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Rogue attorney sentenced to 37 months for defrauding clients with fake judgments

The lawyer told his clients he filed complaints and motions on their behalf while doing nothing of the kind.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A disbarred attorney was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to defrauding his clients through faked judgments with forged signatures.

Matthew Elstein formerly with national law firm Tressler LLP, was also ordered to pay $254,000 in restitution at his sentencing Monday in Los Angeles.

U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi wasn’t persuaded that a degenerative brain condition Elstein, 52, claims to suffer from was either at the root of his criminal conduct or a reason not to send him to prison. Instead, the judge sentenced him to the prison term prosecutors had asked for.

Elstein admitted last year that over a four-year period he had told his clients that he filed complaints, motions and other pleadings in court when, in fact, he hadn’t done anything. He billed them from legal services that he never rendered and for expenses he never incurred. He would also send his clients fraudulent court orders, settlement agreements, and other documents to convince them he had resolved the cases in their favor.

In June 2016, Elstein lied to a corporate client that they had won a $52 million default judgment and sent them a fake court order with a forged signature from the judge even though he never even filed a lawsuit for them. He then doubled up on his bluff by telling the client that the case was under seal because of a federal investigation and presented them with a fake settlement agreement between with the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento. The company only discovered the fraud when they reached out to the U.S. attorney’s office to authenticate the settlement.

“Defendant caused irreparable financial, reputational and emotional damage to his victims that exceeds the mere monetary damage caused by a typical fraud,” prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in LA said in their sentencing memorandum. “Defendant’s motive appears fueled not only by greed but also malice.”

One of Elstein’s victims spoke in court and said he will never salvage his reputation, which Elstein destroyed.

“The damage he did is just incapable of ever being repaired,” the man said.

In a tearful bid for clemency, Elstein told the the judge that he understood the pain he had caused and said a degenerative condition of his frontal lobe may soon diminish his mental capacities. His lawyer told the judge that Elstein’s medical condition contributed to his behavior spinning out of control.

After he had already agreed to plead guilty, and his state bar license was inactive, Elstein accepted $3,500 from a new client to help him secure an inheritance. According to a Redondo Beach Police Department officer, who listened in on a call between Elstein and this person, Elstein appeared to be delaying and “scamming” the man.

Elstein’s lawyer, Candace Fields, argued that her client had already been punished enough for his malpractice by losing his law license and asked for a sentence of home confinement or, at most, just months in prison. She also pointed out that Elstein refunded the $3,500 he accepted even though his license was no longer active.

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