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YOUNGSTOWN Lawyer faces discipline



Published: Sat, September 28, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The former lawyer submitted bills for fictitious services, the complaint says.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Ohio Supreme Court's disciplinary counsel is considering action against a former Youngstown lawyer who's suspected of defrauding his former law firm of nearly $200,000.

According to a complaint lodged with the disciplinary counsel, John F. Zimmerman Jr. was a lawyer with the firm of Manchester, Bennett, Powers & amp; Ullman of Youngstown, where he had been a partner and shareholder since 1974.

The firm terminated his employment March 31, 2002, after discovering the missing money.

Wants to resign

Atty. David C. Comstock Jr., one of the lawyers who filed the complaint, said Zimmerman has sent a letter to the disciplinary counsel resigning his law license, but the state panel has not yet accepted it.

If the state accepts Zimmerman's resignation, he won't face any further disciplinary action because he'll already be barred from practicing law again in Ohio.

"Once you resign, that's it. You are done and you can't come back," Comstock said.

Comstock filed the complaint on behalf of the Mahoning County Bar Association's grievance committee, of which he is a member. He declined to comment on it further, saying the report speaks for itself. No criminal charges have been filed, but the complaint doesn't indicate why.

Zimmerman now lives in Naples, Fla., and could not be reached to comment.

Schemes

The complaint says that since the middle of 1998, Zimmerman devised various schemes by which he would submit bogus requests for reimbursement for supposedly client-related expenses.

The amount would appear on draft statements to clients as expenses advanced on their behalf and the company would reimburse him personally.

Zimmerman would then delete the expenses on the actual statements he sent to clients so they were never billed for them, and then he'd pocket the money he'd been reimbursed by his firm, the complaint says.

Among other things, Zimmerman collected money for depositions that were never taken, fees for mediation services that did not occur, and travel and entertainment services that were supposedly work-related but either never happened or the money was never spent, the complaint says.

Fictitious entity

Zimmerman also created a fictitious entity known as "Interstate Legal Services," which used his own home address. The complaint says Zimmerman would submit bills from ILS on behalf of his clients, then write off the charges before a final statement was sent to the clients.

Again, he would cash the checks and pocket the money, the complaint says.

When officials at the firm confronted him in November 2001, Zimmerman denied any wrongdoing and created a false credit card statement in an attempt to cover up the scheme, the complaint alleges.

Through an internal investigation, the firm determined Zimmerman "may have dishonestly taken" at least $191,171.

Money paid back

Zimmerman "essentially admitted" all of the facts in the complaint and has paid back about $160,000, the complaint says.

Zimmerman has also been summoned to appear next week in Mahoning County Probate Court to address concerns over his role in a trust fund. Details of that case were not available.

bjackson@vindy.com




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