Ex-lawyers' victims wait for payback Convicted attorneys slow to compensate clients they cheated

August 02, 1998|By Kate Shatzkin

They met by the side of the road, the victim and the felon. The felon brought groceries. Chicken thighs, ground beef, Little Debbies, soda on sale. More than five years after he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from her, the felon gave these things to the victim, along with a roll of cash amounting, by her count, to $28. He asked her to call him in two weeks if she needed more. Then he left.

They met on Falls Road, at an animal hospital, because Raymond A. Tubman, a disbarred lawyer who stole his clients' money, could not locate the little apartment where his victim lives. Mary Meyer's place is hard to find, it's true, tucked as it is into the basement of a Baltimore County complex large enough to use both letters and numbers to designate each unit. Meyer, 72, will not be living there much longer, anyway. The rent will go up by $30 in September, too much for her to pay.

It would not be too much if Tubman had been paying $30 a month toward the $290,000 he owes Meyer and the state's Clients' Security Trust Fund, which compensates victims of unscrupulous attorneys and has paid Meyer about half of what Tubman stole from her. But since that delivery of groceries at the end of May, Mary Meyer says she has seen nothing from Raymond Tubman, who gambled away her money. Not the $2,600 he handed over to the Division of Parole and Probation in February, under threat of prison for failure to pay. Not the money order Tubman says he later sent directly to her, in an amount he would not disclose.

Attorneys convicted in Maryland courts of stealing from their clients often serve little or no time in prison, according to an examination by The Sun last February. Disbarred and disgraced, they have gotten out of prison to work as paralegals, doctor's assistants, bail bondsmen, substitute teachers and doctoral candidates - or, as in Tubman's case, would-be entrepreneurs.

What many haven't done is regularly make payments to the victims they were ordered by judges to compensate for losses. As white-collar criminals, their cases typically take a back seat to those of the violent criminals who revolve through Maryland's courts. Victims can recover some money from the Clients' Security Trust Fund but not the fees they paid to the lawyers who did them wrong.

Mary Meyer isn't asking for everything she's owed, not right away. She was glad for those groceries. Her cupboard had run bare, and so had her bank account, fed as it is only by Social Security and a small state pension from her former job as a District Court clerk. She hadn't been in the habit of calling Tubman. But when The Sun wrote about the former lawyer, Tubman sent word to Meyer, telling her that he would like to get her some money, that she could call him if she was in need. She was. She did.

"He asked me what I wanted," Meyer said recently. "I picked the cheapest things, what I usually buy. I can't explain. I I was trying to keep the thing down. I don't want to seem like I - I don't know - like I'm badgering.

"I don't like to beg for anything."

She was thankful for the provisions, but they lasted only five days. By the end of the next month, Meyer was out of money and called Tubman again. Several times. But she said she never heard back. Tubman said recently he had sent her a money order, but Meyer said she never got it. "I swear to God to drop over, I never got a money order from him," she said.

"He gave me good food," said Meyer. "Those big oranges, about six of them. A big can of orange juice. If he would just even give me $50 a month, it would help. That way, you could put it in a bank. If you ran short of food, you could withdraw it."

Probation officials said last week they had an incorrect address for Meyer and would again send her the $2,600 that Tubman had paid in February.

Tubman has not spoken to Meyer in some time, but he showed up about a week ago in front of Baltimore Circuit Judge Paul A. Smith, the man who sentenced him to two years in prison (with seven suspended) and let him out seven months later. It was "collateral day" in Smith's court, the day probationers stand accused of violations and must explain to a judge why they should not have to serve the rest of the probation sentence in prison.

A few feet from Tubman sat a young man named Eric Kelly, a drug offender. He owed the court only several hundred dollars, but his probation agent had not forgotten about it. "You're looking at two years," she said as they waited to face the judge, referring to the outstanding amount of his sentence and the fact that he had not been keeping his appointments with her. "You need to get some money together. You need to start coming to see me, you hear?"

Tubman was not admonished so harshly. Smith wanted the money paid but seemed to accept that he could never get all of it from the disbarred lawyer. He was tired of seeing the case

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