Printed on: March 24, 2013

Long gone

Former Rigby councilman leaves area under scrutiny

By Zach Kyle
zkyle@postregister.com

RIGBY -- Few Rigby public figures carried the stature of former City Council President Lawrence Blackburn.

Well-dressed and with a warm smile, Blackburn served seven years on the council, winning a second term in 2009. He also served on the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Traffic Committee and headed a private investment company, Lantech Financial.

Darwin Dinsdale, who served on the council with Blackburn in 2006 and 2007, said his former neighbor and colleague was known as a pillar of the community: a down-to-earth, church-going father of four and dedicated civil servant.

Dinsdale was shocked when he read the file for a lawsuit against Blackburn accusing Blackburn of using the accounts of Lantech client Margaret Orvick as a personal piggybank.

Orvick was 91 when she died in 2011.

"I never knew he was that much of a crook," Dinsdale said. "He was a very smooth talker."

District Court Judge Gregory Moeller awarded $30,000 to Orvick's daughter and primary estate beneficiary, Marie Starr Orvick, in a stipulated judgment issued Oct. 11, 2012.

Less than five months after the lawsuit became public, Blackburn resigned his council post and abruptly moved out of state. He told the council he was moving to Texas for a new job.

Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful and his cellphone is disconnected.

Dinsdale, who lives in Blackburn's former neighborhood, said Blackburn left town within a day or two of resigning his council seat.

New residents recently moved into the home where Blackburn lived, Dinsdale said, but he hasn't met them.

Court documents include a deposition in which Blackburn admits using Margaret Orvick's accounts for personal expenses, including utility bills, Red Box DVD rentals, hotel rooms in Kentucky, Nevada and California, and withdrawing cash.

He also admitted identifying himself as her son in estate paperwork and naming three of his children as beneficiaries of her estate.

Each child received $5,000 from her estate after her death.

"I couldn't believe my eyes," Dinsdale said. "I sit down there in the courthouse and start thumbing through it and thought, 'Holy cow.' If this guy was put into any kind of court over this and prosecuted, he'd be convicted overnight."

Blackburn hasn't paid a dime of the $30,000, said Starr Orvick, 50, who lives in Oklahoma.

Councilman Ryan Day said he confronted Blackburn after reading about the Orvick lawsuit in the newspaper.

"He basically said it was technical issues he got in trouble for," Day said. "I asked him to think about resigning."

Blackburn's lawsuit wasn't discussed at City Hall, according to Councilman Michael Maloney, who said he was surprised by Blackburn's sudden departure.

Blackburn told the council he was resigning Feb. 5. The resignation was effective the following day.

"I was concerned about what I read in the paper, no doubt about it, but I decided to see how the whole thing played out," Maloney said. "I've always taken what I read with a grain of salt. I was concerned, but I held my judgment in reserve."

Efforts to reach Mayor Keith Smith for comment were unsuccessful.

After investigating Blackburn, the Idaho Department of Insurance fined him $3,000 and revoked his insurance license.

Additionally, Blackburn was sued successfully three times since the Orvick lawsuit for unrelated debts and ordered to pay a total of $9,521.30.

Some Rigby residents still trust Blackburn, Dinsdale said, and sympathize with him for the scrutiny he's received in newspapers and around town.

But Dinsdale and others wonder why Blackburn never was prosecuted.

They also wonder why Jefferson County Prosecutor Robin Dunn represented Blackburn during the lawsuit.

Law enforcement agencies knew about the lawsuit.

Starr Orvick marched into the office of former Rigby Police Chief Larry Anderson with a stack of account documents under her arm and the hope that a criminal investigation would follow.

Starr Orvick said her calls and messages to Anderson went unanswered. When she finally did reach Anderson, she said she was uninspired by his response: "Those are some pretty serious allegations, little miss."

Police Chief Keith Hammon declined to comment on Blackburn.

Dunn wears many hats. He's the attorney for Jefferson County, the Planning and Zoning Commission and five cities, including Rigby. He's also the county prosecutor and maintains a private practice.

Day questioned whether Dunn's representation of Blackburn was a conflict of interest.

"Whether this is a legal conflict or not, I think it was inappropriate for our city attorney to represent a councilman," Day said.

Dunn said it's common for part-time prosecutors in rural Idaho communities to work on both the government and private sides of law.

"I don't see (representing Blackburn) as a problem, but I see how the layperson might not understand the various duties and responsibilities we have," Dunn said. "As such, it might be -- and I stress the word might -- be appropriate to do less work for people involved within the county and municipal government or other agencies."

When details emerged suggesting law enforcement could get involved, Dunn said the Department of Insurance looked into the matter and transferred it to the Idaho Attorney General's Office.

Attorney General spokesman Bob Cooper confirmed the referral but said he neither could confirm nor deny that an investigation was undertaken or remains in progress.

Dinsdale and others are unhappy that no charges have been filed.

"Lawrence should have been prosecuted," Dinsdale said. "We think it's a conflict of interest for Dunn to even be supporting him at all."

Back in Oklahoma, Starr Orvick said she's abandoned hope that she'll hear from Blackburn, let alone receive payment.

During Blackburn's final council meeting, the mayor awarded him a certificate of appreciation for his years of service.

Following the presentation, Blackburn made a statement that was reported in the Jefferson Star:

"I guess my biggest desire is to leave something that was positive in this community, and that's what I hope that I've been able to accomplish," he said.

Blackburn left town days later, possibly for Texas.

Zach Kyle can be reached at 542-6746.

Deposition excerpts

The following excerpts are from a Feb. 3, 2012, interview of Lawrence Blackburn as part of his deposition for the lawsuit filed by Marie Starr Orvick.

The excerpts regard the bank accounts, trust and will of Margaret Orvick, Starr Orvick's mother and a client of Blackburn and Lantech Financial. Margaret died Feb. 25, 2011.

The interview was conducted by plaintiff attorney Charles Cather in the office of Robin Dunn, who represented Blackburn in the suit.

A district judge ordered Blackburn pay $30,000 to Starr Orvick for mishandling her mother's estate.

Q: Did you indicate on the (annuity) application that you were Margaret's son?

Blackburn: I did.

Q: I presume you're not her son?

Blackburn: I'm not.

Q: Then why did you do that?

Blackburn: You know, that was a surprise to me ...

... When they said that I was named as the beneficiary on that, I had no knowledge of that until when I saw the application. It was in my -- it was in my handwriting. I wrote it out.

Q: On the 11th it's showing a withdrawal for $5,000?

Blackburn: Uh-huh.

Q: What was that for?

Blackburn: That was partial payment on that beneficial interest to three of my kids.

Q: And the 14th, another $10,000?

Blackburn: Right, for the other two.

More deposition excerpts

The following excerpts are from a Feb. 3, 2012, interview of Lawrence Blackburn as part of his deposition for the lawsuit filed by Marie Starr Orvick.

Q: Okay. And you indicated you also listed yourself as the beneficiary; is that correct?

Blackburn: Yes.

Q: Did naming yourself as the beneficiary of the Allianz policy violate any rules or regulations?

Robin Dunn: Objection. That calls for a legal conclusion.

Q: Okay. Did it violate Allianz's regulations?

Blackburn: Yes.

Q: Okay. So this Rocky Mountain Power bill was for your home?

Blackburn: Yes.

Q: So rather than amend the trust, you just pulled out a page and inserted another page. Is that correct?

Blackburn: Yes.

Q: Was the signature to this page witnessed by anyone?

Blackburn: I don't remember.

Q: Okay. On the 27th there's also -- there's another charge, an ATM withdrawal, $202.50 in Danville, Kentucky. Was that related to the estate?

Blackburn: No.

Q: Okay. On the 28th there's another charge, Royal Inn Express, Liberty, Kentucky, for $150. What was that for?

Blackburn: Hotel. Unrelated.

Q: Unrelated to the estate. Okay. On the 28th there's another Redbox rental in Illinois. Was that also unrelated?

Blackburn: Yes.

Q: On the 29th it shows a charge for $58 at the Red Roof Inn, Bowling Green, Kentucky. Was that also unrelated to the estate?

Blackburn: Yes.

Q: On the 4th there's another payment to Rocky Mountain Power for $292.80. Was that for your personal power bill?

Blackburn: It was.

Q: Okay. On the 18th I see a payment for $48.11. Do you see that?

Blackburn: Uh-huh. I do.

Q: Payable to Dish Network?

Blackburn: Right.

Q: Was that for your --

Blackburn: That is.

Q: -- satellite bill?

Blackburn: Yes.