Former Vidalia, Georgia Attorney Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for Defrauding His Clients and Others
SAVANNAH, GA—Wilson R. Smith, 63, a former attorney from Vidalia, Georgia, was sentenced earlier this week by Chief United States District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to serve eight years in federal prison for a scheme to settle his clients’ cases without their knowledge and to steal the settlement proceeds. Smith pled guilty in May to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft charges.
According to evidence presented during the sentencing hearing, Smith settled two separate personal injury cases from 2013 to 2014, without his clients’ knowledge or authority, and then kept the $1.25 million in settlement proceeds for himself. Smith delayed detection of his scheme by providing his clients with phony case updates, including fictitious trial dates. One of Smith’s clients became concerned about supposed trial delays and contacted a court clerk. The client was told that the lawsuit had been settled and dismissed for over a year. Shortly thereafter, on January 14, 2015, Smith was arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Later, Smith was indicted on federal fraud charges in February of 2015. Additional investigation determined that Smith schemed at least 10 victims out of settlement proceeds and other monies held in his attorney trust account.
United States Attorney Edward Tarver stated, “This former attorney chose greed over the interests of his clients. He caused great harm to the clients he swore to protect and to the entire legal system. Attorneys who lie, cheat and steal can expect that their lawyering days will soon be over and that they’ll find themselves in a federal prison cell.”
In addition to an eight-year prison sentence, Smith was ordered to pay $1,285,000 in restitution. After his released from prison, Smith will serve three years on supervised release.
The investigation of the Smith case was conducted by the GBI, the District Attorney’s Office of the Middle Judicial Circuit, and the FBI. First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham prosecuted the federal case on behalf of the United States.