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Ex-Lawyer Guilty of Bilking Dying Client

Conviction could mean five years for stealing a woman's medical settlement check.

August 22, 2003|Akilah Johnson | Times Staff Writer

A former Los Angeles attorney was convicted Thursday of embezzling $130,000 from a client dying of cancer.

Leonard Michael Samuels, 56, had represented Chin Shan in a medical malpractice suit alleging that her doctor had failed to diagnose her stomach cancer. Chin Shan died in March at the age of 62.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found Samuels guilty of grand theft by embezzlement. He could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison on Sept. 12.

Samuels in 2000 received a settlement check for $190,000 from the Shan lawsuit, filed two years earlier. He deposited it into his trust account.

Under a contingency agreement, Samuels was entitled to about $60,000 of the money. Instead, he kept the entire amount and used it to pay off other clients, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward Miller.

He lied to Shan, telling her that his accounts had been frozen, according to prosecutors.

"The key, the kicker to this case, was this letter he wrote saying the money was coming when, in fact, he had only $44 in his client trust account," Miller said.

According to testimony, Shan requested that Samuels write a letter to family members to whom she owed money indicating that she was due to receive more than $100,000.

Shan testified against Samuels at a hearing last October. Her testimony was videotaped and was played at trial after her death.

Samuels, who represented himself during the four-day trial, gave up his license to practice law after he was indicted last year.

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