By Jill Harmacinski
---- — WOBURN — A disbarred Lawrence attorney apologized for stealing nearly $1 million from his clients and begged a Superior Court judge for mercy yesterday before being sentenced to three years in state prison and ordered to pay restitution.
Handcuffed and dressed in a gray and white pinstriped suit, Phillip Thompson, 35, stood in a Middlesex Superior courtroom and apologized for his “actions, irresponsible conduct and judgments” and acknowledged he “devastated the lives of several of my clients and ultimately changed their lives forever.”
“I want every victim to know that as I stand here today,” Thompson said. “Not a day has gone by that I haven’t labored over their distress.”
On Jan. 16, after a nine day trial, Thompson was found guilty by a Middlesex Superior Court jury on the charges of larceny over $250 from a person over 60 and eight counts of larceny over $250.
Although prosecutors asked for 4 to 5 years in state prison, Judge Kathe Tuttman sentenced Thompson to three years behind bars followed by five years probation. She also ordered him to pay $986,929.80 restitution.
While obviously “extremely intelligent and well educated,” Thompson devastated his clients’ lives, violated their trust in him and “denigrated” his profession as an attorney with his conduct, she said. Some of his victims will suffer long-term consequences, including poor credit ratings, due to Thompson’s crimes.
Thompson worked as an attorney out of his Lawrence law office, primarily specializing in real estate, and also ran a debt collection agency out of his office.
In a joint investigation, authorities discovered Thompson stole more than $900,000 from at least seven clients from 2007 to 2011.
In one case, Thompson represented an elderly man and his wife who were seeking to obtain a settlement from their insurance company after their home burned down. When the insurance company issued more than $416,000 in checks jointly to the clients and Thompson, the defendant converted the funds for his own use and the clients never received any of the money.
In the fall of 2009, he also stole $450,000 from a Malden family in the fall of 2009 by taking the money intended for refinancing for their home and using it for his own personal use, authorities said previously.
Instead of speaking in court yesterday, some of Thompson’s victims issued personal letters to Tuttman, which she said she read before the 2 p.m. hearing.
In his defense, Thompson had numerous people speak on his behalf, including his mother and aunt, who said Thompson is part of a large family that immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. To his family, Thompson personified the American dream, as he worked hard, went to college, became a lawyer and mentored children, they said.
Attorney Douglas Martin, described Thompson, his friend, as a brilliant man who should have hired an accountant to help him with the books at his law firm. He said Thompson repeatedly expressed remorse to him over his actions. He said “Thompson was not worthy of jail time’ and asked Tuttman to assign him to a work release program where he could “use his brilliance” for good.
“This is a person who deserves a second chance,” said Martin, describing Thompson as “embarrassed and ashamed.”
When he addressed the court, Thompson said he “breached the sacred” trust he had with his clients as their attorney. He fell down a path of poor judgments lead by a variety of forces, including embarrassment, anxiety and fear of disappointing his family, he said.
Thompson said he was disbarred, lost his law practice, his possessions, was sued many times and ended up in jail. “I beg and plead for your mercy,” Thompson said to Tuttman.
Tuttman acknowledged that many people spoke in court on Thompson’s behalf. She suggested that support system will be beneficial to him as he serves his term and moves forward in his life.
Attorney General Martha Coakley and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan spoke of the serious nature and scheme behind Thompson’s crimes.
Thompson “employed a long-term, widespread scheme in which he used his position as a lawyer to deliberately steal more than one million dollars from multiple vulnerable clients. He will now serve time in prison for this theft and deception,” said Coakley in a statement issued last night.
Ryan said Thompson “knew his actions were going to affect families in disastrous ways. He used a position of power to steal from victims who were vulnerable, including the owner of a small grocery store, and working families for whom English was not their native language. With this guilty verdict, Phillip Thompson has been held accountable for his deliberate and deceitful actions.”
This case was prosecuted by Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Elisha Willis, chief of Ryan’s Special Investigations Unit and Assistant Attorney General Andrew Doherty, of Coakley’s Fraud and Financial Crimes Division.
They were assisted by Stephen Bethoney and Kevin Floster of Coakley’s Financial Investigations Division, and Doug Nagengast, financial investigator from Ryan’s office, Megan Murphy and Ashley Cinelli, victim witness advocates in Coakley’s victim services division, and state troopers assigned to Coakley’s office.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.