Local Attorney Sentenced for Theft from Clients
MEMPHIS, TN—Attorney Sharon Anderson, 51, of Oakland, Tennessee, was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison yesterday after pleading guilty in September 2013 to theft from her clients’ trust accounts, announced U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, Edward L. Stanton III.
From August 2010 to September 2011, Anderson stole nearly $200,000 from two clients, soliciting them to make what they believed were four separate short-term “hard money” loans for investors purchasing properties and awaiting conventional financing from banks. Anderson provided the victims with fraudulent documents, including settlement statements, notes, and deeds of trust, creating the impression that the victims had issued valid loans for true sales of properties by actual buyers, and that the victims had secured interests in the properties. In one instance, Anderson used the identity of another client as the supposed “buyer” for these nonexistent loans and victimized this additional client by apparently forging the client’s name on the loan documents. In reality, Anderson herself already owned each of the properties for which the victims believed they had made loans. There were no actual loans, no sales, and no buyers. Instead, Anderson used the victims’ money to purchase a $499,500 condominium at the Caribe Resort in Orange Beach, Alabama, and, apparently, a $725,000 waterfront home in Orange Beach as well as a second condominium at the Caribe Resort.
Over the course of the following three years, Anderson engaged in an ongoing series of communications lying to the victims to lead them to believe that the “buyers” to whom they issued loans were finally going to obtain conventional financing and pay the victims. Anderson told the victims at various times that refinances were “in process,” that she had learned that “a couple of credit glitches” were “being addressed,” and that the property “was sold and is being refinanced.” All of these statements were lies because there were no sales, no buyers, and no loans to be refinanced. Anderson made sporadic interest payments to the victims during this time. As the victims followed up to obtain the payments, Anderson responded with such statements as “Take a breath!!” and made explanations for late payments or nonpayments such as, “I’m out of town and recovering from the flu,” “I didn’t listen to my voicemail at the office on Friday,” “Our computers have been on the blink all morning,” “I have been tied up all day in closings,” and “[M]y husband...is 200 miles out at sea.”
Each of the victims independently caught on to Anderson’s fraud when they checked the website for the register of deeds and realized they had no secured interests in the properties for which they had made loans. After the first victim threatened litigation and a report to the board of professional responsibility, Anderson paid the victim off by stealing additional money from the client trust account for the payoff. After the second victim caught Anderson, they reached an agreement that Anderson would give the victim a second mortgage on her residence at Anderson Farms in Fayette County and that Anderson would sell assets to pay off the loans. Even after the agreement, Anderson continued lying to the victim, concealing her $435,000 sale of one of the Caribe Resort condominiums in July 2013. Finally, after Anderson gave the victim a $26,744 check in November 2013 that bounced, Anderson agreed to satisfy the debt to avoid reporting of the bounced check. The victim accepted a reduced settlement from Anderson to avoid being left at a total loss.
At the sentencing hearing, Anderson asked United States District Court Judge Samuel H. Mays to consider, among other things, her role in her family, her business success, and her role in the Fayette County community, hosting and paying for events such as a Wounded Warriors event at Anderson Farms. The government noted that Anderson’s thefts were not based on any emergency need, but rather for greed. Anderson owns numerous properties, and used the money she stole to buy more. In addition, her failure to repay the victims was not apparently the result of an inability to make repayment but simply because the defendant did not want to. She had the means to host charitable events and owned multiple properties and a yacht.
One victim made a statement at the hearing reflecting the stress Anderson imposed on her. Fifty-thousand dollars of the money Anderson stole from the victim came from the victim’s mother, who had gone into a nursing home while the victim was seeking repayment. Even after the victim told Anderson that $50,000 of the money was her mother’s, and that her mother had entered a nursing home, Anderson did not repay the loss until more than 15 months later and after the victim threatened to report the bounced check. The victim stated she agreed to a partial repayment because she did not want to risk getting no payment at all. The victim added that she did not believe Anderson ever intended to repay her and that if Anderson wanted to do the right thing, she would have paid the loan in full. The victim expressed the hope that Anderson never be allowed to use her position to harm anyone else in the future.
Anderson’s attorney stated at the sentencing hearing that Anderson has agreed with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility to be disbarred from the practice of law.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Fabian represented the government.