Lawyer questioned about transfer of memorial funds

Sunday, February 17, 2008 | 6:56 p.m. CST; updated 5:23 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

KANSAS CITY — The attorney overseeing a memorial fund for two murdered Independence children invested part of the $30,000 in donations in a company he owns, a newspaper reported.

The Kansas City Star said in its Sunday editions that Independence attorney Kent Desselle took almost $20,000 of the money collected to build a playground in the memory of Sam and Lindsey Porter and invested it in New Century Investments LLC.

The newspaper said he also wrote thousands of dollars in checks from the fund to his law firm and his sister. The Sam and Lindsey Support Center is based in his law office and he has sole authority to write checks on the fund.

Desselle, contacted by the newspaper, denied any wrongdoing: “The funds were not drawing interest in the bank, so we had to put them in an account that drew interest.”

But legal observers said it was inappropriate for an attorney to enter a transaction with a client without full disclosure and giving the client a chance to review the transaction’s benefits with independent counsel.

“Anybody who is handling funds for someone else is required to avoid self-dealing,” said Steven Lubet, a Northwestern University School of Law professor who focuses on judicial ethics. “That’s an obligation of all fiduciaries.”

In this case, the children’s mother, Tina Porter, said didn’t know that Desselle had invested most of the money in a company he owned and didn’t get her permission.

“I had no idea it was his company,” she said. “He didn’t even tell us the name of the company he had invested it in until a month ago, when we started asking.”

Porter said she would immediately get the money returned to its account.

Sam and Lindsey Porter were 7 and 8 years old when their father, Dan Porter, picked them up for a weekend visit on June 5, 2004, took them to a wooded area and killed them. He refused to tell authorities what he had done with the children, even suggesting they were still alive, until September, when he led FBI agents to the children’s grave.

He pleaded guilty in January to two counts of murder and is serving life in prison without parole.

Desselle told The Star in December that he had invested the fund’s money where it would gain interest until ready to purchase the playground equipment. But he didn’t say where he had invested it. Documents with the Missouri secretary of state’s office show New Century Investments deals with property development and investments.

He said he considered the investment of memorial funds as “low-risk” and described his company as “fairly successful.”

— The Associated Press

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