A lawyer disbarred earlier this year for misappropriating client funds admitted Wednesday to criminal charges that he thieved $885,000 from his firm’s trust and business accounts.
Timothy Provost, formerly of Freehold’s Provost & Colrick, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton to one count of mail fraud in connection with embezzlements alleged to have taken place between April 2004 and January 2011.
During that time, Provost, who handled real estate matters, issued checks from the accounts to himself, then cashed them or deposited them in his own accounts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
He made checks payable to creditors in order to pay mortgage obligations, his children’s tuition, expenses associated with horse stables, and other personal expenses. And he added himself as a payee to checks made out to the Ocean and Monmouth County Clerks — for costs associated with clients’ real estate closings — and either cashed them or deposited them in his personal accounts.
To conceal the thefts, Provost used Chase Bank counter checks to draw money from the firm trust and business accounts, made the checks payable to Chase, then disbursed the deposited amounts via cashier’s check to himself or his creditors. One such cashier’s check, dated Aug. 6, 2009 for $10,709, was made out to Elon University.
The diversions left clients with double mortgages, which had to be paid by insurance, the U.S. attorney says.
The Supreme Court disbarred Provost last March based on theft of client funds. The Disciplinary Review Board focused on two clients’ cases.
Provost represented Latonya Lewis in a mortgage refinancing that closed on Dec. 31, 2010.
The mortgage company wired $122,864 into Provost’s Amboy Bank account, and Provost reflected payment to Wells Fargo on his client ledger and the settlement statement. But the bank never received the check, and the next trust account statement reflected a shortfall of $90,000.
In another mortgage refinancing, Provost represented Barbara Poli at a Jan. 11, 2011 closing. He failed to disburse the $215,393 due to Poli that had been wired to his trust account, though payment again was reflected in the client ledger. The trust account statement showed a shortfall of about $185,000.
The title insurer, Chicago Title Insurance Co., contacted Provost about the nonpayment in February 2011, after Lewis and Poli filed claims. He denied stealing the money for his own use but allegedly admitted to using the funds to pay other clients’ obligations, said he planned to borrow money from friends and family to make up for the shortfalls, and acknowledged that his conduct would lead to disbarment.
The same day, the insurer’s lawyer, Melissa Popkin, wrote a letter to the Office of Attorney Ethics alleging that Provost misappropriated funds in each matter.
Provost did not respond to the OAE’s attempts by phone, fax and mail to schedule an audit in February 2011.
The next month, the Supreme Court, on the OAE’s petition, temporarily suspended Provost and froze his accounts.
The matter proceeded on default to the DRB, which in December 2011 recommended disbarment, finding Provost knowingly misappropriated client funds in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15(a).
Provost did not respond to two orders to show cause subsequently issued by the Supreme Court, and did not appear for oral argument last March 1. The court ordered him disbarred a week later.
Other than the Lewis and Poli cases, three Provost clients have filed claims totaling $269,705 with the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, says its director, Daniel Hendi. One claim, for $58,355, was paid last year. The other two still are under investigation.
A fourth claim, for $1,750, was rejected because Colrick reimbursed the client, Hendi says.
Provost, 57, was admitted in 1980 and had no prior discipline.
He faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment, restitution, and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the amount gained in the thefts. His sentencing is scheduled for March 20 before Shipp.
The listed number for Provost’s Millstone Township home was disconnected. His lawyer, Nicholas Caliendo of Manning, Caliendo & Thompson in Freehold, declines comment. So does Matthew Reilly, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Provost’s former partner, Edward Colrick, was declared ineligible in a September 2011 order for failure to pay fees to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, Disciplinary Oversight Committee and Lawyers Assistance Program. He remained administratively ineligible as of Thursday, according to the judiciary’s online attorney registry.
In November 2010, Colrick pleaded guilty in municipal court to animal cruelty, a disorderly persons offense, for catching bothersome squirrels on his Spring Lake Heights property in humane traps and drowning them in his pool. Provost represented Colrick in the matter.
The firm has dissolved. An attempt to reach Colrick at the most recent listed number was unsuccessful.