A successful former California attorney who was part of the legal team in the case that inspired the movie “Erin Brockovich” has been indicted on five counts of wire fraud. The indictment was announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California on Feb. 1. Each count is punishable by up to 20 years in a federal prison, but the former attorney is unlikely to spend any time behind bars. The 83-year-old Seal Beach resident suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is living under a conservatorship in a long-term care facility.
The former attorney is accused of embezzling more than $15 million from his clients between 2010 and 2020. According to court papers, the former lawyer and his chief financial officer took funds from client settlements and used it to cover their personal and business expenses. To conceal the scheme, the two men allegedly told clients that their settlements had not been received or had been received but could not be distributed. The former attorney was disbarred by the State Bar of California in 2022, and his legal firm filed for bankruptcy in 2020.
U.S. prosecutors say that the former attorney and his chief financial officer went to great lengths to conceal their alleged white-collar crimes. The men are said to have told clients that funds could not be distributed until tax bills and medical liens were paid or approval was granted by judges. They are also accused of making small payments that federal prosecutors claim were designed to “lull” clients. The two men allegedly used the money they stole to meet payroll and cover other business expenses and pay their personal credit card bills.
Prosecuting a sick and elderly man
Some may question the wisdom of spending taxpayer money to prosecute a sick and elderly man who will probably not spend a day in prison. This case makes sense for U.S. attorneys for two main reasons. There is an alleged co-conspirator involved, and the primary defendant is well known. Cases involving celebrities attract a lot of media attention, which could deter others from behaving in the same way.