White-Collar Crime

Suspended lawyer accused in claimed $1M-plus client extortion scheme takes mail-fraud plea

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A prominent South Carolina lawyer accused of extorting over a $1 million from his clients pleaded guilty Wednesday to mail fraud in federal court in Columbia, one of 10 charges he had faced.

As part of his plea deal, Richard J. Breibart, 62, will get a recommendation from prosecutors that he be sentenced to less than the 20-year maximum and surrendered his law license today, according to the Associated Press and The State. He had previously been suspended from practice on an interim basis, and his 12-attorney Lexington law firm suddenly shut down a little over a year ago.

Breibart is accused of persuading clients to turn over large sums of money to him by concocting fictitious stories about claimed threats of criminal prosecution or hefty civil penalties from which he could protect them, among other wrongful conduct. For example, according to lawyers’ statements by lawyers and case evidence, he told some trusting clients that they were under investigation by the IRS, when they weren’t, or faced civil lawsuits that didn’t exist, an earlier article published by the State recounts.

One criminal defense client, Roger Cochran, reportedly paid Breibart $50,000 after the lawyer said he could get a manslaughter deal in a double-murder case. But Breibart did “little or no work on the case,” the defendant’s new court-appointed attorney, Jack Duncan, told Lexington County Circuit Judge Robert Hood, the newspaper reports. Hood sentenced Cochran to life in prison Monday after he pleaded guilty to two murder counts.

Cochran’s aunt, Linda Wright, told the newspaper Breibart saw Cochran twice in six years and “did nothing” for his client over that time. Meanwhile, Breibart “gave my nephew false hope, saying the charge was going to be manslaughter, and he gave other clients false hope,” Wright said. “He hurt a lot of people.”

Although the feds have said the total amount of money Breibart took from his clients exceeds $1 million, no exact tally has been published. It appears that his alleged scheme could involve bilking over 100 clients out of “many millions of dollars,” the newspaper says. The money reportedly went to pay unspecified business and personal expenses for Breibart.

Civil litigation is reportedly ongoing.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Law Firm Suddenly Closes, Leaving 10 Lawyers Jobless and Two Clients Claiming Losses”

ABAJournal.com: “Suspended SC Lawyer Indicted, Accused of Extorting $1.1M from Clients for Law Firm, Self”

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