Six months before his death, decorated Korean War veteran Bill Mack Marshall rewrote his will to give all his money to nine employees at the state-run veterans nursing home in Norman.
Marshall, 80, died in May 2010, leaving them more than $200,000.
“He was a very bighearted guy,” A close friend, Mike Simmons, said.
Problem is the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs strictly prohibits employees from participating in a financial transaction with any patient.
Seven employees at the Norman Veterans Center were fired in September for accepting money from the former Marine’s estate in violation of the policy.
They also are the focus of a criminal investigation, The Oklahoman has confirmed.
All seven insist they had the department’s permission to take the money.
They have appealed their dismissals to the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission.
They also filed tort claims against the state. In those claims, they demanded to be reinstated with back pay and to be awarded $175,000 each for mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of professional reputation, embarrassment and humiliation.
The biggest beneficiary of the estate, maintenance technician David Wagner, turned down his gift — more than $150,000. He remains employed. Another beneficiary retired in 2010.
Statutes in place
At issue is whether Marshall, who went to the center after suffering a stroke, was financially exploited.
“He may have made that decision of his own free will but, as far as the employees working there, for them to be accepting ... inheritances or anything from someone they have been providing care for ... creates a serious conflict of interest,” said state Sen. Frank Simpson, who inquired into the circumstances behind the will.
“There are statutes in place right now to prevent that and they’re there for a good purpose,” said Simpson, R-Ardmore. “Someone who may not have any family ... could be in a very vulnerable situation.”
Marshall’s twin half-brothers wonder if he was exploited, particularly since Marshall did not even mention them in his will.
“It was just really odd,” said Bob Hancock, of Stroud.
In the typed November 2009 will, Marshall described the nine employees as friends. He misspelled some of their names.
The three witnesses to his will, who stated he was of sound mind, were other employees of the Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department.
Fired were Leticia Rose Bollinger, a recreational activities specialist; Ruth Johnson, an administrative technician; Darold Lairson, a recreational activities specialist; Janice Mooneyham, a therapeutic/medical aide; Linda Sue Pace, a patient services coordinator; Tracy Wilkinson, a patient services coordinator; and Glen Williams, a recreation therapist.
In his will, Marshall bequeathed $6,000 to Bollinger, $4,000 to Johnson, $2,000 to Mooneyham and $1,000 each to Pace, Wilkinson, Lairson and Williams.
Bollinger also is the executor of Marshall’s estate, meaning she has access to the almost $200,000 left in his bank account.
Stating their case
Reached by phone, Bollinger referred questions to her attorney.
The attorney, Scott Brockman, said the fired employees have been through an ordeal.
He said a lawsuit is being prepared because the state has denied the tort claims.
In those tort claims, the fired employees contend that Bollinger, after learning of the will, asked the Norman center’s administrator in 2009 “about what the employees should or could do.”
The fired employees wrote in their claims that the administrator first checked with the department’s then-executive director and then checked with the department’s attorney.
The attorney “stated that the internal standing operating procedure prohibiting financial transactions between residents and employees dealt with active (living) residents and would not relate to the will,” they wrote in their tort claims.
The fired employees contend they checked with supervisors after Marshall died in May 2010 and were told they could accept the money.
The department disputes their former employees’ accounts of what happened.
“You did not receive approval for engaging, or participating, in these transactions,” the former employees were told in their termination letters.
The department declined to comment.
“We do not typically comment on an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Shane Faulkner, the department’s public information officer.