Friday, June 10, 2005

Lawyer stealing settlement checks

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Former Lawyer Faces New Charges
June 10, 2005 By THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, Hartford Courant Staff Writer (ctnow.com)

A former West Hartford attorney, already charged with stealing the proceeds of a client's insurance settlement and bouncing a check for a town tax payment, was arrested again Thursday for allegedly embezzling thousands of dollars from another former client.

Ronald L. Lepine, 58, was handcuffed by state inspectors in the morning inside Superior Court in Hartford as he was making a court appearance for his earlier charges. Judge Marcia Gleeson ordered Lepine held on $100,000 bail on charges of first-degree larceny and second-degree forgery and slated another court appearance for July 12.

The chief state's attorney's office charges that Lepine, of 417 Chestnut St., New Britain, stole more than $26,000 from the damages a client received from a truck accident five years ago. Not only did Lepine not tell the client he had received a $41,375 settlement in the accident suit, said inspectors, but he advanced the client $15,000 as a "loan" in April 2004.

The client, Richard Terranova of Coventry, had been unable to work as a self-employed truck driver after suffering injuries in the accident, and ultimately was forced to file for bankruptcy, says an arrest warrant. Terranova and his wife, Helen, retained Lepine to represent them in the bankruptcy.

While the bankruptcy was ongoing in 2003, says the warrant, another lawyer, John J. O'Neil Jr., representing Terranova in the accident, told him that he had turned the $41,375 settlement check over to Lepine. Terranova later learned, says the warrant, that Lepine had forged his name to the settlement check and cashed it.In the meantime, says the warrant, Lepine offered the Terranovas three $5,000 checks as "a loan" to help them pay their other bills. He charged them a $1,230 attorney fee.

When inspectors interviewed Lepine, says the warrant, he told them he was surprised the Terranovas didn't get the settlement funds because he gave them a check. But, says the warrant, although Lepine said he would provide the canceled check or a copy of it, he never did.

And, Lepine's bank records show he made a deposit of the Terranovas' settlement funds, but never withdrew a like amount to repay the Terranovas.

In the other court cases, Lepine was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny and two counts of second-degree forgery and passing a bad check to pay his West Hartford tax bills. The forgery and larceny charges, said inspectors, stemmed from Lepine's theft of other lawsuit monetary damages due to a West Hartford man and his daughter, hurt in a car crash in June 2001. The man hired Lepine to seek damages from the other driver, says another arrest warrant affidavit.

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