JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The case against a local attorney accused of grand theft and exploitation is alarming members of the local legal community.
"It's never a good thing when you're moving money from one place to another," say Sarah Sullivan, Associate Professor of Professional Skills at the Florida Coastal School of Law.
Sullivan says local attorneys are embarrassed and disgusted that their peer, Cynthia Nichols, is accused of scamming her elderly client, Mary Vest, out of $100,000.
Action News went to Sullivan to find out how this could happen. She says guardians are court appointed, and must follow strict rules.
"Every year, [guardians] have to go back to the court and do a fairly detailed record of accounting that talks about everything that's come in, and everything that's gone out of their clients accounts."
But in this case, Sullivan says something looks wrong.
"It sounds like there's a bunch of money moving around that did not have the courts attention."
According to Nichols arrest report, she regularly transferred small amounts of money out of Vest's account and into another clients account. From there, police say, Nichols withdrew the cash.
Sullivan practices in the same court as Nichols, and believes the checks and balances are there. She's not sure how those small transactions went unnoticed.
"If anyone is going to have an evil intention they're going to find a way around it."
Sullivan also isn't sure why Nichols allegedly hired five-time convicted felon Gina Bateh to care for her clients. Action News obtained Bateh's criminal history in Duval county, and found 93 arrests for DUI, possession, prostitution, grand theft auto and more.
Sullivan says that's a red flag, and is just one of the things people should look for to protect their own loved ones.
"ATM withdraws or big pots of cash that don't have an explanation of where they've been, that's a red flag."
Sullivan says loved ones have the right to question transactions made by guardians of their loved ones at any time.
Action News received the following statement from Richard K. Britton and Matthew H. Hinson, the attorneys representing some of the alleged victims including Mary Vest's family:
"Britton Law represents multiple clients and family members affected by the allegations and arrest of Ms. Nichols, including Tina Lourcey as successor guardian for the late Ms. Vest and Mahala Waugh as successor guardian for the late Ms. Lucas. Our clients would like to thank State Attorney Angela Corey, Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei and investigator Zipperer for their tireless efforts in pursuing justice for our clients' family members. Due to the ongoing criminal investigation, all questions regarding criminal matters are being referred to the State Attorney's office.
"With regard to any potential civil action against Ms. Nichols, our clients are continuing to evaluate their options and have not eliminated any of their legal remedies provided by law. However, due to ongoing legal proceedings, they have no further comment at this time.
"Our thoughts are with all of those affected by the allegations in these matters."
Cynthia Nichols arraignment is scheduled for May 9.
If you think you or a loved one may be a victim of exploitation, contact the DCF abuse hotline at 1-800-962-2873