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Lawyer, 74, Accused of|Stealing From Orphans

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged a 74-year-old attorney with stealing more than $300,000 from four clients, who were orphaned when their parents died in a car crash.

The 12-count grand jury indictment charges John Milton Merritt, of Oklahoma City, with bank fraud, using the forged signature of a federal judge and money laundering.

Merritt appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Purcell early Wednesday and faces up to 30 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.

Merritt defrauded the Quail Creek Bank in Oklahoma City by fraudulently removing funds from his clients' bank accounts, according to the indictment.

"From 2005 through 2007, Merritt represented four clients who were orphaned as the result their parents' death in a 2002 automobile accident," prosecutors said in a statement. "Merritt allegedly stole more than $300,000 from the orphans' trust fund accounts by providing the bank with counterfeit state court orders."

Prosecutors say that last year Merritt forged the signature of U.S. District Judge Vicki Mile-LaGrange on a counterfeit federal court order to get $130,000 from the trust account of another client, a child who had been injured in an automobile accident.

They said Merritt also broke federal money laundering laws by spending the money he stole from the bank.

The indictment seeks forfeiture of more than $731,000 if Merritt is convicted.

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