Life coach accused of stealing $56,284

A life coach charged with stealing $56,284 from an elderly client appeared in court yesterday.

Melissa Burton is alleged to have made a string of purchases with Katherine Trimingham’s credit cards after her client had died.

Ms Burton, 53, was later claimed to be a major beneficiary of Ms Trimingham’s estate — including a $100,000 fund to care for the deceased’s dog.

Prosecutors alleged in Supreme Court that Ms Burton used her position of trust to access the senior’s funds without her knowledge.

Neil Halliday, the vice-president of Hamilton-based Winchester Global Trust, which held power of attorney over Ms Trimingham’s estate, told the court he contacted police when he discovered a series of transactions after she was admitted to hospital.

He said: “I felt I had no choice.”

Ms Burton, from Sag Harbour, New York, denied five counts of theft from Ms Trimingham, a member of the wealthy department store dynasty.

She also denied a charge of financial exploitation of the senior, who died in 2016, aged 72.

Mr Halliday told the court Ms Trimingham was admitted to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in October 2016.

Ms Trimingham’s condition deteriorated by late November and he said he was notified by her doctor that she was “physically and cognitively incapacitated”.

He added: “It was clear that Ms Trimingham was no longer capable of taking care of her finances.”

Ms Trimingham died on December 1 and the next day money in Ms Trimingham’s accounts was transferred to an account at law firm MJM Ltd, which acted for Ms Trimingham.

Mr Halliday said bankers HSBC told him one US dollar account had a balance of $49,000 on November 28, but only $29,000 was in the account on December 2.

It was found that two $10,000 withdrawals were made from the account between the two dates.

Mr Halliday said he also reviewed Ms Trimingham’s credit card records and found a string of online purchases that had been made after her death.

He told the court he received an e-mail from Ms Burton, who said she had a document which detailed how Ms Trimingham wanted her assets to be distributed.

Mr Halliday said: “I had what I took to be a valid will, and I was bound to follow that will unless someone could show me a document that superseded that — a later will.

“I said that as far as I was concerned, I had a valid will and if she had anything to make me think otherwise, she should show it.”

A month later he said Ms Burton sent him a “memorandum of wishes”, purportedly written under the direction of MJM lawyer Alan Dunch, dated March 2016.

The document said Ms Burton had been regarded as Ms Trimingham’s “loving goddaughter” and should be treated as such.

The memorandum added that the fund for Ms Trimingham’s dog should be increased from $50,000 to $100,000 and any cash that remained after the dog’s death should go to its carer — Ms Burton.

The document also said two trust funds should be created to care for Ms Burton and the dog, with Ms Burton to act as trustee for both.

Mr Halliday said: “The effect of the document would be to substantially alter the terms that I had in the will with the result that the beneficiaries would be changed.”

Mr Halliday accepted in questioning by defence lawyer Mark Pettingill that the holder of power of attorney in the case had been a subject of confusion.

He said Winchester Global Trust received power of attorney after it bought Fiduciary Partners, which previously held the role.

He added that he only became aware of his company’s power of attorney over Ms Trimingham’s estate months before her death.

Mr Halliday said: “Mr Dunch apologised to us because he thought he had power of attorney.

“He went and pulled it out of the vault at MJM and found that it was in fact Fiduciary that had it, not himself.”

Mr Halliday said that several other trusts were also involved. One was responsible for Ms Trimingham’s home and another provided her with a monthly allowance.

He added that on the same day in 2014 that Ms Trimingham gave Fiduciary her power of attorney for her financial affairs, she gave Ms Burton power of attorney over medical matters.

Mr Halliday agreed that the move showed a degree of trust in the defendant by Ms Trimingham.

Mr Halliday said he was “not surprised” that Ms Burton had access to Ms Trimingham’s credit cards as a result of his personal experience with the senior.

And he confirmed that Ms Burton had also given him the combination for one of the safes in Ms Trimingham’s home.

UPDATE: This story originally stated that Ms Burton’s “memorandum of wishes” was signed by Ms Trimingham and Mr Dunch. It has been amended to say that court heard the memorandum was purportedly written under the direction of Mr Dunch

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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