A former Newport lawyer convicted of stealing $290,000 from a client’s estate 10 years ago was sentenced Friday to six years in prison with all but two years suspended.
A jury found Dale Thistle, 75, of Farmington and Quebec City, Quebec, guilty in June after a two-day trial of one count of theft by misapplication, a Class B felony due to the sum of money involved.
This conviction was appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.
“I find it hard to believe that Mr. Thistle, having been a lawyer as long as he has been, did not know that taking the money was wrong and illegal,” Superior Court Judge William Anderson said. imposing the sentence on the Penobscot Judicial. Center.
An aggravating factor in the case — which would lengthen the sentence — is that as a lawyer, Thistle was in a position of trust, Anderson said. The judge said mitigating circumstances – which shorten a sentence – include Thistle’s age and serious health issues, including traumatic brain injury.
Anderson ordered Thistle to remain on $1,000 bail while his appeal is pending. The conditions of his bail prevent him from leaving the state. Thistle cannot return to Canada since he is a convicted felon, but Anderson ordered him to surrender his passport.
Thistle apologized to his victim’s family, several of whom were in the courtroom.
“It’s shameful and embarrassing to stand in front of you,” he said, facing family members. “I wish things were different. I wish you got everything you deserve. I wish you still had your dad. If I can pay you back in the future, I will.
Thistle has very little income and was forced to live in poverty while out on bail and, due to his bail conditions, was unable to return to Quebec to live in a small apartment with his Canadian wife. She continues to live there.
In addition to a prison sentence, Thistle was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay $34,522 to the Lawyers Client Protection Fund which was paid to the estate and $255,478 to the estate itself. same. It is highly unlikely that Thistle will be able to repay the full amount.
The money Thistle was found guilty of stealing was part of a $390,000 wrongful death settlement intended for the estate of Gilman Friend, who died in December 2010 at the age of 82 following a fall at his home in Newport.
Friend’s widow, Donna Friend, hired Thistle to sue Sebasticook Valley Hospital Ambulance Service for wrongful death, and Thistle brokered the settlement. He was entitled to approximately $96,000 in legal fees.
It turned out, however, that Donna Friend was not entitled to the money because she and Gilman Friend had divorced before his death but continued to live together. Her adult children only learned of the divorce after Donna Friend died in 2014.
Under Maine law, Thistle should have given the settlement money to the estate of Gilman Friend and his four children.
Tracy Friend-Moore of Freeport, the victim’s daughter, spoke of her father, whom she described as a ‘wonderful dad’ who always had time for his children.
“The center of this case for us is Gilman Friend, a longtime resident and community leader,” she said. “He owned car and motorcycle dealerships and then had a real estate business.”
Moore said that at the time Thistle won her $96,000 share of the wrongful death settlement, neither she nor any of her siblings had ever won that much money in a year.
Thistle suffered a traumatic brain injury on November 17, 2011, when a drunk driver hit the car Thistle was driving. The impact of this accident caused him to neglect his practice and be suspended by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar in June 2014. He has not practiced law since.
Thistle said on Friday that “if it hadn’t been for my car accident, I wouldn’t have taken the Friend family money.”
It was the argument defense attorney Will Ashe made to the jury that he rejected at Thistle’s trial.
An investigation by the board of supervisors found Thistle misappropriated funds from other clients, but he was not prosecuted in those cases, according to the Maine attorney general’s office.
Assistant Attorney General Charles Boyle recommended the judge sentence Thistle to seven years in prison with all but three years suspended, followed by three years probation. Ashe urged Anderson to impose a five-year sentence with all but six months suspended, which could be served in county jail, and probation.
Thistle faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.