Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Charles Radosevich is not a licensed lawyer, but he has been playing one in Clark County for years, authorities allege.
The law finally caught up to him last week, when the district attorney’s office filed felony theft charges against Radosevich for allegedly pocketing nearly $190,000 from people who say they were paying him to be their attorney.
Radosevich, 62, holds a law degree, but authorities say he was disbarred in Colorado in 1989 for improperly withdrawing client money for his personal use. Nebraska disbarred him in 1993.
He attracted the attention of the Nevada State Bar in 2000, when it got him to sign a court-approved agreement in which he promised not to handle divorces, bankruptcy petitions, immigration-related matters, personal injury cases or any other activity that could be viewed as practicing law.
But the limited sanctions apparently were not enough to stop him, authorities say.
“There’s something wrong with the system for this guy to be able to act as an attorney in our community for this period of time and nobody blows the whistle on him,” said Pete Dustin, the Metro Police detective who built the theft case against Radosevich.
Attorney Dan Marks, who represents one of the people who lost money, added, “It’s mind-boggling that he could get a way with that. It’s very disturbing.”
David Clark, deputy counsel for the State Bar, said that over the past nine years, his organization had occasionally received complaints about Radosevich.
Under Nevada law, it is a misdemeanor to practice law without a license, and Clark said he referred one complainant to Metro Police for prosecution in December 2007, but never heard from police.
Outside the bar’s reach
Most of the time, however, Radosevich managed to stay outside the reach of the bar by working in the offices of licensed attorneys, Clark said. Nevada, unlike some other states, requires no licensing of people who do paralegal work. When alleged misconduct occurs by people at a law office, the bar has authority to go after only the licensed lawyers in the firm, Clark said.
And that’s what his organization did.
The bar brought sanctions against two lawyers who associated with Radosevich. One, Manuel Montelongo, has lost his license to practice law in Nevada, and the other, Philip Singer, has accepted the same punishment but it hasn’t been finalized, Clark said.
“We didn’t find evidence of such brazen public harm until this year, and by that time, we were heavily involved in disciplinary proceedings with the two lawyers who had been associated with him,” Clark said.
Radosevich declined to comment.
Authorities say Radosevich printed business cards and stationery referring to himself as an “attorney at law” specializing in “wills, trusts, estates” and “corporations.”
On legal documents, Radosevich sometimes listed below his name phony state bar identification numbers or numbers the bar had assigned to licensed lawyers. One of the numbers belonged to a deputy attorney general.
And, according to a police affidavit and attorneys for some of his former clients, Radosevich allegedly circulated forged court documents to gain access to clients’ money.
The Sun has obtained one such document, “an order for distribution of trust property,” that indicates Radosevich is the lawyer in the case and bears an authentic-looking Nov. 8, 2005, District Court file stamp with the name of late County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre. The two-page order, which was never filed in court, also bears a forged signature of District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez. At the time Gonzalez was not handling estate cases.
Eventually, Radosevich set himself up in an office in the upscale Hughes Center, a haven for big-name law firms. Shortly thereafter he even boldly passed himself off as a lawyer in dealings with members of the district attorney’s office.
Those dealings were on behalf of Michelle Geris and her husband, who had hired Radosevich to help them negotiate with the district attorney’s bad check unit the payment of a $128,000 gambling debt that the couple incurred at Green Valley Ranch Station Casino in November 2006. The casino had asked the bad check unit to prosecute Geris.
Radosevich negotiated with the district attorney to lower the tab to $118,000, and in December 2006 she wired $59,000 to Radosevich so he could turn it in as her first payment toward settling the case, she said.
By summer 2007, the 44-year-old Southern California real estate agent had made two $3,000 payments directly to the district attorney’s office. Then she sent Radosevich a check for $53,000 to give to the district attorney to, she thought, close out the case.
Geris thought her legal and financial obligations had been met, but on Aug. 29, more than two years later, she was arrested near her home in Glendale, Calif., on a warrant obtained by the bad check unit for failing to pay the entire gambling debt.
The bad check unit, it turned out, had no record of receiving the original $59,000 from Radosevich.
“It was the worst hell I’ve ever been through,” said Geris, who spent 17 days behind bars until she was extradited to Henderson and released by a justice of the peace on her own recognizance on Sept. 15. “It was a complete shock.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Bernie Zadrowski, who runs the bad check unit, said he’s never seen a situation like this.
“She still has a responsibility to pay Green Valley Ranch Station. We have to continue to prosecute the case,” he said. “But in essence, we have two victims now” — the casino and Geris.
Zadrowski said his unit, which deals with hundreds of lawyers each week, had no reason to question Radosevich’s legal credentials. Radosevich had presented the unit with one of his cards identifying himself as a lawyer.
‘Slipped through the cracks’
District Attorney David Roger said Radosevich simply slipped through the cracks at his office.
“We will be considering additional charges of practicing law without a license against him,” Roger said. “We need to protect the community and make sure that people who handle legal matters are licensed and qualified to practice law.”
Geris and Zadrowski aren’t the only people who say Radosevich fooled them.
According to the district attorney’s criminal complaint and the police affidavit filed by Dustin, Radosevich swindled Darlene Lonzaga and her brother, Jimmie Montgomery, out of $139,900 from the estate of their mother, Polly Montgomery, in 2005. At the time, Radosevich was working at the law office of Montelongo, his former brother-in-law who was disbarred in September. Court records show that Montelongo was also involved in the Montgomery estate case, but authorities have not accused Montelongo of theft.
Radosevich persuaded Lonzaga to give him two checks, one for $40,000 and the other for $90,900, under the guise that he would then give the money to Jimmie Montgomery as his share of their mother’s estate, Dustin wrote in his affidavit. But Radosevich never gave Lonzaga’s brother the money.
It wasn’t until nearly four years later, after both Lonzaga and Montgomery hired new lawyers to find out why Montgomery had not received his $139,900, that the siblings learned they may have been defrauded.
“We just stumbled onto this thing,” said Marks, who represents Montgomery. “We kept digging and uncovering more and more incredible information.”
Marks said the State Bar was well aware of Radosevich, but “I don’t think they knew the extent of the information we had.”
Clark said the bar didn’t learn of the most serious allegations against Radosevich until last summer when Lonzaga’s new lawyer filed a complaint against him. By this time, Radosevich was settled into his office in the Hughes Center.
Clark ended up referring Lonzaga to Metro Police, which quickly opened a criminal investigation.
In this case, the criminal investigation will have a far greater impact on Radosevich than anything the State Bar could do to him, Clark said.
“I can just get a civil injunction against people,” he explained. “I don’t have police powers.”
Still, in hindsight, Clark said, the bar probably could have moved more quickly against Radosevich and devoted more of its limited resources — it has only two bar counsels to investigate complaints — to the effort.
“There are always things you can do better,” Clark said.
But Clark also said Rado-
sevich didn’t make it easy for the State Bar to go after him.
“He talks a good game,” he said. “The guy’s not stupid.”