Embattled Las Vegas probate attorney Robert Graham said Tuesday that allegations of missing client funds came after years of struggle to keep his law firm afloat.
In an emotional, hourlong interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Graham expressed remorse and described his law practice as a 20-year business failure.
“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.”
Graham did not answer pointed questions about what happened to millions of dollars that are reportedly missing from his client accounts.
When asked what he would say to his former clients, he took a long pause and responded in a shaken voice: “There’ll be a time when I can fall to my knees and ask them to please forgive me. I’ve been sidetracked. How I ended up here, I’ll never know.”
Graham contacted the newspaper as Las Vegas police and the FBI prepared to launch a joint investigation of Graham, who laid off his employees and shut down his Lawyers West firm on Dec. 2.
Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said the two agencies need to gather more facts before deciding whether to prosecute the case in state or federal court.
Graham said he called a reporter to make it clear that he hadn’t abandoned his clients and had worked to ensure that they got new representation when he saw that his firm was nearly broke earlier this month.
“I’m squaring my shoulders up, and if they need a punching bag, I understand,” he said. “I need to get it together so that I can see the accountability through. I just can’t make everything whole.”
He also said he and his criminal lawyer, Lance Hendron, have contacted law enforcement authorities about the investigation.
“It’s not a situation where we are running and hiding,” Graham said. “We are stepping up to prepare us for the future, whatever that may be.”
The State Bar of Nevada alleged in a complaint last week that Graham stole millions of dollars in client funds before shutting down his law firm.
A bar analysis of Graham’s bank records shows that his law practice should be holding more than $13 million in funds for clients. But the balances in his accounts are far less, Assistant Bar Counsel Janeen Isaacson wrote in the complaint.
The Nevada Supreme Court has temporarily suspended Graham’s license while the state bar conducts disciplinary proceedings.
Graham is a prominent attorney who used to appear often on local television advertising his Summerlin estate practice.
He talked about his desperation as the bills at his law firm mounted but said he was determined not to let his employees go. The practice was costing him roughly $160,000 a month in payroll, rent and advertising, he said.
“I simply lacked any ability or skills to address this level of complexity,” he said. “It was either press forward and try to protect folks that I care about who were important to me or wrap it up and hurt people and … get caught in a box.”
Much of his financial difficulty stemmed from the recession between 2007 and 2012, when he nearly closed the office, Graham said.
“I was just overly optimistic at the time,” he said. “I did not appreciate what I was facing.”
It was in mid-November that Graham said he recognized the firm would have to fold.
“We were substantially behind in our bills,” he said. “We were struggling to meet the payroll.”
Since the closure of the practice and amid the ensuing investigations and publicity, Graham said, he and his family have received death threats, and he’s had to move his family members.
“I understand the anger, but I’m not running away from anything,” he said.
Hendron said Graham even passed a polygraph test about whether he was a flight risk.
“He has no intentions of fleeing,” Hendron said. “He’s not hiding any assets. He’s broke and he’s willing to cooperate with the state bar, law enforcement and the assigned prosecuting attorneys.”
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.