White-Collar Crime

Tearful runaway real estate lawyer gets 5 years in $5.9M client theft

A Florida real estate lawyer who made international headlines when he suddenly disappeared last year, leading to the revelation of a massive client theft, faced the consequences Wednesday.

Timothy McCabe, 56, was sentenced to five years in prison by a federal judge in West Palm Beach and ordered to pay about $5.9 million in restitution, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

Tearfully apologizing to a dozen victims who attended the court hearing, McCabe called himself “pathetic” and a “thief.” He pleaded guilty to bank fraud last year, after turning himself in following a period of more than two months during which his whereabouts were unknown. He now says he spent the time in rooming houses.

Some 70 clients and 20 real estate closings were affected when McCabe reportedly took millions from at least two trust accounts for his Lake Worth law firm and title company.

In an apologetic letter to the court, McCabe explained that the collapse of the real estate market during the Great Recession reduced the value of his own property from $6 million to $1 million, and revenue generated by his 18-employee firm plummeted from $100,000 to less than $10,000 a month. After he had exhausted his savings trying to keep the firm afloat, he stole client funds, thinking “if I could just hold out a little longer, I would save it all,” according to the Daily Business Review (sub. req.). and the Palm Beach Post.

“I became a coward. When I was faced with the prospect of being financially ruined, I became a thief,” McCabe said. “At a time when I should have had courage in my life, I did not. I should have been brave. I should have let go of the real estate, let go of the firm and started over,”

He had sought a sentence of not quite three years. The government asked for at least 10 years.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Fla. lawyer who disappeared turns himself in; feds say up to $8M in client funds is missing”

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