A Chancery Court lawsuit claims that a Chattanooga minister persuaded an elderly parishioner with an estate worth over $400,000 to turn over a sizable amount of her funds to him and that he brought her from her condominium near Atlanta to live her last days at a Chattanooga retirement center.
The suit, filed by Rose B. Johnson, administrator of the estate of Julia L. Clingman, is brought against the Rev. Harold K. Lester, pastor of Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church.
It asks that he be ordered to return $34,933 from a SunTrust Bank CD and over $20,000 in other funds obtained from Ms. Clingman.
The suit also asks that he be required to pay a bill at the Hickory Valley Retirement Center of $18,738 for her care there.
The complaint, filed by attorney Bob Lype, also asks for unspecified punitive damages.
It says Ms. Clingman and her husband, Albert Clingman, attended Rev. Lester's church while living in Chattanooga from 1993 to 1998. They then moved to Stone Mountain, Ga., and joined another church there, though they remained in contact with Rev. Lester.
Mr. Clingman died in 2005 after they had been married 57 years.
Afterward, the suit said, Ms. Clingman contacted Rev. Lester and relied upon him for financial advice. She was 81 years old in 2005.
The suit says, "Upon information and belief, at one point in time Rev. Lester was attorney-in-fact for Mrs. Clingman under a power of attorney executed by her, permitting Rev. Lester to assist Mrs. Clingman in certain financial transactions, although that power of attorney was later revoked or ceased to be effective. Mrs. Clingman's own capacity to manage her financial affairs after 2005 was limited to making simple, basic deposits and withdrawals of funds from her bank accounts, and she also ceased driving herself and was dependent upon being driven by others."
The complaint says Rev. Lester was in frequent contact with Ms. Clingman and would make visits to her home.
The suit says Mr. Clingman had owned an annuity issued by Jackson National Life Insurance Company with a death benefit of more than $70,000 with Ms. Clingman as the beneficiary. It says, rather than accepting the death benefit, Ms. Clingman named Rev. Lester as the new beneficiary less than four months after her husband's death. The value of the annuity at the time of Ms. Clingman's death was $74,192.
The complaint says this "was the result of Rev. Lester's undue influence and suggestions to Ms. Clingman."
It says none of her family members were notified.
The suit says in 2006, 13 months after her husband's death, Ms. Clingman opened a CD at SunTrust Bank made payable to Rev. Lester upon her death.
It says Ms. Clingman began to discuss moving to her original home state of Ohio, where she had family. A family friend, Cassandra Harmon, began working with a group called "Senior Movers" to help with the move.
The suit says in August or September 2010, Rev. Lester picked up Ms. Clingman from her home in Stone Mountain and took her to the Hickory Valley Retirement Center in Chattanooga. It says she was placed in a sparsely furnished room with no telephone. It says Rev. Lester checked her into the center, though he had no power of attorney for her at the time. She continued to own her condominium in Stone Mountain.
The complaint says Rev. Lester refused to tell Ms. Harmon where he had moved Ms. Clingman and her relatives also were not told.
It says, "Rev. Lester undertook only limited interaction with Mrs. Clingman after her relocation to Chattanooga."
The suit says $34,933 of Ms. Clingman's funds were placed into the SunTrust CD payable to Rev. Lester.
The suit says Ms. Harmon in January 2011 had finally learned where Ms. Clingman was staying and she drove from Stone Mountain to see her. She said Ms. Clingman told her that Rev. Lester had "kidnapped" her and refused to let her leave and that he was "trying to take her money" and was "just waiting for her to die so he could get her money."
The complaint says Rev. Lester was briefly administrator of the Clingman estate after she died in February 2011. It says he was removed as administrator 15 days after her death, and on that same day he removed the $34,933 from the CD.
It says two days after Ms. Clingman's death, and "even before her funeral service," Rev. Lester had prepared by his attorneys a durable power of attorney and sought to become the administrator of the estate. It says she had relatives, including her sister Ms. Johnson of Roseville, Calif., "who stood in statutory priority to be appointed to administer the estate."
The suit says during the two weeks he was over the estate Rev. Lester caused various payments to be made from the estate, including his own claim of $2,000 and $3,000 for his service as administrator. He also asked $12,500 be paid to the law firm "which had assisted in his 14-day administration of the estate without seeking approval of the court and in violation of L.R.C. P. Rule 17:12." Probate officials said Rev. Lester was represented by attorney Walter F. Williams.
It says the estate had to pay a claim to the Hickory Valley Retirement Center of $18,738 for her stay there while she had the condo in Stone Mountain.