Arobert C. Tonogbanua, 44, pleaded
guilty to an information charging him with one count of wire fraud.
He admitted that, unbeknownst to his colleagues, he fraudulently inserted the names of his former law firm’s clients into legitimately filed asbestos suits after deleting the names of the legitimate clients in the suit. He charged the clients whose names he inserted more than $1 million in attorney’s fees, costs and settlements to defend them.
Tonogbanua worked for an unnamed law firm in Haddonfield that specialized in toxic tort litigation, workers’ compensation and immigration law between 2008 and April 9, 2012.
This is when he engaged in the wire fraud scheme, according to documents filed in the case and statements made in court.
After replacing the names of legitimate clients with the names of his firm’s clients, he forwarded those fraudulently altered complaints by email, fax and otherwise to the firm’s clients, their representatives and insurance companies.
No one at the firm had knowledge of Tonogbanua’s actions.
Tonogbanua and others at the firm who were not involved in the scheme undertook the representation of the clients, by attending depositions, answering discovery and even settling claims.
It is estimated that Tonogbanua inserted his firm’s clients’ names into more than 100 lawsuits, resulting in the generation of more than $1 million in fraudulent fees, costs and settlements. Tonogbanua personally benefitted from the scheme through bonuses and increased compensation.
Tonogbanua faces a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the scheme, depending on which amount is greater.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 17.