Robert Indiana’s personal caretaker defended himself from allegations of neglect, abuse and fraud made in court documents filed this week by Indiana’s attorney, instead portraying himself as the artist’s “financial champion” and saying that Indiana’s attorney had praised him for his care of the artist in the year before his death.

Jamie Thomas, who lives on Vinalhaven, issued a three-page statement through his Portland attorney, Thomas Hallett. It’s the first significant public comment from Thomas since Indiana died at his Vinalhaven home on May 19, 2018. Thomas declined, through his attorney, an interview request Friday.

Thomas was responding to documents filed this week in Knox County Superior Court in an ongoing legal dispute between him and James Brannan, who represents Indiana’s estate. Thomas sued the estate in July for $2 million to cover his legal defense in a federal lawsuit filed a year ago by the Morgan Art Foundation, another Indiana business partner. Brannan, executor of Indiana’s estate, answered that complaint this week and accused Thomas of neglecting Indiana, stealing more than $1 million in cash, as well as art, and forcing him to live in filth as his island home deteriorated around him.

Brannan’s allegations of neglect and fraud closely mirror charges brought by Morgan in its original lawsuit.

A photo included in a statement by Robert Indiana’s caretaker, Jamie Thomas, that says it is the artist holding Thomas’ son.

Thomas has three weeks to answer the new charges in court, but took the unusual step of issuing a lengthy public statement that included personal photos suggesting Thomas and Indiana had a long-standing friendship. One photo, dated in 1996, is said to show Indiana holding Thomas’ infant son. He characterized Brannan’s complaints as “replete with statements and allegations that exhibit a dangerous, knowing and willful, disregard of the truth, painting Mr. Thomas as a villain and not the invaluable companion to Robert Indiana that he was.”

Thomas described Indiana as a “dear friend” and said the two shared an emotional and artistic bond “that transcends Mr. Indiana’s life.”

Indiana was a prominent American artist best known for his “LOVE” design. He had lived in Maine since the late 1970s, after purchasing the Star of Hope, a former Odd Fellows lodge, earlier in the decade.

Thomas said Brannan misrepresented Indiana’s health at the end of his life in his counterclaim and noted that an island nurse had visited Indiana at his home “on a number of occasions” during Indiana’s last two years. In his statement, Thomas included a copy of an email from Brannan to Thomas, dated June 10, 2017, in which Brannan commended Thomas for his care. “I hope you know that I have the utmost respect for you and your commitment to Bob. I believe he is alive today due to you,” Brannan wrote to Thomas, according to the email provided by Thomas’ attorney.

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

Brannan’s attorney, Sigmund D. Schutz, said Brannan last saw Indiana early in May 2016 when Indiana signed paperwork giving Thomas power of attorney over his affairs. Brannan had one other brief phone call with Indiana later in 2016, otherwise all of his correspondence with Indiana went through Thomas.

“Through the final two years, setting aside that one brief phone call, all communication was through Jamie Thomas. (Brannan) reached out to Jamie Thomas several times to make arrangements to visit Bob and was told by Jamie Thomas that (Indiana) wasn’t up for it,” said Schutz, who also represents the Portland Press Herald in First Amendment cases.

The email cited by Thomas is part of a longer email chain and is presented out of context, Schutz said. In the email, Brannan “is basing his understanding and viewing of the situation by what he is being told by Jamie Thomas. Based on what Jamie Thomas is telling him, Jamie Thomas was doing a superlative job.”

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

In his statement, Thomas said he provided “a clean, safe, respectful and supportive environment in which Mr. Indiana could live as expressly as he desired, in his own home surrounded by his belongings, with his cherished canine companion, Woofy, in his lap.” Further, he argued that if the allegations of neglect and abuse were true, it was Brannan’s job as Indiana’s independent counsel to expose those wrongdoings.

Representatives from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services investigated complaints about Indiana’s treatment, but did not issue findings of abuse.

Thomas also said he did not steal money or art from Indiana. He said he hired accountants to resolve “back tax issues to the tune of $4.6 million,” corrected financial discrepancies in Indiana’s books and paid to preserve art work “for generations of patrons.” He also led the effort to incorporate the Star of Hope Foundation as a legal nonprofit entity, named after Indiana’s island home. Indiana envisioned the foundation operating his home as a museum after his death.

Thomas said Brannan was aware of all the financial transactions.

“With respect to allegations of art misappropriation, Mr. Thomas can only state that each and every piece of art, or scrap of art as it may be, was personally gifted by Robert Indiana to Mr. Thomas and the gifts were confirmed by a blanket gift letter executed by Mr. Indiana in the presence of and reviewed by independent counsel, Mr. Brannan,” Thomas’ statement said.

Schutz said he would ask the court to order an inspection of that artwork. He tried to arrange a voluntary inspection, but Thomas and his legal team have declined, he said.

When pressed for details and evidence of his client’s claims, Hallett said Thomas would answer the charges forcefully in legal documents and in court. Thomas has until early September to respond to the charges. “What we’re saying we’re going to back up 100 percent. There may be a few ambiguities, but not many,” Hallett said.

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