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Perkins, attorneys accused of wrongful death and fraud in federal court case 

click to enlarge Mary Pile and her daughter Shamira Nicolas
  • Mary Pile and her daughter Shamira Nicolas

The family of an elderly, mentally ill Iranian woman who died in Colorado Springs in 1998 has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Will Perkins -- the well-known former chairman of Colorado for Family Values -- and a host of lawyers were responsible for her death.

The strongly-worded lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. Federal Court in Denver July 12, alleges that Perkins, along with at least four Colorado lawyers, schemed to defraud and steal the estate of Mary Pile.

The case, which was filed by the woman's grandson, Peter Nicolas, alleges that Perkins and the attorneys ignored Pile's medical problems, leading to her demise. Nicolas' mother, Shamira Nicolas, is the named plaintiff.

The allegations that Perkins and the lawyers -- who were the executors and beneficiaries of Pile's estate -- conspired to defraud and steal Pile's money initially surfaced shortly before Perkins launched his unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Colorado Springs in February, 1999.

Perkins is the influential Colorado Springs car dealer whose folksy demeanor has been credited as being the convincing force behind Colorado's 1992 Amendment 2 designed to deny gays and lesbians from seeking equal protection under the law. The amendment was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.

Peter and Shamira Nicolas said they had no previous knowledge of Perkins' political views.


Culpability denied

The attorneys who are named as defendants in the federal case include Colorado Springs lawyers Lynn Vanatta, Ron Peterson and Michael Gross, and Denver attorney Spencer Crona. All have been involved in the estate of Mary Pile.

Perkins and Vanatta could not be reached for comment as of press time. On Wednesday, Peterson said he had not yet seen a copy of the complaint. He categorically denied any culpability in Mary Pile's death, however.

"There's not a smidgen of truth to that," Peterson said. "She was a delightful lady and I spent a lot of time with her."

In the federal lawsuit, Peter Nicolas alleges that Peterson, Perkins and Vanatta ignored his grandmother's medical problems, allowing her to deteriorate and die. At various times during the last years of Pile's life, Peterson, along with Perkins had medical power of attorney over the woman.

According to the complaint, Pile's medical records between the dates of June and September, 1998, show a pattern of neglect: she was admitted to Memorial and Penrose Hospitals nine times and was diagnosed as suffering from dehydration, severe malnutrition, failure to thrive, dyspnea, pleural effusion, pneumonia and fainting spells.

"The records associated with these admissions noted that Mary Pile was suffering from chronic paranoid personality disorder and schizophrenia, that she lacked good insight and judgment, and described her long history of suffering from mental illness," according to the complaint.

Further, the complaint alleges that Pile's "records noted that she was not receiving the medications prescribed to her, and noted that the unwillingness or inability of anyone to provide them with background medical information on her hampered their ability effectively to treat her."

Nicolas said that on at least three occasions between May, 1997 and September, 1998, his mother, Shamira Nicolas, contacted Vanatta from her home in Rochester, New York. Each time, he said, Vanatta told Mrs. Nicolas that her mother was in excellent health and that it was not necessary for her to travel to Colorado Springs to assist her mother.

On Sept. 20, 1998, Pile died in the emergency room of Penrose Hospital.


Very intelligent lady

In a February, 1999 Independent interview, Perkins, who owns a Chrysler dealership in town, said he met Pile when he sold her a car in 1995. At the time, she was 80 years old and suffering from osteoporosis.

"She was a very intelligent lady. She was one of the most intelligent persons I've ever known, very intelligent," Perkins said at that time. "We just kind of got to be friends. We talked and visited and she got to the point where she was really needing some assistance."

In 1996, Pile had signed a will leaving her entire estate to her son, Kambiz, a paranoid schizophrenic. That will stipulated that Pile's assets would be distributed to Kambiz, and after his death any remaining money would be used to help find a cure for schizophrenia.

However, after meeting Perkins, Pile -- who was a lifelong Muslim -- signed a new will naming him the beneficiary of any money left over after her son's death to use for unspecified "Christian/Religious purposes."

Colorado Springs attorney Vanatta was named the trustee of her estate.

When the documents were initially questioned by Pile's family, Vanatta unsuccessfully attempted to resign as the executor.

In addition, the Colorado Springs probate judge who was originally assigned to the case, Judge David Griffiths recused himself from the case, citing a conflict of interest.

In probate court, Griffiths noted Peterson was an old family friend with whom he has shared office space in the past. Griffith's regular replacement also had conflict of interest based on a personal relationship with Peterson.

"It gets a little close in a small town like this," Griffiths said during the hearing.

The case was eventually assigned to a visiting judge from Denver.


'Frankly shocking'

As a law student, Peter Nicolas could not formally represent his mother in the probate court proceedings, but he has since graduated in the top of his class at Harvard and is serving as the lead attorney in the federal case against Perkins and the four named lawyers. He said that he filed the case in U.S. Court in part because of his disgust over the probate court matter.

"My experience in the state system has been frankly shocking, and I feel confident that my client will get a fair hearing in federal court," Nicolas said.

During the ongoing probate court battle, the judge in the case consistently ruled against the Nicolas family. The family has asked that the assets of the trust be frozen until the matter is resolved, but the probate judge has ruled against that request, saying it is irrelevant to the case before the court.

In addition, the family has no idea how much money remains in the trust, and the judge has denied their efforts to obtain an accounting, Nicolas said.

He estimated that his grandmother's estate was possibly worth as much as $450,000 at the time of her death.

This week, attorney Peterson said he believes only a few hundred dollars remain in the trust.


Sanctions requested

The lawyers who are named as defendants in the federal suit have asked that Nicolas be sanctioned for stating in probate court documents that the family believes Perkins and the attorneys stole Mary Pile's money and were responsible for her death.

Peterson also denied that he, along with the other lawyers named as defendants, engaged in any racketeering scheme designed to defraud or steal money or other property from Pile's estate, as alleged in court documents. The Colorado Springs lawyer said he met Perkins many years ago, but does not know him socially or professionally.

During the course of his professional relationship with Vanatta, Peterson said, he has referred clients involved in estate planning cases. He knows Gross professionally, he said, but has never met the other defendant, Denver attorney Crona.

In the probate case, Nicolas said he plans to ask the judge to recuse himself from the case.

"They want to obfuscate the issue away from the real issue by saying they want to sanction me," Nicolas said. "The judge is either complicit in the behavior or not really bright; either scenario is not very heartening.

"All it takes is a casual look at the file and someone with no experience with the law will tell you something stinks."

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