Disbarred lawyer is sentenced in theft

He controlled funds of learning-disabled man

February 08, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A former public defender pleaded guilty yesterday to two counts of perjury and one count of theft in a case in which he stole more than $114,000 from an elderly, learning-disabled man for whom he was financial guardian.

David R. Eaton, 63, a public defender until he retired about a week before being disbarred in July, was sentenced by Baltimore Circuit Judge Stuart R. Berger to three years in prison, which the judge suspended, and to two years of unsupervised probation.

He was ordered to pay $4,571.01 in restitution to the estate of E. Read Beard Jr.

His attorney, Gregg L. Bernstein, said Eaton repaid $114,412 that he took from Beard's accounts between 1996 and 2000. He said Eaton took the money because of "personal financial circumstances."

Guardian from 1982 to 2000

Eaton became Beard's financial guardian in 1982. According to court testimony, Beard trusted Eaton implicitly.

"From the day Mr. Eaton was the best man at our wedding to the time he was a pallbearer [for my husband], there are many miles in between," testified Beard's widow, Zabelle S. Beard. "During those miles there was wrongdoing of theft, manipulation, changing of accounts and cover-ups."

Beard died in February 2000 at age 72.

Zabelle Beard said she married her husband in 1993 after a 3 1/2 -year courtship. She said his desire was that anything he had be left to her.

Zabelle Beard said Eaton refused to take her to the bank or disclose records. "I never saw a bill. I never saw a checkbook. I never saw anything," she said.

And, she said, when her husband became ill with cancer, Eaton did nothing for him. "Mr. Eaton never came by and took him to lunch or brought him a Coke or anything. He left it all to me to do. And when he went out of town, he never even left me a blank check in case an emergency came up," she said.

Telephone disconnected

Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth A. Ritter said that while Eaton was Beard's financial guardian, the couple's telephone was disconnected and a rent check bounced.

She said Eaton wrote dozens of checks made out to cash and wrote one for $235 in June 2000 after he knew an audit was being conducted. And, she said, Eaton lied twice during depositions.

Before Eaton was sentenced, Joseph F. Murphy Jr., chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals, and Circuit Judge Allen L. Schwait testified, saying Eaton was of good character. In an interview, Murphy said he was "pretty shocked" when Eaton told him what he had done.

Eaton apologized in court, saying he never meant to harm anyone.

"I am certainly saddened to be standing here for many reasons," Eaton said. "My career has ended. I have done some things I shouldn't have done. I was guardian for Mr. Beard for 18 years. At no time did I ever intend to deprive him of a nickel."

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