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South Bend attorney pleads guilty to fraud charges

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A northern Indiana attorney accused of aiding and abetting mail and wire fraud has pleaded guilty to all 13 counts listed in an information filed Monday.

Thomas F. “Chip” Lewis III faced 12 counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, stemming from an advance fee scam operated by Byron L. Canada from 2003 to December 2009. The charges relate to 12 wire transfers that occurred between April 2007 and September 2008. Canada would promise to provide loans and financing for commercial, real estate, construction and other projects in exchange for up-front or advance fees for those loans, but he never provided any kind of financing.

Lewis would vouch for Canada and his companies even though he knew that Canada had been convicted of fraud in the past, knew loans had never been provided, and allowed Canada to misrepresent to victims, their counsel and others that Canada and his companies were direct lenders with their own source of funds, according to the charging information. Lewis helped to prepare and file declarations in a court proceeding in which victims, interested parties, and the court were misled in 2008 into thinking that Canada and his companies were capable of providing financing for a large real-estate development project when they were actually not capable.

The 13th count is for mail fraud and stems from a check mailed in October 2007 for $100,000.

Canada was sentenced to 135 months in federal prison in December 2010 after pleading guilty to a 31-count indictment in March 2010.

As part of the plea agreement, Lewis has agreed to pay restitution to the victims. His sentencing hearing has been set for 9 a.m. Nov. 7. According to the Roll of Attorneys, Lewis was admitted to practice in March 1996 and has no disciplinary history. He is listed as of counsel for the South Bend office of Lewis & Wilkins.

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