Probate Lawyers Face Problem in Handling of Christensen Will

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Times Staff Writer

Lawyers probating the last will of Duayne D. Christensen, the late owner of the failed North America Savings & Loan Assn., are having a problem finding a capable independent administrator to oversee his estate.

The problem: There may not be any money in the estate to pay an administrator.

The concern may seem unusual considering that federal regulators have accused him and his confidante, Janet F. McKinzie, of defrauding his Santa Ana institution of more than $20 million.

But the lawyers and Douglas County District Court Judge David R. Gamble, who is overseeing the probate, are worried.


“Nobody knows if there is any money in the estate,” Gamble said Thursday. “There appears to be a concern about whether there are any assets in Nevada--or even in California, for that matter.”

He said the lawyers are looking for a qualified administrator who would not need to be paid up front. The lawyers also are checking with their clients--primarily McKinzie, Christensen’s children, who are challenging the will, and the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., which is operating the S&L--to; see if the clients will pay for an administrator, he said.

McKinzie and Christensen’s estate are facing a growing number of lawsuits and their affairs are the subject of fraud and embezzlement probes by the FBI and the state attorney general’s office.

Still, company records and assets have not been easy to find.

For one thing, investigators have alleged in lawsuits that Christensen built a complicated empire, partly on phony documents attesting to his wealth, and spread his investments throughout the West and into such foreign countries as Mexico, Panama and Saudi Arabia.

For another, according to lawsuits and acquaintances of the pair, Christensen and McKinzie liked living the grand life style, especially when they could get North America Savings to foot the bill.

Last year alone, according to the FSLIC’s lawsuit, the S&L; paid $129,193 in credit card expenses incurred by McKinzie. North America Savings also is said to have paid $151,481 for Christensen and McKinzie to take 27 separate trips on privately chartered Lear jets and paid $61,097 to McKinzie’s Plaza Group, a mortgage company in Elk Grove, mainly for entertainment expenses. Included in those entertainment expenses was $23,000 for a single party, according to a FSLIC lawsuit against McKinzie, her company and Christensen’s estate.


Other Payments

Those expenses were in addition to payments of $1.75 million to Plaza Group and McKinzie as an advance commission and $434,000 to McKinzie for unknown expenses, according to the suit. The suit accuses McKinzie of fraud in misappropriating more than $21 million from the S&L; through her company and in trying to cover up her activities with, among other things, $11 million in fake certificates of deposits.

One investigator said in an interview that the expenses--including reports of Neiman Marcus department store bills as high as $500,000 for such amenities as a $35,000 crystal sculpture and an $80,000 fur coat--”barely scratch the surface” of the money the pair spent.

“They lived well,” the investigator said.

Jerry Graham of Sacramento, McKinzie’s lawyer, has denied the FSLIC allegations against his client. McKinzie, he said, “is a victim every bit as much as the S&L; and the others are” and “had no idea” about Christensen’s allegedly fraudulent activities.

Christensen died early Jan. 16 when his speeding Jaguar slammed into a bridge support off the Corona del Mar Freeway. State regulators seized North America Savings about 9 1/2 hours later. The FSLIC put it into receivership on Jan. 23.

Since the initial takeover, regulators have alleged that they found a pattern of falsified records, forged documents, improper payments and violations of state and federal banking laws that amount to what one state regulator called the “most massive fraud” he had ever seen at an S&L.;

Other Action

Two of Christensen’s three children sued McKinzie on Feb. 5, seeking to dissolve a trust their father set up to hold nearly all of his assets. They claim McKinzie exercised fraud, duress, deceit and undue influence over their father in the creation of his will and the trust, both of which were created three days before his death. Christensen also had purchased a $10-million life insurance policy with McKinzie as the beneficiary. Neither McKinzie nor her attorney could be reached to respond to the allegations.


McKinzie is named as the executor and sole beneficiary of the will, trustee and sole beneficiary of the trust and sole owner and beneficiary of the insurance policy.