Issues surfaced prior to attorney's fraud charges

By Lawrence Smith | Feb 16, 2012

CHARLESTON – Records show in the midst of the billing scheme he perpetrated that led to both his disbarment and conviction for wire fraud, Jeremy Bledsoe was rebuked for his conduct in unrelated cases three times in 2010.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger sentenced Bledsoe to 18 months in prison following his admission he submitted false information on vouchers for court-appointed legal work.

Following an investigation by the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigation, Bledsoe, 33, a sole practitioner in Pineville, plead guilty in September to charges between January 2010 and February 2011 he falsified information on payment vouchers that were ultimately submitted to the state Public Defender Services for criminal defense work he did for clients in Wyoming, Mercer and McDowell counties.

In lieu of submitting the vouchers directly to PDS, Bledsoe submitted them to Daniels Capital Corporation, who would pay him for the work he did within 24 hours, minus a percentage. The false information Bledsoe submitted including at least one fictitious client, and a judge's forged signature.

A month following his indictment, Bledsoe agreed to a voluntarily disbarment. Sixteen months before, the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the arm of the state Supreme Court that polices attorney misconduct, repeatedly warned him about his failure to timely respond to their inquires, including going so far in one case to issue him an admonishment.

Three cases

According to his file at the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, three women –- Jennifer G. Hudson of Wyoming, and Sharon K. Costello and Merlie M. Walls, both of Oceana –- filed separate ethics complaints against Bledsoe within a year. All three cases were closed in June 2010 with Hudson's and Costello's on the 12th and Walls' six days later.

In her complaint filed May 14, 2008, Hutchinson, on behalf of her husband, James, alleged Bledsoe failed to adequately represent James in 2007 on charges of voluntary manslaughter. Also, she alleged Bledsoe failed to return the unearned portion of a $10,000 retainer after James accepted a plea deal.

Because James entered into the plea agreement "intelligently and voluntarily," the Board found Bledsoe fulfilled his duty as an attorney. Although it did urge him to "use written retainer agreements in the future to avoid confusion and misunderstanding."

However, the Board admonished Bledsoe for not timely responding to their inquiry. Bledsoe's initial response was returned to him for lack of postage, and not submitted again until ODC demanded he submit it by July 31, 2008, in a certified letter sent 10 days earlier.

In her complaint filed March 2, 2009, Costello alleged Bledsoe acted unethically in helping her father prepare a new will. Among other things, Costello alleged Bledsoe first prepared the document revoking her power of attorney, and then served as witness to her father signing it on Feb. 7, 2009.

Though it found no wrongdoing, the Board warned Bledsoe about serving as a witness to documents he prepared. Also, it warned him that "future failures to respond to lawful requests for information may lead to disciplinary action."

In Costello's case, Bledsoe filed his response a month following the July 24, 2009 deadline ODC gave in its second request for a response submitted via certified mail.

In her complaint filed May 14, 2009, Walls voiced her displeasure with the progress Bledsoe was making in getting real estate she and her ex-husband jointly owned sold. She filed her complaint when Bledsoe refused to file a motion for contempt against her ex-husband.

Because the investigation found there were perspective buyers for the property, but not willing to pay the $30,000 they were asking, ODC found Bledsoe did not violate any Rules of Professional Conduct. However, because he took three months to respond to Walls' complaint, Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Rachel L. Fletcher Cipoletti warned him that "failure to respond to ethics complaints in the future will be considered a violation of Rule 8.1 (b)."

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