COLUMBIA — A Lexington attorney extorted more than $1 million from clients by threatening them with criminal charges or civil penalties that did not exist, according to a federal indictment.
Richard Breibart was charged Wednesday with five counts of extortion, four counts of mail fraud and a count of wire fraud. The indictment lists three different people who allegedly cleaned out bank accounts, investments and retirement savings to give to Breibart.
Breibart targeted present and former clients and told them they were facing penalties from the Internal Revenue Service or possible criminal charges unless they put hundreds of thousands of dollars into his law firm’s trust account, authorities said.
The attorney promised he would handle the matters confidentially and keep them out of public records, prosecutors said.
The problems were made up and clients were never under any risk, the indictment said. Breibart took the money out of his trust fund and used it to pay for unspecified personal and business expenses, according to the indictment.
Breibart was arrested Wednesday and ordered held in jail with a $100,000 bond. He remained behind bars Thursday. A call to his home was not immediately returned. Court records indicated his case was assigned to the public defender’s office, and lawyers there also did not return a message.
In one case, Breibart told a man that he owed the IRS $368,000, but if he paid the money immediately along with a $50,000 fee, he would take care of the matter. The man pulled the money from his life insurance, prosecutors said.
In the second case, Breibart told a woman that used his firm for a divorce that her estranged husband was being investigated by the IRS and her assets could also be seized if she didn’t act quickly. She sent his firm a $500,000 check from her investment accounts, authorities said.
In the third case, Breibart told a couple that their son, who he represented on state criminal charges, might now be the target of an FBI investigation and he needed hundreds of thousands of dollars to handle the matter before the FBI got involved. The couple sent $218,000 to Breibart even though there was no investigation, according to the indictment.
Breibart’s law license was suspended by the South Carolina Supreme Court in June.