By Julie Manganis
---- — SALEM, Mass. — A Haverhill lawyer who stole more than a quarter million dollars from two family trusts when his mother-in-law died was spared time behind bars because the family did not want to cause any more pain to his wife and children.
Richard Hayes, 60, received a 21/2 year suspended jail term and five years of probation under a plea agreement accepted yesterday by Salem, Mass., Superior Court Judge Robert Cornetta.
Hayes, who lives on East Broadway in Haverhill and has a law office at 1146 Main St., Unit B, also agreed to surrender his law license immediately.
Hayes admitted that for months after the death of his mother-in-law in 2009 at age 88, he continued to take monthly $24,000 disbursements from two family trusts, without telling the bank that held those trusts that the woman had died. He also did not tell his own family that the power of attorney he had been granted expired when the beneficiary of the trust died.
Family members say the total loss was $262,000.
Instead, said prosecutor Jennifer Kirshenbaum, he continued “stonewalling” family members who were urging him to begin probate proceedings for the estate of Margaret “Peggy” Clark.
The prosecutor said the money from the trusts went into Hayes’ law firm and client funds accounts as well as toward general expenses.
When Cornetta asked Hayes whether the facts read by the prosecutor were true, Hayes paused for several seconds. “Yes, your honor,” he answered.
His attorney, William Delaney, did not address the court, other than to note that Hayes was admitting only to conduct alleged after the death of his mother-in-law, and not before.
Hayes has also separately agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a civil lawsuit brought by three of Clark’s four surviving children — Eben Clark, Margaret Towle and Betsy Clark.
A lawyer who represented the three children in the civil suit, Harold Jacobi III of the Lexington law firm Jacobi & Chamberlan, said yesterday was a day of “great sadness for the Clark family because of the personal fall of Richard Hayes, their brother-in-law.”
“But it also represents a day of truth-telling and taking responsibility for his sins — that’s a good thing,” Jacobi said in written statement on behalf of his clients.
“The family hopes and prays that now that the truth has been told and Richard has acknowledged his wrongful actions, the family can rebuild and repair the damage and the hurt that they have endured since their dear mother died in November 2009. Peggy was fun loving and a great sportswoman who loved her family and all eleven of her grandchildren.”
Kirshenbaum told the judge that it was only through the family’s pleas for mercy that she did not ultimately recommend a committed jail term. She had originally intended to ask for at least a year behind bars for Hayes, but said the family did not want to put Hayes’ wife and children through any more pain and suffering.
“Mr. Hayes took full advantage of his position as an attorney as well as a brother-in-law,” said Kirshenbaum. “All they ever wanted from Mr. Hayes was an apology or an admission of what he had done and it wasn’t until today that they are now able to gain some closure.”
Cornetta called it “a very, very sad day for the bar in Essex County.”
“I cannot understand how someone can violate the trust that is placed in someone who is an officer of the court,” said the judge. The law, said the judge “is absolutely a profession based on integrity and when that trust is broken, that person must be taken out of the profession.”