LOS ANGELES – A former California lawyer has agreed to plead guilty to a fraud charge, admitting he lied to clients about winning cases and deceiving them with bogus documents, some with the forged signatures of judges.
Matthew Charles Elstein, 51, of Redondo Beach, agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in a plea agreement filed this afternoon in United States District Court. An arraignment in this case is scheduled for October 28.
Elstein was a licensed California attorney from December 1994 until the State Bar of California ordered him inactive in March 2019. According to his plea agreement, from June 2015 to July 2018, Elstein engaged in a scheme to defraud his clients by claiming he obtained favorable legal resolutions for them, when in fact the favorable resolutions had never been obtained. In many cases, Elstein never initiated any legal action. Elstein also admitted to misappropriating funds by informing victims their fees were going into his client trust account, when in fact he directed them to deposit money into his personal bank account.
For example, in June 2016, Elstein falsely informed a corporate client that it had won a $52 million default judgment. He emailed the victim-client a fake court order that contained a judge’s forged signature. Having never actually filed a lawsuit on his client’s behalf, Elstein further misrepresented that the case was improperly under seal due to a United States Department of Justice investigation. To further his fraudulent scheme, Elstein presented his clients with a fake settlement agreement between the client and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California. It was not until the company reached out to that United States Attorney’s Office to authenticate the settlement agreement that it discovered that the agreement was a forgery.
Elstein also admitted to fabricating depositions in a federal case in Washington state in September 2015. Because these depositions were fake, no one appeared for them. Nonetheless, Elstein had a court stenographer present and made a formal record of the nonappearances. Elstein also billed the client for attending the fake depositions and his travel expenses to Seattle.
Elstein also falsely told the victim that he had obtained a $4.25 million judgment in the victim’s favor and provided the victim with a fake court order containing the forged signature of a judge. When the victim traveled to Seattle to collect the judgment, he was informed by the court that no such case existed.
In total, Elstein’s conduct resulted in losses of at least $358,855 to his victims.
Upon entering his guilty plea in this case, Elstein will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
The FBI investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Agustín D. Orozco of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section is prosecuting this case.