DISBARRED LAWYER SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR MAIL FRAUD IN CREDIT CARD DEBT ELIMINATION SCHEME
Gig Harbor Man Defrauded Struggling Consumers Providing False “Credit Help”
BRUCE HAWKINS, 50, a disbarred attorney, who used to practice in Gig Harbor, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to three years in prison and three years of supervised release for Mail Fraud. The amount of restitution HAWKINS owes will be determined at a later date. HAWKINS was named in an eight count indictment returned under seal in April 2009. The indictment details how HAWKINS promoted a fraudulent debt elimination scheme from 2002 to 2005. HAWKINS took fees from more than 1000 debtors after falsely representing that he could eliminate their credit card debt. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan said this is “a serious offense that must be dealt with seriously.... It involved thefts from innocent people who looked to Mr. Hawkins as someone with experience in law who could help them with legal problems.” Judge Bryan stressed that he expects HAWKINS to make full restitution to his victims.
According to records in the case, HAWKINS used his status as an attorney to promote his false legal theory that national banks could not lend credit, and therefore consumers did not have to repay their debt. HAWKINS also falsely claimed that consumers did not have to abide by the credit card agreement limiting who could arbitrate disputes with the bank. Over the internet and in interviews HAWKINS falsely claimed his program could eliminate or reduce credit card debt. HAWKINS sent debtors who paid his fee to arbitrators who were complicit in his scheme. These arbitrators earned a $139 fee for issuing an “award” on behalf of the debtor. The next step in the program was for the debtors to “confirm” these unenforceable arbitration awards in court. None of the “awards” were ever confirmed and many debtors ended up in bankruptcy.
HAWKINS failed to disclose to the debtors that numerous lawyers had contacted him regarding his false legal advice, and failed to disclose that none of the debtors who used his program had ever had their debt eliminated.
HAWKINS was disbarred by the Washington State Bar Association February 3, 2006. The report on the disbarment is available here: http://www.wsba.org/media/publications/barnews/disc-july06.htm
In her sentencing memo asking for a three year sentence, Assistant United States Attorney Tessa Gorman describes how HAWKINS’ fraud damaged people when they were most vulnerable.
“HAWKINS’ crimes only further exacerbated the victims’ financial troubles. For example, J.S. said he lost his home and two cars and had to send his daughter away for three years until he got back on his feet financially.... D.B. says: ‘Mr. Hawkins ...did this to many people when they were at their poorest. Unconscionable.’ M.S. describes that participation in HAWKINS’ scheme ‘ruined my credit, and has made it impossible to help secure parent-funded student loans to help my children pay for college. So the negative effects are still being felt, long after the crime,’ ” Ms. Gorman writes in her sentencing memo.
The case was investigated by Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.