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Attorney faces charges of mail, wire fraud

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A federal grand jury in Hammond has indicted a Schererville attorney with two counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud after being accused of stealing money from two clients.

William G. Crabtree II is alleged to have embezzled nearly $1 million from the two clients. According to the indictment filed Oct. 15, Crabtree represented in 2005 an estate, from which he embezzled at least $300,000; he also allegedly failed to pay its state and federal taxes. After the theft was discovered, he agreed to pay restitution to the estate, including interest and penalties for taxes.

The indictment also alleges Crabtree devised a scheme this year to defraud and obtain money and property from another client in order to pay the restitution from his 2005 incident.

Crabtree's law firm trust account held $1.8 million from a client he represented in the sale of a restaurant, and Crabtree was instructed to hold the money until the client could purchase another restaurant. In July, Crabtree was to wire $1.7 million for the purchase of another restaurant; instead, Crabtree only wired $168,721. He wired $746,300 from the firm's trust account to another lawyer's trust account to make restitution. Crabtree also allegedly wrote himself a check from the restaurant client's funds for $135,000. In August, Crabtree admitted to the client he didn't have the money in the fund but would obtain a loan to repay the client.

Then, Crabtree allegedly faxed a copy of a check for $1.2 million to the client's attorney claiming he obtained a loan; the check was a fake.

The charges are a result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Because of the charges, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a petition for an emergency interim suspension Oct. 15 against Crabtree, said Executive Director Donald Lundberg.

Crabtree was arrested and arraigned Oct. 16 and pleaded not guilty, said Mary L. Hatton, public affairs specialist in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Indiana. His trial has been set for Jan. 5, 2009.

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