Federal Judge in Fla. Rejects Fraud Plea by Asbestos Attorney

May 23, 2007

A once high-flying asbestos litigation attorney was ready to plead guilty Monday to fraud involving thousands of clients, but a federal judge in Miami has rejected the deal and set a date for trial, saying he was unhappy with the plea deal.

Louis S. Robles has been accused of defrauding nearly 4,400 clients out of $13.5 million. He had reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to two of the 41 mail fraud counts lodged against him and would have served 10 years in prison under the deal. If convicted of all counts, he could be sentenced to more than 200 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold said he was unhappy with the amount of time Robles would serve and the amount of money victims would receive. The government has only recovered about $1.3 million from Robles’ frozen bank accounts.

“I have significant concerns about the lack of compensation for many of the victims,” Gold said.

Gold had previously postponed the hearing and Robles’ guilty plea to allow victims to write letters or appear in person about the agreement. The 24 responses the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami received were “overwhelmingly positive with regard to the proposed plea agreement,” according to a court document.

The widow of the victim owed the most money, approximately $185,000, also supported the plea agreement, according to the filing.

Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, said in a statement that prosecutors believed “the terms of the proposed plea agreement were fair and just” and that it “provided quick restitution to elderly and dying victims” as well as ensuring punishment of 10 years in prison.

Robles, 59, once represented more than 7,000 clients in lawsuits against companies that made asbestos, which has been linked to cancer and other health problems. From January 1989 through September 2002, Robles collected more than $164 million from about 75,000 settlements, according to court records.

Prosecutors say he also stole from his own clients, often by claiming that their money had not been received or paying them far less than they were due. Robles was disbarred in 2003 after the Florida Bar investigated.

A trial is set for Sept. 4.

A telephone message left for a Robles attorney Monday evening was not immediately returned.

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