White-Collar Crime

Lawyer who inserted client names into 100 asbestos suits to get defense fees takes wire-fraud plea

A New Jersey attorney who admittedly inserted names of his law firm’s clients into more than 100 actual asbestos cases filed in New York to generate defense fees has pleaded guilty in a federal wire fraud case.

Arobert C. Tonogbanua, 44, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a six-figure fine when he is sentenced in June in Camden, N.J., according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. As part of the plea deal, he has agreed to make full restitution to the unidentified law firm for which he worked in Haddonfield, N.J. The firm has repaid the clients.

No one else at the firm knew about the scheme, in which Tonogbanua generated some $1 million in fraudulent attorney fees, costs and settlements by deleting the actual defendants’ names and substituting the names of clients of his law firm in the filed asbestos suits. After the clients’ names were inserted, he sent the altered complaints to the clients and their insurance companies to set the cases up to be defended by his firm, according to the Cinnaminson, NJ Patch and the South Jersey Times.

It appears that Tonogbanua did not benefit directly from the attorney fees generated by the scheme, but got bonuses and increased compensation because of the legal work he was creating for the firm.

The articles don’t explain how the scheme came to light or include any comment from Tonogbanua or his defense counsel.

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