Indiana estate claims caregiver lined pockets at artist's expense

By Stephen Betts | Aug 15, 2019
The Star of Hope on Vinalhaven.

Vinalhaven — The former caretaker of the late world-renowned artist Robert Indiana lined his pockets to the tune of $1.1 million over an 18-month period as the elderly artist lived in squalor and filth.

Those are claims made the attorney for the estate of Indiana, who died May 19, 2018, at the age of 89 from heart problems at his home, named Star of Hope, on the Penobscot Bay island of Vinalhaven.

Indiana's death has spurred legal battles between several parties both in Maine and New York City over the estate valued at $60 million.

On Wednesday, Aug. 14, lawyers for attorney James Brannan, who represents Indiana's estate, filed a counterclaim in the Knox County court to a lawsuit filed June 28 by former caretaker Jamie L. Thomas of Vinalhaven. Thomas went to court to have the estate cover his legal fees, which he said had reached $2 million.

The estate is fighting that effort.

"Thomas portrays himself as a selfless caregiver who surrendered his private life to protect Indiana’s financial and physical well-being. He claims to have been an unparalleled caregiver, and Indiana’s financial defender and gatekeeper, acting solely in the interest of Indiana. But nothing could be further from the truth," according to the response filed by the estate.

"In fact, Thomas acted in his own self-interest: to improperly line his own pockets to the tune of approximately $1.1 million over an 18-month period; to improperly secure funds, for his personal use from Indiana’s checking account; to remove, and claim as gifts, more than one hundred pieces of art, many of which are original Indiana works; to create and sell works of art, attributed to Indiana, to allow Indiana to live in squalor and filth despite his ample wealth; and to otherwise act in his own interest rather than the interest of his principal, Indiana."

Thomas has previously denied such allegations.

Indiana's will -- signed by Indiana in May 2016 -- left nearly his entire $60 million estate to support the not-for-profit organization Star of Hope Inc., which will turn his home and studio into a museum. Thomas is to run the museum, according to the will.

The counterclaim filed Aug. 14 detailed increasing payments made by Indiana to Thomas. The estate contends that by the time of Indiana’s death, the home where Indiana lived to the end of his days with millions of dollars of artwork was littered with animal feces and urine. Portions of it had become uninhabitable because of water intrusion, deteriorated plaster and rotting wood, mold and the stench of cat urine.

A federal lawsuit filed by Morgan Art Foundation in New York May 18, 2018 -- the day before Indiana died -- accuses Thomas of Vinalhaven and Michael McKenzie of isolating and exploiting Indiana, forging his art and exhibiting some of it in museums.

Thomas has been defending those claims and incurring legal costs.

In May 2019, Brannan filed paperwork in court notifying Morgan Art Foundation Ltd. and Simon Salama-Caro that all their agreements with Indiana were terminated, and that Morgan was no longer authorized to reproduce any works based on images of Indiana’s art, including his “LOVE” design.

The estate also has informed American Image Art and McKenzie that their agreements with Indiana were terminated, and that they were no longer authorized to reproduce works based on images of Indiana’s art , including his “HOPE ” design.

Those efforts are being challenged in the federal lawsuit in New York City,

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