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War medals case leads to fraud charge.

Byline: Dianne Williamson

COLUMN: DIANNE WILLIAMSON

I suspect that certain family members of the late Paul W. Ford have a breathtaking lack of respect for their dead parents.

You may recall my columns last month about a local veteran whose war medals - carefully mounted in a glass case, along with his Army photo and personal history - ended up at a yard sale in Fayetteville, N.C. Ford's treasured memorabilia was bought for a buck by a war buff, who wanted to return it to Ford's family. So the war buff contacted a newspaper columnist in Fayetteville, and the columnist contacted me, and the search was on for Ford's descendants.

Sometimes these stories have a heartwarming ending, sometimes not. During our e-mail correspondence, I asked columnist Myron Pitts of Fayetteville what we'd do if we learned that the case was deliberately abandoned or sold by Ford's kids. Wouldn't we be putting them on the spot if we publicly shame them into retrieving memorabilia they tried to ditch?

Yes. But we decided we'd lose no sleep over it.

During our search, we learned that one of Ford's daughters, Rita Ford Downey, had moved to Fayetteville some years ago with her husband, William J. Downey Jr. I found Rita's husband online through his "business" website, in which he described himself as an "experienced adviser in administrative & corporate law."

As I would write in my column, that's when the story got "fuzzy." Which is a journalist's euphemism for, "I could tell these people were fibbing when their lips moved."

First, it wasn't like the Downeys broke their legs running to retrieve the memorabilia. After a brief e-mail exchange, they made themselves scarce. When I finally got them on the phone, they said they had been living in a hotel in Fayetteville after being "illegally evicted" from their apartment. Their adult son, Patrick, said the family was given "seven minutes" to collect their belongings. Rita told me that her father's case had been left behind, along with her fine China, silver and wedding albums.

"We pretty much lost everything," Patrick told me. Yet, in the spirit of Steinbeck's Joad clan, the Downeys were headed back to Worcester to make a new life for themselves. Along the way, they stopped and retrieved Ford's case.

That was pretty much the end of the story. But here's the thing I didn't know: The same time I was searching for the Downeys, William Downey was being indicted by a Worcester County grand jury for fraud and larceny.

According to a police report by Detective Thomas Looney, Downey had been collecting his mother's city pension every month - even though she died in 2007 - by forging the dead woman's signature on benefit verification cards.

Downey was indicted Sept. 24 and due to be arraigned yesterday in Worcester Superior Court, but he failed to show up and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. This week, he didn't return phone calls and e-mails.

According to the police report, June Downey had been receiving a city pension of $1,289 a month from her late husband, John H. Downey, who had been employed by the Department of Public Works. Then, three months after June Downey died, her son sent the city a change of address form for his mother to his address in Fayetteville. As he continued to forge her signature on benefit cards, her pension was deposited into their joint account, police said.

On April 10, Betsy Early, executive secretary of the city's Retirement Board, contacted Downey and said she learned that his mother had died in 2007, so presumably had little use of a pension.

"Downey assured Ms. Early that his mother was alive and well, however she had recently taken ill and was in the hospital but was expected to be discharged shortly," according to the police report. "Downey stated that he would have his mother contact Ms. Early as soon as she was feeling better to clear up the misunderstanding."

Which would have been a neat trick if he could pull it off. But on April 13, when Ms. Early tried again to contact Downey, his voice mail said he was out of town on a "family emergency." That same day, Downey had his mother's ashes interred at St. John's Cemetery, police said. In all, William Downey allegedly bilked the system of $49,174.

"William Downey has a website where he claims to be an attorney in North Carolina," Looney ended his report. "But a check has revealed that he is not a member of the N.C. bar and the law school where he claimed to have graduated from, St. George School of Law in San Francisco, does not exist."

We can only hope that the recovery of the family's treasured memorabilia will serve to comfort the Downeys in their time of stress.

Contact Dianne Williamson via e-mail at dwilliamson@telegram.com
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 14, 2010
Words:815
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