After violating court order, ex-lawyer Chris Pettit sent to jail

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Disgraced former attorney Christopher ‘Chris’ Pettit was sent to jail on Thursday for violating a bankruptcy court order he filed following lawsuits from former clients who allege he cheated them. defrauded of millions of dollars.

U.S. Chief Bankruptcy Judge Craig Gargotta found Pettit in contempt of court after hearing testimony from Pettit, the family of his child’s nanny and a former employee of his law firm – all of which convinced the lawyer that Pettit had not told the truth during the bankruptcy proceedings or about what happened to a laptop that may contain answers sought by creditors.

Pettit showed little emotion, appearing resigned when federal marshals handcuffed him to take him to jail.

Gargotta has granted a request by the Chapter 11 trustee overseeing Pettit’s bankruptcy assets that he be found in civil contempt for violating a court order barring him from transferring or disposing of any personal property.

The judge said he thought Pettit had crossed another legal line as well.

U.S. Chief Bankruptcy Judge Craig Gargotta charged former San Antonio attorney Christopher Pettit with contempt after a hearing on Thursday.

Jessica Phelps / Jessica Phelps

“It appears to the court that a crime has been committed, witness tampering, so the court is going to fire the FBI,” Gargotta said, adding that Pettit tried to influence the nanny’s family during her testimony on Thursday.

In their testimony, two family members said that under Pettit’s direction, they moved furniture and other valuables from a house on Champions Run to storage units and contacted an auctioneer to sell them. This contradicts what Pettit said during a hearing on the matter last week, when he testified via video that he “didn’t ask anyone to move anything” from the house.

Recorded phone call

The judge also overheard a telephone conversation between Pettit and the nanny’s daughter, who recorded it. The call came after questions were raised about missing belongings from the Champions Run home.

“It all comes down to, if I order your mom and dad to sell stuff, then they’ll throw me in jail,” Pettit was heard saying. “If your mum, dad, brother were just trying to help me pack things up and decided to contact this auctioneer to help, then that’s perfectly fine because I didn’t order them to sell things But they will try to manipulate the language.

In that recording, Pettit also said the judge was “corrupt” and had been in rehab, and that the Chapter 11 trustee’s attorneys were “evil” and looking for a way to send him to jail.

Also on Thursday, Sophia Gonzales, a former secretary at Pettit’s law firm, said days before he and his firm filed for bankruptcy, Pettit asked him to retrieve a laptop and USB drives he had used. in his office in San Antonio. At his direction, she said, she shipped the items to him at a home where he lives in Florida.

Attorneys for the trustee presented a receipt for the shipment and text messages from Pettit thanking Gonzales for sending the items he requested.

Last week, Pettit testified that he didn’t know what happened to his work laptop, which attorneys for the trustee want to examine. Again on Thursday, he said he did not know where the computer was and denied that anyone sent it to him.

Returned to the FBI

Gargotta said there was no doubt that Pettit was in contempt of court.

“Most troubling for the court is the issue of the concealment of the work laptop before the bankruptcy filing,” the judge said, adding that he believed Pettit may have committed “bankruptcy crimes.” He said he was also referring this matter to the FBI.

“I’m only determining that it’s appropriate to refer to the FBI, not that a crime has been committed,” Gargotta said, leaving it up to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office to decide whether to. continue.

About 15 people, mostly former clients, filled half the courtroom for the hearing. Some appeared to laugh or express satisfaction when the judge ordered Pettit jailed. Most declined to comment afterward.

“He stole our trust with our money,” said a 77-year-old former client who said she lost nearly half a million dollars. She had hired Pettit for a real estate transaction. “Who can you trust now? »

The judge left Pettit the length of his time in jail. Gargotta ordered him to comply with a list of lawyers’ demands for the Chapter 11 administrator, including that Pettit produce the laptop, USB drives and passwords to access them so they could be examined. in a forensic manner. Once that was done, the judge said, Pettit would be released.

To attend Thursday’s hearing in person, as Gargotta ordered last week, Pettit said he drove his Porsche Macan from Florida and turned the vehicle over to one of the trustee’s attorneys. He made the trip with $300 on a cash card from his current job, he said.

Challenging exchanges

Before issuing his order, the judge ripped Pettit for trying to “smear” Gargotta’s case by falsely claiming the judge had been in rehab.

Pettit said one of his former lawyers told him that.

“Well, that’s a load of bullshit,” Gargotta replied.

The exchange continues:

Pettit: “I respect that, your honor.”

Gargotta: “Let’s be clear, it won’t be decisive for anything. But I’m not going to sit in my courtroom, having an exemplary record for over 30 years as a lawyer and judge, and smear it on you. Do you understand that?”

Pettit: “That was not my intention, Your Honor. I was repeating what (the former lawyer) had told me.

Gargotta: “Nice try. Don’t insult my intelligence. You can go sit down.

In his testimony, Gonzales also had harsh words for his former boss.

As a receptionist, she said she was the first person customers saw.

“Some of the clients I became friends with,” she said, sobbing. “I couldn’t sleep or eat because I couldn’t believe Mr. Pettit would do something like this. Clients kept coming to the office and I had no idea what was going on. He was never there for us.

Gonzales said she and other former employees were also misled by Pettit.

“Shame on you, Chris,” she said. “You lied to me and everyone else, especially your clients.”

More than a dozen lawsuits were filed against Pettit and his law firm, Chris Pettit & Associates, before the two filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 1. Pettit listed $27.8 million in assets and $115.2 million in debt in his personal bankruptcy, making him one of the largest. ever in San Antonio. Bankruptcies put an end to litigation.

The FBI also investigated.

[email protected] | Twitter: @gmaninfedland

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