By Georgie Kulczyk
The Courier 

Abuse Victim Still Waiting for Restitution


In 2009, former Glasgow resident Dan Burns was found guilty – per plea agreement - of sexual abuse of children, a felony, and was ordered to pay $82,352.23 in restitution to his victim. Seven years later, even after the death of Burns while he was incarcerated for the crime, his victim is still waiting for compensation.

Billings attorney Bill O’Connor explained that the state tried unsuccessfully for six years to collect the court ordered restitution from Burns. O’Connor represents the victim and his interests via his mother, Maugeen McGrath-Stark.

Since Burns’ death in 2014 and the appointment of Andrea Dobbs as personal representative of his estate, O’Connor has been trying to get the court order fulfilled.

“The victim is the only creditor of the estate,” said O’Connor. “Criminal restitution should be voluntary, as it is a court order, so any money the criminal makes should go directly to the victim.”

However, according to O’Connor, any money deposited into Burns’ account was immediately transferred to Dobbs in an attempt to prevent collection of the debt by the victim. Once funds were transferred to Dobbs, she would keep them and spend them as she saw fit.

In a motion filed by O’Connor, the court has been requested to hold Dobbs in contempt for failing to cooperate with a court-ordered independent investigation into the finances of the estate.

During a hearing held in Glasgow Monday, March 14, O’Connor argued that Dobbs, who is a relative of Burns, has been uncooperative in the investigation and only started providing information to the investigator after the motion to hold her in contempt was filed.

In December 2015, Judge John McKeon appointed Joanne Sheridan, CPA, to conduct an independent investigation into the estate of Burns. The appointment followed a motion filed in June, 2015 by O’Connor requesting that Dobbs be removed from her position as personal representative for Burns’ estate.

The motion alleged that Dobbs had been, for years, “systematically transferring money from Burns’ account to her own accounts.” The motion also claims, “Apparently since the conviction and most likely since the charge was brought, [Dobbs has been] assisting the molester in hiding assets or simply transferring assets to herself to defraud the victim of the compensation awarded by the court.”

O’Connor explained that in an October 2015 hearing, Dobbs admitted to pilfering money from the estate, and records show she transferred large sums of money from Burns’ estate to accounts controlled solely by her.

“We see both a conspiracy between Burns and Dobbs to defraud the victim and a series of acts solely by Ms. Dobbs both before and after Burns’ death to enrich herself,” the motion states. “If her attorney’s only purpose is to allow Ms. Dobbs to pillage the estate, which appears to be the case, such transfers should not be allowed.”

Sheridan was tasked with investigating the claim that funds were fraudulently transferred from the estate. To do this, she needed access to bank statements, copies of canceled checks and duplicate checks, as well as checking and saving account information.

O’Connor maintains that Sheridan was not given access to any of the financial documents she needed until after his motion was filed to hold Dobbs in contempt.

Court documents show that the day prior to the motion being filed, Sheridan sent an e-mail to Patrick Flaherty, attorney for the defendant, indicating that she had not received any information from the Dobbs. In the e-mail, Sheridan asserts, “I cannot begin work on this engagement until such time as I receive copies of all bank account transactions held by Dobbs for Daniel Christopher Burns.”

Sheridan began receiving documents and information from Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs the first week in February.

Even then, argued O’Connor, to complete her investigation Sheridan relied heavily on information provided by Dobbs, including “summaries” and spreadsheets prepared by her and her husband Duane.

According to Flaherty, the summaries were prepared by the Dobbs in an effort to “cut the chaff” and save the estate some money. He also explained that the Dobbs family had issues of their own and “this project came due through the holidays,” which is why there was a delay in them providing information.

Judge McKeon asserted that an independent investigator is not supposed to rely on counsel for information or direction, and it is her job to look at the “chaff.”

Sheridan has since filed a report, but Judge McKeon labeled it as a “preliminary” report because he felt it was incomplete. As a part of the investigation, Sheridan was required to interview the claimant and the personal representative, but as of the hearing on Monday, she had failed to do so. When questioned as to why the interviews had not been completed, she indicated that Flaherty had asked her to delay them.

O’Connor also argued that missing from the report was an accounting of funds transferred from the estate, as well as an explanation of some unusual checks written from the account – checks written to bars and restaurants for “legal fees,” for example. Other entries in the bank documents showed funds spent on “gifts,” “donations,” and “lotto tickets” for which there was no accounting of any kind.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge McKeon ordered that Sheridan finish her investigation by completing the required interviews and file her report with the court.

When contacted for comment about the March 14 hearing, Flaherty declined to respond. However, he did point the Courier to documents filed in 2015 that he felt would best represent the Estate’s position.

In the documents filed July 21, 2015, Flaherty asserts that the victim committed fraud on the court because he lied about being injured as a result of the molestation, and that the restitution order in the criminal case against Burns is subject to objections on the grounds of misrepresentation, concealment, and possibly fraud. Flaherty contends that “the restitution claim is bogus,” and requests the opportunity to depose the victim and his mother regarding the alleged fraud.

In the cited documents, the victim’s “own healthcare professionals gave opinions that the problems with him (then a minor) were caused by ‘ … his mother sending him to an abusive boy’s home ...’”, and “He broke out of that home and burglarized a home in Eureka and stole guns and narcotics.”

The reports also state that “[the victim] reports physical abuse by his adoptive father” and “emotional abuse by his parents”.

The documents further indicate that the victim claims “[the sexual abuse] occurred one time,” “has worked through that with a counselor,” and “denies any symptoms of PTSD” (post-traumatic stress disorder).

O’Connor dismisses Flaherty’s request as an attempt to bankrupt the estate by accumulating attorney fees and further preventing the victim from receiving compensation. “There are well over $100,000 in medical bills [for the victim],” said O’Connor, “and there will be more to come.” He says the request, if granted, would be nothing more than “a continued rape of the child,” and calls the charge appalling. “He’s guilty,” O’Connor said of Burns. “That’s all there is to it.”

In unrelated circumstances, Flaherty himself was censured by the Montana Supreme Court for violating conflict-of-interest rules in a business transaction.

According to the Billings Gazette, the Commission on Practice filed a formal complaint against Flaherty in 2003, alleging he violated two rules of professional conduct that prohibit conflicts of interest.

The case arose from a business transaction involving him, a client, and a third party. Flaherty denied any impropriety, but the Court substantiated the claim and prohibited him from practicing law for 90 days.


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