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Victims of attorney's alleged fraud speak out

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Updated: 4/24/2013 11:51 pm

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Action News is learning more about clients of Jacksonville attorney Cynthia Nichols, who was arrested Friday and accused of grand theft and exploiting one of her elderly wards, Mary Vest, out of $100,000.

In Nichols' arrest report, Alice Lucas is also listed as a client of Nichols, who briefly stayed in a home that was purchased by Nichols with Vest's money. Police say Nichols gave her friend, Gina Bateh, permission to move into the home and make upgrades specifically for Lucas. Bateh was then paid $1,400 a week to care for her.

Lucas' grandson, Raymond Watkins, said he believed early on, that something wasn't right.

He showed Action News a letter that Nichols sent him shortly after the Lucas family contacted the attorney for help organizing their grandmother's estate.

In the letter, Nichols offers to pay Watkins a weekly salary to care for his grandmother in exchange for helping her gain guardianship.

"It basically said if you still let me be legal guardian, I'll give you the weekly paycheck," Watkins explained.

Watkins said he couldn't legally care for his grandmother at the time, and even if he could, he wouldn't have charged for it.

"Who charges $1,400 a week to look after your own grandmother?" he said.

That was the first red flag, Watkins said, but his attempts to prevent Nichols from obtaining legal guardianship failed.

Watkins said the court awarded Nichols complete control over Lucas' finances, and over the next 18 months, he believes $250,000 disappeared from his grandmother's estate.

Watkins said his family's suspicions grew when Nichols moved Lucas into the home owned by Vest, but he says he ran out of money fighting Nichols in court.

"She was using my grandmother's money to fight me and my sister. How frustrating, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Watkins said at the time of his grandmother's death, she was devastated.

"She saved every dime, scared to death her whole life she was going to end up in a nursing home, and it didn't matter. She ended up in a nursing home."

He said he's coming forward to speak now not for the money, but because he wants someone held accountable.

"I want really for her to not be able to do somebody else's family like this."

Mary Vest passed away in November after, her family tells Action News, they fought Nichols to regain guardianship and take control of the home Nichols is accused of purchasing with Vest's money. They say Gina Bateh was forced to move.

Action News also spoke to Nichols' attorney Robert Willis, who encourages people to presume his client is innocent. He said he is working to access documentation of her clients' files, which were seized by investigators last week, so he can answer our questions. Willis said, based on what he knows so far, he believes he's in position to prove her innocence.

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