By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Retired police officer William Hale has been ordered to pay $70,000 restitution after admitting there were “sufficient facts” to find him guilty of forging checks and stealing from the estate of an elderly woman he befriended.
A district court judge yesterday continued Hale’s criminal case without a finding for the next five years. The 33-year Lawrence police veteran faced maximum sentences of 10 years in jail had he been convicted of uttering or forgery.
Hale, 77, was accused of cashing $66,000 in checks belonging to Elizabeth Lacey, who died at age 89 on May 1, 2007.
State police filed criminal charges against him after he repeatedly invoked his 5th Amendment privilege against self incrimination when he was questioned about Lacey’s checks during a probate trial over her will.
Hale claimed he was the rightful beneficiary of Lacey’s will. However, a month ago a state appeals court rejected his claim to the will.
The appeals court decision also stated there is sufficient evidence Hale used “undue influence” with the frail, elderly woman and “appears to have engaged in a broader scheme to misappropriate Lacey’s assets.”
Lacey, who was known to her close friends as “Aunt Betty,” had no living relatives at the time of her death. When she died, her close friends were shocked to learn of a will that left everything to Hale and they challenged the will’s validity.
In July 2011, Probate Court judge Mary Ann Sahagian threw out the Hale will and recognized an earlier will leaving Lacey’s estate to James Wareing; Wareing’s mother, Joan McGuire; and his twin sisters, Denise Clegg and Diane Forrester. Wareing, his mother and sisters had been Lacey’s friends for decades.
From Feb. 5, 2005 to Sept. 5, 2007, Hale endorsed and cashed about 20 of Lacey’s pension checks. From April 30, 2007, through Nov. 20, 2007, Hale forged Lacey’s signature on 19 checks issued from her Sovereign Bank account, according to the decision issued by the state appeals court.
Lacey owned a home at 418 Andover St. at the time of her death. She also had $170,000 in savings and checking accounts.
Bryan Kerman, a Methuen attorney representing the Wareing and McGuire family, declined comment for this story. Hale is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 29, 2014 to evaluate the terms of restitution.
Lacey’s first will, leaving everything to the Wareing and McGuire families, was prepared by Lawrence attorney Robert Kelley on Sept. 26, 2000, according to court documents.
In November 2000, Lacey called Hale for help repairing a boiler in her Andover Street home. After that, Hale started bringing her lunch on a daily basis and taking her out to lunch weekly, according to court documents.
On May 8, 2001, Lacey’s second will, leaving her estate to Hale, was executed by Kelley.
Family members previously said Lacey would have never left her estate to Hale, a man she disliked because he badgered her for money. Hale is the son of a man Lacey dated in the 1950s.
In 2012, in a civil action against the retired police officer, Superior Court Judge Timothy Feeley placed a $70,000 attachment on Hale’s 7 Meadow St. home in Lawrence.
Hale could not be reached for comment for this story.
His relationship with Lacey and the dispute over her wills was first exposed in a July 24, 2011 Sunday Eagle-Tribune story.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.