By Jill Harmacinski
---- — SALEM, Mass. — An Essex County Superior Court judge yesterday agreed to transfer a criminal case involving a disbarred Lawrence attorney accused of stealing $900,000 from his clients to Middlesex County where he is facing similar larceny charges.
Phillip Thompson, 35, entered pleas of not guilty on seven counts of larceny of property over $250, one count of larceny of property over $250 from a person over age 60 and unauthorized practice of the law during his arraignment in Salem Superior Court.
Judge Timothy Feeley agreed to release Thompson on personal recognizance after the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Margret Cooke, told him that Thompson posted $10,000 bail and must wear a GPS monitoring device — the conditions of his bail in the Middlesex Superior Court case.
Feeley yesterday also allowed a motion to have both cases consolidated in Middlesex Superior Court.
On June 13, Thompson was indicted by a statewide grand jury for stealing more than $900,000 from clients, including an elderly couple and a minister. “We allege he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars for his own personal use,” Attorney General Martha Coakley said at the time.
Coakley’s office began investigating in 2011 after the matter was referred by the Essex County District Attorney’s Office. 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. Authorities allege that between July 2007 and June 2011, Thompson stole more than $900,000 from at least seven clients.
The investigation revealed that Thompson represented clients in several real estate transactions, allegedly failing to pay off loans and failing to give funds to clients who were owed money.
In one case, Thompson allegedly 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, Thompson allegedly converted the funds for his own use and the clients never received any of the money.
In another instance, a reverend gave Thompson $60,000 to hold in escrow pending a closing on land that his church intended to purchase. When the closing fell through, Thompson allegedly never returned the money and kept it for his personal use.
According to investigators, Thompson continued to solicit legal business and represent himself as an attorney after he was suspended from practice in June 2010. Thompson was later disbarred in July 2012.
In December 2011, Thompson was arraigned in Middlesex Superior Court on charges of larceny by a fiduciary and larceny of property over $250. In this case, he is accused of using a $400,000 payoff for refinancing a client’s Malden home to pay off his own personal and business expenses.
Thompson is being defended by attorney Debra DeWitt of Lowell.
His next court date is July 30 in Middlesex Superior Court.
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