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SALT LAKE CITY — After hearing from victims who lost millions of dollars, U.S. District Judge David Barlow rejected a plea bargain for a Salt Lake attorney accused of stealing money from his disabled clients.
Barlow said he did not believe that the terms of the plea agreement provided a reasonable punishment for how terrible the crime was.
Calvin Curtis, 61, was a trust attorney who represented people who had mental or physical disabilities. He admitted to embezzling millions of dollars from those clients in November when he pleaded guilty. During what was supposed to be a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, the plea was not accepted.
The sentencing memorandum, which explains the plea agreement terms, recommended that the judge issue a sentence of 73 months and that Curtis pay $12,779,496 to the 26 victims of the embezzling.
"One cannot imagine a more sympathetic group of victims. Defendant Calvin Curtis has stolen their comfort and security, medical assistance and needed disability accommodations," the sentencing memorandum filed by assistant U.S. attorney Ruth Hackford-Peer states.
"These are individuals who received financial settlements after car accidents or birth injuries. They have already faced terrible tragedies in life. And they did everything right. They went to a trusted legal professional to prepare their estate and trust documents."
Sherry McConkey says Curtis took over $12 million from her mother-in-law, Glenn McConkey, who has Alzheimer's and dementia. She said that while the situation is bad for her, there are many victims who are younger and have medical conditions that need attention.
"I was very saddened by the victims, it was heartbreaking seeing them in person. ... You can read about the victims and you can hear that they have disabilities, but when you see their disabilities it's just awful, awful," Sherry McConkey said.
She said the judge was clearly touched by the accounts presented during the hearing.
Attorney Greg Skordas, who represents Curtis, said they are still attempting to reach a plea deal with the federal prosecutors, although the case will likely at least be scheduled for trial to continue to move it forward.
"We are all weighing our options and have already started new negotiations with the government," Skordas said.
He said prosecutors agreed to recommend a 73-month prison sentence, a 25% reduction from the 97-month expected prison sentence for the charges, because Curtis was cooperating and assisted in recovering some of the assets.
For the charges Curtis is facing, if a jury finds him guilty, prison time could potentially be between eight and 10 years.
One thing Skordas said was "slightly unusual" is the plea agreement in this case allowed for the guilty plea to be withdrawn if the judge rejects the agreement, as Barlow did.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Curtis agreed that the allegations against him are true and he accepted responsibility. However, he withdrew his guilty plea after the judge rejected his plea deal.
Skordas said the judge heard from seven victims at the hearing, and many other victims who wrote statements for the court, some of whom asked for a longer prison sentence.
"It could mean more time in prison for the defendant and less money available for restitution for the victims," Skordas said.
Skordas said that the money that was recovered is now on hold, but Curtis still intends to have as much of the money distributed to the victims as possible after the case is adjudicated.
He did say that, without the guilty plea, Curtis is no longer convicted of a crime and they intend to ask the court to release him from custody.
Laura Milliken Gray, attorney for the McConkey family, said right now the family is seeking to get Glenn McConkey more representation. Glenn McConkey has been able to stay in the care facility where she was set up, but because of the money that was taken they had to take a nurse away who was spending a lot of time with her.
"Now she just seems lonely," Sherry McConkey said.
In her statement that she read at the hearing, Sherry McConkey explained that her daughter Ayla was disinherited after Curtis created estate documents naming him as successor after Glenn McConkey was "clearly incapacitated." They have since had her reinstated as her successor.
"When I think about Glenn, I get angry with Cal and his enablers, which is not in my personality. I often feel sick to my stomach with worry because Glenn's remaining money may not be enough to pay for her care for the rest of her life," Sherry McConkey said to those at the hearing.
She explained that Glenn McConkey worked hard throughout her life to be able to leave money to her granddaughter and charities, but that was taken from her.
Gray said that other victims are also dealing with challenges. One man said he won't be able to send his daughter to college and others are struggling to get money for the medical aid they need.
Gray thinks the federal prosecutors were being pragmatic when offering the plea, and were attempting to get an agreement so that victims could get the money that was taken from them sooner.
"Those victims, some of whom really need the money, are not going to get it as quickly. And that's the downside," Gray said.
The judge said this crime is the worst white-collar crime he has seen, according to Gray, and he cited the vulnerable nature of the victims and the fact that Curtis had sworn an oath as an attorney to protect his clients.
She said that she was glad the judge chose to listen to the victims' comments and came to the hearing prepared, having read 22 statements from victims.
"What we've been fighting for ... for so long is for Sherry (McConkey) to be heard and the family to be heard because they've just been disregarded," Gray said.