GLENDALE ATTORNEY CHARGED WITH ELDER FRAUD MISCONDUCT
San Francisco, July 9, 2012 – The State Bar of California has charged a Glendale attorney with 18 counts of misconduct for his part in a scheme in which an elderly widow was charged excessive legal fees and left with $1.4 million tax bill.
According to the notice of disciplinary charges filed Friday, Joseph Bernard McHugh Jr. (Bar. No. 128665) billed the victim more than $407,000 for bogus estate planning services and worked alongside a convicted felon, who had taken over the woman’s financial affairs. McHugh is accused of misconduct including charging illegal and unconscionable fees, defrauding the Internal Revenue Service, failing to disclose a conflict of interest to his client and numerous counts of moral turpitude.
McHugh and Naomi Campbell, a self-styled financial adviser who had prior convictions for defrauding the elderly, met with 88-year-old Helen Sprinkle on Oct. 8, 2005, just three days after the death of Sprinkle’s only child, Donna. Sprinkle had also recently lost her sister and pet dog. Over the course of four months, McHugh, 59, charged Sprinkle thousands of dollars for work he claimed was done to update her estate plan, including $363,882 for supposed paralegal services, much of which went to Campbell and her husband, Ron, neither of whom had any paralegal training.
The following May, according to prosecutors, McHugh made changes to one of the Sprinkle family’s trusts to list the Church of God of the Twin Cities Inc., based in Illinois, as a charitable beneficiary. McHugh also failed to disclose to Sprinkle that Campbell’s relatives served as the church’s president and head pastor, the treasurer and secretary. McHugh also authorized the sale of stocks and liquidation of other assets in the Sprinkle family trusts to purchase three annuities totaling roughly $5.5 million. The annuities, purchased from Campbell’s husband Ron, who received large commissions, were inappropriate investments for Sprinkle due to her age. As a result of McHugh’s actions, Sprinkle incurred $1,409,809 in federal and state taxes.
McHugh has been a member of the State Bar since 1987 with no prior record of discipline. He faces possible disbarment if found culpable of the charges.
The State Bar of California is an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, serving the public and seeking to improve the justice system for more than 80 years. All lawyers practicing law in California must be members of the State Bar. By July 2012, membership reached 238,000.