The Florida Supreme Court ruled in an ethics case to disbar a lawyer who hired a convicted felon who then embezzled $4.8 million from his law firm.
In February 2005, the lawyer interviewed the felon based on a referral from a friend. He learned in the interview that the applicant was living in a halfway house because he had been convicted of federal wire fraud. The lawyer hired him anyway for a bookkeeper position.
The felon claimed to be "a disbarred New York attorney and a certified public accountant," but in fact was neither. The hiring lawyer did not run a criminal background check before hiring the felon. A background check would have shown that the applicant went to prison for embezzling more than seven million dollars.
In April 2005, the lawyer signed a form, acknowledging the risk of employing the felon for the felon's probation officer, who told the lawyer that hiring the felon for an accounting position was a bad idea. Five months later, the felon forged a $21,000 check. The lawyer terminated him, but later provided the felon with therapy and rehired him in October 2005.
The lawyer eventually gave the felon full control over the firm's real estate closing section, and later named him as the firm's chief financial officer.
The felon embezzled $4.8 million from the law firm over a four-year period. He did so by transferring funds deposited into the firm's trust account to pay off mortgages on client properties to a shell company that he controlled. The embezzlement was discovered when a lawyer called the firm in 2014 to ask why a client's mortgage was kept alive when it should have been satisfied.
The law firm's title insurer had to pay more than $3.6 million. The lawyer paid over a million dollars to individuals who lost money in the scheme, in addition to paying one million dollars in personal losses. Debra Cassens Weiss "Lawyer who hired embezzling felon is disbarred after failing to notice theft of nearly $5M" abajournal.com (Mar. 26, 2018).