PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Providence-based personal injury attorney facing federal wire fraud and tax evasion charges pleaded guilty Tuesday, according to U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha.
Court documents reveal Peter Leach failed to “properly maintain, account for and use client funds” between 2014 and 2018.
Leach, who was suspended from practicing law back in 2019, allegedly forged his clients’ signatures on the back of settlement checks he received on their behalf, according to the documents. He then deposited those checks into his Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) — which are intended to hold “nominal amounts” of settlement funds for a short period of time — without notifying his clients beforehand.
Court documents indicate that Leach was supposed to receive 33% of any settlement amount negotiated on behalf of his clients. He was also required to pay the remainder of the settlement minus any additional expenses to his clients.
Instead, he reportedly used funds from his IOLTAs on personal expenses. Court documents reveal he used his clients’ settlement funds to cover college tuition payments, country club membership fees, travel expenses and restaurant bills.
Leach also allegedly used money from his IOLTAs to repay earlier clients whose funds had been previously misappropriated.
In total, court documents state Leach withdrew more than $540,000 in cash from his IOLTAs between 2016 and 2018. He is also accused of failing to pay more than $300,000 in required taxes.
The IRS placed a levy on his personal bank accounts in an attempt to collect those unpaid taxes. But instead of paying those taxes, Leach stopped using his personal bank accounts and began using his IOLTAs on personal expenses, according to court documents.
Leach is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 4, 2024.