Court Digest

Indictment says lawyer faked legal documents

A federal grand jury has indicted a St. Louis lawyer on charges that he faked legal documents in court cases for more than a year.

Andrew Gavin Wynne was indicted last week on five counts of identity theft for incidents that occurred between Feb. 7, 2020, and June 7, 2021. His law license was suspended in October, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. 

The indictment says Wynne created fictitious documents including “court orders, judgments, and emails purportedly authored by the judges.”

Wynne did not answer Wednesday at phone numbers listed for him online. The Post-Dispatch said he declined to comment on Saturday.

Most of the cases involved family court or divorce proceedings, according to documents filed by Missouri’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. The cases were in St. Louis and St. Louis and St. Charles counties. 

At the time, Wynne was an associate with the Kirkwood firm Menees, Menees & Wynne, now known as Menees & Menees.

Hardy Menees said Wynne generally filed fake rulings in the middle of his cases and only two of the cases had final dispositions. He did not provide an exact number of cases affected. 

“It’s been an incredible ordeal to try and unravel it, but we have unraveled it,” he said.

Former church employee sentenced to 20 years in abuse case

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A former employee at a Murfreesboro Catholic church who pleaded guilty to four counts of statutory rape was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Monday.

Michael D. Lewis was indicted in June 2020 on 10 counts of statutory rape and four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure. A jury trial had been scheduled for Monday, but Lewis reached a plea agreement with prosecutors last week, The Tennessean reported.

The abuse began in 2014 when Lewis was director of religious education at the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Rutherford County prosecutor Sharon Reddick said at the sentencing hearing. His victim was 13 at the time and had chosen Lewis to serve as her mentor for the religious ceremony of confirmation. The girl later served as a student coordinator for religious education and altar serving, a position that required her to work closely with Lewis, Reddick said.

After the victim reported the abuse to police in January 2020, law enforcement assisted her with a controlled phone call and Facebook messages in which Lewis acknowledged his abuse, Reddick said. 

“Someone who was supposed to be a father figure and teach me about my faith, instead groomed and later assaulted me countless times, teaching me little about faith and far more about fear, power and control,” the victim, now 21, said to Lewis during the hearing. “The power that you once held in my life is gone.” 

The Associated Press does not usually name victims of sexual abuse. 

“The sentencing of this rapist is due to the courage of a young victim who reported to the police,” Susan Vance, a representative of the Tennessee chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement.

Catholic Diocese of Nashville spokesperson Rick Musacchio said in a statement that the diocese encourages anyone who suspects abuse to report it to authorities and that it cooperates with any investigations about abuse.

The victim has accused both the diocese and St. Rose of failing to protect her and has filed a civil lawsuit that is ongoing against them. The suit claims the church officials failed to act despite several warnings. They include a letter from a parishioner, who was also a licensed clinical psychologist, to then-Bishop David Choby expressing concerns about Lewis’ relationship with the girl.

The abuse continued until 2017, when her family cut off contact with Lewis for “controlling behavior,” according to the lawsuit.


Participant in multistate ATM skimming scheme sentenced

BOSTON (AP) — A Romanian man has been sentenced to nearly two years in prison for his role in a multistate ATM skimming scam that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, federal prosecutors said.

In addition to a prison term of 21 months, Dragush Nelo Hornea, 26, was also sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston to five years of probation, and was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in restitution and forfeiture, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office. He will also be subject to deportation upon completion of his sentence.

Hornea and more than a dozen accomplices installed devices on bank ATMs in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, Georgia and other states to steal debit card numbers and personal identification numbers from bank customers, prosecutors said.

They then used the stolen information to clone the victims’ debit cards and make unauthorized withdrawals of hundreds of thousands of dollars, authorities said.

Hornea pleaded guilty in October to a racketeering charge. All 15 people charged in the scheme have pleaded guilty.


New Mexico
Judge told release of insurance info OK in clergy abuse case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge has been told that Archdiocese of Santa Fe records that would indicate how much insurance money is available to help pay a settlement of clergy sex abuse claims can be made public if they are redacted to withhold victims’ identities.

The archdiocese previously asked Judge David T. Thuma to seal the records, saying that releasing them could breach the terms of its insurance agreements and make them unenforceable.

However, lawyers for four insurers said during a U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing Monday that they didn’t object to release of the records if information identifying victims is redacted, the Albuquerque Journal  reported.

Archdiocese attorney Thomas Walker also said Monday that the records could be released with redactions, the Santa Fe New Mexican  reported.

“We appreciate that keeping things secret is not desirable,” Walker said.

Lawyers for abuse survivors who filed claims in the bankruptcy case had argued there were no valid legal reasons for sealing the documents.

Victims’ attorneys have reached a tentative settlement as to the total archdiocese contribution but the amount has not been made public.


MS-13 gang leader sentenced to  40 years for teen’s killing

BOSTON (AP) — An MS-13 gang leader in Massachusetts was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison on Monday for racketeering and his role in the stabbing death of a teenager in 2018.

Erick Lopez Flores, 33, of Lynn, was also ordered to serve five years of supervised release by a Boston federal court judge, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins’ office said. 

Lopez Flores pleaded guilty to a count of “conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity,” also known as RICO conspiracy, in 2020, prosecutors said. 

He also admitted to participating in the killing of a teen in a park in Lynn. Federal prosecutors say Lopez Flores and five other MS-13 members took the teen to a wooded area of the park, surrounded him and repeatedly stabbed him under the mistaken belief that he was cooperating with law enforcement. 

Prosecutors said Lopez Flores authorized the killing as a leader of the “Sykos Locos Salvatrucha” clique of MS-13, which operated in Lynn, Chelsea and other communities. He’s the first of the defendants to be sentenced. 

Dozens of members of the Central American street gang have been convicted of RICO conspiracy and other serious felonies in Massachusetts in recent years. 

Teen charged after pal killed as they played with gun

GARLAND, Texas (AP) — A 15-year-old Dallas-area boy has been charged in juvenile court with manslaughter after he said his friend was fatally shot last week while they played with a gun, police said Monday.

The boy who has been charged says he and his friend, also 15, were playing with a gun on Feb. 8 at the friend’s house in the Dallas suburb of Garland when it went off accidentally, according to a Garland police statement.

The friend was taken to a Dallas hospital, where he died Monday, police said.

The victim’s identity hasn’t been released, and police are withholding the suspect’s name because he’s a juvenile.

Police say the shooting and the source of the gun remain under investigation.


North Dakota
Man gets at least 21 years in prison for murder conspiracy

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Canadian man has been sentenced to serve at least 21 years in prison for plotting the death of a Bismarck man in what authorities say was a love triangle that involved a life insurance policy. 

Forty-three-year-old Earl Howard earlier reached an agreement with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to four felonies in the death of Chad Entzel. The body of the 42-year-old victim was found Jan. 2, 2020 after a house fire northeast of Bismarck. Authorities said Entzel died of gunshot wounds to the head and the fire was set to cover up the slaying. 

South Central District Judge Douglas Bahr on Monday accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Howard to 50 years in prison with 25 years suspended on the most serious charge, murder conspiracy, the Bismarck Tribune  reported. Howard will have to serve at least 85% of the sentence before he’s eligible for parole. 

He received suspended sentences for arson, arson conspiracy and evidence tampering. 

Investigators said Nikkisue Entzel and Howard were in a romantic relationship, verified by video and photos. Nikkisue Entzel took out a $26,000 life insurance policy on her husband in the days before his death, and she tried to collect on the policy soon after he died, according to prosecutors. 

She faces a trial later this month. 


Aspiring actor gets 20 years for $650M movie deal scam

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An aspiring actor was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison Monday for running a massive Ponzi scheme that raised at least $650 million from investors in phony Hollywood film licensing deals.

Zachary Horwitz, 35, of Los Angeles, also was ordered to repay more than $230.3 million.

Prosecutors alleged that from 2014 to 2019, Horwitz secured hundreds of millions of dollars in loans for his film company, 1inMM Capital LLC, by falsely claiming the money would be used to buy distribution rights to movies that would then be licensed for distribution to streaming platforms such as Netflix and HBO.

Instead, Horwitz used some of the money to repay earlier investors in a classic Ponzi scheme and to support a lifestyle that included buying a $6 million home, prosecutors said.

More than 200 investors, including three of Horwitz’s closest college friends and their family members, lost about $230 million, authorities said.

Horwitz had appeared in a number of movies, usually in small roles, under the name Zach Avery.