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Once-prominent lawyer pleads guilty to money laundering

Posted May 13, 2014 2:06 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A once-prominent lawyer in Kansas City, Missouri, has pleaded guilty to a charge of money laundering based on allegations he used money in a client’s trust account for his personal benefit.

James Wirken, 69, pleaded guilty Monday, the Kansas City Star reports. He faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison. According to the plea agreement, Wirken withdrew about $116,000 from a client trust account in 2009 and 2010 for his personal use. He used about $50,000 to pay a defaulted loan, the agreement says.

Wirken was disbarred by consent in 2012. Ethics officials had accused him of borrowing about $800,000 from clients, most of which was not repaid.

In an interview with the Star at that time, Wirken said he “didn’t jump through all the hoops” when a couple loans were made. “There were a couple of i’s that needed dotting and t’s that needed crossing, and I didn’t do it,” he said.

Wirken had handled several high-profile cases and was president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association in 1990. Kevin Regan, a lawyer who is a longtime acquaintance, told the Kansas City Star that Wirken had volunteered hundreds of hours to teach trial advocacy to law students and had given free legal advice to many people who couldn’t afford a lawyer.

“He was one of the top trial lawyers in this part of the country,” Regan told the newspaper. “This fall from grace is tremendously out of character for the Jim I knew.”

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