Former Williamston attorney pleads guilty to mail fraud

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Philip E. Williams, age 57, of Williamston, pled guilty in federal court in Greenville Tuesday, to mail fraud, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341. United States District Judge Bruce H. Hendricks, of Charleston, accepted the plea and will impose sentence after she has reviewed the presentence report which will be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.
Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that prior to his disbarment, Williams was an attorney practicing in the upstate of South Carolina. A large part of his practice was the probate of estates. Records indicate that he used money in his trust account to pay for living and personal expenses rather than to pay devisees and others for estates that he was handling. To try to hide his wrongdoing, he would wait for another estate’s funds to be deposited and then try to pay off the devisees from the first estate. This happened with at least four or five estates and snowballed into something of a pyramid scheme where he depended on estates from new clients to pay off the devisees of previous clients.
For example, on October 24, 2012, Williams mailed in an accounting of an estate wherein he reported to the probate court that his trust account was flush with client money. This was false because he had taken most of the money to pay personal living expenses. In fact, what money he did have in the account came from another estate that had nothing to do with the estate he was reporting on.
United States Attorney Beth Drake stated today that stated the maximum penalty Williams can receive is a fine of $250,000 and/or imprisonment for 20 years, supervised release of up to life, plus a special assessment of $100.
The case was investigated by agents with the United States Postal Inspection Service. Assistant United States Attorney Bill Watkins of the Greenville office handled the case.