You Can't Take It With You

By dying rich, Dora Pomeranc ensured that Dade's probate court would continue to be a very lively place

As the months passed, Levinson's visits diminished in frequency, but she continued to request that the guardianship reimburse her for social outings and for her presence during nursing-home activities.

Martin Levinson also claims to have logged extensive hours taking care of Aunt Dora's legal affairs on behalf of his wife during the early days of the guardianship. Judge Newman granted him $9300 for work done in September and October 1991, the same period during which Stanley Pred A not Shirley Levinson -- was acting as guardian.

The two sisters of Shirley Levinson being represented by Yedwab have challenged the Levinsons' actions. They stress that the issue is not money, but principle. "My life won't change even if I get an inheritance," says Rose Hodges, a teacher who lives in Brooklyn and is five years older than Shirley. "But it irks me that people can go through life taking and taking and taking."

Dora and her husband Jacob Pomeranc originally specified that their estate should be divided equally among their five nieces (one of whom has since died). But a new will was drawn up by Martin Levinson only three months before Jacob passed away from lung cancer and six months before Dora was placed into a guardianship. The new document cut out Rose Hodges entirely and left Annette Birne (Shirley Levinson's youngest sister) with only ten percent. Shirley Levinson and two other sisters (one of whom was the deceased) were each left 30 percent. (Yedwab's legal challenge to the new will is pending before Judge Newman.)

Rose Hodges blames Shirley and Martin Levinson for influencing their aunt and uncle's change of heart. "Dora was mentally incompetent, and I don't believe Jacob even read the [new] will," Hodges asserts. "He was a sick old man in his late eighties, and I guess he told [the Levinsons] what he wanted and he trusted them." Court papers filed on Hodges's behalf allege that the Levinsons used "overpersuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances" in persuading the Pomerancs to revise their will. Hodges is certain that Dora and Jacob would not have intentionally disinherited her. "I'm sure my Aunt Dora loved me," she says. (Shirley Levinson has stated in court documents that her sister Rose was disinherited because Dora and Jacob were upset that she was contemplating a conversion to Catholicism.)

The five sisters grew up in the Bronx and Brooklyn, daughters of Jewish immigrants. Their father, Dora's brother, left his home in Warsaw, Poland, when he was a teenager, after the end of World War I. At about the same time, Dora and her husband Jacob fled to France, and later to Argentina and eventually to Cuba. The rest of Dora's family remained in Poland and perished in Nazi concentration camps.

Now 67 years old, Rose recalls visiting her aunt and uncle at their home in Havana near the Hotel Nacional. By day Dora managed a bed and breakfast while Jacob worked as a jewelry dealer and money lender. By night they frequented the Cuban casinos.

After Fidel Castro took power, Dora and Jacob moved to Miami. They saw their nieces every few months, traveling to Long Island to visit Marion Mishelow, their favorite of the five girls. (Evelyn, the oldest, also lived on Long Island.) Together with Martin Levinson, who had advised Jacob on legal affairs, Marion Mishelow was appointed the personal representative of the couple's estate. Her death in 1993 left Martin the sole representative of the couple's revised will.

Although the Levinsons lived closest to Dora and Jacob for most of their life in Florida, Shirley Levinson rarely saw her aunt except for Jewish holidays and occasional day trips to Bahamian casinos. "I wasn't involved in their life," she acknowledged in a sworn deposition. "I had my own friends. I didn't . . . socialize with them. When they wanted to go to Freeport, we went."

Levinson's emotional distance from her aunt has stoked Rose Hodges and Annette Birne's suspicion about their sister's enthusiastic embrace of Dora's financial affairs. In court documents, the sisters identify a series of transactions made by the Levinsons that they allege constitute evidence the couple was trying to "embezzle" money from their aunt's estate. Among them:

A $60,200 trust opened by Jacob Pomeranc, naming Martin Levinson as beneficiary, in March 1991, two months before the new wills were signed and about six months before Jacob died. (Although Levinson subsequently inherited the money, he has insisted in a deposition that the trust was not a gift but merely a "testamentary transfer" of funds.

A $30,000 withdrawal made by Shirley Levinson from the guardianship expense account in June 1993, which was then deposited into an account in Shirley's name, over which Martin had power of attorney. (The money was redeposited in the guardianship account in January 1995 after Yedwab began challenging the accounts.)

Several small refund checks (including a $1500 room refund from the Palace after Dora died and a $2000 life-insurance refund) that were not deposited in the guardianship account until the spring of 1995, more than seven months after they had originally been issued and cashed.

A $5000 advance payment to Martin Levinson from the guardianship account made June 21, 1994, the day before Dora died. Sam Smith, the Levinsons' attorney, describes the payment as a "retainer" for legal work that Martin Levinson might have had to bill to the estate following Dora's death. In response to Yedwab's protests, the amount was redeposited in the guardianship account on February 16, 1995.

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