BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A disbarred Bakersfield family law attorney who authorities say stole millions of dollars from clients has pleaded guilty to tax evasion, according to federal court records.
Heather Stanley entered the guilty plea in September, records show, and is set for sentencing in February before U.S. District Judge Jennifer Thurston. The court could sentence her up to five years in prison, and order restitution not to exceed $3,915,000, according to the plea agreement.
Stanley was indicted in 2020 on tax evasion and other charges.
In a summary of the case contained in the plea agreement, federal prosecutors say Stanley for 2013 “intentionally and willfully did not report $2,385,000 in funds that she stole from her clients on her federal income tax returns. This resulted in Stanley not paying $1,015,000 that she owed in federal taxes for that calendar year.”
From at least August 2010 through late 2016, prosecutors say, Stanley told clients who were going through a divorce that she would hold funds for them in a bank account — her attorney trust account — for safekeeping. Instead, she placed the money in her general business account and used it for her own personal expenses and benefit, including paying for a yacht and condominium, according to prosecutors.
She kept the scheme going, prosecutors say, by partially repaying clients with money she claimed was theirs but was actually obtained from other clients.
In 2018, the State Bar Court of California disbarred Stanley and ordered her to pay $955,000 to a client who said she misappropriated funds that were supposed to be held in a trust.
The State Bar said Stanley ignored eight requests from the client to account for the money. When confronted by a State Bar investigator, she lied and said she bought cashier’s checks and paid the money back, the court said.