By Ann Henson Feltgen, BrowardBulldog.org
During a 40-year career the late criminal defense attorney Joe Varon defended mobsters and other notorious figures, bragging while not all got off the hook none were executed.
Now his own family – a caregiver turned second wife and his adopted daughter – have spent two years in a messy Broward County court fight over his estate, estimated at more than $1 million.
Court records obtain by BrowardBulldog.org describe the second wife as a gold digger who took advantage of a mentally debilitated Varon and tied-the-knot with him in a Las Vegas marriage ceremony.
On the flip side of the family rancor, records paint Varon’s adopted daughter as an ungrateful child who as an adult forged a family deed on a Hollywood villa and now wants her stepmother’s money and other holdings.
Joseph A. Varon died in 2010 at 98.
Varon & Stahl, which he ran with partner Steadman Stahl, was Broward’s premier criminal defense law firm in the 1970s. Some of the county’s best known lawyers practiced there: David Bogenschutz, Eddie Kay, Harry Gulkin, Dohn Williams, Norman O’Rourke and Glenn Roderman.
As a highly sought defense lawyer, Varon used tough talk and courtroom skills to represent killers, bookies and thieves. His work left him a prominent figure in South Florida legal circles, with a client list that ranged from underworld financier Meyer Lansky and gangsters Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo and Joseph “Joe” Adonis to Fort Lauderdale’s “Catch Me Killer” Robert Erler.
Varon published a book about the Erler case in 1996.
“I’ve never lost a client to the chair,” Varon boasted years ago to then-Sun-Sentinel reporter Buddy Nevins.
Although his legal career was highlighted by Mafiosos, Varon also took up the cause of Sea Ranch Lake’s Roswell Gilbert, an aging husband who gained national headlines for shooting his ailing wife in 1985 in what he claimed was a mercy killing.
The case – which ended with a murder conviction — fueled a national debate over the legal and moral underpinnings of euthanasia.
Varon didn’t mince words, especially about juries.
“The biggest liars in the world are jurors. They want to get on a jury and they’ll say anything they think you want to hear,” he told Nevins. “They’re liars.”
THE SECOND WIFE
Angella Burke McIntyre, 53, entered Varon’s life in 2000 as a health worker assigned to the lawyer’s home to care for his first wife of 61 years, Helen. After Helen died in 2001, Varon hired her to help tend to his needs, according to court documents.
McIntyre, a Jamaican who obtained a green card in 1997, had no savings or cash other than her hourly earnings, according to papers filed in Broward Circuit Court by Varon’s daughter Viki Varon Armstrong, of Dania Beach.
The daughter, who at 55 is two years older than her stepmother, declined comment.
However, Armstrong alleged through an attorney and court records that McIntyre set her sights on Varon, first convincing the him to pay off the mortgage of her $77,000 Miramar home and ultimately controlling his life and wealth.
Records also argue that McIntyre divorced her husband, Robert Pee McIntyre, Jr., in 2003 and a year later convinced an aged and addled Varon to marry her in Las Vegas.
Likewise, Armstrong contends McIntyre unduly influenced her father to spend $600,000 on property in Florida both before and after the wedding, including a parcel in Port Charlotte, two homes in Polk County, another in Marion County, a place in North Lauderdale and a $249,000 house in St. Lucie County.
Armstrong wants the court to award her each of those properties, claiming McIntyre fraudulently purchased them.
Those properties are not part of Varon’s estate.
Armstrong is not contesting Varon’s will, which makes a 50-50 split of his estate between her and her stepmother.
Armstrong’s lawyer, Fort Lauderdale’s Ed McGee, asserts that McIntyre began looting Varon’s assets even before the wedding.
“She bought each property as a single woman [though at the time she was still married to Robert McIntyre] fraudulently using money out of [a] joint account,” between Varon and his daughter, McGee said.
In 2008, McGee said, McIntyre created a living trust that gave half ownership of the various properties to her children.
McIntyre also convinced Varon to buy her three cars, totaling an additional $100,000, McGee added.
McIntyre could not be reached for comment and her attorney, Teresa Abood Hoffman, did not return phone and e-mail messages.
DAUGHTER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Not surprisingly, paperwork filed with the court by Hoffman paints a different picture.
Armstrong, an only child adopted as an infant, allegedly visited her father only when she needed money. And after her mother died, the records contend, she forged a deed to the family’s 2,300 square foot Hollywood villa in the Emerald Hills neighborhood.
Varon allegedly discovered changes to the villa’s deed as part of a 2002 tax statement.
“He was furious that his estranged daughter had forged his name to this deed,” according to attorney Hoffman.
Varon chose not to file charges against his daughter, but felt Armstrong did not deserve any of his wealth and drafted a new deed giving the villa to McIntyre, Hoffman said.
According to court records, in 2002 Varon hand-wrote in pencil directing that his possessions should go to McIntyre, including specific furniture, art pieces, sculptures and other furnishings.
Varon went on in the letter to state that he didn’t trust his daughter and others to take care of McIntyre following his death. He cited her race as a black woman, among other reasons in the multi-page note.
“Many of my friends and family opposed my marriage because of the color of my wife,” he wrote.
Varon also allegedly said he wanted his daughter’s name stricken from all of his financial accounts.
BETRAYED OR MISPORTRAYED
McGee said his client has been misportrayed.
McGee also said McIntyre repeatedly prevented Armstrong from seeing her father by not answering the door when she tried to visit and cancelling arranged meetings.
“The door was never answered and after the guardianship, similar things took place,” McGee said. Armstrong had no contact with her father and didn’t know the state of his health, he added.
Armstrong didn’t even see him in his final days while in a Wilton Manors nursing home. However, McGee visited the aging Varon frequently and took note of his mental decline.
“In my personal opinion, he had some sort of dementia and he had short term memory problems,” McGee said.
Each time he visited, according to McGee, Varon asked if he had a warrant for his arrest or if he was from the government.
Following her father’s death, Armstrong was quoted as saying her father did not want a funeral.
Hoffman has asked Judge Mark Speiser to dismiss the case against McIntyre.
Speiser appointed a third-party guardian to oversee Varon’s welfare in 2005 at Armstrong’s request after she claims to have discovered that her father’s estate was being drained.
“After the guardianship issue Viki withdrew her name from her father’s financial accounts so that the money could be used for her father’s care,” McGee said in an interview.
Speiser ordered mediation in July of this year to sort out the dispute and determine who gets what. The matter was delayed, however, because McIntyre had recently hired Hoffman to represent her. No date is now set for mediation.
McGee said McIntyre has gone through several attorneys and each time a hearing date was set, she fired her lawyer and hired another firm.
McIntyre “is stringing this thing along,” McGee said.
In the meantime, “she has taken everything out of the [Hollywood] villa even after the judge ordered her to stop. All of [Varon’s] personal stuff in the place was supposed to be secure.”
Ann Henson Feltgen can be reached at [email protected]