From the Charleston Gazette yesterday:
Ex-bond lawyer gets 33 months
Coleman guilty of embezzling from employer
By Andrew Clevenger
A former bond lawyer will spend almost three years in prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his former firm.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. sentenced Leonard S. Coleman to 33 months in prison in federal court on Wednesday for diverting almost $200,000 of bond fees due to his firm into his own bank account.
Coleman pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in August. After the embezzlement was discovered, Goodwin & Goodwin managing partner Tom Goodwin fired Coleman in May 2005.
The following year, the State Bar stripped Coleman of his law license.
“Yours has been a tragic fall from grace and good fortune,” Copenhaver said Wednesday.
Coleman, who earned $240,000 a year as partner at Goodwin & Goodwin, now works at Kmart stocking shelves at night, defense attorney Troy Giatras said. Coleman took the bus to Charleston for his sentencing from his home in Elkview, Giatras said.
“It’s a financial disaster that he has created for himself, and he knows that,” Giatras said, likening his client’s situation to a Greek tragedy.
When Copenhaver asked Giatras how his client can ever make full restitution of $192,740, Giatras said Coleman hopes to relocate to a bigger metropolitan area and put his financial and legal expertise to work in some capacity.
The bond community is close-knit in West Virginia, and Coleman has no chance of ever working within it again, Giatras said.
“Within that fraternity, he [is] no longer welcome,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Webb noted that Coleman also had diverted the firm’s funds in the 1990s, and was given a second chance.
“He was given a very great opportunity to rehabilitate himself and continue with that firm,” Webb said.
Coleman apologized to his former partners and colleagues at Goodwin & Goodwin, and to the state’s legal community.
“There’s nobody to blame here but myself,” he said. “I’ve made a tragic series of errors. It’s been devastating.”
Coleman said he hopes to someday get his law license reinstated. Coleman noted Judge Copenhaver swore him in as a member of the State Bar in 1981.
According to the November 2006 state Supreme Court opinion disbarring Coleman, the diverted fees were generated from the firm’s bond work on deals that included the Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park project, the state Water Development Authority project and various county housing projects.
In March 2006, Coleman and Goodwin testified before a subcommittee of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board that Coleman previously had stolen between $30,000 and $70,000 of the firm’s money in 1993 and 1994. Goodwin said he did not report Coleman to any authorities or to the State Bar at that time.
Coleman told the subcommittee that he began diverting the firm’s funds again in September 2004 in part to support his “high-maintenance girlfriend.”
“The woman with whom I reside, this has been devastating to her,” Coleman said Wednesday. He told the judge that he was worried about how she will support herself while he is in prison.
“I’ve lost every friend I’ve had over this,” Coleman said. “I don’t even enjoy coming downtown for fear of running into someone I know.”
Copenhaver gave Coleman the maximum sentence within the range recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.
“If anything, [the guidelines] may be a little low in your case,” Copenhaver said.
“You were given a remarkable reprieve by Tom Goodwin and Goodwin & Goodwin,” the judge said. “It’s simply remarkable that they turned the other cheek.”
Copenhaver added that he was concerned over a memo from the adult probation department that reported Coleman had written two worthless checks since his termination from his former firm.
Coleman filed for bankruptcy in September 2007, listing assets of $234,725 and liabilities of $1,226,321.
Note: I wonder if the victims of Mr. Coleman will turn to his former law firm for restitution since they knew about his tendency to steal client and firm money? They should have turned him in the first time. However, it seems the judge praised them for being so generous to him. Maybe a civil jury would see things differently. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.