SPRINGFIELD, Mo. —
Joplin attorney Dan Whitworth pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to the theft of more than $586,000 from clients.
Whitworth, 58, waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Rush in Springfield to a three-count complaint charging him with wire fraud, money laundering and false statements on tax returns.
According to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri, Whitworth admitted embezzling $586,739 from 22 clients between 2004 and October of last year. He spent the funds “on personal loans and items unrelated to the legal matters of his clients,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Internal Revenue Service began investigating Whitworth last fall after complaints were lodged with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Missouri Supreme Court about thefts of clients’ money. His law license was suspended by the state’s high court on Oct. 18 after the office discovered several instances of “serious professional misconduct” and evidence of forged endorsements on checks and stolen client funds.
Investigators determined from bank records and interviews with former clients that Whitworth repeatedly received money from them or on their behalf, claiming that it would be used to resolve their legal issues. In many instances, he deposited the money either into an attorney trust account or into his own personal bank accounts, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
After depositing the money, Whitworth would make withdrawals to pay for personal expenses and items entirely unrelated to the clients’ cases.
Whitworth further admitted Monday that he had failed to report any of the embezzled funds on his personal income tax returns for the years 2009-2011. The U.S. attorney’s office said the plea agreement reached with the defendant puts the total of those unreported funds at $448,835.
Whitworth did not file an income tax return for 2012 and thereby did not report the embezzled funds during that year as well, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The plea agreement requires Whitworth to surrender his license to practice law in any jurisdiction and to forfeit to the government a money judgment of $586,739.
Under federal law, Whitworth could receive up to 33 years in federal prison without parole for the convictions, plus a fine up to $750,000 and an order of restitution.
A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Carney.
A FEDERAL JUDGE released Joplin attorney Dan Whitworth on his own recognizance after his appearance Monday at a plea hearing in Springfield.