Lawyer admits to $4M theft

Published 8:15 am Friday, April 17, 2009

Attorney J. Edward Moyler Jr. has surrendered his law license after admitting that he took more than $4 million from clients’ estates.

Moyler, who had practiced law in Franklin for 54 years, disclosed in Southampton County Circuit Court that he took money from four clients while acting as executor of their wills.

The bulk of the money was taken from the estate of Lucille K. Steinhardt, who died in October 2000.

Judge Designate William C. Andrews III entered judgments in Southampton County Circuit Court against Moyler last month, including one for $4,072,363.76 to the Steinhardt estate. Three other judgments were issued as well — one for the estate of Mallory Kenneth Brown for $103,000, another for Robert E. Pretlow Jr. for $55,559.87 and $17,347.33 for the estate of Issac Buster Rudolph Teachy.

“Almost immediately after his qualification in October 2000, Moyler began to pay himself commissions without court or commissioner approval and … beginning in June 2001 and continuing until April of 2005, Moyler … loaned himself the bulk of the Steinhardt Estate in excess of $4 million … Moyler used those funds for his own purposes (and) has no ability to repay the Steinhardt Estate,” one judgment said.

Moyler filed for bankruptcy protection in October. His home on Meadow Lane recently was the subject of a foreclosure proceeding.

Steinhardt, also known as “Tootie” to her friends, was from a widely known and wealthy Franklin family who ran a downtown hardware store. Since she didn’t have heirs, Steinhardt, who lived in a stately home on Second Avenue, left sums of money to friends and family members who looked after her. Moyler reportedly followed through on those payments.

“She said I was like the daughter she never had. She left money to anyone who ever did anything for her,” said Viola Johnson, who met Steinhardt in Sunday School at Franklin Baptist Church and worked as her nurse for 15 years until the widow died at the age of 101.

“All the people she left money to got their money,” Johnson said, noting that her boss, who became a close friend, was very generous.

When a small ranch house was about to go up for sale on the same street where Steinhardt lived, the widow helped Johnson buy it.

“She wanted me to have it so I wouldn’t have to walk far,” Johnson said.

After the other people listed in her will were paid, Steinhardt bequeathed one-fourth of the remaining value of the estate to Franklin Fire and Rescue, half to the University of Richmond for scholarships and one-fourth to Southampton Memorial Hospital, according to her will.

When contacted Thursday afternoon, officials at the university said they weren’t aware of the bequest.

“As we’ve just learned about the situation, we are evaluating our options,” said spokeswoman Holly Rodriguez.

“It’s mighty sad,” said Franklin Fire Chief Vince Holt, who also learned the news on Thursday. “It looks like the wishes of a very nice woman weren’t carried out. If that amount of money would have been donated, we could have used it for capital improvements. We are in dire need to replace our 28-year-old pumper (truck).”

Johnson, who called Moyler Steinhardt’s “dear friend,” said she didn’t believe the attorney did anything wrong.

“He didn’t have to steal her money,” Johnson said. “It was his. She gave it to him. She told him in front of me, ‘If you carry my will out like it’s written, the rest is yours.’”

The estate still has a little less than $194,000 left, according to court documents.

Attorney Jack T. Randall was appointed administrator for the remainder of the account.

“I’m going to give my findings to the court at 10 a.m. on May 26,” he said Thursday evening. That proceeding will take place in Suffolk Circuit Court.

It wasn’t clear late Thursday whether criminal charges against Moyler were being considered. Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke wasn’t available for comment.