is no indication in the court record that Mr. Vincent has responded to any of the allegations.