Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Elderly Attorney Ends Career By Getting Pinched For Allegedly Duping Disabled, Cancer-Stricken, Foreclosed Client Out Of Approximately $200K Of Surplus/Equity Proceeds From Foreclosure Sales; Local DA Probe Piggybacks Off State Bar Investigation; Disbarment Proceedings Pending

In Oakdale, California, The Modesto Bee reports:
  • Oakdale attorney James Arthur Fonda, whose disbarment is pending, was arrested [...] and charged with stealing up to $210,000 of a client’s money.

    Fonda, 70, wrote 163 checks to himself from the client’s account from 2009 to 2012, cashed them and used the money on groceries, gas, rental payments and business payroll, an arrest warrant affidavit says. The client suspects Fonda also bought a Jaguar and paid for a trip to Paris for his wife and gave a Christmas bonus to his secretary, the document says.

    “The only explanation I can make as to why I did it,” Fonda reportedly said under oath in a California State Bar deposition, “is those (moral) principles and that knowledge didn’t outweigh the ego of not wanting to admit that I couldn’t meet my bills and expenses.”

    Fonda admitted fault in the bar investigation and agreed to repay the client $184,100, according to a bar enforcement document.(1) A State Bar Court judge on July 24 said Fonda should be disbarred and the recommendation is on its way to the California Supreme Court.

    The arrest warrant affidavit suggests that the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office is basing its prosecution on the State Bar investigation.

    Fonda’s client had inherited two San Jose homes and lost them in foreclosure but realized $486,706 in equity proceeds at public auction, the bar investigator found. The client was going through a divorce, and Fonda persuaded him to put the money in a trust account controlled by Fonda to keep the man’s wife from getting it, the affidavit says.

    The client is disabled and has cancer, and Fonda’s actions caused him significant harm, the bar enforcement document says.

    The checks to Fonda were marked for “advance fees,” but he ultimately admitted to the State Bar that he did nothing to earn them, the affidavit says. The bar investigator shared her findings with the District Attorney’s Office in June and fraud investigator Glenn Gulley interviewed Fonda’s client and his caretaker in July, leading to Fonda’s arrest.

    Fonda had been privately reproved in 2003 for abandoning two family law clients and committing a trust account violation, and was publicly reproved in 2009 for taking a woman’s divorce case but failing to perform, enforcement documents say.

    Fonda faces a felony grand theft charge with an enhancement of engaging in a pattern of fraud resulting in a loss of more than $100,000. He was arrested [] in Oakdale and remained at the Stanislaus County jail in the late afternoon. Bail was set at $20,000.
Source: Oakdale attorney accused of stealing client’s money.
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(1) The bar enforcement document also provides that if the California State Bar's Client Security Fund has reimbursed the victim for all or any portion of the principal amount, Fonda must pay restitution to the Client Security Fund of the amount paid plus applicable interest and costs in accordance with California Business and Professions Code section 6140.5.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that sometimes help cover the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

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