Clients trusted a now-bankrupt Hampton attorney
with thousands of dollars, much of which can't be found
By Phil Primack*
New Hampshire Seacoast Sunday, Sunday, May 15, 1988
[The following article is courtesy of Seacoast Sunday and Seacoast Online.]
[Illustration by George Courage]
Jack Corcoran says he's out thousands of dollars because of Roger Allen Doane, the enigmatic, 47-year-old former lawyer whose many addresses included a home in Hampton.
Doane's February filing for bankruptcy has left behind even more questions than creditors. Yet, though anxious to find out just where his money went, Corcoran isn't sure he'd want to sit down with Doane.
"Even now," says Corcoran, "I may end up lending him money."
How could that be? How did Doane, who three weeks ago resigned in lieu of disbarment from the Massachusetts bar, get so many people to trust him with sums of money that sometimes reached into six digits? And where is that money now, if indeed it can be traced at all?
A growing pile of legal documents filed in various courts provides some clues and interesting leads, which the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, a bankruptcy trustee and an armada of attorneys are now eagerly exploring.
The leads run south to Florida and north to Canada. They involve expensive automobiles, misused client trust funds, records that have disappeared, and charges of past criminal activity. Doane's tracks also run closer to home. Local banks and businesses say they're owed money by Doane. So does a Newburyport police inspector, even though court papers indicate he has received some checks from Doane.
Each new lead seems to raise more questions. "As we get deeper and deeper into Mr. Doane, it's increasingly difficult to ascertain how things will turn out," says Boston attorney John Cullen, who has been named by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court as the trustee to protect creditors' interests.
But if facts are still coming out, a growing stack of court papers reveal a general pattern, a modus operandi used by Roger Doane not only in New England, but in Florida as well. Simply put, Doane would receive funds from clients, which were supposed to be placed in trust to pay off the clients' mortgages, loans or other debts. Only later, usually much later, would the clients learn that Doane had failed to pay off the notes.
"It's striking how many people trusted Roger Doane, and how little he merited it," says Paula Bonnell, attorney for the U.S. Justice Department's Trustee Division, which oversees bankruptcy procedures.
"An awful lot of money which was entrusted to Doane as a lawyer has disappeared, and it's usually been big sums...." He was their lawyer and people trusted him. At the same time," she says, "he helped himself to any money that came into his possession. (That's) how I read the record."
The Florida Connection
Part of that record involves one Robert L. Tuttle of Bradenton, Fla.
In July, 1981, says Edward Foreman, who was Tuttle's attorney at the time, Tuttle deposited with Doane gems worth at least $200,000, to secure units in a resort being developed by one of several companies that Doane controlled. But the development fell through, and when Tuttle asked for his gems back, Doane refused. Tuttle filed fraud charges against Doane.
"I had hoped to avoid litigations," Foreman says, "but Doane would fail to appear for appointments, so we had to go to court."
In 1982, Doane was charged by the Pinellas County state attorney's office with grand theft. He also faced civil charges of fraud. Even then, Foreman says, "it was very difficult to locate Doane in order to serve him (with an arrest warrant)." In the meantime, a number of corporations headed or set up by Doane, most of them beginning with the word Omni, were being dissolved.
Doane finally returned the jewels to Tuttle in two batches, the most recent being just over a year ago. As a result, the fraud charge was withdrawn; the record on the criminal charges against Doane is now sealed. Foreman says he has no idea why it took so long for Doane to return the jewels or where he had been keeping them — he was just glad to get them back at all.
At the time, Doane was just finishing law school in Florida (he was graduated from the Stetson College of Law in 1981). "I was very concerned about Doane becoming a member of the bar," Foreman says. "I hoped he would learn from this incident to deal with people in the future more forthrightly."
But lawsuits and other documents filed with various courts indicate otherwise. Many former Doane clients appear to be out significant money. Some even face foreclosures as a result of Doane's actions.
"The actions and conduct of (Doane) in breach of his fiduciary duty...constitute unfair and deceptive acts or practices...," reads a complaint filed against Doane by Fanaras Enterprises of Salisbury. In that action, Fanaras claims that Doane — who "was paid an annual retainer of $100,000 plus additional fees for particular matters" by Fanaras — requested and received loans totaling $389,000 from Fanaras. "Fanaras has demanded payment from Doane and Doane has refused to pay," the complaint says.
Joseph Fanaras, president of Fanaras Enterprises and owner of the Salisbury Industrial Park, was among the dozen creditors, attorneys and others, including an FBI agent, hoping that the elusive Roger Doane would appear at a hearing last month at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Boston.
But as has been the case at other hearings, Doane failed to show. Roger Doane is the silent eye at the center of a legal hurricane.
"I don't want to talk about anything," he said after being located at a Lawrence auto parts store where he has been spending time lately. Doane said he'd pass the reporter's phone number along to his attorney, who'd call "if he sees fit."
No call ever came, which may be because it's unclear just who — if anyone — represents Roger Allen Doane right now. Though Boston attorney Leonard Salter filed an appearance on March 28 to represent Doane in bankruptcy court, Salter was not present at last month's hearing.
This week, Salter said he intends to withdraw his representation of Doane. According to Salter, Boston Attorney Lewis Sassoon now represents Doane, though Sassoon's office could not confirm that this week.
Bankruptcy trustee Cullen said this week that he has been unable to locate Doane to discuss matters with him. In two past meetings, Cullen said, Doane answered questions "in a very oblique fashion...I found him cooperative, but I found him evasive on the question of where his papers and records are."
Cullen said he was told by someone who was present at the time that Doane had some of his records moved from his law office at 35 Beach Road in Salisbury to an office he'd rented in Revere. "Then (the records) were put on a truck with a shredder," Cullen said. "That makes me concerned."
Fearful of retribution
Other people have a different level of concern when it comes to talking about Roger Doane.
Several people interviewed for this story said they were fearful of retribution from Doane if they talked. "For the rest of my life, I'll have to keep looking over my shoulder," said one person familiar, with Doane.
According to a deposition by Dr. Donald McGee, who said he was recruited by Doane to be medical director at Primaricare, a walk-in medical clinic in Salisbury, Doane has threatened some people. And the reporter working on this story also received anonymous calls telling him to "lay off Roger."
Yet even some of the same people who said they now fear Doane described him as charming. Though they've been badly burned, they said they still aren't sure whether Doane intended things to turn out as they did. "I don't think he ever meant anyone any malice," said one person who only moments before had said, "My life is in shambles because of this man."
"Roger is a very likable person," says C. Bruce Brown of Salisbury. Even though Brown says Doane still owes him $13,000 in back pay for his work as marketing director at Primaricare, Brown remains positive about Doane. "He's a hard worker. I always considered him a bright person."
"He could walk into a room and almost hypnotize a crowd," Brown adds. "He's an almost take-over-the-personality kind of person."
Maybe that's how Doane drew so many people into schemes, even people who are experienced in business dealings. Even someone like David Foley, who as a Newburyport police inspector is used to checking things out.
Foley is listed in bankruptcy records as one of Doane's creditors, who now number at least 73. But according, to a deposition by McGee, made in connection with a lawsuit by a Boston bank that claims to be owed $300,000 by Doane, Foley was getting at least some money back.
In the 162-page deposition made March 28, McGee, who said he came from Canada to work at Primaricare at Doane's suggestion, only to have his paychecks bounce, said, "David Foley has arranged a lot of loans for Roger."
McGee said Foley was repaid by checks from Doane. "Most of them were $50 or $750 or $1,000 or $15,000, those amounts," paid "once or twice, three times a week." In the deposition, McGee said, "most people estimate that it (Doane's obligation to Foley) ranged upwards 'as much as $400,000 in loans..."
In a telephone interview this week, Foley said Doane owes him money, but declined to say how much or to describe the nature of his business with Doane.
"I don't think I have to tell my personal, private business in the newspapers." Foley said. "The minute people see a cop has more than 25 cents to buy a cup of coffee, they think you're doing something wrong. I have not done anything wrong."
As for McGee's claims, Foley said, "To my knowledge, I've never met Dr. McGee, so I don't know how he can speculate about me."
Newburyport City Marshal Francis O'Connor says he has no reason to question Foley's private business dealings, and that "I can't restrict a man's private investments."
O'Connor noted that Foley, who last year earned $42,949 in salary, "is a very hardworking guy," who regularly does private detail work. O'Connor added that it was his impression that Foley had also inherited some money.
The only friend he has
One person Doane has not alienated over the years is Dale Brasseur, owner of Archer Auto Parts in Lawrence, where Doane has spent a lot of time lately. "Roger tells me I'm the only friend he has," Brasseur said last week. "He's been my attorney since I started here five years ago, and I've never had any problems with him."
According to Brasseur, Doane — who over the years has leased such flashy cars as a Chevy Corvette — now drives a beat-up 1977 Chevy pick-up. Doane "looks like an old farmer," wearing jeans and flannel shirts, Brasseur said.
That's how he'd often dress in his office at Primaricare, according to people who worked with him there. Just as Doane could put on the charm, however, he could put on the classy, three-piece suit. Heidi Barton, Doane's former assistant at Primaricare, said he had a closet full of suits in what McGee describes as an "outrageously opulent" office suite.
Doane also loves fancy cars. The problem is, people say he often failed to pay for them. A Canadian company is trying to get back a 1987 Corvette it sold Doane last year. More locally, Portside Jeep-Renault of Newbury claims Doane has failed to pay for repairs and other work done to five separate vehicles leased by Doane from late 1984 through 1985.
That's small potatoes compared to the charges cited in the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers' decision to let Doane resign from the bar in lieu of disbarment. According to Assistant Bar Counsel Constance Vechione, that action is effectively the same as disbarment —either way, she says, Doane will not be able to reapply to the bar for at least five years.
In his resignation, Doane, who was admitted to the Massachusetts bar on June 4, 1982, said he ceased practicing law last December. And he stipulated as true the facts cited by the overseers, which found that Doane had misappropriated or otherwise mishandled funds in three different transactions involving U.S. Savings Bank of America of Seabrook, for which Doane was counsel at the time. All three incidents occurred in 1987, and involved a total of nearly $200,00, which Doane still owes the bank.
Other loans arranged by Doane through U. S. Savings Bank remain unpaid. In one case that has reached bankruptcy court, Arthur McAskill of Beverly claimed Doane helped him obtain a $140,000 loan from U. S. Savings Bank, $100,000 of which Doane was supposed to use to retire an earlier mortgage held by Eastern Savings Bank. But McAskill testified in bankruptcy that Doane never paid that $100,000 note. Now both banks are threatening McAskill with foreclosure.
In a letter dated December 31, 1987, Doane confirmed in a letter to McAskill and his wife "that a mortgage was inadvertently not paid. I have ordered steps to be taken to remedy this situation." Indeed, three days before, on Dec. 28, Doane had written a check to Eastern Savings Bank for $99,536.
Problem was the check was drawn on The Bank for Savings in Saugus, on a Doane law office account that, according to a bank official, had been closed by the bank on Dec. 23. Doane wrote his letter to the McAskills more than a week after the bank said it closed the account and sent Doane a letter informing him of the fact.
An interesting sidelight to the matter is that Doane's letter to the McAskills used a Revere address. But the check bears a Melrose post office box as the address for Doane's law office. Other Doane letters and documents use other post office boxes and addresses, which make it difficult, if not impossible, for people to track him down.
The McAskills — and their banks — aren't the only ones smarting from the dealings with Doane, however.
Larry Scofield represents Lawyers Title Insurance Corp. of Boston, which provided title insurance in the McAskill case.
He says Doane "made out the title policy as though he had paid off the first mortgage," when in fact he hadn't. Now, the McAskills are looking to Schofield's firm to pay up. Who ends up paying may finally turn on who Doane was actually representing in the transaction — the McAskills, the bank or the title insurance company — but Scofield says that Doane's malpractice insurance would probably be joined in, too.
It's not a problem Scofield has dealt with before — except with Doane. "Doane has written five title insurance policies with us, and two of them are now problems," he says. "That's a very high percentage."
In fact, he says, "this has never happened before to any of our agents in New England."
The other tales of mismanagement or worse are emerging as complaints about Roger Doane keep mounting before bankruptcy and other courts. Take the case of the missing $300,000.
On March 12, 1987, Doane received a $300,000 deposit from CC&F East Limited to purchase property he owned on Hale Street in Newburyport, which had been proposed for an affordable housing development. The money was to be put in escrow, but when CC&F inquired about the deposit several months later, Doane wouldn't account for it. CC&F filed suit.
Doane was deposed on Oct. 2, 1987, but according to papers filed at bankruptcy court, "Doane again refused to identify the location of the $300,000, asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination."
Doane has reason to worry. The FBI has been interviewing people throughout the region. Bankruptcy trustee Cullen is seeking court permission to have an investigator assist him. A title insurance company is investigating several cases involving Doane. Meanwhile, lawyers representing clients ranging from credit card companies to state and federal tax agencies are lining up to get at Roger Allen Doane.
Shortly after he'd been named bankruptcy trustee on April 8, Cullen went unannounced to Doane's Hampton home. "I just showed up, identified myself, and asked for his cooperation." Cullen says. "He basically rambled on, saying his problems were everyone else's and he'd get his day in court."
Three days later, Cullen, accompanied by FBI agents, went to Doane's Beach Street medical facility in Salisbury to seize the building and change the locks. Doane showed up while Cullen was there.
"He was disturbed, but controlled," Cullen says of Doane's reaction to the seizure of his property. Doane said he wanted to know what records Cullen was taking, but then changed his mind and chose not to look in the boxes. "He just kept staring at me," Cullen says.
Cullen hopes that Doane's Salisbury and Newburyport properties — plus another he may own on Plum Island — will provide enough assets to pay off at least some of what is owed. But he said he can't be sure.
"At this point, there's almost no solid information to go on about what we're dealing with here," Cullen says. "But it's accurate to say that Roger Doane is a complex individual with a series of highy questionable financial transactions."
Cullen has to deal with facts. So do the courts. At last month's hearing, Bankruptcy Chief Justice James Gabriel expressed concern that he's been hearing a lot of what he called hearsay. "Generally speaking, everyone came in figuring there was absolutely grand theft going on all over the place," the judge said. That may be the case, he said, but it must be proven.
And that's not going to be easy. Says Paul Bonnell of the Justice Department: "We've never had a lawyer filing for bankruptcy who's done anything like this."
If nothing else, Larry Scofield of the title insurance corporation, says the case "points out a weak spot in the practice of law, when large sums of money are placed in the hands of a lawyer (who may or may not be trustworthy).
"We've done a lot of soul searching about how we appoint agents... and what checks and balances we should place on attorneys."
As for victims, he says, the recourse — like everything else in the Doane case — "is not very clear."
(*Phil Primack is a freelance writer living in Epping. Ann Sierks Smith, a reporter for North Shore Weeklies, also contributed to this report.)
This check made out by Jack Corcoran was intended to pay Joseph & Jean Fanaras $30,000 in connection with a real estate transaction. Corcoran, however, says he was instructed to write the check over to his attorney, Roger Allen Doane, which he did. According to court records, the money never reached the intended recipient.
'Something must have happened'
Based on his initial dealings with Roger Allen Doane, Jack Corcoran figured he was dealing with a very competent guy. Doane, who had just finished law school in Florida, had returned to his native New England. At the time, which was 1982, Corcoran lived in Hampton, and was the assistant resident manager for a subcontractor installing piping and other equipment at the Seabrook nuclear power plant.
Corcoran doesn't recall how Doane came to him, but says Doane "did Class A work" as a planner and scheduler at the power plant.
"He did an excellent job, no problems at all," Corcoran says, adding that Doane left his Seabrook job after being admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1982.
"Two years later, I bumped into Roger," Corcoran says. "He said he was doing real estate and practicing law in Salisbury, with an expertise in tax shelters." Corcoran says Doane suggested investments that would mean significant tax savings for Corcoran.
Corcoran became involved with Doane the lawyer as well as Doane the real estate developer. In 1984, he purchased a condominium project at 69-75 Main St. in Amesbury for $350,000. Fanaras Enterprises of Salisbury took back a second mortgage of $75,000 on that property.
Corcoran was supposed to pay Fanaras $30,000 upon sale of his property in Hampton. That sale occurred April 19, 1985, and as he'd promised, Corcoran had a $30,000 cashier's check made out to Fanaras.
"But then Diane Loman (an attorney who worked in Doane's office) said Roger wanted me to write the check over to him, which I did," Corcoran says. According to court records, that check was deposited in Doane's clients' trust fund but never paid over to Fanaras.
The whole affair not only has Corcoran in hock, but confused.
When he worked for me at Seabrook, he was a very organized, very detail-oriented person," Corcoran says. "But something, somewhere must have happened to him. If I could sit down with Roger Doane today, I'd ask him what it was."