A Florida injury attorney who led a class-action lawsuit on behalf of former NFL players, then defrauded his clients out of millions of dollars, is in federal prison after he was sentenced to 14 years.
Phillip Timothy Howard, 62, who once managed a Tallahassee injury and workers’ compensation law firm, pleaded guilty in August to racketeering and other charges, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida said in a bulletin.
“The defendant should have been protecting the interest of his injured clients, rather than swindling their investments,” U.S. Attorney Jason Coody said in the statement. The sentence “punishes the defendant’s criminal conduct and should serve as a significant deterrent to others who would selfishly steal to unlawfully enrich themselves.”
From 2015 to 2018, Howard and others associated with the law firm defrauded the clients by telling them that he had invested the proceeds from the NFL lawsuit, using several investment companies that he had created, prosecutors said.
“Despite reassuring investors that their money was secure, Howard never informed them that almost none of the investment funds yielded a return and failed to disclose that the investment funds had been commingled with funds used to operate his law firm and to issue payroll for its staff, pay Howard’s personal mortgages, and otherwise personally enrich Howard,” Coody’s office said in a news release.
Howard also lured litigation funding for the class action and he made numerous misrepresentations to the funders, the prosecutors said. Altogether, Howard and his associates obtained or attempted to obtain as much as $8 million from third-party lenders.
As time went on, his organization also provided falsified financial statements.
Howard was indicted in December 2022. Nine months earlier, he was disbarred in a separate case involving an injured worker. The Florida Bar alleged that after the lawyer helped Jason Hall settle his workers’ compensation case for more than $612,000, he misled Hall into signing papers that placed the funds into the Howard law firm’s operating account. There, the money was misappropriated or comingled with Howard’s personal funds, the Bar charged.
The man could have faced up to 20 years in prison under U.S. sentencing guidelines. He was in the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee as of Wednesday morning, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported. Once released, he will see three years of supervised release and must try to pay about $12 million in restitution to his former clients, prosecutors said.
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