Monday, March 24, 2008

Out of Florida: Young Woman, Older Man, and Money

I never heard of a marriage annulled after the death of a spouse, but then how often do these kind of cases come up? From the Florida Times-Union out of Jacksonville comes Sad, final days in 'sham marriage'. It is a long story, a lurid story, and here are the highlights:

BILLY SHELTON Suffering from dementia, his bank account was cleaned out, a judge says KHADIJA RHOUALMI She was 34 years younger, but captured his heart - and exploited his mind.


She was a 38-year-old student and restaurant worker who professed her undying love and eventually married him.

But the relationship between Billy Shelton and Khadija Rhoualmi was no May-December romance.

In fact, a probate judge said, it was an "extreme fraud" cooked up by Rhoualmi and her lawyer boyfriend to bilk Shelton out of his considerable assets by taking advantage of his deteriorating mental health before his 2006 death.

"It was a sham marriage," Circuit Judge Peter Dearing wrote in a decision finalized last month. "... Shelton was an incapacitated, vulnerable and elderly adult who was exploited, unduly influenced and defrauded by Rhoualmi."

The scam was so audacious the judge took the rare step of posthumously annulling the marriage.

His order undid a prenuptial agreement and will and two deeds that gave Rhoualmi title to Shelton's riverfront home and St. Johns Nursery & Tree Farm in Fruit Cove, valued at more than $3 million. He ordered her to repay $54,000 she drained from his bank accounts. The judge said she was "actively assisted" by her lover, attorney Henry Swann.

Before anyone gets into lawyer bashing mode consider this paragraph:

A month later, two doctors hired by Shelton's lawyers found him suffering from a form of dementia and mentally incompetent to make financial and legal decisions. Dearing determined in June 2006 that he was incapacitated and appointed his son as guardian.

And I certainly agree with these sentiments:

He and attorney Meux said the case offers valuable lessons about the vulnerability of some elderly people.

"It's always possible that somebody can be out there to take advantage of them," Meux said. "It should be a wake-up call to family members to make sure that someone's watching over your relatives."

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