BECKLEY -– Pineville attorney has been sentenced to 18 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger for wire fraud.
Christopher B. Bledsoe, 33, previously pleaded guilty in September, admitting that he had falsified payment vouchers for court-appointed criminal defense work.
Lawyers hold a position of public trust," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. "When that trust is broken, the public and the profession as a whole suffers. Seeing three members of the bar convicted of essentially the same scheme within a one-year period is particularly disappointing.
The sentence of the court in this case will hopefully send a clear message that such conduct cannot be tolerated and will be dealt with harshly."
Since approximately 2004, Bledsoe practiced law in Pineville in Wyoming County. Among other types of cases, he represented indigent clients in state criminal matters pending in Wyoming, Mercer and McDowell Counties.
As a normal practice, after a case was completed, Bledsoe submitted a payment voucher form to the respective Circuit Court Judge for approval. The Circuit Court Judge reviewed the payment voucher and signed a court order authorizing payment. Bledsoe 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 Bledsoe.
Bledsoe entered into a cash-advance agreement with Daniels Capital Corporation ("DCC"), a corporation headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, to expedite his payments. In exchange for prompt payments less a small percentage, Bledsoe assigned his right to full payment from WVPDS to DCC.
In essence, the defendant 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 Bledsoe 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.
Beginning in January 2010 and at least until February 2011, Bledsoe created false payment vouchers. In some instances, as soon as he was assigned a criminal matter, Bledsoe would estimate the fee he expected to earn on the particular matter and create a false payment voucher, including falsifying the Circuit Court Judge's signature, and send to DCC for payment before any work was actually performed.
In other instances, Bledsoe created an entirely false payment voucher, including a fictitious client and case number.
Bledsoe submitted approximately $189,000 in total payment vouchers to DCC. At this time, the parties have not yet been able to ascertain what portion of those billings represent legitimate services, but both acknowledge at least $30,000 of the vouchers are fraudulent.
This case was brought as part of an investigation by the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations into false and fraudulent billings submitted by attorneys for services performed in appointed criminal matters.
The case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas C. Ryan and investigated by the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations.