Manassas Journal Messenger | Former Manassas attorney ordered to repay gypped clients

A Prince William Circuit Court judge Friday ordered that clients of a former Manassas attorney convicted of embezzlement and money laundering be reimbursed.

Funds seized from Thomas Eugene Burks’ trust accounts and legal fees will be used to pay clients and the Virginia State Bar’s Client Protection Fund shares of about $30,000. The Client Protection Fund paid an additional five injured clients of Burks.

He was convicted of three counts of embezzling and one count of money laundering in Prince William Circuit Court in January 2001.

He abandoned his Peabody Street law office in May 2000 and left 60 to 80 open records, according to a Virginia State Bar complaint at that time. Shortly thereafter, Virginia State Police began investigating State Bar claims that Burks had been settling personal injury disputes, then keeping some or all of the proceeds, cheating clients and medical providers.

Burks’ law license was revoked in July 2000 after the State Bar’s Disciplinary Board determined he had committed criminal acts, fraud, did not keep proper trust account records and didn’t communicate with clients.

Friday, Alexandria attorney Richard S. Mendelson named those entitled to reimbursement.

Mendelson has acted as a receiver in the case for more than two years. Circuit courts can appoint receivers in the cases of attorneys who cease practice suddenly, through death, handicap or loss of law license.

As receiver, Mendelson took control of Burks’ law files, seized his bank accounts, and collected legal fees due to Burks. In his receiver’s report, released May 1, Mendelson wrote a total of $51,384.10 was available for distribution per court corder.

Burks also owed the Internal Revenue Service about $800,000, according to published reports. Mendelson’s report to the court included documents from the IRS saying they would be second in line for shares in the $51,384, after former clients of Burks’.

The clients who will be first to receive money are those “whose funds were or ought to have been held in trust by Mr. Burks,” Mendelson wrote.

“Most typically, the amounts of money is less than valid good claims, so everybody shares in proportion,” Mendelson said Tuesday. “In our case, we had more money [than claims] so we had excess money that the IRS got.”

Two of the 10 claimants listed in Mendelson’s report were Burks’ former employees seeking wages owed them by Burks. But these former employees won’t receive their money unless the IRS allows them to enter their claims before it does.

Five of Burks’ clients were reimbursed by the Virginia State Bar’s Client Protection Fund in 2001. The CPF board meets three times a year to consider claimants alleging injury by Virginia attorneys. If the CPF finds merit, these claimants can be reimbursed from the fund, which is created from a portion of every Virginia attorney’s dues.

Burks was sentenced to 40 years in prison, with 36 years suspended in March 2001. The remaining four years were ordered to run concurrently, leaving Burks one year to serve. He was placed on work release.

Special conditions of the suspended sentence included a 10-year probation and restitution to the victims in the amount of $79,988.92. That amount could be reduced after Burks’ is credited for the reimbursement ordered Friday. Burks was also supposed to reimburse the CPF board, which paid $11,771.15 to five claimants against Burks. Mr. Burks’ restitution to date has totaled $6,500, according to Mendelson.

Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.

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