EVERETT — The state Court of Appeals upheld a guilty verdict Monday for an attorney who won a client almost a million dollars in a lawsuit and then stole from him to pay off her mortgage.
Jeffrey Barrett suffered a traumatic brain injury when a drunk driver hit his vehicle in 1995 on Highway 9 a few miles north of Snohomish. He couldn’t recognize his wife and children, according to court documents. He had to relearn how to speak, walk and use the bathroom.
A year and a half later, his brother hired Helga Kahr to represent Barrett in the civil lawsuit to recover damages from the crash. Kahr ended up winning a nearly million-dollar settlement from the Lucky Seven Saloon, arguing it over-served the driver who hit Barrett. His family reportedly hoped he could live off the money. Instead, Kahr ended up stealing nearly $300,000 to pay off her mortgage. She was convicted in 2019 in King County Superior Court on two counts of theft.
Kahr was appointed Barrett’s guardian by the Snohomish County Superior Court in October 2014.
Meanwhile, Kahr was facing financial troubles. Between 2009 and 2012, she only made one mortgage payment on her home in Seattle.
At the same time, Barrett’s bank accounts had hundreds of thousands of dollars in them. Kahr needed court authorization to spend more than $3,000 but moved to get more access to the ample funds. She said in a court motion she had been “consulting with financial planners and investment advisors and (believed Barrett) would be best served by diversifying his assets into liquid savings and other investment vehicles, such as e.g., a stock index fund, mutual fund, bonds, etc.” The court unblocked the funds.
Barrett moved in with his parents after the crash, but in 2016 his mother’s health took a turn for the worse. So he moved into Kahr’s basement. Later that year, she received pre-foreclosure notices from a loan management company. The company set a foreclosure date on her house for Sept. 9, 2016. She reportedly wrote to the company that she would pay off the loan in full by Sept. 8.
Six days before the planned foreclosure auction, Kahr authorized a $280,673 wire transfer from Barrett’s bank account to the loan management company. She transferred another $2,002 for other fees a few days later. The foreclosure was cancelled. Kahr didn’t tell the court or Barrett’s family about the transfers.
Almost a year later, in August 2017, the court assigned a monitor to look into Kahr’s handling of Barrett’s finances. Kahr included the $280,673 transfer in a report to the monitor, labelling it as interest in a real estate investment trust. Asked specifically if she had benefitted financially from working with Barrett, she said she had: He was paying rent to live in her house.
Kahr said the money was invested in the real estate market, according to court documents. Barrett would pay $280,000 to own 40% of Kahr’s home. The home’s value would increase and Barrett wouldn’t have to pay rent. She said at trial that, despite Barrett’s limited cognitive state, she read him the terms and he agreed. Property records, however, didn’t show Barrett having an interest in Kahr’s house.
“Even were we to believe Kahr’s transfer of Barrett’s funds was authorized, there is no evidence of the transfer of property in consideration of those funds,” appeals court Chief Judge David Mann wrote in his opinion Monday.
In February 2018, after a new guardian was appointed who found Kahr’s wire transfers to pay off her mortgage, Kahr repaid Barrett using a $250,000 home equity credit line.
Kahr was sentenced to 18 months confinement in 2019. She argued in her appeal that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict her and that Barrett shouldn’t have been ruled competent to testify at trial.
The appeals court disagreed, affirming the original ruling.
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.