Monday, July 5, 2010

Houston lawyer indicted for ripping off veterans

A Houston attorney and his wife have been indicted for conspiring to misappropriate more than $2 million from the accounts of military veterans, making false statements and tax fraud.

According to the indictment, Attorney Joe Phillips was either appointed by a probate court or otherwise designated to serve as the legal guardian and fiduciary for a number of incompetent veterans. In that role, he opened and maintained bank accounts to receive benefit payments from the VA and the SSA to pay the ordinary and customary living expenses of the incompetent veterans, including but not limited to rent, mortgage payments, utilities and travel. Phillips and his wife are accused of stealing money from the bank accounts of veteran clients entrusted to Phillips by and through his position as their fiduciary/guardian/representative payee by transferring funds into the Phillips’ personal joint bank accounts.

My take on the case: It’s rare to see an attorney indicted on fraud charges. One wonders, however, where the probate court judges were in this case. Texas law provides that only probate courts have the authority to declare a person incompetent. Do the Harris County probate courts have no supervision over attorneys like Phillips? Wonder who tipped off the VA.

Below is the press release from the US Attorney for Southern District of Texas.

USAO - 100629 - Phillips

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