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Las Vegas lawyer pleads guilty to stealing millions from clients

Updated September 7, 2017 - 5:13 pm

Longtime estate attorney Robert Graham admitted in District Court Thursday to stealing more than $16 million from clients, many of whom relied financially on trust funds he oversaw.

Graham, 52, who is in custody at the Clark County Detention Center on $5 million bail, pleaded guilty before District Judge Kerry Earley to two felony counts of theft and three counts of exploitation of an older/vulnerable person. He faces a prison term of 16 to 40 years at his Jan. 11 sentencing.

“He’s a despicable predatory thief, plain and simple,” District Attorney Steve Wolfson said after the hearing. “He’s going to serve more time in prison than some murderers. As much justice as we could deliver was delivered today.”

Graham wore black reading glasses as he stood before Earley in jail garb and chains to enter his plea.

“I’m guilty of these charges, your honor,” Graham told the judge.

His lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Bryan Cox, added afterward, “It’s been a very difficult case, especially for the victims and the victims’ families.”

In the courtroom, Chief Deputy District Attorney J. P. Raman, the lead prosecutor in the case, read aloud the names of more than 110 clients who deserve a share of the $16 million in restitution prosecutors will seek against Graham.

The money was stolen between 2011 and 2016, Raman said in court papers Thursday.

The thefts — which ranged from as little as $20 to more than $1 million — occurred in 64 estate cases, 21 trust funds, 10 guardianship cases, and four special needs trusts, the court papers show.

Graham’s guilty plea capped a 10-month legal saga that began when he abruptly shut down his Lawyers West office in Summerlin on Dec. 2 after years of looting client funds.

In interviews with the Las Vegas Review-Journal after his indictment earlier this year, former clients described their frustration with Graham as they fought, sometimes desperately, to get him to turn over their funds in the years and final months before he closed his law practice.

Clients lost everything

The victims who lost everything include a wheelchair-bound woman with cerebral palsy and three young children who survived a crash that killed their parents. Some of the victims are expected to testify at Graham’s sentencing.

Graham secretly funneled an average of $187,000 a month in client funds over the years to a special bank account to run his law practice and pay personal bills, grand jury transcripts show.

He used client funds to pay $244,000 in taxes and $700,000 a year in advertising. He also used the money to make thousands of dollars more in charitable donations to numerous organizations, including the Church of the Latter Day Saints and Boys Town of Nevada, the testimony shows.

Graham, once a regular fixture on local television promoting his law firm, described his practice as a 20-year business failure in a December interview with the Review-Journal.

“I was responsible for the litigation and felt I had no out,” Graham said. “So bit by bit, I moved the chairs on the deck. Each year, things got worse and worse, and I tried to bail myself out and just couldn’t.”

The State Bar of Nevada moved quickly to take control of Graham’s cases after he abandoned his clients in December and obtained a court order for his temporary suspension.

Assistant Bar Counsel Janeen Isaacsonhas since asked the Nevada Supreme Court to permanently disbar Graham.

“He stole millions of dollars to feed his ego and desires for wealth and power, and he used his law license to do it,” Isaacson said at a recent disciplinary hearing.

Several former clients filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Lawyers West in December seeking the firm’s remaining assets.

But lawyers for the clients have admitted there is slim chance of recovering the missing funds. In Bankruptcy Court papers, Lawyers West listed $8.7 million in liabilities and only $438,000 in assets, mostly in unpaid legal fees unlikely to be collected.

Wolfson said Thursday that obtaining restitution from Graham in the criminal case also will be difficult because of his lack of assets.

“The odds of recovering anything significant are probably not very likely,” he said.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter. Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

Robert Graham Guilty Plea Agreement by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

Robert Graham Amended Indictment by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

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