WHEELING – BB&T is accused of racketeering in a federal lawsuit filed recently by beneficiaries of the estate of a Martinsburg man who died 10 years ago.

Seven family members and employees of Harry W. Yoe filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act lawsuit against BB&T on Dec. 2 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

The lawsuit alleges BB&T conducted an illegal scheme to take possession of a multimillion-dollar farm that was owned by Yoe. The bank was involved in the 2003 sale of the farm, which the beneficiaries of Yoe’s estate undertook following his death when faced with nearly $1 million in estate taxes.

BB&T loaned Herbert Jonkers and his companies millions of dollars for a series of real estate transactions, the complaint says, with the intention of Jonkers defaulting on his payments. Jonkers’ bought the farm through his company Yoe Properties LLC.

BB&T discouraged the beneficiaries from filing a lawsuit, the complaint says. When they finally did, the statute of limitations had tolled.

“In a June 9, 2009, email, the Beneficiaries were again discouraged by BB&T agents from filing a lawsuit, and advised that it was not in ‘the Estate’s best interest to incur the legal expense bringing suit against Yoe Properties LLC. While the Estate can probably obtain a judgment, unless it is able to pierce the LLC’s veil and reach the assets of the members, recovery of any money for the estate is doubtful,’” the complaint says.

“Upon information and belief, it was unknown to Executor (Robert) Hill, the Beneficiaries and Attorney (Kenneth) Barton that BB&T was maneuvering into a position where it could obtain judgments against Herbert Jonkers and the entities he was involved with while discouraging the Beneficiaries from engaging in that same activity.

“BB&T concealed that information from Attorney Barton.”

Ultimately, though the 336 acres of undeveloped farmland that included three houses and farm buildings in Berkeley County sold for $5.1 million, Jonkers’ company could not make the payments, the lawsuit says.

The farm was sold for $910,000 at auction in May 2012, with the beneficiaries receiving none of it.

“BB&T… devised and implemented a loan servicing and estate services scheme to defraud the Beneficiaries, and/or to obtain money and property by false pretenses through misrepresentation, concealment and manipulation of lending and estate servicing practices,” the complaint says.

BB&T used the mails and wires to advance its fraudulent scheme, the complaint says.

“Accordingly, the Defendant BB&T’s criminal acts of mail and wire fraud constitute a pattern of racketeering,” the complaint says.

The beneficiaries had filed suit in December 2010 in Berkeley Circuit Court. BB&T argued the negligence claims was barred by the two-year statute of limitations. The court agreed and also ruled the beneficiaries were not third-party beneficiaries as defined by state law, the suit says.

Civil RICO cases have a four-year statute of limitations starting from the moment a plaintiff discovers his or her injury.

The suit further alleges BB&T used estate funds to pay Barton, of Steptoe & Johnson, as he defended Hill in the lawsuit.

The beneficiaries are represented by Todd R. Meadows of Gianola, Barnum, Wigal & London in Morgantown.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O'Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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