A former lawyer who admitted stealing money from his bankruptcy clients will be going to federal prison for a year and a half.
Marvin Earl “Toby’’ Alback, 62, of Billings, offered little explanation during his sentencing hearing Wednesday for why he stole about $17,000 from two clients for his personal use.
“I’m just very sorry for what I did,” he said.
Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sentenced Alback at the high end of the guideline range, imposed a $5,000 fine and ordered 60 hours of community service. Restitution is to be determined later. The sentence followed the government’s recommendation.
Alback apparently thought he was “so above reproach he could get away with it,” Cebull said.
The federal case was the second time Alback has been convicted of misappropriating clients’ funds. In the late 1980s, Alback was convicted in state court of felony theft for taking more than $95,000 from two clients while he worked in Bozeman. Alback was sentenced to 16 years in state prison, with 13 years suspended.
Alback was disbarred, then was reinstated in 2000. He permanently resigned his license in September.
The state conviction was too old to count against him for sentencing in the federal case.
Alback pleaded guilty in February to wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud.
In the bankruptcy fraud, Alback was hired by a family in March 2008 to represent them in a bankruptcy case. When the family had trouble making their mortgage payment, Alback told them to write their settlement and mortgage payments to him and he would deposit the money with the bank.
Alback deposited the money into his trust account and never made the mortgage payments. Although he eventually paid back the money, he caused significant back payments and late fees to avoid foreclosure, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Archer.
Alback also obtained the family’s $557 tax refund check and used the money for personal expenses. The refund check belonged to the bankruptcy estate.
In the wire fraud, Alback represented another client in a lawsuit that was settled for $12,500 in August 2009 and a check was written to his client. While Alback was entitled to a share of the settlement, he forged his client’s name without her knowledge, deposited the $12,500 into his account and used it for his personal benefit. The client received a check for her settlement in October 2009, but it bounced and she has not received any money that was paid to settle the suit.
Archer called Alback’s actions “an extreme abuse of trust” because he stole money from bankruptcy clients who already were in financial trouble. “The message needs to be sent that this is unacceptable behavior,” Archer said. “It’s almost inexplicable why Mr. Alback stole $17,000 and yet he did.”
Alback’s attorney, Mark Parker, asked for mercy with a low-end sentence because of Alback’s cooperation in the case.
In preparing a sentencing recommendation, Parker said Alback would list his accomplishments in counseling people with alcohol addictions and the hundreds of clients he had helped. “But midway through this reminiscence, Toby was always overwhelmed by the fact that it does not matter. He messed up. Not only did he mess up, but he ‘messed up again,’” Parker said in court records.
Parker offered an explanation based on what his father told him when he was a boy: that there are some people who are hard-working, otherwise honest and congenial but who cannot be around money or they’ll take it.
Cebull allowed Alback to report to prison when assigned to a facility.