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Attorney pleads guilty to financial exploitation

Al Williams
Al Williams

DIXON – The status of a Dixon attorney’s law license is uncertain after he pleaded guilty this week to bilking thousands of dollars from a now-deceased Dixon woman.

“When we’re dealing with allegations of conversion or theft from an elderly person, we always ask for a substantial penalty, like disbarment or a long suspension,” said Jim Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Al Henry Williams, 63, pleaded guilty Thursday in Lee County court to financial exploitation of a disabled person, a Class 4 felony, and was sentenced to 6 months of conditional discharge.

In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors from the state attorney general’s office dropped the more serious charges of financial exploitation of an elderly person and theft of between $10,000 and $100,000.

He also was ordered to pay $15,992 in restitution to the estate of Dorothy Gaul, and $593 in court fees.

If Williams successfully completes the terms of his discharge and pays all fines and restitution, the case will be dismissed.

Williams’ attorney, Jim Mertes, said in a written statement Friday that “with this disposition, he has been able to put this matter behind him and all involved.”

“He recognizes the importance of integrity in the legal profession,” Mertes said in the statement. “He hopes that by accepting full responsibility for his own actions, while fully repaying all funds to the estate, he has begun the process of restoring his own.”

According to court documents:

Gaul, then 97 and living in a nursing home, hired Williams in August 2008 to handle her financial assets, which included her Dixon home and more than $113,000 in checking and savings accounts.

Williams opened a joint checking account with Gaul, to be used to pay her expenses.

Between December 2008 and August 2009, Williams wrote 25 checks to himself, totaling $95,000. He deposited 19 of them, totaling $92,800, into three bank accounts, then used the money for his own “business and/or personal purposes.”

In August 2009, Gaul hired a new attorney to look into Williams’ use of her funds. That November, Williams sent the attorney a check made out to Gaul for $61,383.85, according to the documents.

Williams, then an assistant state’s attorney in Lee County, was indicted by a grand jury in July 2010.

Julie Farster, the administrator of Gaul’s estate, filed a lawsuit against Williams in Lee County 2 months earlier.

In July 2011, the IARDC filed a complaint against him, accusing him of “dishonesty,” “deceit,” and breaching his “fiduciary obligations” to Gaul.

Williams denied the allegations, according to a response to the complaint filed in September by his attorney, Samuel Manella of Chicago.

On Sept. 7, a 3-member panel will hear the case and will make a recommendation to the Illinois Supreme Court for final disciplinary action, which could be to suspend Williams’ law license or disbar him.

Grogan said the agency is awaiting official conviction documents before deciding whether to ask the court to immediately suspend Williams’ license prior to a final disposition in the case.

Grogan said he hopes to get those documents next week.

Manella could not be reached Friday for comment.

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