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Former Pa. attorney sentenced

August 04, 2000

Former Pa. attorney sentenced



By DON AINES / Staff Writer


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A former Waynesboro, Pa., attorney who stole $192,000 from clients before disappearing in 1998 was sentenced Friday in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to 18 to 54 months in what Senior Judge J.W. Myers called "an appropriate county facility."

"You've embarrassed yourself personally and professionally ... and you've embarrassed the whole legal profession," Myers said when he sentenced Todd A. Dorsett, 40, of 128 W. Main St., to concurrent jail terms on four counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, all third-degree felonies.

Myers, a retired Judge from Columbia County, said he would leave it to Franklin County officials to determine whether Dorsett serves his sentence here, or in another county.

Myers' sentence was less severe than a recommendation by the Probation Department that Dorsett go to state prison.

"This case cries out for a state prison sentence," said Anthony Foray, a prosecutor with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

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"This man may have his life totally destroyed by him being sent to a penitentiary," defense attorney Matthew R. Gover said. He asked Dorsett be placed under house arrest, or serve his sentence in a county jail.

Foray cited a written statement by Dorsett in the pre-sentence report to indicate a lack of remorse.

"The victims admittedly have not been put to any hardship because of my actions," Foray said, quoting from the document.

In November 1998 Dorsett and a former client, Jacob G. Shaff V, disappeared from Dorsett's home. Dorsett was charged by Pennsylvania State Police with hindering apprehension or prosecution of Shaff who was wanted for a state parole violation, according to court records.

Dorsett was found a month later at a Troy, Ohio, motel and returned to Franklin County. Shaff remained at large until September 1999 when he turned himself into state police, the District Attorney's Office said.

State police charged Dorsett last year with defrauding three estates and a civil settlement. He pleaded no contest to the theft charges on April 27 in exchange for the hindering charge being dismissed, court records said.

Foray said Dorsett knew he was under investigation when he fled the state. He said Dorsett spent the money to improve properties he owns.

The money from the estates was supposed to go to charities, including the American Cancer Society, Salvation Army and Red Cross. The money stolen from the settlement was for a 15-year-old girl hit by a car, Foray said.

One executor of an estate was in her 80s and nearly blind and was asked by Dorsett to sign checks she couldn't read, Foray said. From the estate of the late Allen E. Hockersmith, Dorsett paid himself $225,000 in legal fees, repaying some of the money by taking from the other estates and the settlement, according to court records.

The victims were reimbursed by the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security, a fund established to pay clients bilked by attorneys, but Foray said Dorsett "has paid zero dollars in restitution."

Foray said Dorsett spent last year writing a book on the history of the former Waynesboro High School.

Dorsett told Myers he had "tried to make it right on my own" before anyone noticed the money was missing.

"Despite doing my utmost on my own to correct this, my efforts only made things worse," he said.

Dorsett said he was suffering from undiagnosed depression when the money was taken between 1995 and late 1998.

"I cannot say and will not say I did it willfully or maliciously," he said.

In addition to the jail sentence, Myers fined Dorsett $2,000 and ordered he pay $170,000 restitution to the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security and $22,120 to the Salvation Army.

Dorsett was ordered to report to Franklin County Prison on Monday at 8 a.m.

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