Local Paralegal Pleads Guilty to Federal Fraud and False Statement Charges
ST. LOUIS, MO—Jillian Nichols, a local paralegal, pled guilty to charges involving her attempt to defraud a law firm client by falsely representing that the prosecutor on the client’s criminal case had solicited a bribe. Nichols also pled guilty to charges that she lied to the FBI during their investigation of her illegal conduct.
According to court documents and statements made in court at the time of her guilty plea hearing, Nichols worked for a local law firm, assisting one of the firm’s attorneys on his legal cases. She had no formal legal training and was paid hourly. While she was working at the firm, she worked on the defense of a state felony criminal case pending in St. Louis County Circuit Court against a firm client. As part of her duties, she worked closely with the client in investigating and helping prepare his defense, often meeting with him as well as speaking with him on the telephone and texting, outside the presence of the defense attorney. Nichols left the defense attorney’s firm in September 2013. After Nichols left the law firm she continued to meet with the client and discuss his criminal case with him. Between June and December 2013, Nichols engaged in a scheme to defraud the client by falsely telling him that the St. Louis County assistant prosecutor assigned to his case had solicited a bribe of $10,000 in order to give favorable consideration in his pending criminal case. Further, she falsely represented that she had favorable evidence “planted” on the client’s cell phone in order to support his defense. She also falsely represented that she had paid the forensic expert hired by the defense attorney to analyze his cell phone so that the expert would validate and verify the “planted” evidence. On November 15, 2013, in response to Nichols’ false statements about the $10,000, the client agreed to give her an initial $5,000 in cash for her to pay the bribe to the prosecutor, and then an additional $5,000 after the prosecutor gave him favorable consideration in his pending criminal case. In order to conceal the scheme, she told the client not to tell his defense attorney of their discussions about bribing the prosecutor or planting evidence on his cellular phone.
During the FBI’s investigation of her fraud scheme, Nichols lied repeatedly to Special Agents about her involvement in the scheme when they interviewed her during December 2013.
Nichols, 26, St. Louis, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of making false statements before United States District Court Judge Rodney W. Sippel. Sentencing has been set for September 19, 2014.
Wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000; making false statements carries a maximum penalty of five years and/or fines up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentences, a judge is required to consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide recommended sentencing ranges.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Public Corruption Task Force including officers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Hal Goldsmith is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.