Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer Gets Five Year Sentence for Stealing Firm’s Clients
A former attorney with prominent Philadelphia personal injury firm, Gay & Chacker, has been sentenced to five years in prison for a scheme involving stealing countless cases and other legal services over the course of a decade, thereby robbing the firm of some $3.4 million.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge, Michael M. Baylson, ordered Neil I. Mittin, 64, of Huntingdon Valley, to pay $3.4 million in restitution to Gay & Chacker. Last July, Mittin was charged with one count of mail fraud. He pleaded guilty in September.
Judge Baylson stressed the importance of handing down a serious punishment for Mittin given the circumstances, noting that the dishonest behavior had to be taken seriously. “I forgive them for not realizing the seriousness of the crime, but Mr. Mittin, stated plainly, you’re a thief,” the judge said. “That is really the sum and substance of this proceeding; you’re a thief and you were uncovered.”
Mittin worked at the Gay & Chacker plaintiffs personal injury firm for 38 years as an associate. Though never reaching the title of an official partner, Mittin’s surname was added to the firm’s name in 2001.
Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia allege that between 2008 and 2018. Mittin’s scheme entailed stealing numerous cases from his longtime firm through a process of referring said cases to outside attorneys. Prosecutors argued that the impacted clients had no knowledge of Mittin referring the cases to outside attorneys, nor did they ever ask for referrals.
Moreover, Mittin allegedly concealed his nefarious actions from his colleagues at the firm by closing the files for those matters and making it appear via firm records that no settlement or resolution could be reached, and that the cases were not viable.
After those fraudulent referrals were made, prosecutors said the attorneys from the other firms represented those clients and paid Mittin a kickback referral fee of between 33% and 40% of the contingency fees they earned. That is in addition to the reimbursement of any costs incurred by Gay & Chacker. The sum total of the scheme resulted in approximately $10.8 million in financial recoveries for the clients, and $4.2 million in legal fees and costs defrauded from Gay & Chacker.
Senior Managing Partner, Edward Chacker, operates the Gay & Chacker firm — located at 1731 Spring Garden St. in Philadelphia — with his son and partner, Brian, as well as two other attorneys.
Chacker told the court that Mittin succeeded in getting away with his scheme for so long because the firm had placed unconditional, absolute trust in him over the years, allowing him to conduct his practice in relative independence.
“This is someone who comes into our house, is adopted into our house, and then at the end he does what he did,” Chacker said. “Money is money, but the emotional part is burned into my heart.”
Chacker was chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association in 1999 and president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association in 1991.
Mittin told the court that he was extremely remorseful for his actions and the harm it caused his former firm, the colleagues, and the clients. “I stand before you today as a broken man, a man who has lost his law license, his livelihood and who has brought shame to his entire family,” he said. “I am truly sorry for what I did and for all my actions.”
Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 41 to 51 months, but in the end Judge Baylson adopted a guideline range of 51 to 63 months recommended by probation officials.
The Gay & Chacker firm was co-founded in 1974 by Andrew Gay and Edward Chacker,
The government is represented by Louis Lappen of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Mitten is represented by Joseph Poluka of Blank Rome LLP.