Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Attorney Disbarred For Ripping Off Clients' Insurance Settlement Proceeds Finally Gets Pinched; Held On $420K Bond On 22 Theft, Fraud-Related Charges

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

  • A disbarred Pembroke Pines lawyer is behind bars after authorities say he stole more than $800,000 from people and companies he was representing.

    Wearing jail garb instead of a lawyer's suit, Mark Foster Dickson, 64, appeared in a brief bond court hearing on Thursday, where he was issued a $420,000 bond on 22 charges related to theft and fraud.

    Most of the victims listed in the case are insurance companies he did work for, according to an arrest affidavit. In most of the cases he negotiated settlements on behalf of the companies, but he kept the funds without telling clients about the payouts, according to an affidavit.

    "He used his bar license to conduct these thefts," said Assistant State Attorney Catherine Maus.

    Authorities said Dickson deposited the stolen funds into his practice's operating account and then drew the funds for personal use. The claims ranged from as little as $8,000 to a $165,000 settlement check he allegedly stole from Florida Intercoastal Underwriters.

    On several instances, he advised his clients that a settlement on a claim would be difficult and recommended closing the file. However, Dickson still allegedly negotiated and settled claims, keeping the funds for himself.

    In one case, Dickson was representing ACE American Insurance Company on a claim related to an engine failure on a man's yacht caused by contaminated gas. Dickson told company officials to close the file because experts determined the gas was not contaminated.

    Dickson reportedly settled the matter anyway for $20,000 and deposited the funds in his firm's operating account. He then made multiple withdrawals from the account from several locations in Broward, according to the affidavit.

    At the bond court hearing, the prosecutor told Broward Court Judge John "Jay" Hurley that it was unclear where all of the allegedly stolen funds are. Defense attorney Mitchell B. Polay asked Hurley to consider Dickson's lack of criminal history and his long tenure as a lawyer when setting a bond.

    "He's been a member of the Florida Bar for a number of years, your honor, no problems with the Bar. Obviously something has come about," Polay said. "Mr. Dickson has never had any problems with the law. This is an anomaly."

    Hurley declined to lower the bond amount, saying the funds allegedly stolen are large enough to put Dickson at risk of fleeing the country. Dickson now will be required to prove that the funds used to post his bond come from a legitimate source.

    Polay declined to comment after Thursday's hearing.

    A 1974 graduate of St. John's University School of Law, Dickson was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1975, records show. Dickson's law license was suspended in February 2012. The Florida Supreme Court disbarred Dickson last month.

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