By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Retired Lawrence police officer William Hale was scheduled to be arraigned in Lawrence District Court yesterday on charges he allegedly bilked tens of thousands of dollars from an elderly city woman — but instead his lawyer showed up with a medical note.
An arrest warrant was issued for Hale when he did not come to court as scheduled. Later in the day, an attorney presented the note on Hale’s behalf to the court and the warrant was cleared.
Hale, 77, a 33-year Lawrence police veteran, is now scheduled for arraignment on Feb. 15 for allegedly stealing from Elizabeth B. Lacey, a woman known to her close friends and her surrogate family as “Aunt Betty.”
Hale is charged with uttering, forgery and larceny over $250. He faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted of uttering and forgery and as much as five years in jail if found guilty of the larceny charge.
The thefts and forgery Hale is accused of occurred between May 3, 2007 and Sept. 5, 2007. Lacey died at age 89 on May 1, 2007.
In April, in a civil action, Superior Court Judge Timothy Feeley placed an attachment on Hale’s 7 Meadow St. home to recoup money he took from Lacey.
The attachment was for $70,000, nearly half the valuation of Hale’s three-bedroom house, which is assessed at $147,200, according to city records.
After Lacey’s death, in probate and civil trials, Hale repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when asked if he cashed and deposited checks belonging to Lacey.
In the state police report filed last week, Trooper Steven Buccheri wrote the following:
Between May 3, 2007 and Sept. 5, 2007, Hale forged Lacey’s name and cashed six pension checks in the amount of $2,850.
Also, at the time of her death, Lacey had $66,000 in a Sovereign Bank checking account. The day after she died, Hale signed his name to two checks totalling $9,000, deposited them into his account and immediately withdrew the cash.
From May 1, 2007 to Nov. 20, 2007, Hale forged Lacey’s name to at least 15 other checks payable to himself and totalling $55,000.
“It is apparent from a review of the signatures on the checks that Hale forged Lacey’s signature. In December 2007, a mere $52.94 remained in her account,” Buccheri wrote in his report.
Hale’s relationship with Aunt Betty and a dispute over wills she executed was exposed in a July 24, 2011 Sunday Eagle-Tribune article.
When Lacey died in 2007, her surrogate family members were shocked to learn Hale was named sole beneficiary of her estate, including her Andover Street home.
Hale is the son of a man Lacey dated in the 1950s.
The will leaving everything to Hale was written eight months after another will written by Lacey which left everything to James Wareing, his mother Joan McQuire and his two twin sisters, Denise Clegg and Diane Forrester, who are all Lawrence natives.
Both wills were prepared by a longtime acquaintance of Hale, lawyer Robert Kelley, who was previously the Northern Essex Register of Deeds. Kelley and Hale were also drinking buddies, according to court papers.
Wareing and his family couldn’t believe Lacey had left her house and money to Hale, a man they said she distrusted and disliked because he badgered her for money.
Judge Mary Ann Sahagian didn’t believe it either when the wills were contested in Probate Court. On July 7, 2011, Sahagian threw out the Hale will and approved the earlier will. Sahagian also referred her findings to the district attorney’s office for a criminal investigation.
The checks, which Buccheri would refer to in his report last week, caused Sahagian to doubt Hale’s claims on the estate.
The child of Lithuanian immigrants, Elizabeth married William Lacey in 1939. They had two children who died in a house fire on Jan. 1, 1948. The Lacey’s divorced in 1953.
Lacey owned a home at 418 Andover St, which was worth $175,000 at the time of her death. She had another $170,000 in her savings and checking accounts.
Bryan Kerman, the Methuen attorney representing the Wareing and the McGuire families, declined comment for this story.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.