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A former California lawyer, Matthew Charles Elstein, 52, of Redondo Beach, has been sentenced to 37 months in prison after he plead guilty to a fraud charge, admitting he lied to clients about winning cases and deceiving them with bogus documents, some with the forged signatures of judges. Elstein was a licensed California attorney from December 1994 until the State Bar of California ordered him inactive in March 2019. He had been formerly with national law firm Tressler LLP,

In a tearful bid for clemency, Elstein told the the judge that he understood the pain he had caused and said a degenerative condition of his frontal lobe may soon diminish his mental capacities. His lawyer told the judge that Elstein’s medical condition contributed to his behavior spinning out of control.

One of Elstein’s victims spoke in court and said he will never salvage his reputation, which Elstein destroyed. “The damage he did is just incapable of ever being repaired,” the man said.

U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi was not persuaded that a degenerative brain condition Elstein claims to suffer from was either at the root of his criminal conduct or a reason not to sent him to prison. Instead, the judge sentenced him to the prison term prosecutors had asked for.

According to his plea agreement, from June 2015 to July 2018, Elstein engaged in a scheme to defraud his clients by claiming he obtained favorable legal resolutions for them, when in fact the favorable resolutions had never been obtained.

In many cases, Elstein never initiated any legal action. Elstein also admitted to misappropriating funds by informing victims their fees were going into his client trust account, when in fact he directed them to deposit money into his personal bank account.

For example, in June 2016, Elstein falsely informed a corporate client that it had won a $52 million default judgment. He emailed the victim-client a fake court order that contained a judge’s forged signature. Having never actually filed a lawsuit on his client’s behalf, Elstein further misrepresented that the case was improperly under seal due to a United States Department of Justice investigation.

To further his fraudulent scheme, Elstein presented his clients with a fake settlement agreement between the client and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California. It was not until the company reached out to that United States Attorney’s Office to authenticate the settlement agreement that it discovered that the agreement was a forgery.

Elstein also admitted to fabricating depositions in a federal case in Washington state in September 2015. Because these depositions were fake, no one appeared for them. Nonetheless, Elstein had a court stenographer present and made a formal record of the nonappearances. Elstein also billed the client for attending the fake depositions and his travel expenses to Seattle.

Elstein also falsely told the victim that he had obtained a $4.25 million judgment in the victim’s favor and provided the victim with a fake court order containing the forged signature of a judge. When the victim traveled to Seattle to collect the judgment, he was informed by the court that no such case existed.

In total, Elstein’s conduct resulted in losses of at least $358,855 to his victims. At the time of his sentencing he was ordered to pay $254,000 in restitution.