Filing lawsuits can be tedious. And yet, the amount of effort lawyers have to expend in order to cover up the fact that they aren’t filing lawsuits seems no less tedious. Client intake, learning enough on the facts to sound convincing during phone calls to mislead clients, drafting fake papers, filing phony bills… at that point, you might as well just file the case. You can’t convince me that a half-assed prosecution of a client matter is more work than covering up zero work.
For FOUR YEARS.
Yes, former Tressler LLP attorney Matthew Elstein pleaded guilty to doing this for four years. Now he’ll have three years in prison to think about it. Per Courthouse News:
Elstein admitted last year that over a four-year period he had told his clients that he filed complaints, motions and other pleadings in court when, in fact, he hadn’t done anything. He billed them from legal services that he never rendered and for expenses he never incurred. He would also send his clients fraudulent court orders, settlement agreements, and other documents to convince them he had resolved the cases in their favor.
Now this part fascinates me. Because you can only tell a client that a case ended “in their favor” for so long before they start wondering either (a) where their money is, or (b) why the other side is still asking for money. Schemes like this only work if you tell clients that they lost. That way they won’t be confused when the fake documents don’t translate into money. Actually, scratch that. While that’s absolutely correct and a lesson that everyone could easily learn from watching The Producers, let’s not give anyone out there any ideas.
And he wasn’t just telling clients they won piddling settlements:
In June 2016, Elstein lied to a corporate client that they had won a $52 million default judgment and sent them a fake court order with a forged signature from the judge even though he never even filed a lawsuit for them. He then doubled up on his bluff by telling the client that the case was under seal because of a federal investigation and presented them with a fake settlement agreement between with the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento. The company only discovered the fraud when they reached out to the U.S. attorney’s office to authenticate the settlement.
Where did he expect to come up with that $52 million?
The case reminds me of a Florida attorney accused of forging over 100 court documents in an effort to get structured settlement deals approved for his clients. Hey, at least in that fact pattern he was trying to do something for his clients!
Elstein argued that he had a degenerative brain condition that prompted this scam, though Judge Mark Scarsi didn’t accept that. Maybe because that condition might explain not doing the work, but not all the work being done to cover it up. But also maybe because after the scheme unraveled…
After he had already agreed to plead guilty, and his state bar license was inactive, Elstein accepted $3,500 from a new client to help him secure an inheritance. According to a Redondo Beach Police Department officer, who listened in on a call between Elstein and this person, Elstein appeared to be delaying and “scamming” the man.
It’s a special kind of commitment to plead guilty and then try the exact same thing while awaiting sentencing. Imagine if that work ethic could’ve been harnessed for the forces of real legal work.
Rogue attorney sentenced to 37 months for defrauding clients with fake judgments [Courthouse News Service]