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Lawyer pleads guilty in alleged Ponzi scheme

Accused of bilking investors over seven years, Virginia lawyer Brian Dinning pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud in Norfolk federal court Monday.

Dinning, who formerly practiced in Suffolk and other Hampton Roads communities, had been accused of taking money from investors with promises about charitable and profitable projects in Africa, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Dinning received over $2.5 million in investments and charitable donations to his numerous limited liability corporations, according to prosecutors.  Soon after the investment checks and wires were deposited into one of his LLC bank accounts, Dinning would immediately use the money to pay for personal expenses, authorities said, citing bank records.

Payments included a down payment and subsequent mortgage payments on Dinning’s new home, alimony and child support payments to his ex-wife, credit card payments, payments to disgruntled former investors, and payments to his wife and family members, according to government lawyers.

Dinning would periodically travel with his investors to South Africa to evaluate their investments.  As a result of these trips, several investors realized they had been defrauded and either asked for a return of their investment or filed lawsuits against Dinning, prosecutors said.

A Pennsylvania couple obtained a $722,000 civil judgment against Dinning in 2011, claiming he bilked them out of money for property in South Africa and for donations to a charity. Dinning lost or settled other suits and lost his home in Suffolk, authorities said.

Indicted a year ago on 25 counts of wire fraud, Dinning disappeared. He was arrested in Canada last August after defending his actions in a blog.

Dinning is a 1990 Regent University law graduate who earned a master’s degree in taxation from Georgetown University Law Center in 1993. He once practiced with the Virginia Beach firm of Huff, Poole & Mahoney.

Dinning’s Virginia law license was administratively suspended in April for noncompliance with continuing legal education requirements, according to the Virginia State Bar. He has not been subject to any public discipline, the VSB said.

Dinning faces up to 50 years in prison on his two guilty pleas. Sentencing is set for October.

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