For years, Bill Conour has been among the highest-profile attorneys in Indiana representing individuals seriously injured or killed in construction accidents. He’s won big settlements and judgments for his clients and been recognized by various organizations as a leader in personal-injury law.
So a large question looms in the wake of the April 27 announcement that Conour has been charged in a federal criminal complaint with misappropriating more than $2.5 million in client funds from December 2000 to March 2012. If the 64-year-old is indeed guilty of the wire-fraud charge he faces, where did all the money go?
To be sure, things look tight for Conour these days. On March 21, Salin Bank & Trust Co. sued Conour and his law firm in Hamilton Superior Court, seeking to foreclose on his home in Carmel’s swanky Bridlebourne subdivision, another home in Carmel’s Village of West Clay, and a farm in Sheridan.
The suit says Conour and his firm borrowed $950,000 from Salin in January 2011 and had ceased making payments by last fall. Including interest, Conour owes $1.06 million, the lawsuit alleges.
On May 1, four days after Conour surrendered to authorities and made his initial court appearance, Conour’s wife, Jennifer Conour, filed for divorce in Kosciusko Superior Court.
Richard Cox, an assistant U.S. attorney based in Urbana, Ill., leading the government’s case, declined to comment in detail. But an FBI affidavit filed in federal court accuses Conour of improperly shifting client funds for years to make ends meet.
The affidavit, signed by Special Agent Douglas Kasper, alleges a pattern of Conour’s using “newly obtained settlement funds to pay old settlements and debts. I believe this conduct is akin to a Ponzi scheme because Conour’s scheme to defraud is dependent on new settlement funds to provide funds for clients whose cases were previously settled and whose money was unlawfully converted by Conour for his own use and benefit.”
Conour did not return a message left at his law office in Parkwood Crossing on 96th Street. His attorney, Jim Voyles, declined to comment.
In his affidavit, Kasper said he received information in July 2011 that Conour was misappropriating client settlements by failing to fully fund trusts he had established for their benefit at Reliance Financial Services in Ohio.
Conour would put into a trust only enough to provide payments to his client for one year, according to Kasper’s affidavit, and would retain the bulk of the settlements “for his own purposes.”
In other instances, Conour kept client funds without even setting up a trust, according to the affidavit. As an example, Kasper describes at length Conour’s dealings with a man who was severely injured in a July 2010 construction accident.
In September 2011, Conour called the client and asked how a net settlement of $250,000 sounded to him. According to the affidavit, the client responded that he wasn’t interested in settling until his medical prognosis was fully determined.
Despite that guidance, the next month Conour left the client a voice mail saying “he believed a settlement of $250,000 was a fair amount” and that if Conour could negotiate that amount he would accept it on the client’s behalf, the affidavit says. Conour said on the call that the client should call him back if that was a problem.
The client did call back a few days later and reiterate he didn’t want to settle. But according to the affidavit, Conour had gone ahead and settled for $450,000 a few hours after leaving the voice mail. The check deposited into a Conour account at Stock Yards Bank bore the client’s purported endorsement, though the client denies signing it and didn’t even know the check existed, the affidavit said.
To this day, the affidavit says, the client has not received a penny from the settlement. Kasper said the Stock Yards account had only $3,640 in it before the $450,000 deposit. Within days, Conour transferred $168,000 into his law firm’s operating account and used $138,000 to pay American Express credit card bills.
The affidavit said other money went toward paying a settlement owed another client and to a law firm owed fees on an unrelated case.
Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch has released Conour on his own recognizance, on the condition that he not sell, transfer or dispose of personal or business assets without court approval.
If convicted, Conour faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.•
This story was originally published in Indianapolis Business Journal, a sister publication to Indiana Lawyer.