Ex-lawyer accused of stealing from estate scrutinized for land deals

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A one-time northern Indiana judge and lawyer who resigned amid a disciplinary case alleging he and his law firm stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a widow client’s estate may have used ill-gotten money to pay down his home mortgage, a court filing suggests.

The latest filing in civil litigation against former Monon attorney Robert V. Monfort seeks a court order for discovery from a third-party: A mortgage holder who last month refused to voluntarily comply with discovery requests from attorneys from nonprofit Charitable Allies Inc.

Those attorneys represent the Jasper-Newton Foundation, which was expecting to administer the final bequest of Rose Nagel — allegedly more than $775,000 — she intended to benefit Catholic schools in her hometown of Rensselaer. Those charities thusfar have received nothing from Nagel’s estate, but they are attempting in litigation against Monfort and his former law firm to trace where some of that money may have gone.

Monfort has not been criminally charged. An attorney representing him in the civil lawsuit declined to comment Thursday. The case is The Jasper-Newton Foundation, Inc. v. Teri L. Hardin, Robert V. Monfort, Robert V. Monfort Attorney-at-Law, P.C., 37D01-1808-PL-000703.

In a Wednesday filing, the Jasper-Newton Foundation asked the court to order PennyMac Loan Services Inc. to disclose details about particular transactions Monfort made. The motion also seeks sanctions against PennyMac “for its refusal to abide by the jointly issued Subpoena Duces Tecum.”

The motion “seeks to determine, among other matters, whether and to what extent Monfort used monies looted from the Nagel Estate” to pay down a mortgage PennyMac held on Monfort’s home in Rensselaer. “… (I)nformation obtained through discovery indicates that Monfort used monies embezzled from the Nagel Estate to pay down substantially the mortgage on his residential property,” the filing says.

Further, the filing asserts “Monfort had owned certain residential real estate located in the State of Nevada … which he subsequently transferred into a Trust approximately five (5) days after proffering his deposition testimony to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission on February 19, 2020.”

The commission filed a formal disciplinary complaint against Monfort a couple of months after that, accusing him “of engaging in criminal acts and “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” among a litany of other ethical charges. Monfort’s discipline case ended in June, when he resigned from the practice of law. Resigning required Monfort to admit that there was a disciplinary proceeding pending, against which he could not successfully defend himself.

In July, Monfort and his former attorney, Vincent Antaki of the Reminger law firm, were sanctioned in the Jasper-Newton case by special judge Mary Harper, who ruled they had made false statements in an effort to mislead the court.

The civil case in Jasper Superior Court also has includes claims against Monfort’s former law firm nonlawyer assistant — and Nagel’s one-time guardian — Teri Hardin. She is at the center of a controversy over what happened to Nagel’s final will, a situation that caused Hardin’s former attorney to withdraw, noting he may be called as a witness.

The charities in September raised the stakes in the litigation, asking the court for treble damages — meaning a potential award of more than $2.3 million — against Monfort, his former law office, and potentially other defendants. The charities also have sought to add Hardin’s husband, Jesse Hardin, as a defendant, citing in particular a classic 1960s muscle car valued at about $78,000 that Teri purchased for him as a retirement gift.

Harper, the special judge hearing the case, has several motions pending after last week granting Teri Hardin more time to find a lawyer. Jasper-Newton has asked the judge to approve supplemental attorney fees of more than $43,000 after Harper previously ruled the charities were entitled to fees as a sanction against Monfort and Antaki. A hearing on attorney fees is now set for May. Jesse Hardin also has asked for a new judge.

Monfort had been a judge in Jasper Superior 2 from 1994-2000. The Indiana General Assembly dissolved the court, a decision affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2000.

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