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Undue Influence Doesn't Pay

Undue Influence, Elder Financial Abuse

In an encouraging turn of events, a judge served up a hefty tablespoon of justice in a case seen by many as a glaring example of elder financial abuse. Judge Gary Cassavechia, serving on the probate court in Portsmouth, NH, rejected the validity of a $2 million inheritance acquired from a senior citizen under suspicious circumstances on the grounds of undue influence.

Former Portsmouth Police Sergeant Aaron Goodwin was denied the jackpot he scored after "befriending" the late Geraldine Webber back in 2010. Webber, a 92-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with dementia the year before, declared herself "in love" with the police sergeant, along with the wish to hand over her estate to him.

Yet instead of backing out of the situation, as any ethical public servant would do, Goodwin seized the advantage, shopping around for attorneys until he finally found one who would administer the change in will. Webber died at age 94 in 2012, and Goodwin ended up with her house as well as stocks and bonds. His story before the probate court was that Webber "loved him like a son," but the evidence brought forth in hearings showed something else entirely, as Judge Cassavechia noted:

There are enough highly sexual or romantic notations in (Webber's) diaries and sexual references about officer Goodwin in the videotape (of her signing the dismissed trust) to dispossess the Court of the notion that the genesis of her affection was predominantly of a parental nature.

In addition to shooting down Goodwin's phony claims about motherly love, Judge Cassavechia castigated the brass of the Portsmouth Police Department, which allowed the entire episode to take place without so much as an inquiry into potential conflicts of interest. He upbraided the department for its lack of leadership and oversight, calling police credibility into question since community safety was clearly not a priority.

Aaron Goodwin believed that he could get away with exerting undue influence - in this case through emotional manipulation - in order to inherit an elderly woman's fortune. Judge Cassavechia, however, didn't agree, and made sure that bad conduct wasn't rewarded in a story of predatory intentions and system failure. Our community's most vulnerable members deserve to be protected from abuse and exploitation - kudos to Judge Cassavechia for setting the wheels of justice in motion.

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