ESTATE OF PHILIP JOHN DECHELLIS BY ANN HEFFNER, EXECUTRIX Plaintiff-Appellee
PATTY DECHELLIS, ET AL. Defendants-Appellants
from the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, Probate
Division, Case No. 228240
Plaintiff-Appellee: MARIO GAITANOS.
Defendants-Appellants: CRAIG T. CONLEY.
W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J. Hon. Craig
R. Baldwin, J.
Defendants-Appellants Patty DeChellis and Danny DeChellis
appeal the October 10, 2018 judgment entry of the Stark
County Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Philip DeChellis was the patriarch of a large, blended family
living in Canton, Ohio. Philip had three children with his
first wife: Ann Heffner, Marco DeChellis, and Michael
DeChellis. Philip began a 30-year romantic relationship with
Defendant-Appellant Patty DeChellis, resulting in the birth
of Defendant-Appellant Daniel Patrick Skiba nka Daniel
Patrick DeChellis. Philip and Patty divorced their spouses
and moved with the children to Ohio in 1986. Philip and Patty
never married but cohabited as domestic partners until
Philip's death on July 21, 2016.
Philip and Patty resided in a home on Lancaster Gate Street,
Canton, Ohio. Also residing in the home was Philip's
mother, Daniel, Daniel's wife, and Daniel's child.
Ann, Marco, and Michael did not have a key to the Lancaster
Gate home. Ann and Michael frequently visited their father at
the Lancaster Gate home.
DeChellis Family Business
When Philip moved to Ohio in 1986, he took over a pizza shop.
The business was originally located on Cleveland Avenue in
Canton, Ohio; later, the business relocated to Market Avenue
and was named "Napoli's Italian Eatery."
Napoli's Italian Eatery is a well-known dining
establishment in downtown Canton and is regularly frequented
by downtown employees.
The DeChellis family have all worked at Napoli's Italian
Eatery at some point. Philip managed the business and handled
its finances. Patty and Michael supervised the operations of
It was well known in the DeChellis family and to Philip's
friends that Philip preferred to handle his business and
personal finances with cash, not credit. Philip had a
distrust of banks. Philip's accountant, Stephen Miller,
C.P.A., confirmed that Philip paid his employees with cash
and his personal and business expenses with cash whenever
possible. Family members observed Philip take cash home from
the business in a briefcase on a daily basis. Ann and Michael
saw stacks of cash in the Lancaster Gate home. Michael saw
his father's safe in his basement office at the Lancaster
Gate home. Peter Kazakis, Philip's long-term friend,
observed Philip retrieve at least $5, 000 in cash from
Philip's basement office and bedroom. Philip did not
purchase birthday or Christmas gifts for his family; instead,
he would give them cash.
Due to Philip's exclusive use of cash, his net worth was
somewhat of a mystery, even to his accountant. For example,
Philip purchased a $279, 000 home with $60, 512.57 as a down
payment. He reported to the bank that he had liquid assets of
$86, 295.00 but paid off the $232, 000 30-year mortgage in
four years. Philip drove a Cadillac and owned two vintage
Corvettes. Philip paid Patty an allowance that amounted to
$26, 000 per year. Daniel asked for $26, 000 for day-trading
and Philip gave him a cashier's check for the money.
Philip did not have any business debt. His accountant relied
on the information provided from Philip to prepare his tax
returns but did not verify the financial integrity of
Philip's data. His accountant knew it was not uncommon
for cash businesses to under report income.
Last Will and Testament
In 2013, Philip suffered a serious heart attack. In 2015,
Philip suffered a stroke and heart attack, resulting in
surgery. In 2016, Philip was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Philip worked with Attorney Stanley Rubin for business
related legal issues. He also retained Attorney Rubin's
services for his estate planning. In 2015, Philip told
Attorney Rubin multiple times he had $750, 000 in cash that
upon his death, he wanted to be divided equally between his
four children. In April or May 2016, Attorney Rubin attended
a family meeting with Philip, Ann, Patty, and Daniel. At the
meeting, Philip told those present he had $750, 000 in cash
that he wanted to divide equally between the four children.
Philip did not say at the family meeting where the $750, 000
in cash was located or show anyone the $750, 000 in cash. In
accordance with Philip's wishes, Attorney Rubin prepared
a Last Will and Testament with a residuary clause that
provided for the equal division of residuary assets among the
four children. The Will was signed by Philip on July 19, 2016
and admitted to Probate on August 1, 2016. Philip named Ann
as the Executrix.
Philip passed away on July 21, 2016. After his death, Ann
spoke with Patty regarding the $750, 000 in cash to be split
among the children. Ann wanted to meet to divide the cash,
but Patty delayed the meeting. On September 2, 2016, Ann and
her fiancée came to Lancaster Gate home with an
appraiser for purposes of executing the Will. During the
appraisal of the personal property in the home, Ann observed
two of her father's briefcases in his bedroom that
appeared to be broken into and empty. She also observed a
safe in the bedroom that appeared to be broken into and
empty. Ann and the appraiser were not permitted to enter
Daniel's room. In her father's basement office, Ann
observed the room in disarray and the basement safe was
missing. Ann called Attorney Rubin after the September 2,
2016 appraisal because she was upset and felt that Patty and
Danny had taken the $750, 000 in contravention of her
On April 25, 2017, Patty and Daniel filed a complaint in the
Stark County Court of Common Pleas, General Division, Case
No. 2017CV00858, against Ann, Michael, Marco, and the Estate
of Philip J. DeChellis alleging intentional tortious
interference with inheritance, failure to pay bills, and
intentional interference of emotional distress. The
defendants answered and filed a counterclaim against Patty
and Daniel, alleging concealment of assets, conversion, and
intentional infliction of emotional distress in regard to the
$750, 000 in cash. In their answer to the counterclaim, Patty
and Daniel stated, "Plaintiffs/Counterclaim Defendants
invoke their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in
response to allegations in paragraphs 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11 of
Defendants' counterclaim for quasi-criminal claims for
Concealment of Assets and Conversion." (Answer, July 19,
Case No. 2017CV00858 was voluntarily dismissed by joint
stipulation on January 15, 2018.
On February 28, 2017, Plaintiff-Appellee Ann Heffner, duly
appointed Executrix of Philip J. DeChellis, filed a R.C.
2109.50 concealment of assets action in the Stark County
Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division against
Respondents-Appellants Patty and Daniel. On April 26, 2017,
Ann amended her complaint and requested recovery of $750,
The matter proceeded to a bench trial on August 29-30, 2018.
Ann presented seven witnesses on direct: Ann, Michael, Maria
DeChellis, Peter Kazakis, Rodney Dimmerling, Stephen Miller,
and Ann's fiancée. Ann presented the testimony of
Patty and Daniel on cross examination. During cross, counsel
questioned Patty and Daniel about the discovery depositions
where they were asked about the location of the cash in the
Lancaster Gate home and whether they were in possession of
the $750, 000 in cash. Both Patty and Daniel invoked their
Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The
videotaped depositions of Maria DeChellis, Stephen Miller,
and Rodney Dimmerling were viewed by the trial court and
incorporated into the trial record. At the conclusion of
Ann's case, Patty and Daniel rested without the
presentation of evidence.
On September 25, 2018, the trial court reconvened the parties
and announced its decision on the record. The trial court
found Patty and Daniel guilty of having concealed, embezzled,
conveyed away, or having been in possession of monies owned
by Philip and now belonging to his Estate.
On October 10, 2018, the trial court journalized its verdict
in its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The trial
court rendered judgment in favor of Ann as Executrix, in the
amount of $750, 000 against Patty and Daniel jointly and
severally, with a ten-percent penalty from the date of
It is from this judgment Patty and Daniel now appeal.
DeChellis raises four Assignments of Error:
"I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONSIDERING AND RELYING