Judge Tells Ex-Priest's Sister to Hand over Assets

By Ann McGlynn
The Quad-City Times
January 9, 2008

[See 1/8/08 Ruling ordering that property be transferred from Janssen's sister to James Wells. See also Defrocked Priest Sentenced to 180 Days in Jail, by Ann McGlynn, Quad-City Times, January 9, 2008, with links to court orders.]

A man sexually abused for years by his uncle, defrocked priest James Janssen, is entitled to $255,607 from Janssen's sister, plus her house, car and more than $112,500 in bonds and accounts in her name, a judge ruled Tuesday.

James and Dorothy Janssen must vacate the house they share at 4315 W. High St., Davenport, within 45 days and transfer its ownership to James Wells. She must transfer the title of a 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis, as well as $102,500 in bonds and $10,000 in a Treasury Direct account within 30 days.

The ruling is to help satisfy a $1.4 million verdict against Janssen for abusing Wells when he was a child. Scott County District Judge Mary Howes found James Janssen fraudulently transferred more than $700,000 in savings bonds to his sister after the first of several lawsuits against him was filed.

"It is clear from Dorothy's testimony she is not capable of believing her brother is the monster he is," Howes wrote. "She has a right to her opinion. She does not have a right to prevent Wells from collecting on his judgment."

Wells sued Dorothy Janssen after discovering the transfers.

Craig Levien, Wells' attorney, said he is "obviously satisfied the judge did the right thing."

"I credit Jim for his courage," Levien said. He represents several clergy sex abuse victims.

Michael McCarthy, Dorothy Janssen's attorney, said during the trial late last year that the bonds Dorothy Janssen cashed are hers, and hers alone, under law.

"This woman did not hide this property," McCarthy said, because it is "without question her money."

McCarthy was unsure late Tuesday whether an appeal would be filed.

A more pressing concern, he said, was ensuring Dorothy Janssen's needs are taken care of while her brother goes to jail for contempt of court for not producing $80,000 in bonds for the judgment Wells won against James Janssen. Her brother is her primary caretaker.

According to testimony at trial:

James Janssen purchased 236 U.S. Treasury bonds during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. James Janssen and Dorothy Janssen, both in their 80s, were listed as the owners.

Since both were single — he a priest and she an elementary school teacher — they held assets together so if one died, the other would have access to them.

When Levien asked Janssen where he got the money to buy the bonds, specifically whether the money came from the collection plate passed in the Clinton County churches he worked, Janssen said the money came from bequests from friends.

The siblings began cashing the bonds May 23, 2003, the day after a Quad-City Times article detailed the first of several lawsuits to be filed against the ex-priest alleging sexual abuse. Dorothy Janssen was a subscriber to the newspaper.

The cashing continued through Oct. 17, 2003. All told, the principal and interest on the bonds totaled $712,664.

James Janssen endorsed $248,876 of the bonds. Dorothy Janssen endorsed $463,788.

Before that, the Janssens had never cashed any of the bonds they held together.

Janssen was told by his attorney, Ned Wehr, to get his assets out of his name, James Janssen said.

The Janssens held onto several of the checks for long periods of time before cashing them. One, for example, was held for 1 1/2 years.

The bonds were cashed between May and October 2003 to buy a house, which was purchased in December 2004 for $176,000. James Janssen moved in immediately. Dorothy Janssen moved in nine months later.

It was the first home purchase for Dorothy Janssen, 83, who had lived in a "modest" apartment for several years.

After Wells won his verdict, a hand-written report of James Janssen's assets, filled out to help James Wells' attorneys determine what James Janssen had, indicated that he had $155,000, but that all but approximately $40 was spent. Expenditures included attorney fees to Ned Wehr, the purchase of a car and income tax.

But that figure was the interest gained from the bonds James Janssen cashed, testimony showed. It did not include the principal.

Wells hired an accountant, Gary Shapley, who analyzed James and Dorothy Janssen's financial records.

"The Janssens showed a pattern of deception in that they were trying to conceal assets from creditors," Shapley said.

Judge Howes agreed.

She assigned James Janssen 100 percent ownership to the bonds.

"It is obvious from all these actions that there is clear, convincing and substantial evidence of a fraud (that) was under way between Janssen and Dorothy to prevent Wells from getting any money. This transparent fraud was masterminded and directed by Janssen. Both Janssen and Dorothy admit that Janssen is her financial advisor. He tells her what car to buy, what house to buy, who to use to file her taxes, what money to put in what accounts, what money to give him, the list goes on and on. Janssen puts forth he has spent a lifetime providing for his sister. More like a lifetime of manipulating his sister," the judge wrote.

Ann McGlynn can be contacted at (563) 383-2336 or


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