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“Alarming” rise in rates of criminal conviction of Las Vegas lawyers

The numbers of lawyers convicted of serious crimes in federal court in Nevada is going up, and most of them are from Las Vegas, reports the Las Vegas Review Journal. Twenty-three since 2008, according to the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office. It gets worse in even more recent years, too, with the increase being five-fold in the last three years. Pleading guilty or being convicted by a jury, Las Vegas lawyers are breaking the law left and right, and embarrassing the profession, according to U.S. Attorney Daniel Bodgen.

So what’s behind the surge in numbers? The chief counsel for the State Bar of Nevada guesses that “it’s a combination of economic realities and the increased vigilance on the part of the federal prosecutors to go after lawyers.” The troubling economy has forced lawyers to scrape together a few pennies outside of their profession, but sometimes that lands them in trouble—legally. Of the 23 convictions since 2008 “a total of 19 involved financial crimes such as tax evasion, bank fraud, and mortgage fraud.” Las Vegas lawyers from bankruptcy to real estate attorneys know more of the ins and outs of the system, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get away with abusing it.

Some of the perpetrators are serving sentences in federal prison, but they’ll face more disciplinary action in their professional field once they’ve done their time. Disbarment is a rough ending to a socially prestigious professional career, and at least two of the Las Vegas lawyers have committed suicide when their crimes were found out.

But it’s not only prestigious, it’s stressful. The stress of the legal profession is hard to handle, and one criminal defense lawyer thinks “there are very few attorneys who steal for the hell of it. It’s systematic of other problems—drugs, alcohol, gambling, and living above their means.” There’s a certain standard lawyers are expected to maintain, but the money is less and less there for some, and the social pressures of the “prestige” can be suffocating for others.

It’s probably true, too, that the feds are looking into white collar and financial crimes more—a class of crimes that “have a higher probability of involving lawyers and other professionals.” The privilege of and education, more money, or more relative power doesn’t shield Las Vegas lawyers as much as it might have used to, especially now with more cooperation and close work with law enforcement authorities on the part of the State Bar of Nevada.

Which has a lot to say on the matter, in fact. The State Bar’s approach to discipline is evolving, and “a Nevada Supreme Court rule says that the State Bar can move to temporarily suspend a lawyer upon a ‘final judgment of conviction’” which means that the bar has had to wait until a lawyer had been sentenced to remove his license. Now, however, the bar is looking to suspend even before sentencing to avoid cases where clients plead guilty, and the delay before sentencing is months in which they are still practicing.

Regardless, it’s probably just a good idea to do your taxes right the first time, and avoid the embarrassment, hassle, and now more jail time.

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