COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a two-year suspension to Akron attorney Gregory Plesich for assisting a couple in their attempt to evade paying federal taxes.
The court also credited Plesich for time served since his initial interim suspension in June 2018. His suspension will be in effect until June 2020.
The court’s 4-3 opinion noted that Plesich collected no fees for the criminal transactions. Plesich admitted that his actions were “100 percent wrong,” according to the opinion.
Justices Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly and Melody J. Stewart joined the opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Patrick F. Fischer dissented, saying they disagreed with granting Plesich credit for time served.
In 2009, Plesich began representing Lawrence and Angela Tipton, of Copley, in their dispute with the IRS. The IRS sent Plesich notices regarding the Tiptons’ outstanding tax liabilities and attempts to collect from Lawrence Tipton, Angela Tipton or both.
Lawrence Tipton in 2013 gave Plesich a check for nearly $118,000 from a property sale, which Plesich placed in his client trust account. A month later, Tipton gave Plesich a $79,000 check from an insurance claim, which Plesich placed in the account.
Over the course of a year, Plesich authorized 29 checks to be written from his trust account made payable to Angela Tipton for amounts ranging from $3,000 to $7,500.
Plesich testified that he accepted and disbursed the money without questioning the Tiptons or discussing the purpose of the transactions.
Plesich was charged in federal court in 2017 with willfully aiding and abetting his clients in their attempt to evade federal taxes. A jury convicted him after a four-day trial, and he was sentenced in June 2018 to three years of probation and ordered to pay $197,000 in restitution, a $10,000 fine and a $100 assessment. Plesich paid them all, according to the court.
Due to the conviction, the Ohio Supreme Court placed Plesich under interim felony suspension. The Akron Bar Association filed a complaint shortly after with the Board of Professional Conduct, charging Plesich with violating several rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers.
Plesich and the bar association stipulated that he engaged or assisted a client in conduct he knew was illegal or fraudulent, committed an illegal act reflecting on his honesty and trustworthiness and engaged in conduct involving fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. The parties proposed Plesich be suspended for two years with credit for time served under the interim suspension.
The Board of Professional Conduct found that Plesich engaged in a pattern of misconduct by issuing 29 checks and misused his client trust account in the course of criminal conduct. The board noted that Plesich has no prior discipline in his 46-year legal career, lacked a selfish motive and did not receive any benefit from the transactions with the Tiptons. The board also said Plesich fully disclosed his actions, cooperated with the disciplinary proceedings and received criminal sanctions for his misconduct.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion considered that the federal court determined Plesich did not deserve to serve time in prison, and that he paid his financial penalties in full.
The Tiptons, who owned businesses throughout Northeast Ohio, were charged in federal court and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. Lawrence Tipton was sentenced to two years in federal prison, and Angela Tipton was placed on four months of home confinement and probation.