Friday, December 23, 2016

Lawyer Dodges Serious Consequences, Gets Off w/ Public Reprimand For Failure To Exercise Oversight Over Sticky-Fingered Employee Who Looted Firm's Trust Account For Over $500K; Judges Critical Of Attorney's Foot-Dragging Before Over 50 Affected Clients Finally Recovered Their Pilfered Cash

In Augusta, Georgia, The Augusta Chronicle reports:
  • Local attorney Victor Hawk has been publicly reprimanded by the federal court judges in Augusta in connection with a former employee’s embezzlement of more than half a million dollars from the firm’s clients.

    In an order signed Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judges J. Randal Hall and Dudley H. Bowen Jr. found Hawk failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard clients’ money from Richard Lee Owen and that he was negligent in his supervision of Owen.

    Between January 2009 and July 2012, Owen employed a number of schemes to steal $594,731 from the Hawk firm’s trust account. More than 50 clients were cheated. Owen was fired in July 2012 when Hawk learned Owen had charged a client $18,000 for services that should have been done at no cost. Within six weeks, Hawk started getting calls about bills not being paid to clients or on their behalf although his firm’s records that Owen created indicated the payments were made.

    In November 2012, Hawk got a complete set of the firm’s bank records and saw for the first time the endorsements on the back of checks. He called the FBI.

    Owen’s trial began in March 2015 but he opted to plead guilty during it. Bowen sentenced Owen to 236 months in prison on June 12, 2015. The judge also appointed a trustee to review the Hawk firm’s accounts to determine how much money was owed to clients who were cheated. He determined the amount was $192,900.

    Hawk, according to the judges’ order unsealed Tuesday, delegated many of his responsibilities to Owen and provided little oversight.

    At Owen’s sentencing, Hawk testified he considered Owen not only a trusted employee but a family friend. The judge questioned Hawk about his clients’ financial losses and what he was doing to ensure they were repaid.

    In Tuesday’s order, the judges criticized Hawk for not fully paying off his clients until the fall of 2015. Some clients had had to wait for the money they were owed for five years. Hawk, the judges’ wrote, “failed to treat the situation with an appropriate sense of urgency.”

    While Hawk could have been suspended from practicing law in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Georgia, the judges found mitigation to believe only the public reprimand was appropriate.

    “Mr. Victor Hawk violated the rules of professional conduct in failing to effect measures giving reasonable assurances that the conduct of his employee, Richard Lee Owen, was compatible with his professional obligations and in his grossly negligent failure to supervise Mr. Owen,” the order reads.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home