An Iowa lawyer suckered for one of the most common con games around and now, because he got his clients involved and even got one of them to give him all the money she received from a worker’s compensation settlement, Robert Wright Jr. has lost his law license for a year.
Wright fell for a variation on what is widely known as the “Nigerian scam.” The name comes from the fact that the victim of the scam is often told that he or she is about to receive a huge amount of cash from someone in Nigeria, sometimes described as a relative or even a prince.
In order to get the supposed payout, usually said to be in the millions, con artists ask their mark to put up a substantial amount of money that they say must be paid in taxes or fees before the cash can be transferred.
There are numerous variations on the scam. One common and recent version starts with an e-mail that appears to be personalized to the recipient, saying that the large payment awaits.
In Wright’s case, a client named Floyd Lee Madison — already involved in criminal case in which Wright was his lawyer — asked Wright in 2011 to help him get his hands on a purported $18.8 million “inheritance” from a “long lost cousin” in Nigeria.
But first, Madison told Wright (pictured) that he needed about $180,000 to pay Nigerian taxes on the non-existent bequest. Madison offered Wright 10 percent of the “inheritance,” about $1.8 million, for his help in raising the “tax” money and getting the “inheritance” paid out.
Wright bought it hook, line and sinker.
But while it’s neither a crime nor even a violation of legal ethics to be a sap, Wright crossed the line when he persuaded two other clients to loan him $25,000 each — for one, that was the total amount of a worker’s comp settlement she’d just received — and he borrowed almost $200,000 from three former clients.
None of Wright’s lenders ever saw their money again.
But the Iowa Supreme Court, which handed down Wright’s punishment, said that the attorney never intended to commit fraud. The court said Wright actually believed that the $18.8 million was real.
And incredibly, according to the court, he still does.
Noting that Wright, though he had been cited for previous ethical violations, also performed pro bono work for indigent clients, the court said that its penalty was not as harsh as it could have been.
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Wright’s father, Robert Wright Sr., was a distinguished Iowa civil rights attorney who was named by the Des Moines Register as one of the “10 Most Influential Black Iowans” of the 20th century.
While it might seem easy to have a cheap, somewhat cruel laugh at the junior Wright’s expense, he is far from the first lawyer taken in by the so-called “Nigerian scam.” Last year, a pair of con artists were charged by the federal government with bilking 70 lawyers out of $29 million using the scam, and attempting to dupe another 300 lawyers out of $100 million.
SOURCES: Little Village Magazine, The Business Record, Above The Law, Des Moines Register, ABC News, Wikipedia