A Payson doctor and his wife, both indicted for unlawfully taking control of assets belonging to a hospice patient, are expected to plead not guilty at an arraignment hearing next week.
A Gila County grand jury indicted Dr. Michael Lowe and Heather Driscoll-Lowe on Oct. 27 on charges of theft from a vulnerable adult. Both will enter pleas at 9 a.m., Monday, Nov. 22 in a Payson courtroom.
Both are presumed innocent until proven guilty, said Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores.
Dr. Lowe’s attorney Elizabeth Flynn said she has not seen the county’s evidence yet, but much of what has been written from police reports about Dr. Lowe is inaccurate.
Flynn said she would give a full statement on her client’s behalf once she had reviewed the evidence.
The Lowes are currently not in custody and Dr. Lowe’s medical license is still active.
The indictments allege that the Lowes unlawfully acquired Alicia Christopherson’s assets, including at least $500,000 in financial investments, soon after she passed in October of 2004.
Before she died, Christopherson allegedly signed all of her assets over to Dr. Lowe, her attending physician for several years, including while she received aid from hospice.
Dr. Lowe told investigators that he had nothing to do with Christopherson changing her trust; it was something she had done on her own.
It remains unclear from police reports if Christopherson was in a mental state to alter her trust, given an undisclosed medical condition.
In the last uncontested version of her will, Christopherson said she wanted the money to go to hospice, according to a police report from PPD Det. Michael McAnerny.
The police report does not specify what became of the $500,000 once Dr. Lowe got control.
News of Christopherson’s death did not reach her step-grandson, Roger Wolfman, and one-time beneficiary until five years later.
In March of 2010, Wolfman contacted the PPD reporting fraud on Christopherson’s trust. Wolfman told McAnerny that he believes Dr. Lowe presented a forged and fraudulent amendment document to the bank and title company and transferred Christopherson’s assets to his own trust.
He also alleges Christopherson was not competent to modify her living trust because she had a medical condition.
Any mention of Christopherson’s condition is blacked out in the police report for confidentiality.
McAnerny asked Wolfman’s wife why it had taken them more than five years to learn of Christopherson’s death.
Wolfman’s wife explained Roger had a relationship with Christopherson, but they had not spoken in many years.
As McAnerny sifted through piles of paperwork, he studied Christopherson’s trust, which had several amendments.
While the trust originally left everything to Wolfman, it was changed several times subsequently. Christopherson wrote Wolfman out of the trust in 1996.
Ultimately the last unchallenged trust said everything should be under the care of one woman, who was to liquidate her estate and donate it to RTA Hospice.
Christopherson signed this amendment in November of 2000, according to the police report.
A sixth amendment to her trust, signed by Christopherson in 2003, states Dr. Lowe should receive all accumulated income. However, this signature was never notarized.
It was not until 2004, that Christopherson reportedly resigned the will, reaffirming her wishes to leave everything to Dr. Lowe, according to the police report.
However, McAnerny wrote in the police report that Christopherson was not of sound mind when she resigned the document because of an existing condition.
A hospice employee told McAnerny that Dr. Lowe spent a lot of his off time with Christopherson, drinking brandy with her and having his children and wife over at her home, according to the police report.
While it is not specifically stated in hospice’s policy that a doctor cannot have a personal relationship with a client, it does state staff will not take money or gifts from patients. Dr. Lowe signed this agreement at the time of his employment.
Dr. Lowe became Christopherson’s benefactor on Aug. 5, 2004, two weeks after being admitted into hospice home care. However, Dr. Lowe had known Christopherson since 2000, well before he treated her under hospice.
Christopherson died Oct. 31, 2004 in her home.
On the day of her death, McAnerny found financial records indicating Dr. Lowe filed a death claim for $126,000 in an ING account belonging to Christopherson.
“Dr. Lowe obviously knew what policies Alicia Christopherson had prior to her death because he found this and made the claim the day of her death,” McAnerny wrote.
When McAnerny attempted to gather all of Christopherson’s medical records, hospice staff told him they only had some of her records. Christopherson’s prognosis records would be with Dr. Lowe, since he was her primary care physician.
When McAnerny asked Dr. Lowe for paper copies of Christopherson’s medical records, Dr. Lowe said he did not have any of them since he had gone to an electronic system.
Additionally, the majority of Christopherson’s electronic medical records were lost when a company that stores medical records had a system failure.
When police later searched the Lowes’ home, investigators found a yellow folder in Dr. Lowe’s desk with paperwork on several clients. Paperwork included information on three home visits with Christopherson.
“If there were these paper records, Dr. Lowe’s comments to me about him being completely paperless was inaccurate,” McAnerny wrote in the police report. “I believe even more strongly that Dr. Lowe had either lost or destroyed Alicia Christopherson’s records because it could have shown her diagnosis and her mental condition.”