Ex-Attorney: Judge stays sentencing to allow last chance to repay victims — (Salt Lake Tribune)

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The Salt Lake Tribune (UT)

May 30, 1998


The fate of a former Salt Lake City attorney who stole $120,000 from his clients was postponed Friday after he revealed a plan to pay back the sum within 90 days.   Paul A. Price said he is getting financial help from his employer, U.S. Jet, based in Butte, Mont. The air-cargo carrier plans to borrow the money and loan it to Price, who is a vice president with the company.

Price, 46, was scheduled for sentencing on one count of second-degree felony theft. But 3rd District Judge Timothy Hanson gave the defendant a last chance to repay his victims.  “Judgment day isn’t today, Mr. Price, it’s Sept. 4,” said Hanson.  “I’m giving you the choice of paying restitution or sitting in prison or jail.”

A second-degree felony carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.  Price apologized to his seven victims and for dishonoring his profession.   “I’ll have no peace until the money is repaid,” he said.

But Price’s victims said they have little faith in Price’s promises.  Zeke McCabe — whose mother, Robin McCabe, lost more than $55,000 to Price — said the defendant has been talking about repayment for two years.

“Nothing has happened,” Zeke McCabe complained.  But Judge Hanson pointed out that Price has never before faced prison time. McCabe agreed such a threat might be   “highly motivational.”

Because Price abused his position of trust as an attorney, Hanson said,  “some pretty serious sanctions” were called for.

“But I’m also a realist,” added the judge, noting if Price is jailed, he could lose his job and spoil any hope for restitution.

Prosecutor Ernest Jones said probation was appropriate only if Price paid the money by the deadline. Thus far, Price  “has not even made a token effort” toward restitution payments, Jones said.

Defense attorney Peter Stirba said the promised loan from U.S. Jet   “shows the person [Price] is now, and says a lot about his employer.”

Stirba said Price’s crime was not one of greed.  “He was faced with a poignant and difficult family problems.”

In 1994, a year before the thefts began, Price’s father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 1996, leaving behind his mentally impaired and physically disabled wife in California, Stirba said.

Price brought his ailing mother-in-law to Utah and, with his wife, began around-the-clock nursing care.   By the time Price began misusing clients’ funds, he was taking Prozac for depression.

Stirba said Price was driven to misuse the money  “out of duty to family, and out of compassion, grief and confusion.”

Price’s behavior was  “totally anomalous,” said Stirba.  “He has lost his law license, he has been thoroughly and completely humiliated. He is entitled to some benefit of a doubt and is deserving of a break.”

Price was initially charged with seven counts of second-degree felony unlawful dealing by a fiduciary/ theft. As part of a plea-bargain negotiation, he pleaded guilty to one count.