White-Collar Crime

Lawyer known for his costumed 'Excuseman' character is indicted in $1.1M client theft

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Over the years, as he practiced personal injury law in downtown Chicago, Jordan Margolis also focused considerable effort on developing his costumed comedic character Excuseman.

Featured in self-published books and YouTube videos, Excuseman’s goal was “to get those who mess up to ‘fess up,” Margolis told the Chicago Tribune (reg. req.) in a 2011 story about his alter ego. “Rather than play the blame game, if someone screws up I will nail them with a better excuse, so it’s a whimsical way to be a better person.”

But it is Margolis himself who may now be in need of some tough love. The 61-year-old was indicted last week in a claimed series of thefts from client settlements that allegedly total some $1.1 million. Margolis was suspended from practicing in Illinois in 2013 after moving to California rather than fighting disciplinary charges, and he was disbarred in 2015, reports the Chicago Tribune (reg. req.). He has been in Los Angeles trying to make a new career for himself as a screenwriter, according to the newspaper.

Prosecutors say the Northwestern University law graduate was involved in a classic Ponzi scheme, using money he stole from more recent settlements to assuage those who had been waiting longer for their cases to pay off. Meanwhile, he allegedly siphoned client funds for his own expenses, including the cost of maintaining his Excuseman character.

Margolis is charged with 36 felony counts concerning alleged thefts from nearly a dozen victims. The charges include theft, forgery and misappropriation of financial institution property. He was released on $150,000 bail, the Tribune reports.

“He had a spotless record for decades until these difficulties arose,” his criminal defense attorney, Robert Loeb, told the Tribune. “He has debts. He has always wanted to make good on them, and he still wants to make good on them.”

An insurance fund for the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has paid out about $600,000 to Margolis victims, but has a $100,000 cap on reimbursement to each individual, the newspaper says.

One of the clients who has been seeking reimbursement is Les Johnson, who says Margolis never told him about a $375,000 settlement in his favor in a case over a workplace injury. Instead, he learned of it when contacted by theft investigators.

Attorney Lawrence Kream is representing Johnson. He says he is hopeful that his client will be made whole by the bank that allowed Margolis to deposit Johnson’s check in his own account, even though the attorney lacked authority to do so, the Tribune reports.

An Illinois appellate court has OK’d a $277,000 judgment, but the bank is appealing to the state supreme court.

Another former client, city worker Sherry Tobias-Rontos, also said Margolis never told her of a settlement, the newspaper reports.

When she and her spouse met with Margolis in 2013, his focus was on his ventures in the entertainment world, she testified at an attorney disciplinary hearing.

“I say, ‘I need this money,’ and he was like, ‘Well, you know, this is what I’ve been working on,’ ” she recounted, explaining that Margolis talked of his interest in screenwriting and the plays he had written for his synagogue and helped produce.

“He was very proud of that, and he was telling us stories about him as Excuseman,” Tobias-Rontos said.

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