Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Theft Of $1.55 Million Nigerian Embassy Tax Refund: US Court Of Appeals Rules Ugwuonye Cannot Appear Before It


The appeal case filed by Emeka Ugwuonye, a Maryland-based attorney accused of stealing $1.55 million in tax refunds to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, has suffered a setback as the United States Court of Appeals in the District Columbia has told the embattled lawyer that he is not qualified to file papers in the court.
In a letter to Mr. Ugwuonye obtained by SaharaReporters, the appellate court told the lawyer that his name was not on the list of lawyers permitted to appear before the court.
Signed by Mark Langer, a clerk of the court, the letter noted that inquiries carried out by the court showed that Mr. Ugwuonye was not a member of the bar of the court. Citing the D.C. Circuit Handbook of Practice and Internal Procedures 6 (2011), the letter warned that the court does not allow non-member attorneys to practice before the court. The clerk therefore asked Mr. Ugwuonye to seek admission to the court not later than July 3, 2013.
 Mr. Ugwuonye had rushed to the Court of Appeal shortly after a US District Court in Washington, DC gave a default judgment against him that held him personally liable for embezzling a $1.55 million tax refund that was meant for the Nigerian Embassy. Judge Barbara Rothstein of the DC District Court also dismissed Mr. Ugwuonye’s counter claim against the embassy. Mr. Ugwuonye had sought more than $3 million in the counter claims.
In an earlier ruling, the court had found Mr. Ugwuonye's law firm, ECU Associates, also liable for embezzlement of the embassy’s tax refunds.
Since obtaining the two verdicts, the embassy has filed claims before the court asking for at least $6.2 million against Mr. Ugwuonye in accumulated damages, attorney fees and interests.
Mr. Ugwuonye claimed in court filings that he was being owed by the embassy and the Nigerian government for legal services rendered for both entities, but Justice Rothstein said he had failed to provide credible proof of those claims. Mr. Ugwuonye practically abandoned his claims towards the end of his trial, missing several court deadlines, disobeying court orders, and refusing to partake satisfactorily in discovery and court-ordered depositions, for these infraction the judge also imposed fines on the controversial attorney.
Despite the order of the Court of Appeals that Mr. Ugwuonye rectify his admission to represent himself before the court, a legal observer told SaharaReporters that the controversial attorney’s odds of receiving permission were slim. “There are underlying factors against Emeka [Ugwuonye],” said the observer. “He was once suspended by the Attorney Grievances Commission in 2008. And the DC and New York Bar reciprocally suspended him after he was suspended for 90 days over the way he handled clients’ fees, particularly relating to a bizarre case involving a US citizen, Michael Etheridge,” added the source, also a DC-based attorney.
Mr. Etheridge had asked Mr. Ugwuonye to help sue the Maryland Crime Solvers agency to recover $25 million ransom placed on former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, after a plaintiff claimed he had provided information about Saddam Hussein’s whereabouts. Despite knowing that the client had a case that had initially been dismissed by another court, Mr. Ugwuonye took $3, 500 from Etheridge but failed to diligently prosecute the case. He was found guilty of negligence, accused of depositing an unearned retainer in his operating account, and suspended for 90 days.
Mr. Ugwuonye is also currently facing an investigation by the Attorney Grievances Commission over his handling of the embassy’s tax refund. There is also a complaint by a Nigerian citizen, Sola Adeeyo, that Mr. Ugwuonye stole $94,000 of payments recovered from a US bank that Mr. Adeeyo successfully sued.
Our legal observer suggested that Mr. Ugwuonye ran to the Court of Appeal with the aim of putting road blocks on bar investigations that could earn him disbarment.
 Meanwhile , Judge Barbara Rothstein of the DC District Court has rescheduled the hearing for determination of damages, fines, and interests sought by the Nigerian embassy  till July 2nd 2013.
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