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Former Prisoner Convicted of Impersonating Criminal Defense Attorney

On April 15, 2009, a federal jury convicted a former prisoner who impersonated a lawyer on charges of mail fraud and making false statements, and the U.S. District Court subsequently imposed a 51-month prison sentence.

Howard O. Kieffer, 54, served time in federal prison from 1989 to 1993 on felony counts of defrauding the government and filing false tax returns. He did not learn his lesson, apparently, because following his release he began posing as a lawyer. Over the course of several years Kieffer represented at least 16 clients in ten states, mostly in post-conviction proceedings.

Kieffer was able to get away with his impersonation with the help of unsuspecting attorneys who vouched for him to be admitted pro hac vice to practice before local courts.
Other attorneys thought Kieffer was a lawyer based on his knowledge of the federal court system and attendance at attorney training seminars. He also operated his own legal consulting firm, Federal Defense Associates, that used a mail drop address in Santa Ana, California, and ran an Internet listserv called BOPWatch that dealt with federal prison-related issues [See: PLN, Jan. 2009, p.44].

Among his unsuspecting clients, Kieffer represented Gwen Bergman in a murder-for-hire prosecution in federal court in Colorado, where he lost at trial. He was also hired by prisoners’ family members – including Ken Henderson, who paid Kieffer to file an appeal on behalf of his wife, who had been convicted of lying to federal officials.

Kieffer’s scam unraveled after one of his clients contacted U.S. District Court Judge Dan Hovlan in Bismarck, North Dakota and questioned whether Kieffer was a licensed attorney.

Natasha Caron of Naples, Florida, who paid Kieffer $20,000 to appeal her son’s drug conviction, later learned that he was not a licensed attorney after searching prison websites. “I put my son’s case in this man’s hands and he was not an attorney,” she said. Caron testified at Kieffer’s trial that his handling of her son’s case resulted in her “health and emotional collapse.”

Kieffer did not take the stand during his federal trial, and his attorney did not call any witnesses. “They thought he was a lawyer and they trusted him,” said David Hagler, the Assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case. “A lot of people made that mistake.”

Kieffer was sentenced on August 14, 2009 to serve 51 months in federal prison, followed by three years on supervised release. He was also ordered to pay a total of $152,750 in restitution to six clients he had represented under the guise of being an attorney. Kieffer did not make a statement at his sentencing hearing; he is scheduled to report to prison on or before September 14. See: United States v. Kieffer, U.S.D.C. (D. ND), Case No. 1:08-cr-00054-PAC.

Sources:, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times

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Related legal case

United States v. Kieffer