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Attorney admits stealing from his firm

A Bristol attorney has acknowledged pocketing fees from bankruptcy clients and keeping the money from his law firm. Tony M. Hutchinson then used his firm’s credit card to pay the court filing fees, according to a federal charge.

Hutchinson, 52, pleaded guilty May 7 to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.

According to the government’s account, Hutchinson ran a bankruptcy practice for his law firm in Bristol, Virginia, and later in Kingsport, Tennessee. Clients would make initial payments to Hutchinson ranging from $500 to $1,000.

Beginning around 2013, Hutchinson took the payments in cash or blank money orders and stopped depositing the money into the firm’s trust account, the charge says.

When he filed bankruptcy cases, he used a firm credit card to charge the filing fees to the firm. The fees charged to the firm totaled at least $70,000, the government charged.

Seeing little return from the bankruptcy practice, the firm sought to close it down in January. Nevertheless, Hutchinson allegedly continued to take client payments without recording them on the firm’s books. The government says he failed to file bankruptcy petitions for those outside clients.

The firm is not identified in the court papers or in a Justice Department news release. Hutchinson’s address of record with the Virginia State Bar shows him with the Norton office of Wolfe, Williams & Rutherford.

Hutchinson served on the VSB Clients’ Protection Fund board from 2004 to 2009, according to a VSB spokesperson. The fund is a lawyer-funded account that pays reimbursement to clients who suffer losses from dishonest lawyers.

The wire fraud charge carries a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. District Judge James P. Jones scheduled sentencing for Aug. 12.

Hutchinson is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

“It’s always a sad day when we learn that a person has abused his position of trust and thereby forfeits his reputation and his good name,” said acting U.S. attorney Anthony P. Giorno in a news release.

Hutchinson is represented by Nancy C. Dickenson of the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Abingdon. The government is represented by assistant U.S. attorney S. Randall Ramseyer.

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