Disbarred Calif. lawyer who stole from clients gets 12 years in prison

REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
  • Philip Layfield was convicted of wire fraud, mail fraud, tax evasion, other charges
  • Sentencing judge described Layfield's actions as "sheer evil"

(Reuters) - A disbarred California attorney who stole millions of dollars from his clients' settlement funds before moving to Costa Rica has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.

Philip James Layfield, also known as Philip Samuel Pesin, was convicted by a federal jury in August on 19 counts of wire fraud, as well as mail fraud, tax evasion and other tax-related charges.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald sentenced Layfield on Thursday and set a May 12 hearing to determine the amount of restitution Layfield has to pay his victims.

Los Angeles prosecutors said Fitzgerald described Layfield's actions as "appalling" and "sheer evil."

Attorneys for Layfield did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Layfield was a personal injury attorney who ran the now-shuttered Layfield & Barrett firm in Irvine, California. Seventy-three of Layfield & Barrett's clients told the State Bar of California that they did not receive their settlement funds from the firm, at least $8.6 million, prosecutors said in a February 2018 affidavit.

One of those complainants was an unemployed college student who hired Layfield after she was seriously injured in a February 2016 accident.

Layfield struck a $3.9 million settlement for the student, but then kept $2 million of the settlement for his own uses while giving the student only $25,000, prosecutors said.

Layfield also borrowed $700,000 from a business lender on the basis of misleading information just before he boarded a flight to Costa Rica and used the money to buy and ship horses to the Central American country, prosecutors said.

The case is USA v. Layfield, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, 2:18-cr-00124.

For Layfield: Anthony M. Solis and Steven Brody, solo practitioners

For the government: Mark Aveis, Carolyn Small and Ian Yanniello, of the U.S. attorney's office

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.