Edgartown police opened a criminal investigation this week, as new allegations of fraud and missing client funds surfaced against prominent Edgartown attorney and town official Edward W. Vincent Jr., and a new lawsuit drags the exclusive, private Vineyard Golf Club into the legal fray.
A title insurance company filed suit this week alleging that Mr. Vincent failed to use funds entrusted to him in a real estate transaction, to pay off two mortgages totaling $408,759. The funds were still unaccounted for when the lawsuit was filed. Court documents show a total of approximately $3,500 in Mr. Vincent’s personal and law office accounts.
First American Title Insurance Company, in the lawsuit filed March 23 in Suffolk Superior Court, accuses Mr. Vincent of breach of contract, gross negligence, and fraudulent conveyance of property to defraud creditors.
“Despite repeated telephone calls to Vincent at his office, home, and to his cell phone during the period March 17-22, 2011,” the attorneys wrote in the civil complaint, “Vincent has failed to return any telephone calls from First American and/or its attorneys or to respond to written communications.”
First American filed its complaint days after a civil lawsuit in connection with another, unrelated transaction was filed. In that case, the Massachusetts Society for the Protection of Animals (MSPCA) alleges that Mr. Vincent did not forward to its account approximately $190,000 from the sale of MSPCA property earlier this year.
Edgartown police say their department has opened an investigation into the missing funds, at the request of the MSPCA. Police also notified the state attorney general and is awaiting a response from that agency.
“As of (Wednesday) there is no criminal complaint filed by this department,” police Chief Tony Bettencourt said. “We have contacted the attorney general’s office regarding this complaint and are awaiting a reply.”
A spokesman for the MSPCA referred all questions to its attorneys, O’Connor, Carnathan and Mack. Lawyers for that firm did not return phone messages.
Thursday afternoon, March 24, the state 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 will be given an opportunity to respond to the complaints.
The Times has attempted to contact Mr. Vincent five times over nine days, but he has not responded to messages or emails relayed to him from his office.
As agent for First American, Mr. Vincent was authorized to write title insurance policies for the owner and the lender in the land deal. That kind of business relationship is common among real estate attorneys and title insurers.
Title insurance protects the parties against a long list of title defects, including fraud in the execution of documents.
In the lawsuit, First American contends that Mr. Vincent never sent the policies or the premiums related to the transaction to the company, and never paid off the mortgages.
The title company asked the court to grant immediate access to Mr. Vincent’s records. “First American is potentially exposed to unknown liabilities with regard to other loan closings conducted by Vincent in which he failed to pay pre-existing liens,” the attorneys wrote.
The lawsuit names as defendants Mr. Vincent individually, as a trustee of the Vincent Family Nominee Trust II, and as a trustee of LSV Realty Trust.
Also named as defendants are the Golf Club of Martha’s Vineyard Inc., and Martha’s Vineyard Golf Partners LLC, two companies associated with the Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown, where Mr. Vincent was chairman of the Island membership committee.
The golf club rents the land on which the course was built from the Golf Club of Martha’s Vineyard for a nominal sum, under a 99-year lease. In the lawsuit, attorneys for First American allege Mr. Vincent, as a trustee and beneficiary of LSV Realty Trust, is the landlord of the golf course and receives rental income from the lease. A typical legal strategy is to name as defendants any trust associated with the defendant, in order to determine if he holds any valuable ownership assets.
The court allowed a motion from First American to attach the property of Mr. Vincent and the Vineyard Golf Club, in the amount of $500,000. Those attachments were recorded at the Dukes County registry of deeds on March 24. The attachments temporarily prevent the sale or transfer of property in which Mr. Vincent holds a direct or indirect interest.
A hearing on a preliminary injunction that would continue those attachments is scheduled for tomorrow, April 1, in Suffolk Superior Court.
According to the First American lawsuit, the transaction in question was the sale of a four-bedroom, single family home at 4 Robin’s Nest Lane in Edgartown.
According to land records and court documents, the sellers were Kenneth and Linda Robinson. The buyers were Neil and Lindsey Grossman of Wilbraham, who bought the house for $610,000.
The settlement statement prepared and signed by Mr. Vincent, shows that sale proceeds were to pay off a first mortgage of $297,543 to Citizens Bank and a second mortgage of $111,216 to Merrill Lynch. After deducting other settlement charges, Mr. Vincent was to distribute the balance of the proceeds, $161,032 to the sellers. Mr. Vincent did distribute the balance to the sellers.
In the lawsuit, First American says notwithstanding representations made on the settlement statement, the two mortgages were never paid off. The discrepancy first came to light when the Robinsons got letters from their banks notifying them they missed payments on the home they thought they sold.
Failure to pay off the mortgages puts both the seller and buyer in precarious positions. The buyers may face foreclosure on the house they thought they purchased, because the old loans have not been paid off. The sellers may face problems getting a loan for their next house, if failure to pay off the old loans damages their credit rating.
The sale of the Robin’s Nest Lane house in Edgartown is the subject of a complaint filed with the state’s Board of Bar Overseers, the court division that investigates and disciplines lawyers.
The Board of Bar Overseers confirms that it is investigating two complaints against Mr. Vincent, but will release the complaints only if it decides to publicly discipline him.
The Times has confirmed that Geoghan Coogan, the Island attorney who represented the sellers of the Robin’s Nest Lane house on February 17, filed one of the complaints to the Board of Bar Overseers.
According to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s rules of professional conduct, “a lawyer having knowledge that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the Bar Counsel’s office of the Board of Bar Overseers.”
Paul Moreau, a paralegal who works in Mr. Vincent’s Edgartown law office said Monday that Mr. Vincent is still on vacation and that he will be back in a few days. He also said he did not know the specific date of his boss’s return. Last week, Mr. Moreau said Mr. Vincent was vacationing in the Caribbean.
Mr. Moreau said he had not been in contact with Mr. Vincent, but that the attorney was aware of publicity surrounding the lawsuit against him and the complaint to the Board of Bar Overseers.
He said requests for comment from The Times were relayed to Mr. Vincent by e-mail on Wednesday, March 23. The Times received no response from Mr. Vincent, or from anyone from his law office.
Both Mr. Moreau and Eve Vincent, Mr. Vincent’s daughter and a practicing attorney with his firm, have said they are completely unaware and not involved in any issues raised by the lawsuits, according to several people familiar with the complaints.