Former Austin Attorney Begins Prison Term

     AUSTIN (CN) – A prominent Austin attorney has begun serving his prison sentence for stealing over $670,000 from children under his court-appointed guardianship in Travis and Williamson counties.
     John Williams “Will” Coates pleaded guilty in August to a first degree felony charge of misapplication of fiduciary property in Travis County Court.
     State District Judge Mike Lynch sentenced him to six months in state prison and ten years of probation. As part of his plea agreement, Coates agreed to repay the money and relinquish his law license.
     First reported by KXAN.com, prosecutors said Coates violated the trust of dozens of children he represented who were awarded money in lawsuits.
     The money was supposed to be deposited into a trust registered with the county clerk until the children turned age 18. Investigators say Coates failed to do this.
     Austin Police Detective Billy Petty told KXAN that an investigation of every case Coates was appointed guardian ad litem to since 2001 showed “that the money was co-mingled and used with his personal expenses.”
     Furthermore, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir discovered Coates had endorsed payment checks to himself and forged her signature.
     “That was surprising as well that it would go that far,” DeBeauvoir told KXAN. “That’s a lot of chutzpah. I was surprised.”
     She said her staff reevaluated oversight systems in place to monitor the 584 custodial accounts in the court registry and made changes to remove the loophole that allowed Coates to commit his crimes. About 100 new accounts are opened each year, she said.
     “With the new auditing rules and our new awareness of this possibility I’m hoping that that loophole is now closed,” DeBeauvoir said Prosecutors say they reached a plea agreement with Coates to make sure the money would be repaid.
     “If we had recommended a prison sentence, on its face there’s a good chance these children would never have gotten their money,” Assistant District Attorney Gail Van Winkle told KXAN. “We felt that he needed to be punished and probation in and of itself, because it doesn’t involve incarceration, we didn’t feel was enough.”
     Coates is currently housed at the Reverend C.A. Holliday Transfer Facility, a 1,409 acre prison in Huntsville, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website.

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