LOS ANGELES – A former California lawyer has been sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for lying to his clients about winning cases for them and then deceiving them with bogus documents – some with the forged signatures of judges, the Justice Department announced today.
Matthew Charles Elstein, 52, of Redondo Beach, was sentenced late Monday afternoon by United States District Judge Mark C. Scarsi, who also ordered him to pay $254,354 in restitution.
Elstein pleaded guilty in November 2021 to one count of wire fraud.
Elstein was a licensed California attorney from December 1994 until the State Bar of California ordered him inactive in March 2019. From June 2015 to July 2018, Elstein engaged in a scheme to defraud his clients by falsely claiming he obtained favorable legal resolutions for them, when in fact the favorable resolutions had never been obtained.
In some cases, Elstein never initiated any legal action. Elstein also admitted to misappropriating funds by falsely 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.
“[Elstein] caused irreparable financial, reputational, and emotional damage to his victims that exceeds the mere monetary damage caused by a typical fraud,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “[Elstein’s] motive appears fueled not only by greed but also malice.”
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. In order to conceal the fact that he 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 fabricated 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 sham 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 fraudulent schemes resulted in losses of at least $358,855 to his victims.
The FBI’s Public Corruption Squad investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Daniel J. O’Brien of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section prosecuted this case.