SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A personal injury attorney who stole at least $124,000 from a number of clients over a five-year period was sentenced Friday to probation and a year in custody.
But David G. Ronquillo, 65, will be allowed to serve his time in a work furlough program if he has a job by Feb. 7, said San Diego Superior Court Judge Charles Rogers.
Ronquillo pleaded guilty last October to felony grand theft charges.
Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Dort said Ronquillo was a prolific and highly regarded civil attorney who raided clients' trust funds.
"It snowballed," Dort said. "He took more cases than he should have."
The prosecutor said Ronquillo stole his clients' money with "his eyes wide open."
Dort said the defendant should have known better because he was suspended by the State Bar in 2004 for similar but unrelated conduct.
Defense attorney Roland Haddad said Ronquillo -- who lost his license to practice law -- was ashamed about his criminal actions.
Ronquillo had to admit, "I took money that did not belong to me," Haddad told the judge.
The defense attorney said Ronquillo did not spend the stolen money on fancy sports cars or live a lavish lifestyle. Instead, the defendant got "stuck" and "overwhelmed" when funding for cases ran out, Haddad told the judge.
"It was totally wrong," the defense attorney said.
Rogers said Ronquillo's motives were not evil but stemmed from his human frailties.
"The special responsibility that attorneys hold was violated in this case," the judge said.
Rogers said Ronquillo was doing was other lawyers do, fronting money for one case to keep another going, when he crossed the line and took money from clients' trust funds.
"It's illegal to do it, even if you pay it back the next day," Rogers said. "This man who once had everything has lost everything."
Ronquillo admitted getting a $235,000 settlement for a Canadian man whose wife was killed in San Diego in 1999 and failing to turn over thousands of dollars.
The defendant also admitted taking too much money from a client between 2005-09 and failing to give that client a refund.
The State Bar of California began investigating Ronquillo in 2005, after two of the defendant's clients at Amerimex Law Center in Vista lodged complaints.
Rogers ordered the defendant to pay $65,000 in restitution to the Canadian man whose wife was killed and $59,000 to a State Bar compensation fund.
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