Tuesday, July 10, 2012
State Bar Charges Glendale Lawyer With Bilking Client
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The State Bar of California said yesterday it had charged a Glendale attorney with 18 counts of misconduct for his part in a scheme in which an elderly widow was charged excessive legal fees and left with $1.4 million tax bill.
A notice of disciplinary charges filed Friday accuses Joseph Bernard McHugh Jr. of having billed Helen Sprinkle, now 94, more than $407,000 for bogus estate planning services, with the assistance of a supposed paralegal, Naomi Campbell.
In fact, the State Bar charged, Campbell—whose alleged services constituted $363,882 of the bill—had previously been convicted of defrauding the elderly and had no paralegal training.
McHugh, a State Bar member since 1987 and a graduate of California State University, Fullerton and Whittier College School of Law, did not return a MetNews phone call. He has 20 days to respond to the charges.
The State Bar disciplinary notice, signed by Deputy Trial Counsel Ashod Mooradian, alleged that he charged illegal and unconscionable fees, defrauded the Internal Revenue Service, failed to disclose a conflict of interest to his client and engaged in numerous acts of moral turpitude.
The notice lays out a scheme in which McHugh met with the victim just three days after the death of Sprinkle’s only child and not long after the deaths of her sister and pet dog. Over the course of four months, McHugh, 59, allegedly charged Sprinkle thousands of dollars for work he claimed was done to update her estate plan.
The following May, according to bar prosecutors, McHugh made changes to one of the Sprinkle family’s trusts to list the Church of God of the Twin Cities Inc., based in Illinois, as a charitable beneficiary. McHugh allegedly failed to disclose to Sprinkle that Campbell’s relatives served as the church’s president and head pastor, treasurer and secretary.
McHugh also authorized the sale of stocks and liquidation of other assets in the Sprinkle family trusts to purchase three annuities totaling roughly $5.5 million, the State Bar said. The annuities, purchased from Campbell’s husband, Ron Campbell, who received large commissions, were allegedly inappropriate investments for Sprinkle due to her age and caused the her to incur huge state and federal tax liabilities.
The State Bar noted that McHugh has no prior history of discipline, but that he faces potential disbarment due to the seriousness of the charges.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company