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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2008

Former lawyer admits stealing over $624,000

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Karyn McConnell Hancock leaves court after her plea. Sentencing is Jan. 15. She could receive up to eight years in prison. Karyn McConnell Hancock leaves court after her plea. Sentencing is Jan. 15. She could receive up to eight years in prison.
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Karyn McConnell Hancock, after pleading guilty yesterday to one count of aggravated theft, admitted that she stole more than $624,000 from her former law clients.

The former Toledo councilman pleaded guilty in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. She was convicted of stealing money from 23 clients over a period of nearly six years.

McConnell Hancock, 38, made no comments in court yesterday, only answering the questions posed to her by Visiting Judge David Faulkner, who accepted her plea and ordered her booked in the county jail. She was released from there on bond after being handcuffed and led from the courtroom. She faces up to eight years in prison when sentenced Jan. 15.

She has always accepted responsibility for her actions, attorney Jerry Phillips said after the hearing, adding that his client opened her files to investigators as well as fully cooperating with authorities. She s always said, I did it, and it s my fault whatever the consequences.

The plea brings to an end a months-long investigation by the Lucas County Prosecutor s Office that focused on McConnell Hancock s Michigan Street law practice. Assistant County Prosecutor J. Christopher Anderson said in court that McConnell Hancock would put money into attorney escrow accounts for clients in personal injury cases, probate matters, and real estate issues, and would divert some of the funds for personal use.

Because McConnell Hancock would ultimately pay back some of that money with other accounts, authorities believe the total stolen was about $389,000.

It was similar to a Ponzi scheme in which she would have to pay people off to keep it afloat, Mr. Anderson said after the hearing. Ultimately she had to create more and more victims.

At least 12 of the victims have been identified as McConnell Hancock s clients from Lucas County Probate Court. In July, a report released by the court indicated that she stole nearly $335,000 from the estates she represented.

Also among McConnell Hancock s victims were those whom she represented in personal injury cases. In those cases, she would settle and forge victims names on settlement checks, only to pay them less or none of what they were owed.

Mistie Hines went to McConnell Hancock for legal advice after a January, 2007, car crash. She said yesterday that she learned about a year later that a settlement check had been sent to and cashed by McConnell Hancock months before.

She deserves punishment, a tearful Ms. Hines said outside the courtroom where McConnell Hancock entered her plea. I feel like I was violated, and I want to tell her that.

According to the indictment, the thefts occurred between Jan. 1, 2002, and Nov. 30, 2007. Mr. Anderson said, although there are multiple victims, McConnell Hancock was charged with only one count because the theft offenses all occurred under similar circumstances, establishing a continuous course of conduct.

Time in prison

By combining the charges, the dollar amount stolen exceeded $500,000, elevating the charge to a second-degree felony where there is a presumption that the offender will serve time in prison, Mr. Anderson said.

The first of the victims of alleged theft to be identified was the estate of Rodney Coley, Sr., who was killed in his home in February, 2006. McConnell Hancock admitted in a consent agreement filed in probate court in January that she embezzled more than $130,000 from the murdered man s estate.

Those clients who investigators have identified as victims of theft have been advised to file a claim with the Client Security Fund of the Ohio Supreme Court. The fund is made up of money from registration fees paid by Ohio s attorneys and is used to reimburse those who are victims of attorney misconduct.

McConnell Hancock s husband, Bishop Lawrence Hancock, said yesterday s resolution in court was a sad moment. The couple is in the midst of a divorce. Bishop Hancock said his focus will be on the couple s two young children and rebuilding his church, Final Harvest Church. Stressing that McConnell Hancock s thefts began before their marriage, Bishop Hancock said he was disappointed that it seemed some believed he was somehow involved. He added that he believed the stolen money was a result of McConnell Hancock s inability to start up and sustain a law practice.

They don t teach you how to run a business in law school, he said, adding that he too was a victim of theft. She was robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Since the theft investigation began, Bishop Hancock said his church on Airport Highway has closed but he is trying to open in a building on Monroe Street. He said that now that he is finally cleared of possible involvement in the thefts, he hopes to begin rebuilding the church.

Very, very sad day

What she s done has been an embarrassment to her, an embarrassment to her family, and an embarrassment to me, he said. This is a very, very sad day. There are two small children whose mother will be sent away.

McConnell Hancock s mother, Tempie McConnell, and two friends were in court yesterday but left without comment. Her father, Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell, was not in court.

McConnell Hancock, who entered the practice of law on May 11, 1999, sent a letter to the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year to resign as an attorney. Her resignation came on the same day Jan. 29 that she was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of making false alarms.

The charge evolved from her admission that she fabricated a story of being kidnapped from downtown and dropped off in Georgia in early December. As a result of the conviction, McConnell Hancock was sentenced April 9 to two years of probation with a three-month jail sentence suspended, a $300 fine, and 40 hours of community service.

Judge Faulkner, a retired Hardin County Common Pleas Court judge, presided over the misdemeanor case as well. Yesterday, he ordered a presentence investigation report to help when crafting a sentence.

Attorneys for both sides said that no deal has been reached on a sentence.

McConnell Hancock is not alone in facing criminal charges as a result of misconduct as an attorney. Disbarred Toledo attorney John Ludeman served nearly two years of a five-year prison sentence after being convicted in 1999 of stealing $273,000 from the estate of a probate court client.

Cases are currently pending in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against disbarred attorneys Linda S. Cook and Gregg Hickman. Each is accused of criminal misconduct in mishandling client cases.

McConnell Hancock served as a Toledo city councilman from 2003 to 2005. In June, 2005, the Democratic councilman was caught on a police officer s in-car camera asking for professional courtesy to avoid being ticketed in a no-stopping, tow-away zone.

Yesterday McConnell Hancock made no comments as court deputies escorted her quickly out of the courtroom.

Contact Erica Blake at:eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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