CHARLESTON -– A Mingo County attorney has been sentenced for fraudulently obtaining over $119,000 from an Alabama corporation.
William H. Duty, 56, of Delbarton was ordered to serve six months in prison followed by six months of community confinement for wire fraud. Duty previously pleaded guilty in July, admitting he falsified state court documents to obtain reimbursement for services he provided as a court-appointed lawyer.
Duty was a solo law practitioner with an office in Williamson. Among other types of cases, Duty represented indigent clients in state criminal matters. As a normal practice, after a case was completed, Duty submitted a payment voucher form to the Circuit Court Judge for the 30th Judicial Circuit, which includes Mingo County.
The Circuit Court Judge reviewed the payment voucher and signed a court order authorizing payment. Duty then submitted the court order to the West Virginia Public Defender Services ("WVPDS") for payment. As a general matter, the WVPDS took several months or more to reimburse Duty.
In December 2004, Duty entered into a cash-advance agreement with Daniels Capital Corporation ("DCC"), a corporation headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., to expedite payment from WVPDS for his legal services. In exchange for prompt payments less a small percentage, Duty assigned his right to full payment from WVPDS to DCC.
In essence, once Duty received the court order approving his payment voucher for a particular case, he would fax a copy of the order to both WVPDS and DCC. DCC would wire Duty the reimbursement less a percentage that same day or the next day. When WVPDS eventually processed the same payment voucher, WVPDS would pay DCC directly the full amount.
From June 2005 until at least December 2007, Duty submitted a number of fraudulent court orders to DCC for payment. In some cases, Duty created a false court order. In other cases, Duty took court orders and increased the reimbursement amount. Among others, on or about Feb. 16, 2006, Duty wired a falsified court order and payment voucher to DCC requesting $2,780. In total, Duty fraudulently obtained $119,375.87 from DCC.
The U.S. Postal Service and U.S. Secret Service investigated the matter. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas C. Ryan handled the prosecution. U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. presided over the proceedings.
Around the time Duty engaged in the acts of fraud, he was under investigation by the state Bar for unrelated acts of misconduct. The Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Bar's prosecutorial arm, petitioned the state Supreme Court to annul Duty's license for committing 15 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
According the Board, Duty, among other things, commingled and converted $25,000 in client funds, tried to overbill a client $3,500, shared a fee with a nonlawyer, failed to segregate disputed sums from his own, failed to keep a client informed on the status of a case, made false statements under oath and tried to interfere with the disciplinary process by asking a client to withdraw a complaint.
The Court on Feb. 8, 2008, first annulled Duty's license after he failed to file a brief in his defense or show for oral arguments in his case the month before. However, after he filed a petition for reconsideration on March 17, 2008, the Court again scheduled oral arguments on the Board's annulment petition for May 21.
In his motion, Duty said the reason he did not file a brief was due to his coping with a serious illness the latter half of 2007. He blamed his misconduct on an addiction to the painkiller OxyContin, but said he was being treated for his addiction and was clean for the last two years.
However, the Court was unmoved and on Nov. 25, 2008, again voted to annul Duty's license.