Suspended Las Vegas attorney Barry Levinson has been charged with the theft of more than $1 million from his clients.
In an amended criminal complaint Tuesday, Levinson was accused of stealing the money from lawsuit settlements between January 2007 and July 2012. He is facing four felony theft counts.
Nevada State Bar Counsel David Clark said his organization, which regulates lawyers, has received 128 client grievances against Levinson, the most of any lawyer in Nevada.
Levinson appeared Tuesday before Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen with his lawyer, Brent Bryson, and waived his preliminary hearing on the theft charges. Hafen bound Levinson over for trial in District Court and set a Jan. 28 arraignment.
But Levinson is not likely to stand trial.
He has been negotiating a plea agreement to resolve the theft case with the district attorney’s office and another criminal case with federal prosecutors, who have charged him with conspiracy and mail fraud in the high-profile investigation into the takeover of 11 Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations.
“Mr. Levinson has some issues that he needs to get cleaned up, and he is taking steps to do that,” Bryson said outside the courtroom Tuesday.
Clark and three of his staffers were in court when Levinson appeared before Hafen.
Robert Whiteley, a detective with the Criminal Intelligence Section of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, investigated the theft case and also was in court.
Whiteley has teamed with FBI Agent Mike Elliott in the long-running HOA investigation, which so far has resulted in 29 federal convictions. Levinson, the accused mastermind of the multimillion-dollar takeover scheme, Leon Benzer, and 9 others are waiting to stand trial in the conspiracy. The trial, set for March 3, is expected to be delayed because of the massive amount of evidence in the case.
All but one of the 29 defendants who pleaded guilty in the HOA investigation have yet to be sentenced. They are cooperating with federal prosecutors preparing for the trial.
In a report of the theft investigation, Whiteley said Levinson stole most of the money from personal injury settlements.
“The money would generally be converted to office expenses or personal use and clients would not be paid,” Whiteley wrote. “Levinson engaged in a Ponzi scheme in the sense that he would use money from current clients to pay partial settlements of previous clients.
“In most cases, the clients never received any of the settlement money. Levinson employed deceitful tactics, such as not informing the client of a settlement or forging signatures of clients on settlement forms and check endorsements.”
He also would “string them along” when the clients inquired about their money, Whiteley said.
The Nevada Supreme Court issued an order in September 2012 temporarily suspending Levinson’s license until the State Bar’s disciplinary proceedings against him are resolved.
The high court said the evidence it received from the bar demonstrated that Levinson “poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public.”
Levinson at one time contended that his professional troubles stemmed from a former bookkeeper who embezzled money from him.
But in its 2012 petition to the Supreme Court, the bar said Levinson committed the “cardinal sin for lawyers by misappropriating money that he was entrusted with for safekeeping.”
When confronted by investigators, Levinson lied about the status of his clients’ funds, the bar said.