Columbia, SC (WLTX) - A US District Court Judge sentenced long time Lexington attorney Richard Breibart Wednesday after he plead guilty to stealing $2.4 million from 13 of his clients.
"He was a big deal in Lexington County. He was known to be the guy that could get your case taken care of," said Assistant US Attorney Winston Holliday. "He cleaned out a lot of people of their life savings. They're having to go back and adjust their lifestyles, go back to work."
According to sentencing guidelines, Breibart was given the maximum sentence for the fraud. He's been ordered to pay restitution to victims and serve over 5 years behind bars.
The scheme started when Breibart would tell clients they were going to be investigated and their money could be confiscated. He would advise clients to dump almost all of their money into a trust controlled by his law firm.
Breibart would then use the money to pay overhead costs at his law firm, sometimes $300,000 each month.
"I think it was a fair sentence, but it was a firm sentence," said Allen Burnside, Breibart's attorney. "He's old and he's going to be older when he gets out. His health is bad. I'm sure he'll pay to the best of his ability, but there may not be that much ability."
Attorneys on both sides said it's unlikely Breibart will repay any significant portion of the $2.4 million he stole.
"The FBI looked into all of his accounts and assets," Holliday said. "Hard assets have leans on them or bank accounts are dissipated."
Lawyers who knew Breibart and followed the case said a maximum sentence delivered a message to lawyers and to the community to maintain trust in the legal system.
"The first thing I wanted the court to know and I want the public to know: lawyers do not condone what richard did, in fact they condemnit," said defense attorney Jack Swirling
Swirly has tried cases witht Breibart and spoke on his behalf during sentencing.
"I think it was ego," Holliday said. "His practice grew, he wanted it to grow and it got bigger than he could manage."