White-Collar Crime

Attorney Confessed Bank Robbery In Order to Continue Pretend Practice, His Lawyer Says

Seemingly, the federal time Peter Elliott knew he was facing after pleading guilty to bank fraud for siphoning some $3.6 million from his attorney trust account might well have been one of the Wisconsin lawyer’s biggest problems in July of last year.

But after he was brought in by a Waukesha County sheriff’s deputy for questioning about a bank robbery, Elliott just wanted to go home. Although he had, by that point, been suspended from practice, he hadn’t yet told his wife of this development and kept up the pretense of going to work every day, says a motion (PDF) filed by his lawyer in Waukesha County Circuit Court this week.

So Elliott confessed to the bank robbery, after being promised that he could leave afterward, the motion contends. It seeks to suppress Elliott’s confession, arguing that he spoke while in a “fragile emotional state” and would have said anything in order to preserve the short time he had left to go home and “continue the charade of a normal family life.”

Hence, argues Elliott’s attorney, Steven Cotter, in the motion, his client’s confession was not voluntary, and Elliott’s statement and the evidence obtained in a subsequent search of his home should not be admissible in his upcoming trial in May.

The Journal Sentinel blog Proof & Hearsay, which provides a copy of the motion, says the 62-year-old Elliott was sentenced to 10 years in the bank fraud case in federal court in Milwaukee last November. He reportedly used the money to cover his personal expenses for over a decade.

Police say Elliott, whose law license has now been revoked, told the sheriff’s deputy questioning him that he also used proceeds from the bank robbery to cover personal expenses. He was admitted to practice in 1974.

The article doesn’t explain how he obtained the millions of client trust money in his account. However, an earlier Journal Sentinel story reports that the Wisconsin Supreme Court disbarred Elliott in 2010 for taking clients’ money.

The newspaper says that Elliott pocketed the proceeds from a mortgage refinance for one family, for instance, rather than paying off their first mortgage at closing, and even made monthly payments on the prior mortgage for the family to conceal the conversion of the funds. That home, at last report, was in foreclosure.

A Wisconsin Bar article about Elliott’s license revocation in November 2010 also says he used a check-kiting scheme for a brief time in recent years, depositing business account checks that weren’t backed by sufficient funds into his trust account and then stopping payment on them.

He then reportedly withdrew money he didn’t have from the trust account, after its balance was inflated by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and purchased cashier’s checks, one of which was for $350,000.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Lawyer Accused of Robbing Bank to Pay Utility Bills, Other Living Expenses”

ABAJournal.com: “Suspended Lawyer Pleads Insanity in Bank Robbery”

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