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Karyn McConnell Hancock, who was once a respected attorney and Toledo City Councilman, was sentenced yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to four years in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her former clients.
Convicted in November of aggravated theft, McConnell Hancock admitted to stealing more than $624,000 from 22 clients over a period of six years. The charge carries a maximum of eight years in prison.
Although tearful when speaking about the hurt she caused to her family, the 36-year-old mother of two showed little emotion as sheriff's deputies escorted her from the courtroom in handcuffs after her sentencing.
Visiting Judge David Faulkner granted a request to temporarily keep her incarcerated locally so that she could attend a Domestic Relations Court hearing today in regard to her pending divorce. She then will be sent to the women's prison facility in Marysville, Ohio.
The prison sentence, which included an order of restitution, was well received by three of McConnell Hancock's victims, who appeared in court yesterday.
Maurice Morris, who had hired McConnell Hancock to represent him during an injury auto accident claim, said he was "very satisfied" that his former attorney would spend time behind bars.
"She has stolen a lot of money from a lot of people, the young, the old, black, white, and from the families of the dead," Mr. Morris told Judge Faulkner. "Moreover, Mrs. McConnell [Hancock] has shown an arrogant lack of integrity, which has resulted in little to no empathy toward her former clients along with dishonoring her profession."
The sentence concludes a months-long investigation by the Lucas County prosecutor's office that focused on McConnell Hancock's Michigan Street law practice.
Authorities said McConnell Hancock would put money into an attorney escrow account for clients of personal injury cases, probate matters, and real estate issues, and would divert some of the funds for personal use.
Because McConnell Hancock ultimately would pay back some of that money with other accounts, the total stolen was about $389,000, said Assistant County Prosecutor J. Christopher Anderson.
"This was just like a Ponzi scheme in that she created new victims to pay out the old ones and eventually when the music stopped, this was the number," Mr. Anderson said. "We have a policy in the [prosecutor's] office that attorneys who steal from clients go to prison."
McConnell Hancock apologized in court to her family, her clients, and her former colleagues. Acknowledging that she made mistakes and "bad calls," McConnell Hancock said she stood in court "very humbly and remorseful."
"I apologize to my clients. They trusted me to represent them, and I broke that trust," she said, adding that she was concerned about her two young children, who are the source of a custody dispute with her estranged husband, Lawrence Hancock.
"I've complied with all terms and conditions imposed on me during this time and will prove to the court I can do so again," she said while requesting community control.
McConnell Hancock's parents, Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell and Tempie McConnell, appeared in the courtroom, as did several family members and friends. They left without comment.
Defense attorney Jerry Phillips pointed out McConnell Hancock's lack of criminal record and her past service to the community.
He told Judge Faulkner, a retired Hardin County Common Pleas Court judge, that her only contact with the law was the misdemeanor case that the visiting judge presided over in municipal court.
McConnell Hancock was found guilty last January of a misdemeanor charge of making false alarms.
The charge evolved from her admission that she fabricated a story of being kidnapped from downtown Toledo and dropped off in Georgia in early November, 2007.
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.
That conviction occurred the same day that McConnell Hancock sent a letter to the Ohio Supreme Court to resign as an attorney.
Judge Faulkner spoke of McConnell Hancock's bright future and positive past prior to the sentencing, saying that she was a "productive member of the community and a law-abiding citizen."
But the judge said he could not overlook the "significant financial harm" and "emotional distress" McConnell Hancock brought upon her clients and the mistrust she caused in the legal system.
"Ms. McConnell Hancock's position as an attorney has caused her to have the trust of the courts and of her clients. She betrayed that trust for numeric gain," Judge Faulkner said. "None of us is above the law."
Mr. Phillips declined to comment after sentencing except to affirm that his client could be first eligible for judicial release after serving six months in prison.
Like Mr. Morris, some of McConnell Hancock's victims were those whom she represented in personal injury cases.
In those cases, she would settle cases and forge the victim's name on settlement checks only to pay them less or none of what they were owed.
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.
Beverly Burton said in court that she is the daughter of one of McConnell Hancock's former clients.
Her mother, Esther Pearl Burton, who has since passed away, had hired McConnell Hancock to handle issues involving her mortgage.
Instead of using the money given to her to pay the elderly woman's mortgage, McConnell Hancock stole the funds, authorities said.
"Whatever sentence she receives today will never be enough time to justify the anguish and heartache that my mother suffered," she said. "If my mother were here today, she would forgive and pray for her because she was a God-fearing woman. I am like my mother in many ways. I am working toward her level of forgiveness. But I am not there yet."
According to the indictment filed in October, the thefts occurred between Jan. 1, 2002, and Nov. 30, 2007. Although there were multiple victims, McConnell Hancock was only charged with one count because the theft offenses all occurred under similar circumstances establishing a continuous course of conduct, prosecutors have said.
By combining the charges, the dollar amount stolen totalled more than $500,000, elevating the charge to a second-degree felony.
The first of McConnell Hancock's victims 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.
Mr. Phillips noted to Judge Faulkner that those clients who investigators have identified as victims of theft have been advised to file a claim with the Client Security Fund of the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The fund is made up of money from registration fees paid by Ohio's attorneys and is used to reimburse victims of attorney misconduct.
As part of his sentence, Judge Faulkner did not impose a monetary fine so that "any money the defendant has available can be used for restitution and payment to the fund."
McConnell Hancock is not alone in facing criminal charges as a result of attorney misconduct.
Disbarred Toledo attorney John Ludeman served almost two years of a five and a half year prison sentence for his 1999 conviction for stealing $273,000 from the estate of a probate court client.
Another former attorney, Kathleen Striggow, pleaded guilty in July, 2004, to third-degree felony aggravated theft for stealing more than $175,000 from a client she represented in a civil matter.
She was sentenced later that year to two years in prison. Striggow, who surrendered her law license, was granted judicial release after serving nearly 14 months.
Cases are pending in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against disbarred attorneys Linda S. Cook and Gregg Hickman, who are each accused of criminal misconduct as a result of mishandling client's cases.
In addition to her work as an attorney, McConnell Hancock served as a Toledo city councilman from 2003 to 2005.
Just prior to her loss at the polls when attempting to be reelected in 2005, the Democratic councilman was caught on a police officer's in-car camera in June, 2005, asking for "professional courtesy" several times to avoid being ticketed in a no-stopping, tow-away zone.
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