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Attorney Accused of Stealing From Elderly
PREBLE COUNTY -- A local attorney appeared in Court today, but needed his own representation. James Thomas Jr., 38, of Brookville, pleaded no contest to a bill of information Wednesday morning charging him with three counts of theft from an elderly person or disabled adult and three counts of falsification. After accepting the no contest plea, visiting Judge Neal Bronson found him guilty of the charges.
Thomas has stood before a judge many times before, but never like Wednesday. Rocking back and forth, clinching his wrist, the lawyer appeared visibly shaken knowing he could face almost 5 years in prison.
"By entering a plea of no contest you're giving up your right to have the allegations of the bill be heard by a jury," said Judge Neal Bronson.
The charges were filed after an investigation conducted by the Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) found that Thomas took more than $208,000 from four victims' bank accounts between 2007 and 2013. The victims, who range in age from 41-72, are all Preble County residents.
"As guardian of their estates, it was this defendant's job to protect these individuals from financial exploitation, but the investigation found that he regularly used their bank accounts as his personal ATM," said Attorney General DeWine. "Those who prey on Ohio's vulnerable citizens should be on notice that we will do everything we can to protect our elderly and disabled citizens from those who take advantage of them."
The falsification charges relate to the filing of false documents associated with the guardianships in Preble County probate court.
"It's surprising that someone could get a law degree, somebody like that," said Tony Colt of Vandalia. "You wouldn't expect that from a lawyer that's terrible."
After pleading no contest, Judge Bronson found him guilty of all six charges of theft and filing false documents. Still some people in court felt they needed to come to his defense.
"I was shocked by it because he does so much work for free," said an anonymous friend. "I can't imagine he would do anything that would jeopardize peoples money sometimes he doesn't take any money for a case."
Thomas will be back here on June 17, 2014 for his sentencing.
The Attorney Generals office says the two biggest things you can do to protect yourself are to hold on to your receipts and check statements regularly.
We've listed more tips on how to protect yourself and your family members from fraud.
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