Man claims fraud in Farmington estate fight

Warren Mallen claims in a lawsuit filed Aug. 20 that Mary Ann Barnett took advantage of his dying aunt by abusing the state's power of attorney laws.

Steve Garrison
The home of the late Marilyn Mallen is pictured Tuesday on Chaco Avenue in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — A woman and her son were accused in a lawsuit last month of defrauding the estate of a deceased Farmington woman.

Marilyn Mallen died at age 89 at her Farmington residence on March 8, according to court records.

Before her death, Marilyn Mallen signed over power of attorney to her longtime friend, Mary Ann Barnett, records state.

Mallen’s nephew now claims that Barnett betrayed her friend in the days before her death.

Warren Mallen, the nephew, alleges in a lawsuit filed in Aztec district court on Aug. 20 that Barnett gifted Marilyn Mallen’s house to her son four days before the 89-year-old woman’s death.

Warren Mallen states in the lawsuit Barnett violated New Mexico laws by transferring ownership of the home without explicit approval.

He further claims she took advantage of the dying woman, according to the lawsuit.

“She saw an opportunity, and she took advantage of it,” Warren Mallen said Tuesday, adding later. “Basically, we are talking about theft here.”

Mary Ann Barnett and her son, Blake Barnett, denied the allegations in a response filed last week and filed a countersuit, claiming Warren Mallen seized a vehicle that rightly belongs to Mary Ann Barnett.

Blake Barnett said Tuesday his mother was Marilyn Mallen’s friend for 60 years and was her personal caretaker for the last five years.

“They were as close as sisters,” Blake Barnett said.

Blake Barnett said about a year before she died, Marilyn Mallen gave power of attorney to Mary Ann Barnett specifically so she could take possession of the house and give it to her disabled son, Bryan Barnett.

Asked why Marilyn Mallen’s will does not reflect that desire, Blake Barnett said they did not find the time to do it.

“You have to understand, when you take care of somebody, it’s a 24-hour job, and by the time they got around to it, she didn’t have the sound mind and body to do it anymore,” he said.

Blake Barnett said his mother was a local elementary school teacher for 30 years and is highly respected in Farmington.

“I can’t believe anyone would be this callous, to go after our reputation,” he said.

Warren Mallen said he believed Blake Barnett and his mother felt entitled to the property, because they took care of Marilyn Mallen.

Warren Mallen said he is the sole beneficiary named in his aunt’s will and will pursue criminal charges if the property is not returned to him.

The residence, located at 1228 N. Chaco Ave. in Farmington, is valued at $120,000, according to the lawsuit.

Warren Mallen claims in the lawsuit that Mary Ann Barnett and Blake Barnett are guilty of breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, undue influence and embezzlement.

He is requesting the property be returned to his aunt's estate and seeks unspecified damages.

Both Warren Mallen and Blake Barnett said their families had an amicable relationship before the dispute.

“I don't want to do this stuff,” Warren Mallen said. “I really don't. I have always cared about Mary Ann. I still do. And Blake has never done anything like this before. We've always had a good relationship.”

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.