Indicted Law Firm Office Manager Wins Race To Prosecutor's Office, Copping Quick Plea, Then Spilling The Beans On Attorney/Boss In Alleged $1M+ Fee-Padding Conspiracy That Fleeced Unwitting Client
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:
- The former office manager of a Broward County law firm admitted stealing money from the Seminole Tribe of Florida and helping her former boss — an attorney — to pad legal bills paid by the tribe.
Maria Hassun, 66, of Coral Gables, pleaded guilty to one count of theft from Indian tribal organizations at a hearing in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, records show. Hassun was indicted earlier [last] month with her former boss Frank Excel Marley III, 39, of Southwest Ranches.(1)
Federal prosecutors said Marley billed the tribe close to $3.2 million and more than $1 million of that was fraudulently obtained in a conspiracy between October 2006 and early 2011.
Marley, now at the Excel Law Group in Davie, has pleaded not guilty to one count of wire and mail fraud conspiracy and nine counts of theft from Indian tribal organizations. Hassun was Marley's administrative assistant and office manager at The Marley Firm in Miramar.
Marley was retained in 2006 to represent the tribe on sports and entertainment issues and help it to obtain Federal Communications Commission licenses and equipment to build radio stations at the Brighton and Big Cypress reservations.
Hassun admitted  that she followed Marley's instructions to inflate his billable hours and billed the tribe "for travel, conferences, phone calls and meetings that did not occur."
"Marley told … Hassun that he needed to make a specific dollar amount, then later told Hassun to be creative in figuring out how to inflate the invoice to reach the specified dollar amount," according to Hassun's plea agreement.
Hassun agreed to pay restitution of $148,658, the amount prosecutors said she deposited in her bank account during the conspiracy. She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced Aug. 9.(2)
From the U.S. Attorney's Office:
(1) See United States v. Moody, 206 F.3d 609, 617 (6th Cir. 2000) (Wiseman, J., concurring) for one Federal judge's observations on the so-called "race to the courthouse/prosecutor's office" that frequently takes place during the early stages of these "multi-target" criminal probes and conspiracy prosecutions:
- When a conspiracy is exposed by an arrest or execution of search warrants, soon-to-be defendants know that the first one to "belly up" and tell what he knows receives the best deal. The pressure is to bargain and bargain early, even if an indictment has not been filed.
For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that sometimes help cover the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
- Directory Of Lawyers' Funds For Client Protection (now includes Canadian recovery funds, courtesy of the American Bar Association);
- Check the USA Client Protection Funds Map;
- Check the Canada Client Protection Funds Map.