West Virginia Record

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Woman says past Mason sheriffs mismanaged estate

By Lawrence Smith | May 17, 2012

POINT PLEASANT – A Mason County woman is alleging the last four sheriffs have played a role in cheating her out of a family inheritance.

Former sheriffs David Lee Anthony II, Scott Simms, Troy "Shorty" Huffman and Paul Ernie Watterson are named as co-defendants in a breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit filed by Gina M. Eads. In her complaint filed April 9 in Mason Circuit Court, Eads, 44, a Leon resident, alleges the four lawmen over the last quarter century mismanaged funds belonging to the estate of her grandmother, Grace M. Thornton, during their respective terms in office.

According to the suit, Thornton died on Oct. 8, 1986. In a holographic will dated Oct. 23, 1979, she directed that her entire estate, except for her home in Kenny Street in Point Pleasant, be liquidated and the proceeds placed in an interest bearing account with the interest paid monthly to her son, Richard D. Gaylor.

A holographic will is one that is his handwritten, and signed by the testator –- the person making it -– but not witnessed by someone else. Records show, the Mason County Clerk's Office accepted the will into probate a week following Thornton's death.

On an unspecified date following Thornton's death, the Sheriff's Office was appointed to serve as its administrator. Also, because of his incapacity, it was appointed to act as Gaylor's guardian and conservator.

The reason for Gaylor's incapacity is not stated.

Payments from Thornton's estate to Gaylor, according to the suit, began in 1988, the year Watterson, a Republican, won his first term as sheriff. He successfully won re-election in 1992.

Due to the constitutional prohibition on sheriffs seeking a third successive term, Huffman, a Democrat, won in 1996's open race for the office. However, four years later, he was defeated for re-election by Simms, a Republican.

Following Simms' successful re-election in 2004, the race for sheriff was again open in 2008. Watterson, who was appointed Point Pleasant police chief the year before, attempted to get his old job back, but was defeated by Anthony, a Democrat, who started work as deputy under Watterson's first administration.

In March, Anthony's administration came to end when he agreed to resign, and not seek re-election this year as part of plea agreement with the Mason County Prosecutor's Office. In January, the grand jury returned a 42-count indictment against Anthony stemming from questionable purchases he made with a county-issued purchasing card over a year ago, and discharging a firearm while drunk over his son's head outside their home in November.

Following Anthony's resignation, the Mason County Commission appointed Michael Roach, a retired West Virginia State Trooper, as interim sheriff until the new one is elected in November.

According to the suit, Gaylor died in 2008. Pursuant to Thornton's will, Eads was to receive the residual of her estate following Gaylor's death.

However, Eads alleges during the last 24 years Watterson, Huffman, Simms, Anthony "and their fiduciary officers ... paid over to Mr. Gaylor sums of money to which he was not otherwise entitled to receive." Funds in Thornton's estate, Eads alleges, "have dwindled almost to the point of non-existence."

Specifically, Eads alleges at the time her suit was filed, she's lost at least $67,615.31.

Along with ones for breach of fiduciary duty, and action on bond against the four former sheriffs, Eads makes a claim of unjust enrichment against Gaylor's estate. In her suit, she seeks not only compensation from the unidentified insurance companies that posted the bonds to secure the sheriffs' performance on Thornton's estate, but also disgorgement of funds remaining in Gaylor's estate.

Eads seeks unspecified damages, attorneys fees and court costs. She is represented by J. Robert Leslie with the Hurricane law firm of Tyree, Embree and Leslie.

The case is assigned to Judge David W. Nibert.

Mason Circuit Court case number 12-C-51

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