Disbarred lawyer found guilty of multiple felonies for stealing client settlement money and cheating on federal income taxes following HSI investigation
LOS ANGELES – A disbarred personal-injury lawyer was found guilty by a federal jury today of 22 felonies for stealing the majority of a multimillion-dollar settlement that should have been paid to a car accident victim, as well as cheating on his federal income taxes.
As the result of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles, IRS Criminal Investigation and the FBI, Philip James Layfield, a.k.a. “Philip Samuel Pesin,” 48, of Las Vegas and formerly of Coto de Caza, was found guilty of 19 counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of tax evasion, one count of failure to collect and pay over payroll taxes and one misdemeanor charge of failure to file a tax return. Following the jury verdicts, Layfield was remanded into federal custody.
According to evidence presented at his 13-day trial, Layfield owned and operated law firms, including Layfield & Barrett (L&B), which, at various times, maintained offices in Irvine; Los Angeles; El Segundo; Park City, Utah; and Scottsdale, Arizona.
After he had misappropriated millions of dollars from clients’ settlements, Layfield relocated to Costa Rica. Just before getting on a flight to Costa Rica, Layfield borrowed $700,000 from a business lender by providing misleading information and failing to disclose material information. Then he used substantial portions of the loan proceeds for personal expenses, including buying a horse and shipping horses to Costa Rica.
In 2016, Layfield entered into an agreement to represent an individual who was struck by an automobile in Orange County and suffered significant injuries. After negotiating a $3.9 million settlement related to the accident, Layfield misappropriated most of the money owed to the victim – approximately $2 million for personal and business uses, including to pay clients whose settlement proceeds Layfield had earlier misappropriated. The car accident victim received only $25,000 of the settlement proceeds.
Layfield also failed to file a federal income tax return for the tax year 2016, despite receiving more than $3 million, including embezzled client settlement money and also caused his law firm to not pay approximately $120,976 in payroll taxes to the U.S. government for the second quarter of 2017.
A November 8, sentencing hearing has been scheduled, at which time Layfield will face a statutory maximum sentence of more than 200 years in federal prison.
The State Bar of California disbarred Layfield in October 2018. Layfield also was a certified public accountant, but his CPA license expired in July 2019, according to the California Board of Accountancy.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California’s Major Frauds and International Narcotics, Money Laundering and Racketeering Sections.
HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move.
HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.