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12 Counts Added to Disbarred Lawyer Case

August 29, 2003|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

Prosecutors have added 12 felony grand theft counts to the charges against a disbarred attorney who allegedly took money from clients she misled into believing that she was still a licensed lawyer.

The criminal complaint filed Thursday against Cristeta Paguirigan comes five months after the Los Angeles County Grand Jury indicted her on four similar counts. If convicted, she faces a potential 13-year prison term.

Paguirigan played a key role as a litigation specialist in South Gate during a politically tumultuous two-year period that ended earlier this year. Despite having been disbarred and having three felony convictions, she was given broad authority. Publicity about the controversy led numerous victims to come forward, prosecutors said.

Paguirigan's attorney, Trent Copeland, accused authorities of "piling on" charges to intimidate his client into testifying against former South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles, who is facing conspiracy charges.

"The hope and expectation is that she will crumble under the pressure and, at some point, testify for the prosecution," Copeland said.

But prosecutors said the cases are not related to Paguirigan's work in South Gate. The new allegations charge her with misrepresenting herself to eight people in labor law cases when she had her own business. She is alleged to have taken $3,000 to $5,000 from each person.

"She's been deceitful," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Penzin. "After she had her license suspended, she is still signing up clients and telling them that she's an attorney."

Paguirigan, who changed her surname to Klaparda before starting her work for South Gate, has been in custody since March after a judge revoked her probation in another case. Her trial is set to begin in September.

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