Nearly everyone, at this point, has received the ubiquitous Nigerian 419 advance fee email scam. An unsolicited email comes from someone in Africa, claiming that a long-lost relative died, or that the South Kenyan lottery just awarded you 18 million dollars. All you have to do is pay a fee to help the money clear regulatory hurdles, or give them your checking account information. Some have speculated that the emails are deliberately bad, so that only the most vulnerable and easily confused will respond, as they're the easiest marks.
Personally, the best I've ever seen was a physical letter, sent to my roommate in college. And yes, it was still in broken English.
Nobody falls for these, right? You'd have to be, well, gullible is a nice way to put it. Well, according to Above the Law, one lawyer did, and took his clients along for the ride. Now, his clients are out $200,000, and he will be benched by the Iowa Bar Association for the next year, at least.
A Long-Lost Rich Nigerian Cousin
Robert Wright, Jr.'s client came to his attorney with claims that he inherited $18.8 million from a long-lost cousin in Nigeria. Wright agreed to help him obtain the $177,660 need to cover the cost of taxes on the inheritance, plus additional funds for an "anti-terrorism" certificate (which as the court noted, a quick Internet search reveals to be a scam).
Fortunately for Wright, it wasn't his money on the line. He made arrangements with a number of present and former clients to provide loans to his lucky client.
Needless to say, no one got rich here, except for the Nigerian scammers. The tale actually got even more ridiculous when the money was allegedly shipped to Spain, where a "diplomat" provided instructions on how to recover the cash:
"I don't know of any Bank here, beside, I will suggest you come with the administrative Logistic charges for the clearance which is €25,600 (Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Euros) in your baggage, have it hide in your trouser's and have the trouser fold careful package in your luggage, so that it will be easy to proceed to custom safe storage house facilities office here to pay and pick up receipt for immediate delivery of your two trunk boxes."
Hilariously enough, the lucky client actually went to Madrid to recover his inheritance. Shockingly, he came back empty-handed.
Delusional, Not Fraudulent
Wright hasn't given up hope yet, however. The disciplinary board noted that, "Wright appears to have honestly believed -- and continues to believe -- that one day a trunk full of ... one hundred dollar bills is going to appear upon his office doorstep."
In dismissing one of the disciplinary charges against Wright, for helping a client to commit fraud, the court noted that Wright's conduct was "delusional, but not fraudulent." Ouch.
But Not Off the Hook
Competency. Business transactions with clients. There's still a lot of misconduct here, even without intentional fraud. Add in his three prior private admonitions and two public reprimands, plus his three decades of experience as an attorney, mitigated by his pro bono work, and the Iowa Supreme Court felt that a one-year suspension, to commence once a different, unrelated suspension for not cooperating with a separate ethics investigation is lifted, was appropriate.
- Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board v. Wright (Scribd)
- A 419 scam via snail mail (Naked Security)
- Prosecutor Facing Discipline for 'Our White World' Closing Statements (FindLaw's Strategist Blog)