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Fifth Circuit Upholds Attorney’s 15-Year Sentence for Fake Bribery Scam

On March 14, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a criminal defense lawyer’s 18 convictions for scamming defendants into paying large sums of money in a fake scheme to bribe federal officials to dismiss their cases.

Abraham Moses Fisch, aka Anthony Fisch, was a Texas defense attorney who conspired with former FBI informant Lloyd Glen Williams to scam criminal defendants into paying large amounts that would supposedly be used to bribe high-ranking federal officials to dismiss their cases or provide other favorable relief. Fisch and Williams did not actually have any government contacts who could be paid off to influence pending prosecutions.

Elida Sanchez testified that the pair told her if she paid $1.1 million, her husband, Edilberto Portillo, would be released “very soon” through “friends that work in the CIA.” Based on those misrepresentations, Portillo rejected a plea offer of no more than 80 months in prison; he also did not prepare for trial because he believed it would never occur.

Fisch also “guaranteed” that charges against Princewill Njoku would be dismissed if he and his co-defendant, Clifford Ubani, paid him $150,000. Ubani’s wife urged her husband to reject the government’s plea offer because Fisch “kept promising how he’s going to dismiss the case.”

Fisch and Williams were charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice, money laundering, tax evasion and impeding administration of the IRS. Fisch’s wife, Malkah Bertman, was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The indictment also sought forfeiture of Fisch’s home as an asset traceable to criminal proceeds.

Williams pleaded guilty and received seven years in prison, while Bertman was acquitted. Fisch was convicted on 18 counts and sentenced to 180 months in October 2015. The district court also entered a $1,150,000 forfeiture order.

At sentencing, Fisch moved to determine the effectiveness of his trial lawyer, Michael McCrum, arguing that he was ineffective in several ways. The district court verbally ruled that Fisch’s counsel was not ineffective.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed Fisch’s convictions, finding the evidence was sufficient to find him guilty, but criticized the summary resolution of his ineffective assistance of counsel claims. “The district court orally ruled on the motion without requesting further briefing or holding an evidentiary hearing,” the Court of Appeals observed. “The government concedes that Fisch was not able to develop his claims below, which prohibits appellate review.”

Consequently, the Court concluded “that the factual issues underlying Fisch’s claims of ineffective assistance cannot be determined on the current record.” Those claims may be brought, instead, in a timely 28 U.S.C. § 2255 proceeding, the appellate court wrote. See: United States v. Fisch, 851 F.3d 402 (5th Cir. 2017), cert. denied. 

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Related legal case

United States v. Fisch