If someone told you they had a $14,500,000 inheritance from their father stuck in a bank account in Burkina Faso, you would likely laugh in their face and offer them some Viagra and a penis enlarger in exchange for a slice of the fortune.
But what if they told you this while you were sitting in a conference room of a corporate law firm, and the person was flanked by Baker Hostetler attorneys who vouched for the legitimacy of the African fortune?
Under those circumstances, a group of Ohioans invested over one million dollars to help Willia Burton recover her supposed windfall from a foreign bank account. But it’s been five years, and it’s become evident that — sur-freaking-prise! — it’s actually a scam.
Unfortunately, there’s no claim to be made for the public humiliation they shall now suffer for falling for a “Nigerian bank account scam”…
Burton allegedly told the plaintiffs that her father “had been in the mining business in Africa and left a lot of money in a safe deposit box in Burkina Faso.” The plaintiffs’ attorney, Joel Levin, pointed out to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that such African fortune schemes weren’t as widely publicized in 2005 as now. Says one plaintiff:
“I didn’t do anything until I got legal advice from my attorney through Baker Hostetler,” Proctor Jr. said. “I mean I’m not stupid.”
Well, if someone else is paying them, CHECK YOU ATTORNEY.
The plaintiffs claim they wouldn’t have invested had Baker Hostetler not been involved. So how did Baker Hostetler attorneys Culbertson and Feinberg supposedly get wrapped up in this scam? According to the Plain Dealer, Burkina Faso daughter Willia Burton used to be a legal secretary at Baker. According to the complaint [PDF], Culbertson and Feinberg spoke with plaintiffs by phone and met with one investor’s son at the Baker Hostetler office:
Defendant Burton set up a meeting for Plaintiff Fred Proctor III to meet her Baker attorneys on June 9, 2005. On that date, Mr. Proctor III traveled to Cleveland to meet Defendant Feinberg. Once at the Law Firm’s office in Cleveland, Ohio, Defendant Culbertson and/or another Law Firm attorney met Defendant Burton and Fred Proctor III in the waiting area and escorted them to a Law Firm conference room.
Well, this is William Culbertson. Was it him? If you’re accusing someone of defrauding you, you should know it’s him, not “and/or” him.
If it was him, then he was enthused about the Burkina Faso fortune… but not enthused enough to invest himself:
At one point during the discussion with the Law Firm, Defendant Culbertson told Mr. Proctor III that Culbertson “couldn’t believe this deal” and that “if I had the money, I would do the same as you.”
Hmmmm… a Biglaw attorney probably would have the money…
Burton’s current attorney, Mike Nelson (who is not at Baker), says she got scammed too:
Burton’s attorney Mike Nelson believes she also was a victim of the scam, likely perpetrated by a sophisticated organization in Africa that includes government officials, bankers and others.
Nelson said Burton also relied on Baker Hostetler, where she previously worked as a legal secretary, to confirm the legitimacy of the inheritance.
“She’s never been to Burkina Faso,” Nelson said.
Sounds like Burton is throwing the Baker boys under the bus.
Paul Feinberg is now retired. We reached out to William Culbertson, but have not yet heard back. If his email back to us includes any talk of “urgently and confidentially needing our assistance,” we’re hitting the “Report Spam” button.
UPDATE: A firm spokesman told us:
“As the subject of ongoing litigation, we will not discuss this matter beyond stating that five years ago our attorneys were deceived by criminal and fraudulent activity.”
Law Firm Aided African Scam, Investors Say [Courthouse News Service]
Nine people sue Solon woman, two Cleveland lawyers for alleged African inheritance scam [The Plain Dealer]