There’s a lot we don’t know about Robert J. Gerin.
We don’t know why he moved to Niagara Falls after a period as the owner and driver of a New York City cab.
We don’t know how or precisely when he died.
And we don’t know exactly why he decided to write a will splitting an estate of nearly $500,000 between the U.S. Treasury and Consumer Reports, even though he had a girlfriend.
That’s what the Bronx native did in 2010, about three months before he died at age 59 in an apartment on Sweeney Street in North Tonawanda. The will offers no explanation for his decision.
Andrew W. Meier, the attorney acting as executor of the estate, was asked that question Jan. 10 in Niagara County Surrogate’s Court by County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III, according to a recording of the hearing that was played for a Buffalo News reporter by court officials.
“Well, he had a distrust in the government of the state of New York,” Meier replied. “I explained to him that just because you die without a will, or you have no heirs, or you have no heirs you want to leave your estate to, it doesn’t mean your money goes to the state.”
Meier said Gerin didn’t accept that assurance, but he didn’t explain why Gerin chose the federal Treasury and Consumer Reports as his “heirs.”
Meier did not return repeated calls from The News.
A final accounting of the estate, approved by Murphy last week, sets the gifts at $245,200.80 each for the federal government and Consumer Reports.
“The Treasury gets bequests regularly,” said Brad Benson, spokesman for the Fiscal Service, the Treasury Department subdivision that used to be called the Bureau of the Public Debt. “This would be, in the grand scheme of things, in the top third of what we normally get.”
Benson said the government maintains an account called “the conscience fund,” which takes payments from people who think they have defrauded or stolen something from the government in the past. An example would be a soldier who stole some Army property and got away with it. Other bequests are specifically earmarked to help reduce the national debt, and are used accordingly.
The Treasury has received $201,333 in gifts to reduce the debt so far in the 2014 fiscal year. The total for the previous fiscal year was $1.76 million, about average for the last two decades.
“This one is more typical,” Benson said of Gerin’s bequest, because it’s not earmarked for any federal program in particular.
“Ultimately, it just goes back into the budget,” Benson said.
Likewise, Consumer Reports also gets some gifts, but this one appears to be on the large side. The nonprofit averages $500,000 to $600,000 in bequests annually, according to Heather Dennis, vice president for development at Consumer Reports, known for its ratings of best buys in every type of product.
“They range in size from $100 to, a few years ago, a very generous one of a few million dollars,” she said.
But Gerin’s bequest was a surprise.
“Mr. Gerin didn’t give us any indication that he intended to leave us this generous gift,” she said.
Dennis said Meier, the executor of the estate, contacted Consumer Reports. “The only thing the attorney told us was that when [Gerin] passed, his body had decomposed enough that nobody could tell when he died,” Dennis said.
She added that Gerin was a subscriber “on and off for a long time,” but he never signed up for the annual fund.
Unrestricted gifts to Consumer Reports are applied to its general budget for product testing and publishing, Dennis said.
Gerin’s official date of death was June 22, 2010. His death certificate said he died of “natural causes.”
A report in the Surrogate’s Court file by Niagara Falls attorney Joseph L. Leone Jr., who tried unsuccessfully to find relatives who might qualify as heirs, indicates that Gerin’s will left him scratching his head.
Leone recalled a meeting he had with Meier. “Although Mr. Meier described the decedent as ‘eccentric,’ he also described him as ‘well-read and intelligent,’ ” Leone wrote.
Leone couldn’t figure out why Gerin, who never married and had no known children, would give half of his money to the government, especially since estate taxes weren’t due.
Gerin’s last residence was on Sweeney Street in North Tonawanda, although he was living on Seneca Parkway in Niagara Falls when he made his will on March 4, 2010.
Living at the same Falls address was Agatha Jasek, described in court records as Gerin’s girlfriend. However, she was not left anything in the will. The News was unable to contact her.
A November 2011 rundown of the estate showed most of the money, more than $415,000, was invested in mutual funds: two accounts each at the Vanguard and Fidelity fund companies and one at Northeast Investors Trust.
There also were four bank accounts totaling more than $16,000, two at Bank of America and one each at First Niagara Bank and Cornerstone Community Federal Credit Union.
Gerin owned a house, valued at $34,500, at 334 W. Oak Orchard St. in Medina, and owned a 2006 Chevrolet Aveo.
Meier said in court, “He had other family that was remotely related to him, which he wanted to make sure could not get his assets.”
“He was a loner, didn’t participate in anything,” his uncle, Morton Gold, said this week.
And how did he learn that his nephew had died?
“We found out from the attorney handling his death,” Gold said. “He couldn’t tell us what he died of.”
Gerin died in the North Tonawanda apartment, and his girlfriend, who hadn’t heard from him for some time, checked it out.
“He wasn’t discovered for some time after [his death],” Meier told Murphy.
Gold said he believed that Gerin inherited some money from his parents, both of whom died in 1994.
Gold said Gerin had lived with his mother in Brewster, Putnam County, north of New York City. Gold said Gerin moved to Niagara Falls about 10 years ago, but he didn’t know why.
Meier said in court that he thought Gerin had been a truck driver. His death certificate listed his last job as a bus driver for First American Co. of Cincinnati.
“Apart from that, he just didn’t spend money,” Meier told Murphy.
According to Gold, Gerin at one time owned a medallion, making him an officially licensed New York City taxicab operator. Those medallions can be lucrative: In November, the city auctioned off 200 new ones for up to $1.3 million each.
Gold, who lives in Florida, said he hadn’t seen Gerin since the mid-1990s, when they and some other relatives met in Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.
“He said he knew a lot of great places to eat, because he was a cab driver. He took us to a diner. And that was our last contact with him,” Gold said.