If you ask convicted fraudster William Conour how many victims he’s liable to, he’d tell you only one – and even that one isn’t entitled to any money.
Instead, Conour – a now-disgraced personal injury and wrongful death attorney – says the victim in the one count of wire fraud he pleaded guilty to, James Fox, was never actually entitled to receive the $450,000 settlement Conour negotiated for him because the negotiations weren’t through. Plus, Fox was compensated for his alleged losses after filing a complaint in Delaware, Conour said, so he’s no longer owed any money.
Conour made that and other arguments to Indiana Southern District Judge Richard Young on Thursday, when he once again was re-sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. The former attorney pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 2013, after he was accused of stealing roughly $6 million in settlement funds from 36 clients.After pleading guilty in 2013 and being sentenced to 10 years and $6.5 million in restitution, Conour successfully had his sentence overturned on appeal twice. The most recent reversal was in December, when the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found he was not given an opportunity to allocute.
In light of that resentencing, the U.S. government urged Young to be on guard against arguments that Conour, rather than the 36 clients he stole from, is a victim. Conour put forth several arguments along those lines on Thursday, when he made an hourlong presentation detailing the reasons why he believed the court’s findings were inaccurate.
The former attorney began his presentation by saying he was and still is a good attorney who takes his ethical and professional responsibilities seriously, despite resigning from the Indiana bar in light of his 2012 indictment and arrest. He listed several professional organizations he belonged to, including 10 years of service with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, and said that involvement should give pause when people hear the allegations against him.
Conour then launched into an explanation about why the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct — particularly rule 1.15 — permitted him to commingle client and personal funds in his attorney trust account. Many of Young’s findings focused on Conour’s use of his trust account to steal or misuse his client’s settlement funds.
Conour then segued into a discussion of Fox’s case, which stemmed his representation of a client who sustained a broken leg on a construction site. The court’s findings showed that Conour signed off on a settlement without Fox’s knowledge or approval, but Conour claimed he was allowed to sign documents on behalf of his clients under the terms of his contracts. He also maintained that Fox had repudiated the settlement, and that a related lien had not yet been satisfied, which means the money Fox claimed he was owed had not yet come due.
Young frequently looked puzzled throughout Conour’s presentation and repeatedly asked if his comments should be taken to mean he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea and was disavowing any responsibility he had for his fraudulent actions. Such questions frustrated Conour, who told the judge that no one in the courtroom understood personal injury law, which had led to an unjust sentence.
In response, Young told Conour that everyone understood wire fraud and the loss that comes with it. But Conour was adamant that he was not liable for any loss because Fox was not yet entitled to his money.
The Indianapolis native also maintained that because he only pleaded guilty to wire fraud as it related to Fox, the stories of his 35 other victims were nothing more than “relevant information” that should not be held against him. Those victims agreed to sign an annuity with Reliance Financial Services in Ohio, which agreed to send monthly payments to Conour’s clients up to the amount of their settlements.
But rather than depositing the full settlement funds into a Reliance trust, Conour would send an annual check to the bank to fund the costs of the annuities each year. He withheld remaining funds to fund his extravagant lifestyle, then pulled from other client settlements to fund the annuity trusts each year.
Conour, however, maintained the annuities were valid, legal agreements signed between Reliance and his clients. That means that if any money is owed, it would be Reliance’s responsibility to pay it back, he said. Plus, much of the money owed has not yet come due, so Conour maintained the loss of future funds should not be held against him.
But Eugene Miller, an assistant U.S. district attorney based in Illinois, likened Conour to a magician and said his arguments were nothing more than a distraction from the truth: that he intentionally stole from his clients and used the funds to support his desired lifestyle. Miller said Conour’s comments showed he refused to accept responsibility for his actions and requested that the judge re-sentence him to 135 months, the maximum he could receive.
Like Miller, Young was undeterred by Conour’s arguments, telling the defendant at one point that he felt he should send the case to a jury trial since he seemed to be contradicting his plea. He also read Conour’s statement from his original 2013 sentencing, where Conour expressed remorse and took full responsibility. The judge said Conour’s comments on Thursday were contradictory to his original comments.
But Conour told the judge he stood by his original apologies, yet was permitted to make legal arguments in an attempt to mitigate his sentencing. He also said Young’s resistance to Conour’s arguments could be taken to mean he was maliciously paying Conour back for appealing his sentence.
Prior to sentencing Conour to 10 years and $6.5 million for the third time, Young noted that in his original sentencing statement, Conour said he was operating under the “delusion” that his theft from his clients were permissible as long as he paid them back. Looking to Conour’s arguments on Thursday, Young said he appeared to still be under the delusion that he had no responsibility for depriving his clients – all of whom were vulnerable due to their injuries – of millions of dollars. However, Young also noted that it was difficult for him to sentence a fellow attorney.
As the hearing proceeded, Conour’s family, seated in the audience, frequently wiped away tears. As he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and chains, they waved goodbye and called out, “Love you, dad.”