Former leading personal-injury attorney William Conour remained free Thursday pending his wire fraud trial after a federal judge withheld ruling on the government’s bid to revoke his bond on claims that he dissipated assets against court orders.
Chief Judge Richard Young of the Southern District of Indiana wants to hear from a former U.S. attorney who Conour testified approved of art sales and other money transfers that constitute part of the government’s bond revocation request. Young also at times seemed incredulous about the circumstances regarding William and Jennifer Conour’s divorce that took place after the bond terms were set.
Conour is accused of defrauding 25 or more clients of at least $4.5 million and is scheduled to stand trial on Sept. 9. He faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000.
Conour took the stand for about an hour Thursday, arguing that former U.S. Attorney Richard Cox, who has since retired, had allowed him to use assets derived from the sale of art and from other sources for personal expenses as well as for hiring counsel and providing money for a potential victim restitution fund. Conour said the agreements were made with his former attorneys and during the period when Conour represented himself.
The government claims Cox never authorized Conour to dissipate more than $80,000 in the latter months of 2012 in the manner in which he did, insisting the money was to be used to retain counsel and form a potential victim restitution pool, and that Conour therefore violated bond conditions. Conour was appointed a federal defender in January after he said he couldn’t afford counsel.
“Mr. Cox was very amenable to work with,” Conour testified, saying the parties operated under a “loose, informal agreement,” and that he was trying to avoid bankruptcy.
But U.S. Attorney Jason Bohm countered that Conour’s relationship with Cox soured after Conour sent an email to the prosecutor stating, “I’m tired of being blackmailed with my own funds,” and that Cox never authorized the spending of money from art sales for Conour’s living expenses.
Young said he was “deeply, deeply concerned here regarding the remaining assets and what may happen to them,” but set another hearing at 1:30 p.m. June 28 to receive testimony from Cox.
Young also said he was troubled by the divorce action Conour’s ex-wife, Jennifer, filed days after he was charged in April 2012. Young said Kosciusko Superior Court, where the action was filed was “never notified of this proceeding,” nor was the federal court notified of the divorce. “That’s a real concern of the court,” Young said. “There’s a proper procedure” for approving dissipation of assets “that wasn’t followed here.”
Conour “should have notified this court and the Kosciusko County court what was going on here,” Young said, noting later the judge in Warsaw might not have approved a divorce had he known about the wire fraud case.
“It’s obvious to the court what’s going on here. … I think it’s obvious to everyone what’s going on.”
The Conours settled the uncontested divorce in December that divided assets, and the government contended Thursday that action alone was sufficient to constitute a violation of bond. But Young said he first wanted to hear from Cox to form a complete record and weigh his credibility against Conour’s.
Conour represented himself in the divorce, and Young interrupted when defense attorney Michael Donahoe said, “he’s not an experienced divorce litigator.”
“He’s a lawyer,” Young said. “He understands conditions of bond, right?”
Donahoe acknowledged Conour should have notified the court about the divorce before agreeing to transfer assets as a result of the agreement. “In hindsight, it would have been advisable to do that.” Donahoe noted that if he had represented Conour at the time, he would have advised him to do so.
Young also later took issue when Conour testified that he was ordered by the Kosciusko County court to pay his ex-wife’s car payments – a stipulation Conour later could not identify on the stand after Bohm handed him a copy of the divorce settlement.
“Mr. Conour, you weren’t ordered to do anything by the Kosciusko County court,” Young said, noting the uncontested nature of the divorce agreement.
Donahoe asked Conour about the value of assets that were transferred to his ex-wife. Conour said he valued the personal property he retained at about $144,000 compared with about $30,000 for Jennifer Conour.
“My goal was to preserve as much of the assets as we could,” Conour testified.
Meanwhile, Conour said he continues to pursue legal fees that he contends are owed from cases handled by other attorneys that were “taken from my firm.”
“There’s $2 million sitting in a lawyer’s account,” he contended, noting later that some 50 cases were transferred from his former firm. “I’m entitled to a fee in every one of those cases,” which he testified would go into the court trust fund.