An Ontario lawyer accused of killing his husband is in a legal battle with the deceased man’s family over the murder victim’s life insurance while his criminal case proceeds.
As beneficiary of the insurance policy, Demitry Papasotiriou, who’s currently under suspension by the Law Society of Upper Canada, stands to collect about $2 million if the criminal charges related to the death of his husband, Allan Lanteigne, are dismissed. In addition, Lanteigne wasn’t in possession of a will before his death, which means his estate would normally pass to his husband, Papasotiriou.
According to Jane Martin, lawyer for Lanteigne’s mother and sister, Papasotiriou filed for his deceased husband’s insurance money before he was charged with murder and tried to compel the two insurance companies to pay out the claims. And since the couple had no children, the victim’s entire estate would pass directly to Papasotiriou and would bypass the victim’s other surviving relatives. That prompted Lanteigne’s mother and sister to seek legal action to intervene as having a financial interest in the insurance policies.
“If a person dies without a will, then the estate would go to the spouse. That’s the statutory law,” says Mary Wahbi, a trusts and estates lawyer at Basman Smith LLP.
But if Papasotiriou is convicted, Lanteigne’s insurance money and estate may not go to him. In addressing the other relatives’ application to intervene, Superior Court Master Ronald Dash noted the courts “will not permit a criminal to profit from his own crime.”
“There is a public policy rule in the common law that says a person can’t profit from their crime, so a person who is convicted of murdering someone cannot benefit from their estate,” says Charles Ticker, an estates litigation lawyer. “That’s pretty long-standing public policy that is recognized by our courts.”
In the legal dispute, however, Papasotiriou is arguing Lanteigne’s relatives shouldn’t receive any of the estate if he’s convicted. In his response to the family’s application to intervene, Papasotiriou argues all of the life insurance claims should go to the state and not the relatives should he be barred from receiving the money.
Recently, the victim’s mother, Rosaline Lanteigne, and sister, Jocelyne Sterritt, filed to become secondary beneficiaries of the estate if Papasotiriou is convicted. Together, the pair claims to have an “interest in the subject matter” of the proceeding dealing with Lanteigne’s affairs and have proposed to become interveners in the case as per rule 13.01(1) of the Insurance Act.
“The common issue is whether Demitry is entitled to the proceeds, and if not, to whom should they be paid,” wrote Dash.
According to Dash’s ruling, the victim’s mother claims she “may be adversely affected by a judgment in the actions” if her right to inherit Lanteigne’s estate is extinguished.
“They’re still deeply saddened by their son and brother’s death,” says Martin. “And their objective is to make sure that if Demitry was responsible for that death, that he doesn’t profit from that responsibility. It’s our position that if you follow those steps of logic, then Allan’s mom is the person who would be entitled under the Succession Law Reform Act.”
Papasotiriou was charged with first-degree murder in his husband’s death in November following his suspension on Sept. 10, 2012, by the law society for professional misconduct. A hearing panel suspended Papasotiriou for a four-month period for, among other things, “failing to be on guard against being duped by unscrupulous clients or associated persons in connection with purchase, sale, and mortgage transactions involving four properties.”
Lanteigne was found bludgeoned to death on March 3, 2011, after police responded to a call from 934 Ossington Ave. in Toronto. The 49-year-old victim had worked two jobs as an accounting clerk at the University of Toronto and at a catering company.
But with Papasotiriou’s criminal case ongoing, Dash has suspended the legal dispute over Lanteigne’s life
insurance until the criminal trial is finalized. In the meantime, he has granted Rosaline Lanteigne leave to intervene.
He awarded her $18,000 in costs in a decision on Jan. 2.
Although cases similar to Papasotiriou’s are rare, they aren’t uncommon. As an estates litigator, Ticker notes that cases such as these do occur “from time to time.”
In 2011, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that Ved Dhingra, a 66-year-old man who had killed his wife, wasn’t entitled to receive his wife’s life insurance. That case, however, considered the question of whether Dhingra could still get the money as he had been found not criminally responsible.
Dhingra had a history of hospitalization and suffered from schizophrenia when he killed his 58-year-old wife, Kamlesh Dhingra. The Toronto man was the only beneficiary of his wife’s estate and was awarded the life insurance money after he was ruled not criminally responsible.
However, the Ontario Superior Court thought differently when Justice Andra Pollak ruled the money should go to a court account.
The case eventually went to the Ontario Court of Appeal. On April 24, 2012, the appeal court ruled that Canadian law may enable a person found not criminally responsible to remain a primary beneficiary and allowed Dhingra to claim his former wife’s life insurance.
In Papasotiriou’s case, he claims that if he’s convicted and disqualified from inheriting the victim’s estate, Lanteigne’s relatives aren’t entitled to the victim’s life insurance regardless of “whether or not he was involved in the murder.”
For Wahbi, the question is why Papasotiriou would prefer the state to have Lanteigne’s insurance money instead of his family members. “If he freezes the estates long enough until the Crown proceeding is over, I guess he could think that maybe if he isn’t found guilty then he could benefit,” she says.
Gordon McGuire, counsel for Papasotiriou in the life insurance matter, wasn’t able to comment on the case by press time last week.