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Sticky-Fingered Lawyer Sentenced to 25 Years

DALLAS (CN) - A personal-injury lawyer who hosted a call-in TV show was sentenced to 25 years in Texas prison for stealing settlement funds from several of his clients.

Judge Mike Snipes sentenced Thomas Corea, of Palmer, Texas, on Thursday. The Dallas County court held the three-day sentencing hearing after Corea pleaded guilty to three of the nine charges against him. The other six charges reportedly remain pending. He faced up to a life sentence.

Corea headed The Corea Firm PLLC and Corea Trial Group LLC before his arrest in August 2012 after a seven-month investigation by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

Though he posted bail, Corea was arrested again in November 2012 after he allegedly trashed his Design District law office, destroyed expensive fixtures and drew penises on the walls before an eviction. The graffiti allegedly included derogatory messages about an Arizona judge, as well as her phone number.

Corea also faces lawsuits from several clients, including Howard Wright, of Ellis County. Wright said he hired Corea to pursue a nursing-home-neglect claim after his father died and ultimately obtained a $225,000 settlement in mediation.

The lawyer then used at least two "fraudulent" excuses to delay paying Wright the settlement, and misled Wright into thinking that Corea had spent several months renegotiating a Medicare lien, according to the complaint. Wright said the money was never placed in Corea's trust account.

"Moreover, defendant Corea misappropriated fiduciary information to obtain a loan against the settlement, possibly in plaintiff's name, with the funds from the loan to be paid to defendant Corea," Wright's complaint stated. "On information and belief, defendant Corea spent the entire $225,000 from the settlement on himself and/or fraudulent transferred all or part of the funds at issue to his wife, Jennifer Roberts Corea."

Wright's grievance with the State Bar of Texas led to Corea's disbarment in October 2012.

Earlier that month, Harlan Cannon Sr. sued Corea and his law firm, claiming they refused to turn over his Vioxx products liability settlement money.

At this week's sentencing hearing, Maureen Ray, special administrative counsel with the State Bar, testified that this was the most extreme case of lawyer misconduct she had ever seen.

Ray said that the Client Security Fund of the State Bar would not be able to cover all of the claims made by Corea's clients. The fund only allows a maximum payment of $30,000 per client, according to the State Bar's website.

Corea is the former host of "Ask the Lawyer with Tom Corea," a half-hour, biweekly legal call-in show on KTXA Channel 21, a CBS station.

He sued the station's owners in February 2012, claiming they cost him $1.4 million in lost business by failing to forward all the calls to the show to his office, as promised.

Follow @davejourno
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