In March of 1995, as she waited to be paid more than $100,000 that disbarred lawyer Raymond A. Tubman had stolen from her four years before, Mary E. Meyer was struggling to make the rent on her two-bedroom apartment in Owings Mills.
Another former Tubman client, Desiree Johnson, had hired a new lawyer to get back the $27,000 accident settlement Tubman had gambled away.
And Tubman? He was on a ski trip.
No matter that probation agents had been looking for months for the disbarred attorney, trying to serve a warrant to haul him into court for failing to paying back his victims - and for not reporting to agents as required.
No matter that he'd gotten out of prison early, convincing a city judge that he was eager to begin reimbursing the people he'd wronged.
Tubman had started a new life as the assistant manager of a troublesome nightclub in Waverly. And no one was making him account for the old.
Tubman's case illustrates the arduous battle that victims of unscrupulous lawyers must wage to recover their lost money.
"I sued the lawyer myself, got a judgment. Fine. Try collecting it," said Alan Hoff, a lawyer who represented Johnson, who works at Baltimore City Community College. "You try garnishing the nightclub. I tried that. They never answered it.
"By the time this thing is done, it's just a nightmare for this woman."
Attorneys convicted in Maryland courts of stealing from their clients often serve little or no time in prison, according to an examination by The Sun. Disbarred and initially disgraced, they have re-emerged as paralegals, doctor's assistants, bail bondsmen, substitute teachers and doctoral candidates.
What many haven't done is pay back the victims they were ordered by judges to compensate for losses - even though failure to pay could land them back in prison.
Often, they don't pay because judges and parole commissioners don't make them.
Prosecutors say that sometimes it's more important to try to get convicted lawyers to pay back their victims and give up their right to practice law than it is to lock them up for a long time.
Daniel Freed, a professor emeritus at Yale Law School who is a national expert on sentencing, says that requiring a thief to pay back a large sum of stolen money can be "more useful to society."
But if the lawyer doesn't pay, it is up to the client to navigate the claims process of the state's Clients' Security Trust Fund, which compensates victims of attorneys. The fund, which calls itself a resource of "last resort," tends to pay only a portion of what was taken, and usually only after the victim has exhausted other avenues. Its money comes from a $20 annual fee paid by each Maryland lawyer - one of the lowest amounts for such funds in the country.
And the fund, like some other state funds, will not pay back the customary one-third contingency that the attorney usually takes as his fee.
"We've protested it," said Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, whose office has prosecuted 20 lawyers since 1988. "We just don't think [victims] should have to pay attorneys' fees when the attorney has done them wrong. These people have been through the wringer, and it's unfortunate. Even the full amount wouldn't make them whole."
When the client fund has made a payment, the lawyer in question is then supposed to pay the fund back. But often, they don't.
Consider these cases:
A lover of expensive thoroughbred horses, Baltimore lawyer Jerome E. Michaelson stole at least $300,000 that was supposed to pay the medical bills of 10 personal injury clients. He went free after serving six months of a year-long prison sentence in a halfway house, then moved to Connecticut, where he manages two tennis clubs.
Though he has paid some debts and issued promissory notes to pay others, Michaelson and prosecutors have disagreed over the amount he owes those from whom he stole. A judge has been asked over two years to schedule a hearing, but no date has been set.
Attorney Jay Seth Engerman was ordered to pay $61,997 in restitution when he pleaded guilty to charges of theft in 1994. But Baltimore Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown Sr. wrote that failing to pay would be considered a violation of the former lawyer's probation "only if Defendant shown to be financially able to pay." Now disbarred and living in Florida, Engerman is working on his doctorate in alternative dispute resolution and receiving disability pay from the government - but says he's too mentally ill to hold a job.
Prosecutors say disbarred lawyer Theodore A. Cavacos, son of the man who was once the unofficial mayor of Hampden, stole more than $1 million from clients and would-be real estate investors. Out of prison, he was called into court several months ago to tell why he wasn't making regular progress toward his $50,000 in ordered restitution. Despite his criminal record, the state's pharmacy board allowed him to renew his pharmacist's license.
Former state Sen. Michael B. Mitchell faked court orders to give him control over $77,000 in life insurance that belonged to a 19-month-old boy whose mother had been murdered. Although Mitchell had paid only a portion of his restitution, state parole commissioners declined to send him back to prison. Now he wants to become an insurance agent, but the state's insurance commissioner and a circuit judge have turned him down.
Gaithersburg attorney James E. Boswell skimmed $204,303 from real-estate transactions he handled as a settlement agent. Convicted of misusing trust money, he avoided prison, with a promise to pay restitution a condition of his probation.
Now working "piecemeal" for a painting business, Boswell says he has not been able to make court-ordered monthly restitution payments of $25. At that rate, it would take him 681 years to pay in full.
They are frequently charismatic characters, these lawyers who find the temptation to steal too much. Even after Tubman took her $292,000 inheritance to Atlantic City, Mary Meyer couldn't quite bring herself to hate him.
"There was something about him - he fooled us," said Meyer, who now lives in a small apartment in Baltimore County that is lean on even basic supplies. "You couldn't take a dislike to him."
For their part, the ex-lawyers say they are tentatively rebuilding lives that don't allow for even small repayments toward such awesome debts.
"The sky has been falling on me for the last three years," said Boswell, the disbarred Gaithersburg attorney, refusing to comment further.
For Raymond Tubman, the sky fell after a short-lived streak of luck at the blackjack table in 1990. Before long, Tubman says now, he was hitting Atlantic City almost every weekend, and no longer winning. "It just snowballed," he said. "It was a very disastrous point in my life."
By the end of 1992, he was disbarred and under indictment for plundering $292,000 from the estate of Ellen Meyer, Mary Meyer's mother, a Baltimore woman whose survivors had won a medical malpractice action that Tubman handled. Complaints from other clients - whose losses ranged from $188 to $27,500 - followed.
The criminal cases weren't the only ones in which Tubman was alleged to have used clients' money. The Clients' Security Trust Fund had paid a total of $197,741 to 21 Tubman victims as of June 1996, including a large payment to Meyer that she says she has already spent. In other cases, such as Desiree Johnson's, victims eventually received partial relief from banks that processed settlement checks.
"In addition to the guilty plea, the defendant admitted to 11 other thefts totalling over $28,000," then-prosecutor Marcella A. Holland wrote at the time of Tubman's conviction. "The state has received numerous calls from other clients in a quandary because they don't know what, if anything, happened to their cases, and/or where to locate the files for their cases."
On Feb. 19, 1993, Baltimore Circuit Judge Paul A. Smith sentenced Tubman to nine years in prison, suspending all but two years for guilty pleas to two counts of felony theft.
Two months later, Tubman - by then already in a halfway house - told the judge he felt he had served enough time.
"As a result of the imposition of said sentence, Petitioner has had a meaningful opportunity to reflect upon the crimes he committed and the seriousness of them," Tubman wrote. "The Petitioner acknowledges the gravity of the offense committed and honestly desires to begin the process of restitution to all of his victims."
Holland begged to differ.
"The criminal justice system is so overwhelmed that unfortunately white collar criminals seem to benefit where they shouldn't," she wrote in court papers opposing Tubman's release. "The state contends the defendant is no better than a burglar, but that burglar will stay in jail because of the classification by the system of his crime."
Five months later, Smith set Tubman free, ordering the ex-lawyer to pay $2,000 a month toward the restitution he seemed so eager to make.
Records show he paid nothing. According to a report filed by probation agent Herbert Webster, Tubman didn't even report for the minimal supervision that was ordered for him, or let the agent know where he was living. Smith issued a warrant charging Tubman with violation of probation in July 1994.
The problem was finding him.
According to Baltimore liquor board records, Tubman was in town - and answering questions in public hearings about problems at the nightclub, then called 32nd Street Plaza/Phase III, at the time agents sought his appearance in court. That's when Tubman testified that he had been on the 1995 ski trip, which he said recently was a reunion his family paid for him to attend. "It wasn't like going to Aspen," he said.
In fact, Tubman said, he wasn't really getting paid regularly for his work at the club. "I expected business would pick up and I would be taken care of in the end," he said. "What happened was the club was making money but the money was going out to try to stay open," in the form of legal fees to quell community opposition. "I looked for a lot of jobs, sure. I just couldn't get anywhere with my record."
In February 1996, with a warrant still outstanding for Tubman, city police took a report on an assault by shooting at 32nd Street Plaza. Tubman was among the people in the club at the time - but police apparently didn't serve him with the warrant.
Tubman said recently that he tried repeatedly to meet with his probation agent after his release from prison, but that each time he called, "they would say call in a month." He said that at one point he received a probation card addressed to a "Robert Tubman," whom agents had told him was a different probationer. "It was discovered that it was a mix-up between me and somebody else," he said.
Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the Division of Parole and Probation, said that even if there was a "mix-up," it should not have deterred Tubman from paying back. "He was an attorney," Sipes said. "He is certainly schooled in terms of the law. He knows he is supposed to pay his restitution, and that he's supposed to pay it at a certain time. And there is nothing that should interfere with that."
Probation agents didn't locate Tubman until that April - a year and nine months after the warrant had been issued - when, Tubman said, he learned of the outstanding warrant through a doctor acquaintance. He didn't pay any restitution until July, when he began a series of small payments that ended Aug. 24, five days before his court hearing. The total paid: $200.
When Tubman finally came to court, on Aug. 29, 1996, Judge Smith found him guilty of violating the terms of probation. Declining to return the ex-lawyer to prison, the judge extended his probation for five more years, and lowered the monthly
payment to $200. (Smith declined to comment for this article.)
Records show Tubman did not comply. In fact, he paid nothing for more than a year, until senior probation agent J. Marshall Ament once again asked Smith to find that Tubman had violated the terms of probation. This time, Ament said, Tubman was working as a legal aide to Baltimore lawyer Alonzo Hairston.
But Tubman says Hairston didn't pay him regularly, either, and that his employment was decidedly part-time. "I wasn't getting a paycheck," he said. "I wasn't actually working for him."
Since then, Tubman has paid just $200 more, records show. But he said he has recently started a resume preparation business with the help of a partner. He said business is going well and that he planned to make "a large payment" before Smith decides his fate on the latest charge of violating probation.
"It may seem like I'm not making a good faith effort to pay, but if you walked in my shoes, I think you would see," Tubman said. "For the first time in several years, I'm actually making progress."
Indeed, Tubman showed up at that hearing, held Friday, with $2,600 in checks toward his debts. Baltimore Assistant State's Attorney William Cecil, who admitted to the judge that he knew "nothing about the case," then recommended dropping the charge.
Smith went a step further -- and proposed ending Tubman's probation altogether. Perhaps forgetting that he previously had extended the term of Tubman's supervision until 2001, Smith said from the bench that he was prepared to close Tubman's probation this summer -- which would remove any threat that the former lawyer could return to prison for failing to pay.
Smith said the victims, who were not in court Friday, could collect what they were owed through lawsuits they had filed.
"I want the money paid," Smith said from the bench. "But if it's paid through a civil judgment, I don't care."
Says he doesn't remember
Jay Engerman pleaded guilty to stealing from clients. But he says he doesn't remember doing any stealing.
He describes the years of 1991 and 1992, just before the filing of charges against him, as a haze of psychotropic drugs, suicidal thoughts, alcohol and utter confusion.
"I was as high as a kite at all times," Engerman said. "I tried a lot of jury cases. A lot. I haven't got the slightest idea how I did it."
Engerman, who lives in Florida, sees a probation officer there every month. He has made no restitution, he said in a recent interview, because he has nothing to give.
Engerman said he makes do on $1,240 a month in Social Security Disability Income for his mental illness and is a scholarship student at Nova Southeastern University, where he is studying for a doctorate in alternative dispute resolution. He lives in a retirement community in Pembroke Pines, about 12 miles southwest of Fort Lauderdale.
Since his release from jail, Engerman said, he has been hospitalized three times for drug addiction and mental illness. At other times, he slept on the streets.
He said he tried to work, taking a job as a cashier in a drugstore, but had to leave after three or four months. "I got into fights with customers, almost came to physical blows," Engerman said. "I ++ would get so nervous that I could not work."
Being in school, he said, is different: "That's the only place I am comfortable."
Meanwhile, Ryland Rowlett, one of Engerman's victims, said he has gotten back about half of the $22,000 Engerman stole from him through the ex-lawyer's malpractice insurance. But that didn't cover all of his medical bills for a rotator cuff injury he suffered in an automobile accident. Of Engerman's new life, Rowlett said: "I think he's a lawyer. I think he knows what he's got to do to get over."
Some of the former clients and investors who were swindled by (( Cavacos are still waiting to be paid back in full - even though he is now making $31 an hour as a pharmacist, a career he had before practicing law. Probation agent Joy Moore testified at an Oct. 16 hearing that Cavacos had made only two of the 12 monthly payments of $1,300 he was supposed to make in 1997. In total at that point, Cavacos still owed half the $40,424 in restitution and fees imposed in his case.
In his defense, Cavacos told Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell that he had been making steady, good money only recently, and noted that he had made a dent in what he owed. For three years after his July 1993 release from prison, Cavacos said, he had toured the country as a "motivational speaker" making about $20,000 a year.
"I would have been content to stay with this motivational speaking, except I had to pay this restitution," Cavacos said during the hearing. "I vigorously sought employment as a pharmacist, but I was rebuffed because I was a felon."
In an unusual reprieve, Maryland's Board of Pharmacy - which normally does not grant licenses to people with convictions for crimes of "moral turpitude" - allowed Cavacos to regain his license, ultimately without conditions. Cavacos told the judge that he had been traveling around the state as a pharmacist and only recently working steadily.
Mitchell gave Cavacos a year to show his commitment to paying back. "Mr. Cavacos," said the judge in a weighty tone, "I don't know that you merit this help.
"I remember vividly what happened in this case. You stole money from old people and from young people who trusted you as a lawyer, among other things.
"And now you've asked this court for further relief. And I confess to being troubled. I have old victims out there in the community, people who invested their life savings in you."
Cavacos declined to be interviewed for this article. He said that in addition to his pharmacist work, he is continuing his career as a motivational speaker, which he would not describe more fully.
'Range of victims'
As a lawyer in the 1980s, former state Sen. Michael Mitchell stole from and defrauded all kinds of people.
"A wide range of victims," Maryland Insurance Commissioner Dwight K. Bartlett III later wrote of the son of lawyer and civil rights leader Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., for whom the Baltimore courthouse is named. "A young child (whose mother was murdered) and his father, a mother with AIDS, a married couple trying to own a house, insurance companies, a corporation and its shareholders, the courts of Maryland and the U.S. government."
Mitchell was convicted in Baltimore Circuit Court of stealing a $77,000 life insurance payment meant for Lance Bethea, a then-19-month-old boy whose mother had been slain. According to prosecutors, Mitchell used fraudulent court orders to make it appear that he represented the boy's grandmother, so he could gain access to the money.
Mitchell's victims ultimately recovered some money from the Clients' Security Trust Fund, and Mitchell said he signed consent judgments in other cases to transfer financial obligations from the victims to him.
"The victims have been made whole," he said recently. "The money is owed to the banks."
Mitchell was ordered to make restitution as a condition of probation and, later, his parole. State records show he had paid $6,000 toward his debt by the time his parole ended. The Maryland Parole Commission could have sent him back to prison for not paying, but instead it closed his case as "unsatisfactory," meaning it stopped supervising him and turned the outstanding amount over to a central collection unit that is supposed to attempt to get the money.
Sipes, the parole commission spokesman, said commissioners determined that Mitchell should be kept working in the community rather than sent back to prison for his failure to pay.
"It is the consensus opinion of current members of the parole commission that for nonviolent first offenders who have not finished paying restitution, the case should be turned over to the central collection unit so they can continue working and continue making restitution," Sipes said.
But in turning Mitchell down for an agent's license, Insurance Commissioner Bartlett said the former senator had not done enough.
"There is no evidence of regular repayments or of express repayment plans for those to whom Mr. Mitchell still owes restitution or indemnity," Bartlett wrote last April. "Despite knowing that claims against him had been filed with the CSTF, Mr. Mitchell took no action on his own to determine how much he owed. Such behavior does not assure current or future trustworthiness or fiduciary integrity."
"Mr. Mitchell argues that he owes so much money that the only way to pay it back is to permit him to be licensed. We reject this argument because it penalizes applicants or reapplicants who have misappropriated smaller amounts and, conversely, favors those who, due solely to their own prerogatives, have misappropriated large sums."
In testimony before an administrative law judge about his application to be an insurance agent, Mitchell said he hadn't made restitution to the client fund because no one had ever contacted him to do so.
In a recent interview, Mitchell - whose appeal of Bartlett's decision was turned down last week - said a debilitating injury to his right arm has kept him from working, and making restitution payments, for more than a year. He said the bail bond business he had worked for had shut down, and that he has not been able to find another job. "I even tried to get a cab license," he said.
"I have not avoided paying. My point is to make the income to make this back."
Went to prison
Former attorney Lawrence Shavers, too, stole from the child of a murder victim. He, too, failed to pay most of the restitution he owed, over two years on probation.
But unlike Mitchell and the others, he went to prison for it.
When he stole, the close-knit Baltimore courthouse community was stunned. Shavers had been respected for fighting for the rights of the poor.
Charlene M. Dunn of Alternative Correctional Concepts Inc., which initially provided Shavers with home monitoring, wrote to the court that she had spoken to Shavers about the nonpayment of his account. "At that time, Mr. Shavers informed me that he had been offered a management position at the Golf Store, a retail store owned by a friend of his. Mr. Shavers stated, however, that the salary of $40,000 was inadequate for his needs."
At a court hearing last year - his second violation of probation hearing - Shavers called the Clients' Security Trust Fund "insurance" that would make the victims whole for him.
Circuit Judge Mabel E. H. Hubbard took a dim view of Shavers' arguments. Shaking her head, she told him: "Three strikes are out in anybody's game."
A month later, Shavers' lawyer, Warren A. Brown, filed a motion to modify Shavers' sentence on the violation of probation.
"The Defendant has a close relationship with his minor son, and has been paying weekly Court Ordered child support, prior to his incarceration," Brown wrote. "There is employment waiting for the Defendant which will provide him with the opportunity to complete community service hours, as condition of the Order for Probation in this case. That in view of the amount of the restitution monies owed, the amount of community service hours to be completed, and the amount of Court Ordered child support, the Defendant's incarceration is counterproductive."
Hubbard did not agree.
The following month, Shavers pleaded guilty to two new counts of theft, committed while he was still a lawyer.
Some start paying
Sometimes lawyers who initially fail to make restitution eventually start making their payments.
After being charged three times with violations of the terms of probation for failing to pay, former lawyer Richard Gooden Wiley Jr. finally has started making regular $300 a month payments toward the $10,500 he pleaded guilty to stealing from a company formed by two clients in 1993.
At his sentencing to a year in prison for that crime five years ago, Wiley had told the judge: "I truly am sorry this happened. ... I'd like to make restitution in this matter and perform any other services the court deems necessary."
Wiley, who got a job as a loan officer after his release, owes the Clients' Security Trust Fund about $250,000 for payments it has made to former clients, including the company, according to recent court papers. He's filed for bankruptcy protection and also owes child support and taxes.
But Wiley has other reasons than the threat of prison for starting to pay back what he stole.
He has applied to practice law again.
Pub Date: 2/23/98