Assisted living owner loses $950,000 to lawyer's misdeeds, bar association says

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An owner of assisted living facilities in Florida reportedly has lost almost $950,000 after working with a since-suspended attorney whom she entrusted to help with their sale.

Pier Gasmena paid a flat fee of $100,000 to James Lee Clark, who practiced law in Tampa, FL, in 2013 to have him negotiate sale terms of her properties, protect assets and perform other tasks, according to documents submitted to the state's Supreme Court in November by the Florida Bar Association, which petitioned for the suspension “based on clear and convincing evidence” that Clark misappropriated the funds. McKnight's Senior Living obtained copies of the documents.

As part of the asset protection plan, the bar association said, Clark created an irrevocable trust for Gasmena. Through the creation of addition companies, the attorney was named trustee and successor trustee of the trust and was given full control over the assets transferred into it.

Bank account balance sheets for the trust that Clark provided to the bar association as part of its investigation, however, did not match bank statements provided by Chase Bank, where Clark had opened five accounts related to the trust. Clark's records showed that the accounts had approximately $848,000 in them in August 2015, but statements provided by the bank showed that the accounts had a total balance of $57.77 then, according to the documents that the bar association provided the court.

“The Pier Gasmena Irrevocable Trust bank account statements provided by Respondent were altered and fraudulent,” the bar association wrote.

Attorney L. Reed Bloodworth of the legal firm Morgan & Morgan told Tampa Bay, FL, television station WFTS that he is suing Clark on behalf of Gasmena and others. “I don't know if that are any assets left to recover for my clients,” he said.

From money transferred from client accounts to his own accounts, WFTS said, citing documents obtained via subpoena by the bar association, Clark allegedly spent more than $518,000 at a casino, $21,000 at gun stores, $17,000 at a casino steakhouse, $13,000 at bars and liquor stores, and additional funds on vacations to the Bahamas, England, France and the Netherlands.

The TV station tried to talk to Clark, but he told reporters he could not comment on the cases.

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