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Disciplinary Reporter Case Digest

Attorney ID 28224
Attorney Name Elias, Paul J.
DBP Docket No. 53 DB 2007
Supreme Court Docket No. 1253 DD No. 3
County Westmoreland
Disciplinary Counsel Mark G. Weitzman
Counsel for Respondent Robert I. Johnston
Decision Date 2009-04-28
Effective Date 2007-05-01
Case Digest On March 5, 2007, Respondent entered a plea of guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement with the United States Attorney's Office, to one count of violating 18 U.S.C. 371, by conspiring with others to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. Respondent's criminal conviction arose out of his association with Joseph M. Stabile and several of his corporate entities referred collectively as "Celestial," which purported to be in the business of the sale to consumers, primarily senior citizens, of future need caskets, burial vaults, and other funeral merchandise. From about 2003 through 2005, Respondent was counsel for Celestial and also became the secretary to Celestial. Under the Pennsylvania Future Interment Law, sellers of future need burial merchandise must deposit 70 percent of the funds received from customers into trust funds established for that purpose and hold these funds in trust until delivery of the merchandise. Checks payable to Celestial by customers for future-need merchandise were not deposited into trust funds established for that purpose but were improperly deposited into Respondent's IOLTA Account, his attorney at law account, or his personal account, at the behest of Stabile. These funds were subsequently converted to the personal use of Stabile and Respondent and the total amount involved was greater than $10,000 and less than $30,000. The Board stated, in part, that the facts show that: (1) Stabile was the key principal in the criminal activity and Respondent, though a participant, was not a calculating participant in the scheme; (2) There was no evidence of financial gain by Respondent and at no time did he falsify any documents; (3) Respondent did not act with a motive to profit from the activity; (4) When the seriousness of the situation became apparent to Respondent, he fully cooperated with criminal law enforcement authorities; and, (5) Respondent accepted total responsibility for his criminal activities and he expressed sincere remorse and his belief that he would never engage in criminal conduct again. The Board recommended a suspension of one year and one day, retroactive to May 10, 2007. the effective date of his temporary suspension based on his conviction. The Board stated that while the facts of record demonstrate that Respondent has no prior history of discipline, he cooperated with the authorities, he accepted full responsibility for his actions, he is making a concerted effort to pay to the victims restitution, and he has a long history of commitment to worthwhile community projects, the inescapable fact remains that he was convicted of a felony and is on probation until 2012.
Rule Violation(s) Rule 203(b), Pa.R.D.E.
Discipline Imposed Suspension of one year and one day, retroactive to 5/10/07.
Points of Law When a lawyer is convicted of a felony involving fraud, a suspension of at least one year and one day is necessary to show that he or she is fit to practice law in the future.
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