Attorney Who Used Forged Documents To Dupe Unwitting Client Into Thinking He Was Paying For A Real Estate Investment Gets Frog-Marched To Begin 11 1/2 To 23 Month Sentence; Married Victim: Extreme Financial Pressures Created By $156K Fleecing Ultimately Led To Failed Marriage, Stress-Related Health Issues
- A suspended lawyer was sentenced Friday [January 20] to serve 11 ½ to 23 months in the Bucks County Correctional Facility for stealing the money of a client who thought he was paying for a real estate investment.
John Marcus Franklin, 48, of Philadelphia, also was sentenced to a concurrent seven years of probation, during which he must pay $156,350 in restitution to the former client, who said he lost his marriage and his life savings to Franklin’s chicanery.
“This is a violation of the public trust by an officer of the court, a violation of his duty and sworn oath, and it brings disrepute to the profession of lawyers,” the victim, Mark Friel, told Bucks County President Judge Jeffrey L. Finley. “He needs to feel the shackles placed on him. He needs to smell the inside of a jail cell for what he did.”
A short time later, Franklin was, in fact, handcuffed and led off to jail by sheriff’s deputies.
To impose a lesser sentence, Finley told Franklin, “would send a horrific message to the community. You need to understand what it is like to be taken into custody, to be taken to a correctional facility.”
In early 2011, Friel and his then-fiancée, who was a Realtor, hired Franklin to help them form a corporation and purchase a $200,000 investment property on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia.
At a May 2011 closing on the property at Franklin’s law office in Bristol Borough, Friel and his fiancée signed a number of documents presented by Franklin, including a federal Housing and Urban Development form, a mortgage and a promissory note. Friel made repeated cash payments, ultimately totaling $156,350, toward the purchase price and for Franklin’s legal fees.
Franklin created a false deed to the property and claimed to have filed it with the City of Philadelphia. He repeatedly told Friel that the city was delaying the recording of the deed. Not until 2015 did Friel learn that Franklin had pocketed his payments, had never purchased the property for him, and had forged documents to cover his tracks.
In an interview with investigators in December 2015, Franklin admitted that he created the false deed on his computer to “stall” Friel from learning about his fraud.
Franklin pleaded guilty on Nov. 28 to theft by deception, forgery, unlawful use of a computer and deceptive business practices. His sentence was deferred in part to give him time to raise partial restitution.
He submitted a $25,000 check, written on his brother’s business account, prior to sentencing. Finley said he would approve of Franklin serving his sentence on work release to help him raise more money, and ordered him to repay a minimum of $1,000 per month to Friel.(1)
“I went down a rabbit hole that I shouldn’t have gone down, and I started to play around with Mr. Friel’s money,” Franklin told Finley. He said that he originally had intended to complete the property transaction legitimately.
Deputy District Attorney Alan J. Garabedian called it “ludicrous” to think that Franklin ever intended the deal to be a legitimate transaction. “He created a fraudulent deed from the outset,” Garabedian argued, and took advantage of his fiduciary duty to his client.
“This was not just a grab,” Garabedian said. “There was a sophisticated method of doing this.”
Finley agreed. “You gave this some real thought and you knew what you were doing,” he told Franklin. His crimes, the judge said, “reflect poorly on the (legal) profession and reinforce a negative viewpoint (of) some members of the public that lawyers are only out for themselves.”
Franklin’s license to practice law was suspended by the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after his arrest last year. He said he does not expect to be able to work again as an attorney.
Friel, who married his fiancée not long after hiring Franklin, said the extreme financial pressures created by his losses “ultimately led to our divorce” and created stress-related health issues for him.
“I put my savings, which would’ve eventually gone towards my retirement, into the purchase of these properties,” Friel said. “I obviously feel completely and utterly used by Mr. Franklin … I am angry and disgusted at Mr. Franklin’s cowardly act of deception.”
The case was investigated by Bucks County Detective Eric Landamia.
For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
- Directory Of Lawyers' Funds For Client Protection (August 2016) (includes a listing for Canadian client protection funds, courtesy of the American Bar Association);
- Check the USA Client Protection Funds Map;
- Check the Canada Client Protection Funds Map.