Embassy’s Lawyer Must Return Misused Refund

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A lawyer who spent most of a real estate tax refund due to Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria must turn over $1.5 million, a federal judge ruled.
     In a 2010 complaint, the embassy claimed that its former attorney Ephraim Ugwuonye failed to file necessary paperwork on behalf of the embassy’s real estate transactions, resulting in the Internal Revenue Service withholding $1.55 million in property taxes from the embassy.
     Ugwuonye and his law firm, ECU Associates, were able to get the $1.55 million refunded, but kept the money in their own account and spent all but $195.65 of it.
     The embassy had sued Ugwuonye, the firm and another attorney, Bruce Fein.
     After deferring a summary judgment decision in 2012, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein slammed Ugwuonye in May 2013 for “egregious discovery misconduct throughout this case” and entered a default against him.
     In granting the embassy default judgment Wednesday, Rothstein noted that Ugwuonye had routinely missed filing deadlines.
     Though he claimed that he was being held for 90 days in a Nigerian jail, the lawyer was active in other cases during that time, according to the ruling.
     “As the court has determined that defendant Ugwuonye is liable on all counts, it is appropriate for the court to order Ugwuonye to pay compensatory damages equal to the pecuniary harm the Embassy suffered as a result of his actions,” Rothstein wrote. “Therefore, the court will award compensatory damages in the amount of $1.55 million.”
     The judge also awarded the embassy more than $528,000 in prejudgment and post-judgment interest, but refused to grant the embassy’s request for punitive damages.

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