Man Recovers Hotels From Ex-wife

Man tricked out of motels Durham jury agrees ex-wife took advantage of man to gain control of millions in property
Durham hotelier Paul K. Simpson said he was desperate to get back with his estranged wife when she plied him with drinks, drove him to her lawyer and got him to sign over the deeds to several motels. This week, a jury agreed, concluding Simpson’s now ex-wife tricked him out of property said to be worth “well into the millions.” After hearing weeks of evidence in Durham County Superior Court, the jury decided Mary Leitch engaged in “constructive fraud” and used “undue influence” when she got Simpson to sign a July 1985 agreement in which he signed over his property to her. The jury further concluded that Leitch took advantage of Simpson and failed to act “openly, fairly and honestly.”

“We had a great jury. They were very intelligent,” said lawyer Phillip Mullins, who represented Simpson along with attorney Gabriela Matthews. “Mr. Simpson is a family man who built his businesses in partnership with his wife,” Mullins added. “She tried to defraud him and take those businesses. The jury said no. Justice has been served.” Mullins said the businesses include four motels: the Best Western Skyland in Durham, the Best Western University near Duke University Hospital, the Best Western Pinehurst and the Best Western Martinsville in Virginia. While Mullins declined to put a precise dollar figure on such assets, he said they are worth “well into the millions.” For example, Duke now leases the Best Western University for a handsome sum and has an option to buy it in the year 2004 for $2.5 million, Mullins said.

An “equitable distribution” trial still must be held in which a judge will divide the Simpson-Leitch property. But because of this week’s jury verdict, Simpson can expect a share of roughly 50 percent instead of only about 2 percent, according to Mullins. “This puts him on the radar screen,” said Mullins. Lawyer Hayes Hofler, representing Leitch, said Thursday he and his client were “disappointed in the way the jury resolved these issues.” “But the jury was very conscientious and very admirably upheld the concept of government by consent of the governed,” Hofler added.

According to his lawsuit, Simpson wanted to get back together with Leitch very much while the two were separated in July 1985. So Leitch poured several drinks for Simpson and then drove him to her lawyer’s office, where he was asked to sign away his property, the suit said. Leitch made it clear that “the only way he could preserve the marriage was for him to sign the agreement,” the suit contended. “[She] was able to extract [his] signature by playing upon his love and affection for his wife, knowing that he would do anything to save his marriage.” Leitch thus “gained great economic advantage and intended to gain further advantage,” the suit said. The couple did reunite after the property agreement was signed, only to divorce later. In an answer to the lawsuit, Leitch alleged that Simpson “committed fraud and other illegal acts” of his own with the disputed property. She contended, for example, that Simpson had a power of attorney illegally notarized after signing her name to it or obtaining her signature “by misrepresentation.” Then he persuaded a Moore County lawyer to draft deeds involving the property in question, Leitch said. She said the deeds conveyed such property into both her name and that of Simpson, despite the July 1985 agreement that gave the real estate to Leitch alone. Leitch said this was done without her knowledge or consent. Simpson deeded the property back to her only after she threatened to have him prosecuted criminally, Leitch added. She also said that Simpson “voluntarily performed numerous acts in recognition of the agreement.” According to Leitch and her lawyer, such acts essentially ratified the agreement and barred Simpson from rescinding it.

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