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Former Public Defender Shirkin’ The Law Upsets Florida Supreme Court

Former Jacksonville public defender Matt Shirk’s conditional guilty plea filed last month with the Florida Supreme Court is rejected.

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Florida Supreme Court rejects ex-public defender’s guilty plea to ethics violations

MAR 18, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAR 19, 2021

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Jacksonville public defender Matt Shirk’s conditional guilty plea filed last month with the Florida Supreme Court was rejected.

Shirk had agreed to plead guilty to violating several rules of the Florida Bar — including the Rules of Professional Conduct, violation of the oath taken by a lawyer to support the constitutions of the US and Florida, providing competent representation to a client and others — in exchange for a six-month suspension from practicing law.

The suspension would have taken effect 30 days from the date of the final order, but the Supreme Court said it considered the conditional plea for consent judgment and rejected it.

“The Florida Bar is hereby directed to prepare and file a formal complaint against Matt Shirk,” the Court wrote.

The issues stem from Shirk’s time as a public defender in Jacksonville from 2009-2017.

A grand jury investigation into his actions in office eventually got sent to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which led to public censure, reprimand and a $6,000 civil penalty.

The ethics commission found he violated statutes by hiring or directing the hiring of three young women in a way that went outside normal hiring practices, then fired them for the sake of himself, his wife and their marriage.

It also found he violated state statute by serving or consuming alcoholic beverages in a city building, and by revealing information relating to the representation of a former child client through an interview he gave to a documentary crew.

According to the conditional guilty plea, Shirk’s misconduct was “due, in part, to personal or emotional problems” and that he’s “deeply remorseful for his unprofessional behavior while serving as Public Defender.”

Former Jacksonville public defender Matt Shirk gave away guns, money after failed reelection

AUG 1, 2019 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAR 19, 2021

After former Public Defender Matt Shirk was ousted from office in 2016, he spent or gave away tens of thousands of dollars on himself and his friends, including handing nine state-owned firearms to a motorcycle club without documentation.

A new Florida Auditor General’s report, the culmination of more than two years of investigation, details the repeated ways that Shirk violated state law or policy before and after his failed August 2016 re-election bid.

The report details how Shirk used state employees to staff his personal nonprofit, Vision for Excellence, including assigning attorneys to work at fundraising events. Because that nonprofit receives less than $50,000 a year, its financial records, unlike other nonprofits, are not publicly available from the Internal Revenue Service. This makes it unclear whether Shirk was paying himself a salary from the nonprofit. The auditor estimated the value of time Shirk’s employees worked at his nonprofit as more than $14,000.

Shirk did not return requests for comment Thursday morning, and he has not responded to any requests for comment since he left office in January 2017. The Times-Union asked Thursday morning if the State Attorney’s Office will review the report for potential crimes committed. The office did not respond.

Among other things, Shirk still owes the state $5,242, and the auditor general has urged Shirk’s successor, Public Defender Charlie Cofer, to use a debt collector. Shirk owes the state because it paid for his retirement costs on his behalf, his personal fuel costs and costs associated with his damaging a car.

Public records also went missing during his final months in office. In one case, he gave away 10 computers just two days before leaving office. When the computers were recovered, the hard drives had been removed and wiped clean. “It is the belief of the present administration that the hard-drives had been removed from the computers prior to their donation to the charity,” Cofer wrote in a response to the report. “It is believed that the removal of the hard drives was part of a concerted effort by the prior administration to delete emails and other documents in violation of public records laws.”

Deleting public records can be a criminal violation in Florida.

The Auditor General recommended a number of policy changes to ensure these violations don’t re-occur, but Cofer responded and said, “It is difficult to successfully enhance controls to ensure the proper approval of [Tangible Physical Property] disposals if the head of the agency directs subordinates to violate those controls.”

Cofer’s response to the report said that Shirk “over-ruled staff concerns” before donating the computers. Former Jacksonville State Attorney Harry Shorstein said Shirk’s use of staff time for his nonprofit alone warrants an investigation by the State Attorney’s Office.

“You’ve told me of pretty widespread misappropriations on the part of the public defender,” Shorstein said. “I think the media has a duty to point out corruption, malfeasance, if for no other reason to put a damper on future public officials who might consider doing the same thing.”

He also said that grand jury reviews help deter public officials from violating the law. Cofer said he told the State Attorney’s Office about many of these concerns when he took over the office in January 2017.

Following the Times-Union’s reporting in 2013 about past behavior by Shirk — including the illegal hiring and firing of some women, the deletion of records and the building of a private shower with public funds — Gainesville State Attorney Bill Cervone brought a case against Shirk to a grand jury. The grand jury declined to indict Shirk, but it asked then-Gov. Rick Scott to remove him from office, something Scott declined to do.

The auditor’s report focused on Shirk’s last year and a half. Thursday morning, Cervone said the grand jury might have indicted Shirk if he had done everything the auditor found before Cervone presented evidence to the grand jury. Cofer, who beat Shirk in the 2016 primary election by a three-to-one margin, invited the auditor general to investigate the office in April 2017. Cofer provided the office with a list of issues he wanted reviewed.

The Times-Union also requested all emails sent to or by Shirk in the calendar year 2016 in order to see whether any emails appeared to be deleted. Cofer said the office only has eight emails sent from Shirk’s official account, and 217 emails sent to it for that year. Cofer’s staff was able to also find another 1,057 emails sent to or from Shirk’s personal account that related to work. But some of those referred to emails from Shirk that the office didn’t have.

For comparison, Cofer said during the same time period in 2018, he sent or received nearly 11,000 emails from his official account.

One of Shirk’s post-election emails showed he criticized his employees for quickly providing public records to reporters. “I’m very concerned that multiple people in this agency have determined to drop the very important work that we do to make these requests their priority.”

Shirk still faces complaints from the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Florida Bar.

He initially agreed to a settlement for his ethics complaint, but the commission rejected the settlement as not being harsh enough. The Florida Bar’s grievance committee reviewing his complaint has not yet determined whether there’s probable cause that he violated attorney rules. Cofer said he has drafted another Florida Bar complaint to file against Shirk, in addition to the one Shirk is currently facing.

Shirk gave away the nine handguns to a former employee who was a member of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club. Cofer said there are no records that indicate Shirk ensured the people who got the guns were legally allowed to have guns.

Shirk also booked expensive travel, purportedly for office business, that included an $806-a-night hotel room in New York for an immigration law conference, despite the fact that state public defenders don’t practice immigration law. Since leaving the office, Shirk’s primary legal practice is now immigration law.

In total, he spent $4,010 on that New York trip, and he spent another $2,513 for a trip to San Diego to learn more about driving-while-intoxicated cases. He didn’t share anything he learned with his attorneys after the trips, Cofer said, which were both booked after he lost the August 2016 election.

Shirk wasn’t the only one booking expensive trips with state dollars after the August election.

Justin Estes, who handled information technology for Shirk and had his salary more than doubled after the election, booked a conference in Los Angeles for more than $3,100, which included $900 for a hotel. Estes then resigned on Shirk’s final day in office.

The report also confirmed reporting by the Times-Union that showed in the days after he lost reelection, Shirk gave substantial pay raises to 14 employees, including Estes and other friends and political allies in the office. In some cases, he more than doubled their salaries. Nine of those resigned on Shirk’s last day, and a 10th was fired the next day.

In total, Shirk spent about $65,000 of the office’s budget on those salary increases. He did not have any justification for the raises. According to the report, Shirk did not always keep employees’ evaluations in their personnel files. Cofer said Shirk did this in order to hide public records. “If he had a negative thing about someone he wanted to write it up, he didn’t put it in their personnel file. He’d do it in a memo and … keep it in a separate file.”

State offices are supposed to follow a procedure before giving things away to ensure that the objects are actually surplus. The auditor reviewed how Shirk gave away $21,611 worth of stuff and found that more than half of the items — $11,764 worth — was given away without following any procedure. That included nine handguns and 14 computers, 10 of which were given on his second to last day in office.

Cofer alleged that those 10 computers likely contained public records that the office no longer has access to because the hard drives were removed. “I’m certain. I know there are public records gone. … [IT Director] Joe Frasier in 2013, when everything was falling apart, did a backup of all the emails. … most of those emails are no longer in our system.”

Estes told the Times-Union he believed his salary increase was justified. The day after Shirk lost re-election, he fired Frasier, Estes’ boss, which meant Estes had more responsibilities. One of those responsibilities, Estes said, included removing the hard drives from the computers. Estes said he did not delete information on the hard drives, but he stored them in a box in the IT work room. He also said the December conference, which came just weeks before Shirk’s last day in office, was worth it because he learned a lot about computer security issues. Estes said that same month, Frasier told him he should probably start looking for new work, which is why he resigned from his job on Shirk’s last day.

Estes donated $200 to Shirk, and he said he’s never donated to another candidate. The report also said Shirk gave $90,000 to a lobbying firm, The Fiorentino Group. The Times-Union had previously reported that Shirk had hired the group with state funds, but it wasn’t clear how much he had paid the group. According to the report, Shirk “selected the firm and developed the contract without staff involvement,” and there are no records that indicate he used a competitive selection process.

The Fiorentino Group then gave Shirk $1,000 in his re-election bid, and lobbyist Marty Fiorentino gave Shirk $500. A political action committee with the same address and suite number as the Fiorentino Group gave another $500. Shirk’s was the only state campaign that Fiorentino donated to in 2016.

Estes said Shirk almost solely used his private email account, but there was no way for the office store emails that Shirk received or sent from that account unless he was emailing someone else in the office. For example, Estes confirmed, the office couldn’t retain any emails between Shirk and Fiorentino. But Estes said he doesn’t think Shirk was technologically adept enough to know how to delete records.

The report also noted issues Shirk had with the two state vehicles assigned to him. The state paid for his personal fuel usage, and he didn’t reimburse the state. He also got into a car crash about seven miles away from the office on a Sunday in June 2016, but he claimed he was working at the time. He did not say the nature of his work, though, and the report said it wasn’t clear why the state, rather than Shirk himself, paid $2,370 for the accident.

In an email a few days after the accident, Shirk told his assistant that the accident “was my fault. I was pulling out of a parking lot and side swiped the bumper of another unoccupied vehicle. … What do I need to do to be sure the other guy gets his vehicle fixed? Unfortunately he drives a BMW but works for the Tom Bush and said the auto body there would do the work. I did not notify [chief investigator] Jerry [Coxen] and would prefer not to have others be involved in this.” Shirk also owes the state for about $700 in fuel costs and $2,200 in retirement payments.

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Public Defender Matt Shirk exchanged dozens of text messages with fired female employee

OCT 17, 2013 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAR 19, 2021

Public Defender Matt Shirk exchanged dozens of text messages with a former female employee whom his wife confronted because of inappropriate text messages, according to Shirk’s cellphone records.

Shirk has acknowledged that he exchanged text messages with former employee Tiffany Ice, and has admitted some of those messages were inappropriate, but he hasn’t been willing to go into detail about the messages.

The records provide some detail about the exchanges between Ice and Shirk. The documents show the dates and times a text was sent or received by Shirk.

The heavily redacted documents show that from early May to early June, Shirk exchanged 52 text messages with the phone number belonging to Ice, then the Public Defender’s data-entry operator.

The redactions, which sometimes include an entire day’s worth of exchanges and the dates of those exchanges, were made by Matt Shirk without the input of Rogers Towers Law Firm, which was tapped by Shirk to help the Public Defender’s Office fulfill records requests on a pro-bono basis.

The messages between Shirk and Ice that are visible on the documents were sent on weekdays during typical work hours.

The redacted documents do not show any text messages exchanged between Shirk and the cellphone number belonging to Kayle Chester. Chester is a former legal assistant at the office and former employee of the Whisky River nightclub. She and Shirk were perceived by some in the office to have an unusually close relationship.

Chester, Ice and a third woman who is a friend of Chester’s and also was an employee of Whisky River were all fired in June from the Public Defender’s Office after Shirk’s wife confronted Ice in the office.

The Times-Union asked Matt Shirk and Public Defender’s Office spokesman Matt Bisbee whether Shirk redacted any information from his phone records showing communication with Ice, Chester or any other subordinate.

Neither Shirk nor Bisbee responded. A statement by the office said the redactions “were private, personal communications.”

The content of the messages between Ice and Shirk are unknown.

Shirk has admitted sending his subordinates, including Ice, inappropriate text messages.

He wouldn’t go into detail about the nature of the messages but said he sent Ice “funny e-cards.” Michelle Shirk wouldn’t go into detail, but she told the Times-Union the messages were more than just e-cards.

What was contained in those text messages prompted Shirk’s wife to visit the Public Defender’s Office in June and confront Ice about Ice’s relationship with Shirk.

Shortly after Michelle Shirk’s confrontation with Ice, Chester, Ice and the third woman were fired.

Ice’s personnel file shows she was placed on a 30-day improvement plan in November 2012, at the end of her first 90 days, for errors in her work. She was recommended to be retained in January.

The personnel file provided to the Times-Union shows no further complaints about her work until June.

ce’s June 25 termination letter said she was fired for continued errors.

Ice’s attorney, Bill Sheppard, had scheduled a “name-clearing hearing” for Ice last week at the Public Defender’s Office. But the hearing was canceled because Sheppard didn’t like the proposed structure of the hearing.

Sheppard instead sent a letter stating that the Public Defender’s Office’s termination for Ice was incorrect and false in several areas. Sheppard wrote that Ice wasn’t written up for any mistakes while at the office.

The letter acknowledges that Ice made some mistakes early in her employment, but it said that’s because Ice received less training than her predecessor.

On Aug. 29, Gov. Rick Scott appointed special prosecutor Bill Cervone to investigate Shirk’s office.

Florida

The Unwanted Dictator Gov Ron DeSantis Employs a Foreign Agent For His Presidential Campaign

Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), has become a prominent protector of her boss and a fierce critic of the media.

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DeSantis spokeswoman belatedly registers as agent of foreign politician

Christina Pushaw’s disclosure of work for Mikheil Saakashvili came after contact from the Justice Department, her attorney said

JUN 8, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 9, 2022

A spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) this week registered as a foreign agent of a former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, belatedly detailing work she performed for the politician between 2018 and 2020.

The spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, made the disclosure following contact from the Justice Department, according to her attorney, Michael Sherwin.

She began her work in 2018 as a volunteer in the post-Soviet country, Sherwin said, and was ultimately paid $25,000 over the course of two years.

She received her first payment, of $10,000 in October 2018, in cash, according to her filing.

She stayed for free for six weeks in an apartment owned by a Saakashvili associate in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

“Her efforts included writing op-eds, reaching out to supporters and officials, and advocating on his behalf in Georgia and in the United States,”

Sherwin said.

“The work ended in 2020. Ms. Pushaw was notified recently by the DOJ that her work on behalf of Mr. Saakashvilli likely required FARA registration. Ms. Pushaw filed for the registration retroactively as soon as she was made aware.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

The episode reflects standard enforcement practices under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), said Joshua Ian Rosenstein, an expert on the 1938 law at D.C.-based Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein and Birkenstock.

A letter of inquiry may prompt a voluntary registration, he said, to “short-circuit a more formal determination of a failure to comply.”

Enforcement can take place years after the activity in question if authorities receive a complaint or simply act on a public news item, he said. Though the methods are standard, Rosenstein added, there is an increased willingness to use them.

Last month, the Justice Department sued Steve Wynn, a developer and Republican megadonor, seeking to compel him to register as an agent of China.

Days before that, a Washington lobbying firm said a probe into its work for Burisma Holdings concluded when it submitted a new filing retroactively detailing its activities on behalf of the Ukrainian oil and natural gas company, which once counted Hunter Biden as a board member.

Pushaw, a year into her tenure as DeSantis’s press secretary, has become a prominent protector of her boss and a fierce critic of the media. Twitter briefly locked her account last year after the Associated Press said the criticism she directed at a reporter caused him to receive death threats.

She has written openly on social media of her work for Saakashvili, who was arrested last year when he returned to Georgia after eight years in exile.

Associated with factions critical of the Kremlin, Saakashvili led Georgia from 2004 until 2013 and entered Ukrainian politics after that country removed a pro-Russian president in 2014.

A court in Georgia, now controlled by Saakashvili’s political opponents, convicted him in absentia in 2018. He faced arrest three years later when he made a theatrical return to his country, posting a copy of his plane ticket on social media.

According to Pushaw’s LinkedIn profile, she joined the governor’s office in May 2021 after her time as director of a nonprofit “focused on empowering youth through education and professional development opportunities” based in Tbilisi.

She also lists experience as a campaign strategist for a Georgian opposition party and, on other social media, has identified that party as the United National Movement, which Saakashvili once chaired.

In her filing with the Justice Department, dated June 6, she wrote that her activities “included perception management, public relations, and preparation and dissemination of informational materials to an international audience, including U.S. persons and entities.”

Pushaw’s work for Saakashvili involved going toe-to-toe in 2018 with W. Samuel Patten, a political consultant who had just pleaded guilty to not registering as an agent of a Ukrainian political party.

As part of his plea deal, Patten agreed to assist special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in his investigation of foreign influence in the 2016 election.

In communication reproduced at the time by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, Pushaw claims to have contacted the Justice Department about messages allegedly sent by Patten to a former aide to Saakashvili before the Georgian exile’s appearance on CNN.

In the appearance, which included discussion of Patten’s case, Saakashvili read aloud the messages said to have come from Patten, including a warning to “call off your trolls now, or I’ll start releasing things about Misha he’d prefer I didn’t.”

“Today, I contacted the DOJ to report Sam’s threat and send over the screenshots,”

Pushaw wrote to Turley, who appeared on CNN after Saakashvili.

“I believe Sam knew [Saakashvili] would talk about the case on CNN yesterday, since I announced it on Facebook a few hours beforehand. I think Sam sent the threat right before the interview to coerce him into silence.”

Patten called the suggestion that he was bullying Saakashvili or his associates “absurd, backwards and disproven.”

Turley said he reproduced Pushaw’s message with her permission.

Sherwin, her attorney, did not respond to a question about the 2018 episode.

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Florida

Disgraced and Disbarred: Why Are Former Judges and Lawyers Working as Mediators in Our Courts?

LIF questions the standards applied for allowing former disgraced and disbarred lawyers and judges to become mediators in Florida Courts.

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Ex Con and Disgraced Lawyer Steven Lippman is Working as a Mediator in Florida Courts

We detail Lippman’s criminal past and current employment in our Allan Campbell Pen Name Series here.

Greedy Former Judge and Lawyer Laura Watson is Working as a Mediator in Florida Courts and disavowing She was Ever a Judge On Her Linkedin Profile

Laura Watson was a Judge for a short time, most of it under investigation by the JCQ. She was officially on the bench from January 2013 until around June 2015. This is not shown on her Linkedin resume.

Laura Marie Watson was a Judge of the Seventeenth Circuit Court in Broward County, Florida.

She was elected in 2012 and began serving on the court in January of 2013.

She was removed from the bench by the Florida Supreme Court in June 2015

Reason: Finchin’ $2.5M of a $3M group settlement for herself and her former hubby, Darin Lentner.

No criminal charges were filed against either Watson or Lentner.

The Conflicting Mediator Resume for Laura Watson

LIF Commentary: If you’re lyin’ and hidin’ on your resume, you cannot be trusted, especially as a mediator in Florida courts.

Former Broward County judge disbarred for her conduct as attorney

Laura Watson removed from office in 2015

May 1, 2017

A former Broward County judge has been disbarred for her conduct before she wore a robe.

Laura Watson is no longer entitled to practice law in the state of Florida, the Florida Bar announced Friday.

Watson was removed from office by the Florida Supreme Court in June 2015 because of her actions as an attorney before she was elected judge.

The Florida Bar said Watson violated numerous bar rules, including failing to fully inform clients, not giving clients sufficient information to make decisions and failing to provide closing statements and place disputed funds in escrow.

A 16-page decision by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission said Watson “sold out her clients, her co-counsel and ultimately herself” while she was an attorney involved in insurance litigation involving Progressive, Gold Coast Orthopedics and her personal injury protection clients.

Watson was accused of secretly negotiating a settlement with Progressive that paid her firm $3 million, improperly cutting out fellow lawyers and shortchanging her clients, who received just $361,000.

The other attorneys sued Watson and won.

Watson was elected to the Broward County circuit court in 2012 and took office in 2013. She was first admitted to the Florida Bar in 1985.

Court Rules Ousted Broward Judge Can’t Sue JQC Members, Bar Prosecutors

July 31, 2017

Former Broward Circuit Judge Laura Watson lost her case against members of the Judicial Qualifications Commission and Florida Bar lawyers whose work led to her disbarment.

Watson alleged the attorneys violated her constitutional rights and conspired against her in judicial and attorney disciplinary proceedings. She was removed from the bench in 2015 for unethical work during her private-practice days, and the Florida Bar permanently revoked her license earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke dismissed Watson’s lawsuit Friday, ruling JQC members and Florida Bar prosecutors are immune to lawsuits over work they do in those roles, just as judges and criminal prosecutors are.

Watson “does nothing to show that the JQC investigative panel members’ functions were not similar to the role of prosecutors, or that the defendants stepped outside their roles such that absolute immunity would not attach to that action,” Cooke wrote.

The former judge’s allegations that her rights were violated were not sufficient to pierce the veil of that immunity, Cooke added.

The discipline against Watson stemmed from her involvement in a secret insurance litigation settlement that didn’t designate any money for several other attorneys retained on the case.

Her firm, Watson & Lentner, was one of the recipients of a $14.5 million settlement from Progressive Insurance Co. on behalf of health care providers.

Watson & Lentner paid clients $361,000 and kept more than $2.5 million for itself, leaving out other attorneys who later sued Watson, her firm and anyone else who received attorney fees.

A judge then reallocated $3 million for the other attorneys at Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain in Miami and two solo practitioners.

Stewart Tilghman attorney Larry Stewart filed complaints with the JQC and the Florida Bar, and the saga ended in disbarment for Watson, her ex-husband and former law partner Darin Lentner, and father-and-son attorneys Charles and Harley Kane.

In her lawsuit against the JQC members and bar prosecutors, Watson claimed Stewart exercised undue influence over the proceedings against her. His law partner was friends with a JQC lawyer, who then withheld emails from Watson that could have helped her defense, she alleged in the 99-page complaint that included 1,800 pages of appendices.

But Cooke ruled the emails are protected by prosecutorial immunity and did not appear to include exculpatory evidence.

“The emails certainly show that Mr. Stewart was immensely interested in [Watson]’s case before the JQC and constantly communicated with members of the JQC and the Florida Bar,” Cooke wrote. “However, the emails contain nothing about the underlying charges for which [Watson] was removed from judicial office being false.”

Tampa attorney Lanse Scriven, a partner at Trenam who is on the Florida Bar board of governors, represented the 19 defendants from both the JQC and the bar. He declined to comment on Cooke’s order. His Trenam colleague Anne Connelly Leonard also represented the JQC defendants, and Michael Moody of Greenberg Traurig in Tallahassee defended the Florida Bar lawyers.

Watson, who represented herself, did not respond to a request for comment.

The order closes a three-year battle that included a failed attempt by Watson to get her case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Federal Judges

Lawyer Calvin Curtis Stole Over $13M Sentenced to 8 Years in Jail. He Wants a Favor from The Florida Bar.

Attorney Calvin Carl Curtis submitted a request for disciplinary revocation, with the caveat he can reapply in 5 years.

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LIF Commentary

“It is unbelievable and painful that Mr. Curtis continues to spend potential restitution to support a lavish lifestyle for his girlfriend in Orlando while his disabled victims are unable to pay rent on their mobile homes or afford basic necessities.

Apparently stealing more than $12,700,000 [corrected sum by LIF] isn’t shameful enough,”

said Kelly White, an attorney who is representing several of Curtis’ victims.

On May 24, Despicable Utah Attorney Calvin Carl Curtis, who is also a member of the Florida Bar, submitted a request for disciplinary revocation, with the caveat he can reapply in 5 years.

Salt Lake City Estate Planning Attorney Sentenced to 97 Months in Prison and Ordered to Pay over $12.7 Million Dollars to 26 Victims

MAY 6, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 1, 2022

FBI agents went to Curtis’ office late last month and found a $2,000 check for legal work he provided, according to the report.

Prosecutors also asked a judge to clarify that Curtis’ restriction on performing legal work is already in effect and he should cease any work as a lawyer.

Prosecutors asked a judge to require Curtis to get a full-time job immediately.”

SALT LAKE CITY – Attorney Calvin Curtis, 61, of Salt Lake City, was sentenced to serve 97 months in federal prison by a U.S. District Court Judge today. Curtis was ordered to pay $12,779,496 in restitution to the 26 victims of his crimes and sentenced to an additional three years of supervised release upon his release from federal prison.

Curtis previously pleaded guilty in November of 2021, to embezzling millions of dollars from clients of his estate planning law firm based in Salt Lake City, known as Calvin Curtis Attorney at Law PLLC, and Curtiselderlaw.com.

By the time of his sentencing, it had been discovered that Curtis had embezzled over $12 million dollars from his former clients who prosecutors say are elderly, incapacitated, or disabled individuals.

In the plea agreement, Curtis admitted that he is an attorney who specialized in special needs trusts and that beginning in January 2008, he began a fraudulent scheme to defraud a client known as “G.M.” out of money. Curtis admitted that due to his role, he had access to millions of dollars in two different trust accounts belonging to victim G.M., and that he transferred at least $9,500,000 intended for the care of G.M. into his own accounts, and then used this money for his own personal use. Curtis admitted that he also created fake financial statements and submitted these to the court ordered conservator of G.M. to conceal the fraud.

In pleading guilty to the wire fraud charge, Curtis admitted that on January 25, 2018, that he caused a wire communication from a Schwab Investment Account to his own Wells Fargo account, resulting in a transfer of $1,485,000.

Curtis admitted that he used the money for his own personal benefit to make mortgage payments on his combined home and office located on South Temple Street in Salt Lake City, Utah; to support a lavish lifestyle with frequent travel; to purchase tickets to basketball and football games; to give lavish gifts to others; and to support the operations of his law firm.

In pleading guilty to the money laundering count, Curtis admitted that he fraudulently caused $135,000 to be transferred online from G.M. to his own Wells Fargo account, and that he used these funds to wire $95,000 to The Fechtel Company for the remodel of his home in Tampa, Florida.

Curtis admitted that he knew these transactions were illegal at the time they occurred, and that the money was not used for the benefit of G.M.

Assistant United States Attorneys prosecuted the cases against Curtis and Special Agents from the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation.

Topic(s):
Financial Fraud
Component(s):
USAO – Utah

United States v. Curtis

(2:21-cr-00464)

District Court, D. Utah

NOV 8, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 1, 2022

Curtis’ South Temple mansion has been sold to House of Hope, which provides services to women with substance abuse disorders.

1135 E South Temple Salt Lake City, UT 84102 (Office Property)

JUDGMENT as to Calvin Curtis (1), Count(s) 1, BOP 97 months.

36 months probation with standard and special conditions as stated on the record.

No fine.

SPA $200.

Restitution of $12,779,496.51 as stated on the record.

Forfeiture of real property located at 1135 East South Temple Street in Salt Lake City, Utah;

a money judgment equal to the value of any property, real or personal, constituting or derived from proceeds traceable to the scheme to defraud and not available for forfeiture as a result of any act or omission of the defendant(s) for one or more of the reasons listed in 21 U.S.C. 853(p);

substitute property as allowed by 28 U.S.C. 2461(c) and 21 U.S.C. 853(p);

funds in the amount of $384,919.04 seized from Wells Fargo Bank account ending in 3424;

jewelry purchased at Summit Diamond for $73,935.;

Count(s) 2, BOP 97 months.

36 months probation with standard and special conditions as stated on the record.

No fine. SPA $200.

Restitution of $12,779,496.51 as stated on the record.

Forfeiture of real property located at 1135 East South Temple Street in Salt Lake City, Utah;

a money judgment equal to the value of any property, real or personal, constituting or derived from proceeds traceable to the scheme to defraud and not available for forfeiture as a result of any act or omission of the defendant(s) for one or more of the reasons listed in 21 U.S.C. 853(p);

substitute property as allowed by 28 U.S.C. 2461(c) and 21 U.S.C. 853(p);

funds in the amount of $384,919.04 seized from Wells Fargo Bank account ending in 3424;

jewelry purchased at Summit Diamond for $73,935.

Defendant Termed.

Case Closed.

Signed by Judge David Barlow on 05/06/2022.(jl)

(Entered: 05/09/2022)

1305 Bayshore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33606

Sold for $1.75M in April 2021

Sold to Doctor Rose (Where'd the Dosh Go?)

Judge rejects plea deal for Utah attorney charged with embezzling millions

APR 19, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 1, 2022

Judge David Barlow and Calvin Curtis

A prominent Salt Lake City attorney thought he would be spending just over six years in prison after embezzling more than $12 million from dozens of clients over a span of 13 years.

Instead, a federal judge refused to accept the 73-month plea deal — indicating the punishment was not harsh enough and that he doesn’t believe Calvin Curtis is fully remorseful.

Curtis was a special needs trust attorney, representing some of the most vulnerable clients in Utah — many of whom suffer from severe mental or physical disabilities.

Prior to the ruling, Curtis cried and apologized to the victims.

Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom.

Kris Sanford, who has been paralyzed since 2009, addressed Curtis directly during the hearing.

“Your moral compass is not there,”

Sanford said.

“It’s disgusting… I guess on the advice of my attorney, I’m going to stop there.”

Sanford, who said he “only” lost about $40,000, asked the judge to ignore the recommended 73-month sentence that prosecutors reached with Curtis.

Aaron Hall, who is legally blind, also asked the judge to ignore the plea deal. He said he lost about half a million dollars.

“This brought me almost to suicide,”

Hall said.

“He gave fraudulent accounts to family members who were questioning me and drove me to the point where I was questioning my own sanity and whether I did something wrong… It’s really embarrassing being a father not being able to take care of your children. Your children shouldn’t have to pay all your bills.”

Sherry McConkey was in court representing her mother-in-law. Glenn McConkey has severe Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In that case, Curtis admitted he stole approximately $12 million.

“I just kept on staring at him going, ‘Wow, how can you be so evil?’”

Sherry McConkey said.

“I don’t believe his apology, so therefore I don’t accept it.”

While addressing the court, Curtis agreed that his actions were “evil.”

He addressed some of the victims by name, referring to them as “dear friends” that he took advantage of.

“Unfortunately, most of everything they’ve said is true, and I’m very sorry about that,”

Curtis said.

“I accept responsibility. It’s my fault. I pray for them. I hope they pray for me.”

“If that man never speaks my name again, it would be too soon,”

Hall responded.

Curtis withdrew his guilty plea after learning the judge found the plea deal “unreasonable.”

Some victims, like Matt Hess, said they were not sure how to feel, worried the case could now drag on or go to trial. Hess’ disabled daughter is one of the victims.

A prominent Salt Lake City attorney thought he would be spending just over six years in prison after embezzling more than $12 million from dozens of clients over a span of 13 years.

Instead, a federal judge refused to accept the 73-month plea deal — indicating the punishment was not harsh enough and that he doesn’t believe Calvin Curtis is fully remorseful.

Curtis was a special needs trust attorney, representing some of the most vulnerable clients in Utah — many of whom suffer from severe mental or physical disabilities.

Prior to the ruling, Curtis cried and apologized to the victims. Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom.

Kris Sanford, who has been paralyzed since 2009, addressed Curtis directly during the hearing.

“Your moral compass is not there,” Sanford said. “It’s disgusting… I guess on the advice of my attorney, I’m going to stop there.”

Sanford, who said he “only” lost about $40,000, asked the judge to ignore the recommended 73-month sentence that prosecutors reached with Curtis.

Aaron Hall, who is legally blind, also asked the judge to ignore the plea deal. He said he lost about half a million dollars.

“This brought me almost to suicide,” Hall said. “He gave fraudulent accounts to family members who were questioning me and drove me to the point where I was questioning my own sanity and whether I did something wrong… It’s really embarrassing being a father not being able to take care of your children. Your children shouldn’t have to pay all your bills.”

Sherry McConkey was in court representing her mother-in-law. Glenn McConkey has severe Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In that case, Curtis admitted he stole approximately $12 million.

“I just kept on staring at him going, ‘Wow, how can you be so evil?’” Sherry McConkey said. “I don’t believe his apology, so therefore I don’t accept it.”

While addressing the court, Curtis agreed that his actions were “evil.” He addressed some of the victims by name, referring to them as “dear friends” that he took advantage of.

“Unfortunately, most of everything they’ve said is true, and I’m very sorry about that,” Curtis said. “I accept responsibility. It’s my fault. I pray for them. I hope they pray for me.”

“If that man never speaks my name again, it would be too soon,” Hall responded.

Curtis withdrew his guilty plea after learning the judge found the plea deal “unreasonable.”

Some victims, like Matt Hess, said they were not sure how to feel, worried the case could now drag on or go to trial. Hess’ disabled daughter is one of the victims.

“It’s good and bad I guess,” Hess said. “It’s good in the sense that we might get something a little more out of this. He might get a few more years. I don’t think we’re going to find any more money.”

Judge David Barlow said he believed a more appropriate sentence would be somewhere between 8-10 years in prison, or 97 to 121 months.

He referred to Curtis’ actions as “unspeakable,” “calculated,” and “cold blooded.”

“It’s just about as terrible as a thing can be,” Barlow said. “So heinous and so devastating… Im not convinced he’s taken full accountability.”

Barlow gave credit to Curtis for cooperating with the investigation and forfeiting approximately $1.4 million. He said that he hopes both sides come together to reach a more reasonable plea deal in order to avoid trial.

The likelihood of the remaining $11 million being returned is “failingly small” if not “impossible.”

Utah attorney pleads guilty to embezzling $9.5M from his clients

Prosecutors had said Calvin Curtis used the money to fund a “lavish lifestyle.”

NOV 18, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 1, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY – Attorney Calvin Curtis, 61, of Salt Lake City, pleaded guilty in federal court today to two counts involving wire fraud and money laundering for his role in embezzling at least $9.5 million dollars from clients of his estate planning law firm based in Salt Lake City, known as Calvin Curtis Attorney at Law PLLC, and Curtiselderlaw.com.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed to recommend a sentence of 73 months in federal prison during Curtis’s sentencing which is scheduled to occur on March 15, 2022.

In the plea agreement, Curtis admitted that he is an attorney who specializes in special needs trusts and that beginning in January 2008, he began a fraudulent scheme to defraud a client known as “G.M.” out of money.

Curtis admitted that due to his role, he had access to millions of dollars in two different trust accounts belonging to victim G.M. and that he transferred at least $9,500,000 intended for the care of G.M. into his own accounts and then used this money for his own personal use.

Curtis admitted that he also created fake financial statements and submitted these to the court ordered conservator of G.M. to conceal the fraud.

In pleading guilty to the wire fraud charge, Curtis admitted that on January 25, 2018, that he caused a wire communication from a Schwab Investment Account to his own Wells Fargo account, resulting in a transfer of $1,485,000.

Curtis admitted that he used the money for his own personal benefit to make mortgage payments on his combined home and office located on South Temple Street in Salt Lake City, Utah; to support a lavish lifestyle with frequent travel; to purchase tickets to basketball and football games; to give lavish gifts to others; and to support the operations of his law firm.

In pleading guilty to the money laundering count, Curtis admitted that he fraudulently caused $135,000 to be transferred online from G.M. to his own Wells Fargo account, and that he used these funds to wire $95,000 to The Fechtel Company for the remodel of his home in Tampa, Florida.

Curtis admitted that he knew these transactions were illegal at the time they occurred, and that the money was not used for the benefit of G.M

At this time, it is alleged that Curtis embezzled funds from at least 22 additional trusts in amounts more than $9,500,000.

Anyone who believes they may be a victim of this crime is encouraged to call the FBI at (801) 579-1400 to file a report.

“Defrauding vulnerable and elderly adults is a reprehensible and greedy act that is deserving of federal prison time,” said Acting United States Attorney Andrea T. Martinez. “The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting and holding those accountable who defraud elderly and vulnerable clients. Our concern is with the victims of these crimes and their ability to obtain basic needs moving forward.”

“Calvin Curtis’ greed had devastating consequences for his clients, who placed their trust and money in his hands,” said Special Agent in Charge Dennis Rice of the Salt Lake City FBI. “Sadly, financial fraud cases like this are not limited to a few victims. We hope this case sends a strong message that the FBI will do what it takes to make sure such crimes don’t go unpunished.”

“The IRS is proud to collaborate with our law enforcement partners to combat the seemingly ever present fraud in Utah,”¬ stated IRS Phoenix Field Office Special Agent in Charge Darren Lian. “This plea brings the United States one step closer to justice for the many victims who have serious losses in this unfortunate case.”

Assistant United States Attorneys are prosecuting the cases against Curtis and Special Agents from the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigations are conducting the investigation.

Topic(s):
Elder Justice
Financial Fraud
Component(s):
USAO – Utah

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