CHARLESTON -– Pineville attorney Christopher B. Bledsoe has pleaded guilty in federal court before U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger to wire fraud.
A single-count information was filed against Bledsoe, 33, earlier this month. Bledsoe admitted that he forged the signature of the local circuit court judge to complete payment vouchers and other court documents, so that he could submit falsely inflated invoices to a different third-party vendor. The vendor and the defendant were both ultimately reimbursed by the Public Defender Service ("PDS").
The charge against Bledsoe occurs from 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.
Bledsoe faces up to 20 years in prison and a $200,000 fine when he is sentenced on Feb. 2, 2012. He pleaded guilty on Sept. 22.
In a similar case earlier this month, Jeremy Vickers, 36, of Point Pleasant was charged in a one-count Information for submitting fraudulent bills for work he performed in appointed state criminal matters.
According to the Information, Vickers billed more than 24 hours for one day's work on 173 occasions. Vickers submitted those false bills to a third-party vendor who was ultimately reimbursed with state monies through the West Virginia Public Defender Service ("PDS").
Vickers' case will be assigned to the Huntington Division of the Southern District of West Virginia. Like Blesdoe, Vickers has agreed to plead guilty to the charges and the plea hearing will be scheduled in the near future.
In November 2010, yet another attorney, Bill Duty of Delbarton admitted to stealing nearly $120,000 through a similar fraudulent scheme and was sentenced to six months in prison, followed by six months of community confinement for his conduct.
"Lawyers take an oath to uphold the law," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. "That's why I know that other members of this profession will agree with me that it is alarming to have three lawyers prosecuted in this district over the last year for breaking the law in the course of performing their duties."
The charges against Bledsoe and Vickers arise out 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 cases are being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas C. Ryan and investigated by the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations.