Philly Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci is being sued over a family will dispute involving his late son’s estate

Philadelphia Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci

Philadelphia Register of Wills and South Philly-based 26th Ward Democratic leader Ronald Donatucci is being sued in federal court by Meghan Klein, the fiancée of Donatucci’s deceased son Michael, partially for “gross abuse of power” after allegedly trying to “remove Meghan as Executrix” of Michael’s will “and to strong arm her into surrendering primarily her inherited real estate interests” from Michael.

According to the lawsuit, Donatucci, along with his two sons Michael, who committed suicide in July 2016, and Ronald Jr., were partners in numerous commercial real estate projects in the city through limited liability companies and other business entities. The lawsuit alleges that Klein, along with Michael’s mother, Debra Foglietta – who is also Donatucci’s ex-wife – inherited Michael’s minority interests in those properties in his will. The lawsuit states that, according to the will, Klein was slated to receive 75 percent of his estate, while Foglietta was set to receive the remaining 25 percent. Donatucci then allegedly tried to hide the will from Klein.

“Because of his long-standing position, Donatucci has enormous political power in the Philadelphia legal community,” the lawsuit reads. “From the moment of Michael’s passing, Donatucci directed official actors to doing his bidding so that he could obtain a personal advantage with regard to his business dealings with Michael – a classic abuse of power.”

The lawsuit states that in the hours after Michael’s suicide, “Donatucci directed the removal and replacement of police officers of the Philadelphia Police Department who were investigating Michael’s death at the apartment…with police officers friendly to Donatucci.”

The apartment is located in the Queen Village neighborhood of South Philadelphia.

According to the lawsuit, Donatucci and city employees allegedly removed Michael and Klein’s belongings from their home, including Michael’s cell phone and his “Tumi bag,” which contained Michael’s will.

“Of course,” the lawsuit says, “Donatucci did not want Meghan to see the Will which appointed her Executrix and made her the principal beneficiary of Michael’s Estate.”

According to the lawsuit, Klein found out that she was appointed executrix and principal beneficiary only because of the help of an email application called Boomerang. Michael was able to type up an email informing Klein that his will was in his Tumi bag before his death, but he scheduled the email to not be sent until three days after his death.

“It was not until after this email was received by Donatucci that he returned the original Will to the apartment,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit states that Donatucci promised to give Michael’s cell phone back to Klein many times, but did so only recently after two court orders dated June 12, 2018 and Dec. 13, 2018. However, Klein is worried that Donatucci may have tampered with the data. Prior to handing over the cell phone to Klein, the lawsuit states, Donatucci left the cell phone in the possession of a city employee.

“The cell phone and various accounts were searched by [the employee] at Donatucci’s direction,” the lawsuit says, “and the passwords to Michael’s email accounts were changed by Donatucci, preventing Meghan from accessing the accounts.”

Because Klein was also deemed the executrix of Michael’s digital assets, the lawsuit alleges, “Nothing that was in Michael’s possession should have been handled and possessed by

anyone other than Meghan…As an attorney admitted to the Bar in Pennsylvania and as the

Register of Wills responsible for admitting Michael’s Will to probate and issuing Letters

Testamentary to Meghan, Donatucci well knows this.”

A large portion of the lawsuit also alleges that Donatucci meddled in the estate’s ownership of a property that was owned by Penn Peak Capital, which Michael was a majority member of.

The lawsuit says that Donatucci has a longstanding relationship with WSFS Bank, which is the mortgagee on a number of Donatucci’s and Donatucci Jr.’s real estate holdings.

“WSFS, including its vice president, Herb Matter,” the lawsuit reads, “has been intimidated, influenced, coerced or persuaded into conspiring with Donatucci because of Donatucci’s official power.” The lawsuit alleges that about a month after Michael’s passing, Klein was in contact both in person and by phone with WSFS to make the mortgage payments and obtain information regarding the loan on the property, which Michael still had a balance of approximately $325,600 (the property was “conservatively appraised” for $460,000, according to the lawsuit).

“Despite providing the necessary paperwork to prove Michael’s death as well as her position as executrix,” the lawsuit says, “the bank refused her payment and refused to provide her with information. Meghan was told by WSFS that she would have to prove her ownership in Penn Peak if she wanted to make payments or obtain loan information. At the time, Meghan did not have access to a copy of the Penn Peak Operating Agreement. WSFS in fact already had a signed copy of the operating agreement in its file, but the bank refused to respond to Meghan’s inquiries about the loan or to accept her payments without her producing a separate copy of the operating agreement to the bank.”

The lawsuit claims that Donatucci was behind the bank’s alleged behavior.

The lawsuit says Donatucci wanted the bank to declare a default so that Klein would have to sell her interest to him cheaply or so he could buy it from the bank after foreclosure.

The lawsuit states that as part of the scheme, WSFS delayed accepting Klein’s payments “after informing Klein that the loan was in default for nonpayment of installments due, despite Klein’s prior efforts to make the payments.”

Donatucci repeatedly pressured Klein to sell a property to him “under duress and for far less than fair market value,” the lawsuit alleges. Additionally, the lawsuit states that Donatucci attached a number of contingencies, including relinquishing Klein’s role as executrix to him and relinquishing the estate’s ownership in Michael’s realty interests.

The lawsuit alleges that Donatucci and a lawyer of his created a false sense of urgency around alleged safety conditions of a property as a means of pressuring the estate to sell to Donatucci by alleging that the property was in a “terribly dangerous and unsafe condition” and threatened that insurance on the property would not be renewed.

The lawsuit alleges Donatucci was communicating with WSFS behind her back to set up the scenario for the bank to call the loan and eliminate Meghan’s interest in the property.

Later on, the lawsuit alleges, WSFS sent an engineer to inspect the property. The engineer ultimately found it to be structurally safe, contradicting WSFS’s claims.

In response to a request for comment, WSFS spokesman Jimmy Hernandez said, “[W]e are following this closely. However, because it is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable to comment further.”

Here are a few more acts the lawsuit alleges:

  • Donatucci and Foglietta divorced in the early 1990s and have had a historically contentious relationship.
  • Since Michael’s death, despite Meghan’s request that Donatucci not enter Michael and Meghan’s apartment without her, Donatucci has entered Meghan and Michael’s apartment numerous times without notice or permission and has taken assets owned by plaintiffs, including Michael’s laptop, USBs and files, and other personal belongings. These actions “constitute trespassing.”
  • Donatucci has changed the lock on the apartment Klein and Michael shared and has failed to provide Klein with a new set of keys so that she could obtain her and Michael’s belongings.
  • Donatucci denied changing passwords to Michael’s email accounts to the Orphans’ Court. He was eventually caught in this lie when, under court orders, he was recently forced to turn over the new passwords he created for Michael’s email accounts.
  • Donatucci has shown a pattern of failing or refusing to cooperate with court orders in regard to Michael’s estate and other matters.
  • Donatucci also attacked and threatened Meghan in an email from a lawyer, in which they blamed Klein for Michael’s death and stated that they would force her to “re-live] these terrible events” if she did not accept their demands regarding a property.

Kevin Feeley spoke on Donatucci’s behalf.

“Anyone who knows or has worked with Ron Donatucci recognizes that these allegations are ludicrous and totally unsupported by the facts,” he said. “No one in Philadelphia understands and values the sanctity of wills more than Ron does, and throughout this ordeal, Ron has at all times acted professionally and with Michael’s best interests at heart. Michael’s tragic death has been extraordinarily painful for all involved, and this litigation only makes the healing process that much harder.”

Donatucci’s counsel, George Bochetto, also challenged the allegations.

“It is a terribly, terribly false and insupportable series of allegations that just in the 40 years I’ve been practicing law I’ve never seen such distortion of facts and circumstances,” he told SPR. “They will be not only defended strenuously, but they will each be shown to be baseless.”