Tort Law

2 Baker Hostetler Attorneys Accused of Supporting African Inheritance Scam

  • Print.

A lawsuit filed in Ohio this week accuses two Baker Hostetler attorneys of supporting a fraud in which a former legal secretary for the firm allegedly scammed “investors” out of hundreds of thousands of dollars she claimed to need to pay tax on a $14.5 million African inheritance.

The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court suit (PDF provided by Courthouse News Service) contends that Willia Burton obtained more than $1 million from nine plaintiffs with the help of Baker Hostetler lawyers William Culbertson and Paul Feinberg. It alleges that in 2005, Burton arranged for a meeting between a representative of a real estate financing company that eventually gave Burton nearly $300,000 and Culbertson, during which the representative talked with Feinberg over the phone to verify that there was indeed $14.5 million in a bank account in the African country of Burkina Faso, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The suit also says Baker Hostetler lawyers drafted promissory notes for investors and accuses Culbertson of telling the representative, Fred Proctor III, that “if I had the money, I would do the same as you.” But for Baker Hostetler’s involvement, the plaintiffs contend, they would never have handed over money to Burton.

Burton’s attorney, Mike Nelson, told the Plain Dealer that he thinks his client was also a victim of the scam who relied on Baker Hostetler, her former employer, to confirm the legitimacy of the inheritance.

Baker Hostetler, Culbertson, who is of counsel, and Feinberg, who is a retired tax partner of the firm, didn’t return the Plain Dealer’s calls seeking comment yesterday.

However, in response to a request for comment today from the ABA Journal, the firm issued the following statement:

“As the subject of ongoing litigation, will we not discuss this matter beyond stating that five years ago our attorneys were deceived by criminal and fraudulent activity.”

Feinberg declined to comment when reached by the ABA Journal, and Culbertson did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal request for comment this afternoon.

Updated at 2 p.m. to include firm’s statement and efforts to reach Feinberg and Culbertson.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.