A former Oakdale attorney will spend a year in jail for stealing more than $180,000 from a client to make extravagant purchases including a Jaguar and a European vacation, among other things, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.
James Arthur Fonda, 70, was convicted of grand theft last month in a case prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Jeff Mangar.
In 2009, Fonda’s disabled client inherited two San Jose homes and lost them in foreclosure but realized $486,706 in equity proceeds at public auction.
Because the victim was going through a divorce, Fonda agreed to keep the money in his client trust fund account to conceal the inheritance from being included in a divorce settlement.
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From September 2009 to February 2012, Fonda withdrew more than $180,000 via 163 checks written to himself for personal reasons without his client’s permission.
The checks to Fonda were marked for “advance fees,” but he ultimately admitted to the State Bar that he did nothing to earn them, the affidavit says.
Fonda used the money to purchase a Jaguar, pay for a European vacation and gamble at casinos, as well as pay for groceries, rent and payroll for his law practice.
“The victim sought out an attorney to help him,” Mangar said in a press release. “Fonda took advantage of his position of trust to then swindle the money.”
Although Fonda has no criminal history and had acknowledged wrongdoing to investigators before his arrest, Judge Linda McFadden sentenced him to the maximum term of three years in prison. However, the prison sentence was suspended pending the successful completion of five years of felony probation and one year in county jail. He was also ordered to pay full restitution.
Fonda was disbarred and can no longer practice law.
“This was more than a one-time lapse of judgment, which violated the public trust and cost Fonda his law practice,” stated prosecutor Mangar.