The home of Robert Indiana suffered severe water damage and became infested with vermin and rot, according to a court document accusing his caretaker of neglect. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff file photo

World-famous millionaire artist Robert Indiana was nearly blind and living in filth and squalor in his final years, as his caretaker siphoned more than $1 million of his fortune while neglecting the artist and his once-opulent Vinalhaven home, according to an explosive new court document filed Wednesday.

The allegations against Jamie Thomas, Indiana’s personal caretaker since 2013 and a longtime island associate, are included in a counterclaim by Indiana’s estate, which is represented by Rockland attorney James Brannan and filed in Knox County Superior Court. Thomas sued Brannan and the estate in July seeking $2 million in legal fees for his costs associated with a complicated federal lawsuit involving Indiana’s artwork and allegations of fraud.

In his response, Brannan portrays Thomas as a day laborer who took advantage of Indiana’s age, isolation and poor health to exert control over the artist and steal money and art from him, and eventually became Indiana’s power of attorney in May 2016. Indiana, a prominent pop artist best known for his iconic “LOVE” design, died at his island home, the Star of Hope, on May 19, 2018.

Robert Indiana poses at his studio in Vinalhaven in 2009. Associated Press/Joel Page

“In his complaint, Thomas portrays himself as a selfless caregiver who surrendered his private life to protect Indiana’s financial and physical well-being. He claims to have been an unparalleled caregiver, and Indiana’s financial defender and gatekeeper, acting solely in the interest of Indiana,” the new court document says. “But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Thomas acted in his own self-interest: to improperly line his own pockets to the tune of approximately $1.1 million dollars over an 18-month period; to improperly secure funds, for his personal use from Indiana’s checking account; to remove, and claim as gifts, more than one hundred pieces of art, many of which are original Indiana works; to create and sell works of art, attributed to Indiana, that in fact, were Thomas’ own creations; to allow Indiana to live in squalor and filth despite his ample wealth; and to otherwise act in his own interest rather than the interest of his principal, Indiana.”

The court document alleges that Thomas neglected his duty as power of attorney by allowing Indian’s home, once a stately Odd Fellows Hall that was built in the late 1880s, to suffer severe water damage and become infested with vermin and rot. “There were major problems with the roof, but instead of replacing or repairing it, Thomas put a blue tarp on it, which did little to abate ongoing water intrusion.”

When Indiana died, his home was littered with feces and urine, and portions had become uninhabitable because of water damage and rotting plaster and wood, according to the complaint.

“By the time of Indiana’s death, Thomas had allowed valuable archival documents, nearly all of Indiana’s personal library (which he had taken enormous pride in), and some artwork to suffer severe damage or destruction,” the complaint says, adding that crews spent more than 1,000 hours cleaning the home and disposed of 8.6 tons of ruined, water-logged paper.

Water damage is shown inside the Star of Hope, Robert Indiana’s Vinalhaven home, in May 2018. Photo included in court filing

Portland criminal defense lawyer Thomas Hallett, who is representing Thomas, called the complaint “scurrilous” and accused Brannan of repeating false information about elder abuse, fraud and financial impropriety included in the original federal lawsuit, filed by the Morgan Art Foundation.

Morgan has owned the copyright to Indiana’s “LOVE” design since 1999, and sued Indiana in federal court to protect the value of Indiana’s art and his reputation as an artist. The artist died the day after the suit was filed in federal court in New York. His estate is estimated to be worth about $77 million.

“Mr. Brannan knows the bulk of the allegations he makes to be untrue, and that’s a real problem from where I sit,” Hallett said Wednesday night. “These are lies borrowed wholesale from the complaint filed in New York, which includes all sorts of untruths. You would expect the New York counsel to be unaware of the truth, but attorney Brannan knows that what he is alleging is untrue.”

Hallett promised a fuller response to Brannan’s counterclaims later this week.

Brannan’s attorney, Sigmund D. Schutz, said Thomas violated his fiduciary responsibility by not acting in Indiana’s best interest. “With his power of attorney, he had access to more than $10 million in cash, which should have been enough to keep Indiana’s home in livable condition, clean and secure from the elements. But it wasn’t, and it’s going to cost a tremendous amount of money to restore that structure.”

Maine Preservation listed the Star of Hope as one of Maine’s most endangered historic places in 2018.

Cash that was stored in a duffel bag is displayed. Court documents allege that, after Robert Indiana’s death, his caretaker’s wife turned over a bag of cash containing $179,800 to the estate’s attorney. Other cash also was found. Photo included in court filing

The court document details patterns of cash withdrawals from Indiana’s accounts with Camden National Bank. Over five years before Thomas became Indiana’s fiduciary, Indiana signed and wrote checks, and an assistant took the checks to the bank for cash. From 2011 to 2016, Indiana withdrew a total of $38,300. After Thomas became power of attorney in 2016, he withdrew $324,010 from Indiana’s account that year, $234,000 in 2017 and $57,000 in the first five months of 2018, according to the complaint.

“Indiana had no need for large sums of cash. Nothing about his life style or living expenses has changed,” the counterclaim says. “Thomas continued to withdraw thousands of dollars in cash from Indiana’s accounts even while Indiana was in hospice care, had no conceivable need for it, and did not know what day, month, or year it was.”

The court documents also allege that, after Indiana’s death, Thomas’ wife, Yvonne, turned over a bag of cash containing $179,800 to Brannan. Art movers and assessors hired by the estate found two envelopes of cash with a total of $95,800 hidden in one of Indiana’s island properties. Of the $620,010 in cash withdrawals that Thomas made, $344,410 remains unaccounted for, Schutz said.

The Star of Hope, Robert Indiana’s home, is shown in the fall of 2018. The estate had to put wood in the windows because the glass was falling out. Photo included in court filing

The court filing also cast doubt on Thomas’ claim that Indiana had given him artwork as gifts. Thomas claimed in probate proceedings about the value of Indiana’s estate that the artist had given him at least 118 paintings, sketches, books and other items related to Indiana’s art career. Indiana rarely gave away his art “and only in small quantities and in special circumstances,” the complaint says. “Indiana had never given anyone a volume of artwork or other items remotely close to what Thomas claims Indiana gave him. Gifting more than 118 items over a short period of time, including important original artwork and irreplaceable archival materials, would have been out of character for Indiana and unprecedented.”

Schutz said Indiana’s medical condition would have prevented him from making new art after 2016. By the time Thomas became power of attorney, Indiana had ceased all art-making activities, including the conceptualization of new prints. The court filing alleges that Thomas and Michael McKenzie, who had worked independently with Indiana on art projects since 2008, created artwork without Indiana’s consent.

“Thomas worked with Michael McKenzie to conceptualize and create new Indiana artistic projects, but either did not inform Indiana about them, did not obtain Indiana’s informed consent for them, or to the extent that he ever obtained approval for any of them that occurred only because Indiana was totally dependent on Thomas and was bullied and manipulated to approve them.”

Indiana was diagnosed with cataracts in 2013, declined surgery and was “nearly blind” when he died. He used a large magnifying glass to attempt to read, and eventually he could not read at all, the document says.

Schutz has filed a request to transfer the case from Knox County to the Maine Business Court, which is part of the Maine Superior Court.

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