Did the accountant murder Patricia Cornwell's nest egg?
It's a mystery Kay Scarpetta, the fictional medical examiner and heroine of the hugely successful mystery novels written by Patricia Cornwell, would love to tackle. However, in a plot twist that Cornwell wouldn't dare to conjure up, this mystery is real.
Gone missing is the $40 million personal fortune of Cornwell and her spouse, Staci Gruber, a Harvard neuroscientist.
While Scarpetta may pursue every minute clue in an effort to find the culprit, the brainy duo of Cornwell and Gruber seem to be clueless when it comes to keeping track of their finances.
In a complaint filed in the Federal Court in Boston on October 13, the two claim that they are victims of their New York-based accounting and financial advisory firm, Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, which they hired to provide "traditional and non-traditional advisory services." Among those "non-traditional" services, the two claim the firm said it "would do everything for its clients including buying and delivering their toilet paper." At least that would have been value added.
According to the complaint, the financial management firm controlled every aspect of the financial lives of its clients and provided them with no information about their assets, liabilities, expenses or net worth. In the four and a half years in which Anchin ran the couple's finances, they allegedly lost approximately $40 million, while paying themselves almost $1 million "all without providing bills, or billing detail or back-up."
Where did the money go?
That's the remarkable part of this case. The complaint does not specify a single investment that was made by Anchin, Block & Anchin. There are some juicy tidbits about unauthorized expenses laid out in the lawsuit like a $5,000 bat mitvah gift to the daughter of a principal of Anchin "whom Ms. Cornwell has never met" and a "gift" of $11,000 to a business associate "who denies ever receiving the funds." Anchin did not return calls seeking comment by press time.
This is not Cornwell's first foray into the world of litigation. In 2000, she successfully sued an author who falsely claimed her book, The Last Precinct, copied from his obscure publication. He accused her of being "a nasty, dirty and ruthless book-burning Nazi." The Federal Court in Virginia found for Cornwell and granted her a preliminary injunction.
In this latest case, Scarpetta has her work cut out for her. Two of the brightest women in the country have no idea whether their money was invested in stocks, bonds or gold or never invested at all.
Now that is a real mystery.
Dan Solin is the author of the newly published book, The Smartest Retirement Book You'll Ever Read (Perigee Books 2009). His prior books include the New York Times bestsellers, The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read and The Smartest 401(k) Book You'll Ever Read. See SmartestInvestmentBook.com. Read more about Dan Solin.