Doctor accused of looting estate

Posted: Monday, July 14, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A civil judgment in excess of $6 million accuses a Kenai doctor of looting her dead mother's estate in a money laundering scheme that involved impersonation, forged checks and offshore bank accounts.

''The Court finds that Elisabeth Cole is perhaps one of the most corrosive and destructive persons that this Court has had the unfortunate opportunity to run into,'' said the judgment, filed June 26 by Superior Court Judge Sen Tan.

Cole refused to participate in a four-day trial in April and dismissed the proceeding as a ''kangaroo court.'' Lawyers for her mother's estate ''misrepresented every single thing,'' she told the Anchorage Daily News. ''When only one side is represented, how can they lose?''

Cole said she could not afford a lawyer and was not competent to represent herself at the trial.

In addition to ordering Cole to pay $6.3 million plus still accruing interest, Tan said he was referring the case to the attorney general's office for possible criminal prosecution and sanctions against her license to practice medicine in Alaska.

Diane Vallentine, an Anchorage attorney representing the estate, said the FBI sat through part of the trial and an investigator from the attorney general's office has contacted her.

Barbara Williams, a local activist who is organizing support for Cole, said several people involved in the case have received grand jury subpoenas. Williams said Cole's supporters have filed a request that the judge reconsider his decision and he has agreed to let them submit additional evidence.

According to court documents, Cole's mother, Madeleine Cole, lived for years in a Park Avenue apartment in New York. Madeleine Cole was French, a retired doctor and a wealthy widow with an estate worth about $10 million, including $6 million in bonds; the apartment, worth $4 million; plus other real estate in New York and Texas.

Vallentine said there is evidence that the Cole mother and daughter had ''a very dysfunctional relationship,'' but she could offer few details.

According to the judgment, Madeleine believed her daughter could not be trusted with money, so her will, prepared in April 1998 by her New York law firm, left one-third of her estate to a longtime employee; one-third to be divided between two nonprofit organizations, The World Wildlife Fund and St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital; and one-third to be put in a trust that would pay Elisabeth, her only child, an annual income.

To emphasize her intentions, she also signed a notarized statement that said, ''I do not trust my daughter to control or manage my money or other assets,'' the judgment says.

At the time that will was signed, Madeleine Cole, 80, ''was tired and frail and spent a significant amount of time in bed,'' the judgment says. ''She expressed her hope that she would die peacefully in her sleep.''

Nevertheless, a few weeks later, allegedly at Elisabeth's urging, Madeleine left her New York home and moved to Anchorage, where, in July, she signed a new will. This one put all $10 million of her estate in trust and directed that Elisabeth be paid 6 percent of the trust each year for life. When Elisabeth died, whatever was left would be divided between the two nonprofit organizations.

Madeleine Cole died in Anchorage on Dec. 3, 1998, at age 81.

In an interview last week, Vallentine estimated that once the estate was settled and death taxes were paid, Elisabeth was looking at an income of about $350,000 a year.

Instead, the judge said, ''there was a campaign by Dr. Cole to take her mother's fortune. She thought about it. She carefully constructed a forgery scheme, and she went ahead and executed it. She stole the money for her own illegitimate gains. And then she transferred it offshore.''

The judge ruled that Elisabeth Cole forged $929,914.64 in checks on her mother's Anchorage accounts and $3.1 million she transferred to two offshore accounts. Tan said he relied on the testimony of a document analyst but called the forgeries so obvious a layman could easily recognize them.

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