A former Clayton attorney charged with embezzling more than $1 million from clients will spend 60-81 months in prison.
Jennifer Green-Lee, 42, of Raleigh pleaded guilty on Monday to 13 counts of embezzling from 10 clients.
A grand jury indicted Green-Lee in 2012, after she surrendered her law license and was disbarred.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said Green-Lee converted money for real-estate transactions for personal use.
Green-Lee was charged with misappropriating a total of $1.13 million, including about $244,000 from Golden Properties and Development Inc., a Garner-based development company.
Ron Lee, who owns Golden Properties and Development, said he did not want to comment on the sentencing. However, he said title insurance covered most of the money his company lost.
“I’ve put it behind me and moved on,” Lee said.
After completing her sentence, Green-Lee will be on probation and must pay back her former clients, Superior Court Judge Gary Trawick said in handing down the sentence.
“I am pleased that the defendant accepted responsibility and acknowledged the financial pain and suffering that she inflicted upon these victims,” Doyle said in a statement.
“The victims are pleased to finally get this case behind them,” she added.
Doyle said most of Green-Lee’s former clients have been at least partly repaid through the N.C. State Bar or title-insurance companies.
The State Bar’s Client Security Fund, established by the N.C. Supreme Court in 1984, reimburses clients who lose money at the hands of dishonest attorneys. A board of trustees decides how much to reimburse clients, up to $100,000 per applicant, according to the State Bar’s website. Every active lawyer in North Carolina pays $25 a year into the fund.
Green-Lee’s attorney, Walter Schmidlin, said his client took an Alford plea, meaning she didn’t admit guilt but pleaded guilty anyway because the deal offered was in her best interest.
Schmidlin said Green-Lee is not sitting on the money she was charged with embezzling and has been working as a waitress for three years to pay her bills. He said she’s hopeful to get a work-release job.
Before being disbarred, Green-Lee practiced law at 510 N.C. 42 West in Clayton. She mainly worked as a real-estate attorney, helping clients close property transactions.
Before her indictment in 2012, Four Oaks Bank sued Green-Lee in Johnston County Superior Court. The bank said it gave Green-Lee, who was serving as a closing attorney, $37,000 to pay off a lien on a property in Clayton. However, the bank claimed Green-Lee did not use the money to pay the lien and closed her law firm.
In the complaint, Four Oaks Bank also said Green-Lee accepted $1,471 in closing fees from Carroll Construction Homes but never turned the money over to the bank.
The N.C. State Bar conducted an investigation into Green-Lee’s use of client funds, and in a 2011 consent order for her disbarment, Green-Lee acknowledged that the “material facts upon which the investigation is predicated are true.” Schmidlin said Green-Lee used some of the money to pay her home mortgage, the salaries of her staff and for her office space.
James Crayton, an investigator with the Johnston County District Attorney’s Office, said the State Bureau of Investigation took the lead in the criminal investigation against Green-Lee. Mitchell Garrell, a prosecutor with the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, helped in that investigation, he said.