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Over the years, attorney Charles F. Peebles built a name representing metro Atlanta residents whose homes were wracked with toxic mold, termite infestation, faulty workmanship and relentless leaks. But Peebles’ own house also wasn’t in order, according to a federal indictment. A 14-count document filed last week accuses the 54-year-old Peebles of bilking his clients of more than $1 million through wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud and identity theft. The suspended Norcross, Ga., attorney also faces state felony charges on 10 counts of forgery. He was arrested at his Flowery Branch, Ga., home in December on related charges of dispersing $700,000 of his clients’ settlement checks to his personal accounts. He is being held in the Pelham City Jail due to overcrowding of the Gwinnett Detention Center. His bond was set at more than $441,000. ACCUSED OF FORGING CHECKS Federal prosecutors say Peebles cashed his clients’ awards without their knowledge by forging their signatures on settlement checks and then transferring the money to his own accounts. When clients asked Peebles the status of their settlement checks, Peebles would tell them he hadn’t received their funds yet, or convince them the checks were unavailable for distribution, the indictment said. W. Mark Hill, who represents Peebles in the state case, said Peebles never schemed to keep his clients’ awards. “It came down to a poor mismanagement of his clients’ funds,” Hill said. “He never intended to keep or steal his clients’ money. That’s the bottom line.” He says Peebles issued promissory notes and was working to pay back clients before he was arrested. “But he can’t pay them back when he’s in jail,” said Hill, who said Peebles has not yet retained counsel for the federal charges. “He’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.” The indictment outlined the schemes that prosecutors accuse Peebles of using to bilk Summit Bank and 10 clients of their money. One of the clients, Gregory P. Bailey, hired Peebles in February 2002 to pursue a claim against USAA, Bailey’s homeowner’s insurance company. Bailey claimed that widespread mold growth in his Marietta, Ga., home had caused serious health problems for his wife, Margaret, and their two children. About a year and a half later, the insurance company agreed to pay $97,000 to settle the claims. Unknown to the Baileys, who had since moved to Virginia, Peebles received the checks from USAA in October, according to the indictment, and with the help of unnamed accomplices, forged Greg and Margaret Bailey’s signatures and deposited the check into his lawyers’ trust account, the indictment adds. Peebles then called the bank and asked that the funds be dispersed into his other accounts, according to the indictment. SETTLEMENT CHECKS DIVERTED? The indictment also accuses Peebles of defrauding the homeowners association of the Stillwater Plantation Condominium Two complex of $700,000 in settlements and swindling $7,775 from Susan Boyd, who hired Peebles to pursue an insurance claim for termite damage to her home. The indictment also says he endorsed and deposited five checks worth $350,000, which belonged to Joanne Hall and Terrie Rooks. Summit National Bank was forced to pay Hall and Rooks the $350,000 because it honored the forged checks, according to the indictment. Hill said Peebles had permission from his clients to cash the checks. “You get the checks in, you sign the checks, you deposit them in your account, and that’s it. He did nothing wrong there,” Hill said. “He had express permission to sign those checks, just like every other personal injury lawyer does.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak, who is prosecuting the case, said Peebles has voluntarily surrendered his law license. Peebles earned an engineering degree from Georgia Tech in 1972 and was admitted to the Georgia Bar four years later after he graduated from the now-defunct Woodrow Wilson College of Law. His Web site says he was a professor at an unnamed law school, where he taught property law for nine years.

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