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Heir sues diocese to recoup donation

At issue is the mental capacity of two people involved in a $160,000 annuity given to a church.

Published September 27, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY - Dominick DeLucie walked into an AmSouth Bank with a trusted, elderly friend in April 2000, four months before he was deemed mentally incapacitated. He liquidated a savings account, bought a $160,000 annuity and signed it over to the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Holiday.

Not until after his Aug. 9 death did his niece, Patricia Murray, discover the donation. As the representative of his estate, she sued Wednesday to recoup the money from the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

According to the family, DeLucie was suffering from dementia, depression and confusion when he made the donation.

"We're not alleging that the diocese did anything wrong. They were just the beneficiary," said Murray's attorney, Richard C. Williams Jr.

The lawsuit asks the church for an accounting of the money it has received from DeLucie's estate. It also asks the court to put the disputed donation in a trust and to prevent any more transfers of the money.

DeLucie's elderly friend is to blame, Williams said.

She is not named in the lawsuit because she was declared mentally incapacitated last year, Williams said.

The rationale behind the donation is something of a mystery to Joseph DeVito, the attorney for the diocese.

"We don't know the reason why they did that. The church is always guided by the intent of the donor. Obviously we're going to cooperate with whatever the judge says," he said.

Murray also names AmSouth bank and ING Aetna Financial Services to prevent any more money from being given to the church.

Williams said that the woman took DeLucie to a second bank, where they tried to have a second account turned over to the church. The bank refused to allow it, given DeLucie's condition.

To figure out the woman's motivation would "require a great deal of speculation," Williams said.

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