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updated: 6/27/2012 5:48 PM

Former attorney gets 180 days jail, probation for stealing $205,000 from clients

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  • William Chesbrough

    William Chesbrough


A former lawyer with a practice in West Dundee who admitted to stealing nearly $205,000 from clients -- some of them elderly -- was sentenced Wednesday to 180 days in jail and four years probation and ordered to repay the victims.

William Chesbrough, 59, of the 1400 block of Grand Point Boulevard, Elgin, pleaded guilty to felony theft in May and left a judge to decide his sentence.

Judge John McAdams said he was "appalled" by Chesbrough's thefts.

"Attorneys are held to a higher standard. Fourteen people, over $200,000 ... it is a complete breach of the trust and authority you had," said McAdams, who also ordered Chesbrough to complete 100 hours of community service.

Chesbrough was accused of draining the escrow funds of clients he represented in real estate deals.

He apologized Wednesday, but didn't explain why did what he did.

"I sit here ashamed for the acts I have committed. I have made some terrible decisions," he told McAdams. "There is no one to blame but me. There is no excuse for what I did."

One victim, Tonya Dean, testified that she and her husband were buying a new home and had to give Chesbrough a $23,000 check to be held as deposit while the home was built. Construction sputtered and they eventually canceled the contract, but it was game of cat-and-mouse to even get Chesbrough on the phone. He finally came to the woman's home with a check, but it bounced the next day due to less than $30 being left in the account.

Defense attorney Gary Johnson argued for probation, saying Chesbrough did not have a criminal record, did not cause any physical harm to his victims, had lost his law license, and was disgraced in the Elgin community where his late father was a legendary high school basketball coach.

Johnson also noted that the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission had repaid the victims nearly all of the $205,000 out of a victim fund. So far, Chesbrough had paid $38,000 in restitution and had another $97,100 ready to be disbursed by Johnson's office.

Johnson said Chesbrough volunteered in the community and the economy hurt his practice, which was based on real estate.

"That, along with health and gambling problems caused him to get into a hole," Johnson said, adding it seemed harmless at first to take money out of his clients' escrow accounts. "He was trying to maintain and retain his lifestyle and that grew and grew and grew and here we are today."

Chesbrough faced anywhere from probation to 15 years in prison for the felony theft.

Charles Colburn, a special prosecutor with the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor's Office, argued that Chesbrough should get four to five years in prison. He argued that Chesbrough not only hurt his victims, but disgraced the legal profession -- and a tough sentence was needed to deter others.

"It is a sad day for the legal profession," Colburn said. "There is no good excuse for this behavior."

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