(CN) - The widow of American tycoon Wilson Lucom does not have to face RICO claims from the executor of her late husband's $50 million estate, a federal judge ruled.
Richard Lehman, Lucom's former attorney and the sole trustee of Lucom's charitable foundation, claimed that the Panamanian-born Hilda Piza Lucom and her family had tried to wrench control of Lucom's vast estate by intimidation and bribery.
In a much-disputed move, Lucom, a former diplomat, left most of his money to a foundation to help poor children in Panama, where he had lived from the 1990s until his death in 2006.
But the Panama Supreme Court declared Lucom's will void in 2010 and gave the entire estate to Lucom's third wife, Hilda, the former daughter-in-law of Panamanian president Harmodio Arias. The New York Times reported that Lucom was not on particularly good terms with Piza Lucom's five children from a previous marriage, who are expected to inherit their mother's money after her death.
Lehman, his law firm and the Lucom Foundation sued Piza Lucom, her adult children, their attorneys, and several Panamanian judges and prosecutors in 2007. The federal complaint alleged violations of federal anti-racketeering law, fraud, extortion, corruption, theft, money laundering and bribery of foreign officials.
But Piza Lucom and her co-defendants said a four-year statute of limitations barred Lehman's claims.
Lehman claimed that the statute of limitations had not begun to run until 2010 because that is when the "fraudulent appropriation consummated," but U.S. District Judge Robert Scola Jr. disagreed
The Miami judge said that the RICO statute of limitations began to run on the date that the plaintiffs became aware of their "injuries" caused by the alleged RICO enterprise. Since Lehman and his co-plaintiffs claim to have known about the alleged conspiracy as early as 2006, they should not have waited more than four years to file a RICO complaint.
The 2007 civil complaint claims that Lucom's family falsely accused Lehman of having a "quasi criminal background" in August 2006. This allegedly prompted a Panamanian probate court to suspend Lehman as the executor of Lucom's estate in Panama.
Lehman also claimed that Lucom's widow had stolen money from her late husband's bank account in Florida by using stolen stock certificates to gain control of one of his companies.
The court says both Lehman and his firm knew of the alleged injuries when they occurred in 2006, since both were spending money at the time to defend themselves against the alleged smear campaign and litigate over Lucom's estate.
"It is equally clear that prior to the filing of the Florida complaint in January 2007, both estate and personal money had been spent by Lehman in fending off attacks by the RICO enterprise (and every dollar spent by the Estate was one dollar less for the foundation to ultimately receive)," Scola wrote (parentheses in ruling).
Florida courts previously criticized Lehman's management of Lucom's Florida estate, finding that he had misappropriated estate funds and had failed to keep adequate accounting records.
"A Florida trial court found Lehman to be 'a covetous opportunist using the ancillary estate assets to thwart the orders of the Panama Court in the domiciliary estate, seeking personal advantage and control of assets in the $25-$50 million domiciliary estate,'" according to the ruling.
Lehman also failed to disclose that he owed Lucom $500,000 at the time of his death, according to court records.
Finding that Lehman and the foundation knew of a pattern of alleged racketeering activities as of January 2007, the statute of limitations bars their RICO claims, according to the ruling.
Scola also dismissed Lehman's state claims, refusing to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.
Lehman told Courthouse News he plans to appeal.