Tuesday, January 21, 2014
From the Disciplinary Board ofthe Supreme Court of Pennsylvania:
Seriously – is there anyone left who really believes a long-lost relative in Nigeria is going to send him $19 million upon the accommodation of paying a few thousand dollars in “expenses”? Apparently so, and his lawyer does too.
The Supreme Court of Iowa has suspended the license of Robert Allan Wright Jr. Wright represented one Floyd Madison in a criminal case. Madison advised Wright that he had documents indicating he would receive an inheritance of $18.8 million from a long-lost Nigerian cousin, upon payment of $177,660 in taxes on the inheritance. Wright agreed to help Madison obtain the money for a fee of 10 percent.
To raise the funds, Wright persuaded five clients to lend him money upon a promise of large returns. Eventually the clients lent Wright over $100,000. Wright paid the funds out to the persons seeking money for “estate taxes,” who identified themselves as the “Central Bank of Nigeria,” the “African Union,” the President of Nigeria, and a lawyer named Okey Okafor. Madison was informed that the money would be transferred to a Spanish diplomat in Madrid in the form of two suitcases full of cash, which he could pick up in Madrid. Madison traveled to Madrid and saw two suitcases, but (surprisingly enough) he did not take possession of them and did not recover any cash.
The Iowa court found that Wright violated several Rules of Professional Conduct relating to competence, conflicts of interest, and dishonesty, related to his failure to disclose his interests and the risky nature of the transaction. A charge that he assisted a client in conduct he knew to be illegal or fraudulent was withdrawn, as counsel for the Board noted that “Wright appears to have honestly believed — and continues to believe — that one day a trunk full of . . . one hundred dollar bills is going to appear upon his office doorstep.” The Board described this conduct as “delusional, but not fraudulent.”
Wright’s license was suspended with no possibility of reinstatement for one year.
The Court noted that “a cursory internet search using the query ‘anti-terrorism certificate’ in early 2011 would have revealed evidence that Madison’s dream of a Nigerian inheritance was probably based on a scam.” This is another illustration of a trend we have previously noted, holding that a lawyer’s duties of competence and diligence include a reasonable familiarity with and routine use of commonly available technological tools.