SAN FRANCISCO — An East Bay legal assistant has been charged with embezzling more than $150,000 in client funds from a small personal injury law firm that shuttered last year when its founder, attorney Brian Ching, was disbarred for failing to prevent the fraud.
Ana Reyes, of San Lorenzo, was arraigned last Thursday on multiple counts of mail fraud and tax evasion, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement. Prosecutors claim Reyes settled clients’ suits without their or Ching’s knowledge and then cashed the settlement checks, keeping the proceeds for herself over a five year period. Ching, who was disbarred last September following a series of client complaints about missing settlement checks, told State Bar prosecutors that he’d been unaware of Reyes’ activities.
According to an affidavit, Reyes, who represented herself to be a paralegal, allegedly formed a fake company to communicate with clients without Ching’s knowledge, and, after Ching fired her from the Law Offices of Brian Ching in 2011, continued to take on new clients on Ching’s behalf, stealing their retainer fees. Ching had previously fired Reyes in 1994 for stealing $10,000 from a client trust account, but re-hired her when she entered counseling.
Reyes, who is related to Ching’s ex-wife, pleaded not guilty and is currently out on bond. She’s represented by federal public defender Edward Smock, who did not return a request for comment, and is next scheduled to appear before U. S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Feb. 28.
In the affidavit, an FBI special agent wrote that Ching’s alleged history of alcohol abuse, as well as familial problems, prevented him from detecting or addressing Reyes’ fraud.