Thursday, June 15, 2006

MELVIN AND HOWARD AND STUART

A lawyer I've known for nearly 20 years is representing Melvin Dummar in his new effort to win part of Howard Hughes' estate. Below is my quick account of the case in today's New Mexican. And here's a story that appeared in The Wall Street Journal. CLICK HERE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 15, 2006



No, it’s not a remake of the 1980 movie Melvin and Howard. It’s real life.

A New Mexico lawyer, who used to practice in Santa Fe, is representing the Utah man who inspired that film in a new effort to win part of the late billionaire Howard Hughes’ fortune — $156 million.

Stuart Stein said Wednesday that new evidence has emerged to justify a new claim by Melvin Dummar.

Dummar, 61, contends that in 1967 he picked up a bloody and haggard man on a lonely Nevada road. The man, Dummar says, identified himself as Hughes. Dummar said he agreed to drive him to Las Vegas.

Dummar, a former gas station operator, originally made the claim following the eccentric billionaire’s death in 1976. In 1978 a jury in a Nevada probate court case determined that an alleged Hughes will, which named Dummar as a beneficiary, was not admissible in court.

The new lawsuit was filed this week in federal court. Dummar claims William Rice Lummis, a cousin of Hughes, and former Hughes executive Frank William Gay got witnesses to lie when they said Hughes never left the suite at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas, where the reclusive Hughes laid low for years.

The new suit cites new evidence uncovered by Gary Magnesen, a former FBI agent who wrote a book about Dummar's claim. In The Investigation, Magnesen said he spoke with Hughes' former pilot, Robert Deiro, who confirmed taking his boss to the Cottontail Ranch brothel at Lida Junction, Nev.

According to the new lawsuit, Deiro was sworn to secrecy while working for Hughes. But recently he came forward and said he took Hughes to the brothel one night late in December 1967. The pilot said he fell asleep and couldn't find Hughes after he woke up.

Dummar claims he found Hughes t when he pulled off on a dirt road to relieve himself. After refusing medical help, Dummar said the stranger asked for a lift to Las Vegas and Dummar took him there, dropping him off behind the Sands Hotel and giving him some pocket change.

"On the way to Las Vegas, he told me who he was, but I didn't believe him. I thought he was just a bum or a prospector or something, and I didn't really believe that he was Howard Hughes," Dummar said at a press conference in Salt Lake City this week.

Dummar said he did come to believe it was Hughes, and that about eight years later a handwritten will leaving him 1/16th of Hughes' estate was delivered to his gas station.

The pilot, Stein said, claims that Hughes frequented the services of a prostitute named “Sunny,” who was known for having a diamond inset in one of her teeth. The pilot claims he transported Hughes to the Cottontail Ranch and another brothel to enjoy the company of “Sunny,” Stein said.

Stein has set up a toll-free number for anyone with information on the prostitute or other aspects of the case. That number is 877-460-0100.

“I spoke to one of the jurors in the original case,” Stein said. “He said that had he known that Hughes frequently left the hotel, he might have decided the other way.”

Stein said he was retained after he interviewed author Magnesen on his radio show earlier this year. Stein has a weekly show about estate planning on KKOB AM that airs 7 am Saturdays.

Another Santa Fe connection to the Dummar suit, Stein said, is a local woman who once worked for Hughes and was acquainted with Hughes. The woman, who Stein declined to name, is a possible witness, he said.

Stein perhaps is best known locally for representing former Municipal Judge Tom Fiorina during his investigations by the state Judicial Standards Commission in the 1990s. He now lives in Albuquerque.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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