ELKHART — A local attorney pleaded guilty to theft, admitting he stole from a former client’s fund.
Juan Garcia, Jr. pleaded to the charge, a Class D felony, on Dec. 27. He faces a sentence of up to three years in prison as part of the agreement, according to a press release from the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office.
The state agreed to dismiss two charges of bribery in exchange for his plea to felony theft. He admitted he stole funds from a client between 2007 and 2012, depleting a personal injury settlement account that was set up for the benefit of a child.
According to a police investigation in 2011, Garcia had been directed by Elkhart Superior Court No. 1 to maintain a trust account for the benefit of a minor child who was the subject of a settlement agreement negotiated by Garcia as counsel for the minor child.
According to a press release from the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s office dating back to 2011, when formal charges were filed, the investigation into the trust account determined discrepancies with regard to the client trust account. It was determined that Garcia met with the guardian of the child on two occasions in December 2010 and presented her with two payments totaling $5,000 and directed her to sign numerous documents while advising her to “not talk to the police” and for her to “not come in for the interview” with the detective. According to the investigation, Garcia instructed the guardian to tell the court, during its accounting of the funds, that the $5,000 was taken from the client trust account for the benefit of the minor child. According to the investigation, the guardian proceeded to take the money to the police department and provided her account of the meetings to a detective.
Special Judge John F. Surbeck of Allen County was appointed to Garcia’s case because Judge David Bonfiglio of Superior Court 6 recused himself.
Garcia made full financial restitution to the child before pleading guilty to the charge. According to letters sent to Elkhart County judges recently, Garcia claims to have retired from the practice of law.
Garcia is scheduled to appear for his sentencing hearing Jan. 18 at 10:30 a.m. A copy of the court order reflecting his conviction was forwarded to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.