Former Spector Gadon & Rosen attorney Gomer “Tom” Williams III was sitting in his car with a shotgun Oct. 1, 2012, he told a federal judge Monday, about to end his life over what he said was overwhelming guilt from stealing more than $500,000 from clients.
Williams’ wife Coleen, who has worked as a paralegal at Cozen O’Connor for 25 years, talked her husband out of pulling the trigger and then made a phone call to her firm’s chairman, Stephen A. Cozen. Within an hour, Cozen O’Connor white-collar defense attorney William J. Winning was involved and soon heard the story of Tom Williams’ five-year scheme of taking money from his trusts and estates clients’ accounts.
The next day, Winning was in Spector Gadon Chairman Paul Rosen’s office detailing his client’s theft. A week later, Winning recounted the story to First Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. After choosing to self-report his crimes, Williams spent the past year-and-a-half helping the government detail his theft. He pleaded guilty in March to one count of wire fraud and U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Monday sentenced Williams to 24 months in prison and three years of supervised release. The government is also seeking $503,000 from Williams in the form of either restitution or forfeiture. That money wold be given to Chubb Insurance, Spector Gadon’s insurer that reimbursed the firm’s clients.
Williams told the court Monday that he had started making less money practicing law and his debts were getting worse. One day he realized he had access to his clients’ accounts and he took some money to cover some bills.
“That started a roller coaster ride for … four or five years where I was taking money all the time,” Williams said. “Finally I snapped and I almost took my own life.”
When Davis asked Williams how he and the court could fix Williams’ breach of trust, Williams said his victims, the legal profession and society have a right to see him incarcerated.
“It can never fully be fixed. You have changed your world,” Davis told Williams. “You’re obviously going to jail.”
Williams is required to surrender to authorities Aug. 11.
Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Williams was facing 33 to 41 months in prison. Prosecutors were seeking a sentence in the range of 24 to 33 months in order to account for his self-reporting and assistance thereafter. Winning asked the court Monday for a sentence of between 18 to 24 months in jail.
Lappen told the court that “this is not a defendant who merely had a bad day,” but rather made more than 200 withdrawals from clients’ accounts on top of also overbilling them.
“This is an extremely serious offense,” Lappen said, noting that while Williams is not a candidate for recidivism, the general public needs to be deterred from committing similar crimes.
Winning said there was clearly an element of deterrence to Williams’ sentencing, but he told Davis there was also an important message to be sent that if someone does something wrong, they should come forward and make things right.
Both attorneys said after the sentencing that the sentence was fair.
Davis told Williams during sentencing that there are “some strong elements of decency in you,” given that he self-reported his crimes. Davis said Williams had to remember that when he gets out of jail and becomes that good person again. Davis said there was a recognition by every professional in the courtroom Monday of the wrongfulness of Williams’ conduct and the need for incarceration.
“There is indeed much to be said for what you’ve done recently,” Davis said, pointing to Williams making the “good choices” of self-reporting and assisting in the investigation. But Davis said those good choices can’t undo Williams’ “wrongful conduct” and “can’t restore trust.”
Williams said his conduct was “about the worst thing an attorney could do.” He said facing prison wasn’t the worst consequence of his actions, noting his career and finances are in ruins and he has embarrassed his wife and daughter.
Williams has resigned from the bar and has been working as a paralegal. He told the judge he may have opportunities after completing his sentence to work again as a paralegal or in other of his friends’ businesses.
Rosen said Monday that he is glad the ordeal is finally over. He said his clients have been repaid, but “there is no way that we could ever be compensated for what he did to us.” Rosen said the firm suffered reputational harm even though it had nothing to do with the theft.
“You work your life all for reputation and in two seconds there’s a stain on it that doesn’t involve us,” Rosen said.
According to the information filed against Williams in January, Williams was an associate at Spector Gadon, representing clients in trusts and estates matters. The law firm paid him 40 percent of the legal fees collected from his clients, the information said.
According to the information, Williams exercised complete control over the financial accounts of the two trusts and two estates at issue, including having check-writing authority of the associated checking accounts.
Spector Gadon billed the clients an hourly rate for the time Williams reported working on their matters. Williams collected those fees by writing checks from the clients’ bank accounts, making the checks payable to Spector Gadon, according to the information.
Williams allegedly opened checking accounts for the trusts and estates where he also had personal bank accounts so that he could easily transfer the clients’ funds to his own accounts, the information alleged. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in the information that Williams diverted these funds to pay for personal expenses that included personal loans and mortgage bills.
Aside from allegedly transferring money from the clients’ accounts to his own, Williams also allegedly billed two of the clients for legal services he didn’t provide, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. According to the information, in an effort to increase his compensation, Williams billed the J.H. trust approximately $210,206 and the M.K. estate approximately $71,135 for legal services not provided.