Longtime Attorney Pleads Guilty To Stealing From Clients
by Adam Ghassemi
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Gary Vandever has stood before a judge many times before, but never like this.
"How do you plead?" asked Criminal Court Judge David Patterson.
"Guilty," Vandever replied.
The former attorney, now convicted felon, pleaded guilty Monday to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2007 and 2008 from the estates of Paul Porter, a World War II veteran, and his son Joe Porter.
Vandever waved his right to a trial or appeal after admitting to stealing more than $60,000 from the family at least three times.
"It's a betrayal, and absolute betrayal. It's a crime," said attorney William Hawkins who helped his wife, Brooke Porter Hawkins, uncover what really happened to her grandfather and father's money.
"The estate of her father had been grossly mismanaged," William Hawkins said after Monday's plea hearing. "As I dug further I realized that some criminal activity had been occurring and we discovered the same with her grandfather's estate Paul Porter."
Vandever's attorney, Jack Lowery, Jr., says his client used the money to start a construction business.
"He took an action, which I'm sure seemed to him at the time harmless. One I think he fully intended to repay, but unfortunately it snowballed and lead to the present situation he's in," Lowery said of his client who, once released, will have to pay back more than half a million dollars.
"He is very remorseful about his actions. He fully intends to repay his debt whatever steps he's got to take to do it," Lowery said.
Both Porters passed away before ever learning their long-time attorney stole from them. These guilty pleas lets their family finally find closure.
"There's a special place in hell for a man who steals from a D-Day survivor," William Hawkins said.
Vandever turned himself into the Wilson County Jail at noon Monday. He'll remain in custody until late April 2013, when he'll get out and spend nine years on probation.
Six months after his release, Vandever must begin paying $400 per month until he pays off the entire $527,000 settlement. He told Judge Patterson Monday paying may be difficult since he'll never be able to practice law again, and isn't sure how he'll be able to get a job as a convicted felon.
Members of the Porter family worry Vandever is trying to get out of paying back what he stole. Patterson warned Vandever if he doesn't find a way to pay them, he could spend a lot more time in jail.