Answers, please

Published 8:38 am Wednesday, June 16, 2010

People will debate for years whether the sentence was tough enough, but at least justice has been administered in the embezzlement case of former Franklin attorney Ed Moyler. He sits today in a Southampton County prison as punishment for stealing more than $4 million from clients’ estates.

Citizens now want answers to another important question: how Virginia’s 156-year-old, tried-and-true system of ensuring that estate money is properly dispensed could fail so miserably.

This was no one-time, minor slip-up.

As staff writer Nicholas Langhorne documented in Sunday’s edition, Moyler failed on at least eight occasions over the course of nearly a decade to do what the law required him to do: file an annual accounting of the estate of Lucille K. Steinhardt, who left some $4 million to three institutions she loved — the University of Richmond, Franklin Fire and Rescue, and Southampton Memorial Hospital.

In retrospect, Moyler had a good reason for not filing the proper paperwork: He was steadily stealing the money — nearly every dime of it over eight-plus years.

The commissioner-of-accounts system, crafted long ago to prevent such shenanigans by lawyers, failed to catch him.

Southampton County Assistant Commissioner of Accounts E. Beale Carter Jr., who was responsible for monitoring the Steinhardt estate and other Moyler-administered estates, refused to discuss the Moyler case when questioned by Langhorne, saying only, “The man’s been convicted and he’s in jail.”

Indeed he is, but Carter misses the point. The question now is why the system failed. That system owes the people of Franklin and Southampton County — the intended beneficiaries of Mrs. Steinhardt’s generosity — some answers.