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Pa. attorney enters no-contest plea

April 27, 2000|By DON AINES

BLOOMSBURG, Pa. - A former Franklin County attorney who dropped out of sight for a month in 1998 pleaded no contest Thursday to charges he stole $192,000 from three estates and a civil settlement.

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Todd Dorsett, 40, of Waynesboro, Pa., entered the plea to four counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds during a hearing before Senior Judge Jay W. Myers in Columbia County Common Pleas Court, according to Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

Under a no-contest plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but offers no defense.

"For reasons of sentencing, a no contest plea is tantamount to a guilty plea," Harley said.

The third-degree felonies carry a maximum sentence of seven years and a $15,000 fine on each count. Harley said Myers ordered a pre-sentence investigation and Dorsett will probably be sentenced in June.

As part of a plea agreement, a charge of hindering apprehension or prosecution will be dismissed, Harley said. Dorsett had been charged with failing to tell Pennsylvania State Police the whereabouts of a former criminal client, Jacob G. Schaff V of Waynesboro.

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Pennsylvania State Police in an affidavit of probable cause alleged that Dorsett diverted money from three estates and a civil settlement between 1995 to 1999. The largest amount was $132,722 from the estate of Allan E. Hockersmith, who died in 1995.

The affidavit said he failed to make disbursements ranging from $11,060.24 to $22,120.45 to the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Waynesboro Hospital, the Always There Hook and Ladder Co., United Way of Franklin County, the Salvation Army and American Red Cross.

Dorsett presented checks for the executors of Hockersmith's estate to sign in November 1997, police said. One woman told police "she cannot see close objects well and that she was not able to read the checks at all," according to the affidavit.

Canceled checks from the estate account showed Dorsett made deposits in banks in Waynesboro, Greencastle and Chambersburg. In addition to the $23,500 Dorsett charged for attorney fees, police said he listed another $206,637 as attorney fees.

Dorsett also was charged with taking $15,565 from the estate of Hazel P. Monn; $15,847 from the estate of Joseph J. Heinlein; and $27,906 owed to Roy H. and Merianne S. Appleby on behalf of their daughter, Megan, from a civil settlement for injuries she received in a vehicle accident.

The affidavit said Dorsett was interviewed on Sept.1, 1999, and told police he diverted money from the Appleby settlement and Monn estate to satisfy deficits in the Hockersmith account. Dorsett said he had been "robbing Peter to pay Paul," the affidavit alleged.

"He stated that the deficit in the Hockersmith account apparently arose because his personal income was insufficient to satisfy his personal debts," the affidavit alleged. It said he used money for repairs and improvements to properties he owned.

State police charged Dorsett Nov. 12, 1998, with hindering the apprehension of Schaff, whom he previously represented on criminal charges. The two men disappeared from Dorsett's home on Nov. 9.

Police in Troy, Ohio, found Dorsett at a motel on Dec. 10, 1998, but Schaff remains at large.

Schaff is wanted for a state parole violation for failing to complete a drug and alcohol program and on a county bench warrant for failing to appear at a child support hearing, according to court records.

Because Dorsett once had a contract with the county to represent indigent criminal defendants, Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson asked the Attorney General's Office to handle Dorsett's prosecution to avoid any possible appearance of conflict of interest.

Myers was appointed by the state to hear the case in Columbia County because Dorsett had practiced in front of Franklin County's Court of Common Pleas judges, according to court records.

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