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Check scam leads to lawyer’s ethics trouble

A fraudulent check for nearly half-a-million dollars received by a Virginia lawyer led to ethics trouble over a $320 filing fee.

The lawyer nearly fell for one of those fake check scams that have tripped up other attorneys. He avoided sending money to overseas scammers, but his delay in resolving a related filing fee problem caused a shaky start for a client’s lawsuit.

Patrick R. Blasz of Vienna received a public reprimand and three years’ probation in an agreement with bar prosecutors approved Feb. 28. The discipline was based on Blasz’ handling of a series of matters, including the filing fee issue.

According to the Virginia State Bar, Blasz received an unsolicited email in November 2015 from a “Stephen Wang” who hoped to sell an oil well. Blasz proposed a $5,000 retainer for help with the sale.

On Nov. 24, Blasz received a check for $498,000. Blasz reportedly was told the check represented his retainer plus a down payment for the oil well purchase.

Blasz deposited the check in his trust account along with a check for $320 from another client.

The $320 was intended to cover the filing fee for the other client’s lawsuit, which Blasz filed that day using a trust account check for $320.

As with similar fake check scams, the purported oil well client soon called to say he wanted money quickly. “Wang” said he needed $100,000 from the money in Blasz’ account.

The bank told Blasz the funds were on hold and not available. Soon after, Blasz learned the $498,000 check was fraudulent.

On Nov. 30, the bank froze Blasz’ trust account because of the fraudulent check. With the account frozen, the $320 filing fee check bounced.

On Dec. 10, the Fairfax County Circuit Court clerk’s office notified Blasz that his filing fee check had been returned and that he would be charged a $50 service fee unless he produced a letter from the bank to show he was not at fault.

Blasz did not produce the bank letter until April 26. In the meantime, a judge had dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice. Blasz refiled the case in September and paid a second filing fee out of his own pocket.

In a separate matter, Blasz was faulted for delays and poor communication with a client. His three years of probation began April 3.