- As Attorney Went on Trust Account-Funded Spending Spree, Client Slept in Car, He Tells Judge
Business of Law
As Attorney Went on Trust Account-Funded Spending Spree, Client Slept in Car, He Tells Judge
Posted Apr 6, 2010 5:52 PM CST
By Martha Neil
While she was still in practice, attorney Jessica Miller intended to repay the money she stole from clients, a prosecutor told a Florida judge at her sentencing hearing.
But what he described as Miller's plan to start an exotic animal sales business and borrow against her home to replace the $60,000 she and her office manager and paralegal, Kristen Collins (now Kristen Lausburg), used for a personal spending spree was derailed when the Florida Bar closed her Pasco County law office down in 2007, according to a Tampa Tribune article today. She has since been disbarred.
Miller pleaded guilty last month, on the verge of trial, to four counts of grand theft, without any agreement concerning the sentence she would get, the Tribune reports in an earlier article.
Sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of a little under two years in the Pasco County case, reports the St. Petersburg Times, but the maximum sentence is 40 years.
Her lawyer argued for a lenient sentence, saying that Miller cannot make restitution if she is in prison unable to work and pointing the finger at Collins.
Circuit Judge Michael Andrews expressed skepticism, wondering why Miller, so far, has made no restitution, reports the St. Petersburg Times.
The two women used the money they stole to pay for vacations, Tampa Bay Rays tickets, restaurant meals and clothing purchases, authorities say. Meanwhile, victim William Morales, who gave Miller $28,000 to hold in trust during his divorce, was sleeping in his car, he told the judge today, the Tribune reports.
"While I was listening to [the Rays] game in my car, Jessica Miller, Kristen and their friends were at the ballpark," Morales said. "While I was eating a burger, they were eating a T-bone steak at Sam Seltzer's."
Miller will find out her sentence in May.
Collins, who also pleaded guilty to four counts of grand theft in the case, will find out her sentence this month. She was previously investigated by the Florida Bar for unlicensed practice of law and was senteced to probation in 2005 for forging the signatures of a judge and an attorney, a 2009 article in the St. Petersburg Times points out.
Both women are 32.
Related earlier coverage:
ABAJournal.com: "Former Fla. Lawyer and Her Paralegal Charged with Stealing Client Funds"