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Former Martinsburg attorney pleads guilty in fraud case

April 01, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- A former Martinsburg attorney pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court to one count of aiding and abetting mail fraud, and one count of aiding and abetting wire fraud.

Heidi J. Silver Myers' pleas to two counts of a 112-count indictment returned by a grand jury in 2007 were accepted by Magistrate David J. Joel, who deferred accepting the terms of a signed plea agreement until Myers is sentenced. Under the terms of the agreeement, the remaining charges would be dropped.

A sentencing hearing was not scheduled Thursday.

Myers, 32, is accused of defrauding the state by submitting false vouchers to West Virginia Public Defender Services in Charleston, according to court records.

The government's case against Myers' former office manager, Nancy P. Burkhart, of Martinsburg is pending. Burkhart's trial is scheduled for July.

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Myers owned Myers Law Group in Martinsburg. She and Burkhart are accused of conspiring to submit vouchers for court-appointed work that Myers allegedly did not perform, according to court records. Vouchers falsely billed West Virginia Public Defender Services at the $45-per-hour rate for attorney time when the work was performed by paralegals or other employees of the law firm, according to the indictment.

Myers and Burkhart allegedly conducted the voucher scheme from July 2004 to July 6, 2006, the government has said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul T. Camilletti told the court the plea agreement outlined maximum penalties of not more than 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge. Three years of supervised probation for both count 65 (mail fraud) and count 102 (wire fraud) of the indictment also is possible. Camilletti told the court the U.S. attorney's office agreed to recommend the court impose a lower penalty in Myers' case.

Restitution and a special assessment of $100 would be applied for each count, according to Camilletti.

Myers also agreed to cooperate with the government to provide statements and trial testimony, if requested, Camilletti said.

"Heidi deeply regrets her conduct," defense attorney S. Andrew Arnold said after the hearing.

"She has already paid for the conduct by the loss of her profession and the loss of respect she had earned as a hard-working lawyer. And she will continue to pay consequences for these actions the rest of her life, long after this court is done with her."

Arnold said he did not expect his client to be sentenced for an extended period of time because of the Burkhart case.

Camilletti on Thursday had U.S. postal inspector Kenneth Gournic take the stand to revisit evidence the government indicated would bring about Silver's conviction.

That included evidence that work by employees of Myers Law Group, including paralegals, secretaries and investigators, was falsely billed as attorney time and vouchers submitted to the state for court-appointed work totaled more than 24 hours per day on 147 different dates.

Gournic testified there were only two instances when vouchers were submitted for paralegal work and the remaining vouchers were submitted as attorney time.

The vouchers are approved by a circuit judge before being sent to Charleston, Gournic testified.

The wire fraud allegation stems from the wire transfer of money from a Birmingham, Ala., firm that provided Silver's firm with payment for court-appointed defense work that had been done while Public Defender Services was behind on payments to attorneys across the state, according to court officials.

Myers has divorced since being indicted and now goes by Heidi J. Silver.

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