In his heyday, former Oklahoma City attorney John Milton Merritt was known for defending the injured and the families of those who were killed in personal injury cases. He was described as someone who cared for his clients.
Merritt was said to be a dedicated lawyer and outstanding litigator. He forced manufacturers to make products safer through litigation. When it seemed that things were hopeless, Merritt would keep the case going by giving money to clients to get the facts and help them recover.
Dedicated lawyer turned to a life of crime
But when his practice suffered due to expenses, The Oklahoman said Merritt did the unthinkable. To keep things going and maintain his law firm, the former hero turned rogue and was forced to resign in 2011.
In 2012, Merritt admitted defrauding his clients of over $3.5 million during his last years as an attorney.
Among his victims were three orphan boys who lost their parents in a 2002 car accident and a boy who got injured in a car crash in 2005. The Oklahoman said he stole $300, 451 from the girls and $130,000 from the boy.
The money came from the settlements of the lawsuits that Merritt had filed for his clients. He also forged a federal judge’s signature to get the money. As a result, the two youngest orphans lost their home, and their vehicle was repossessed. They also ran out of food and had to get help from a church.
More cases uncovered
More cases followed in 2013 to which Merritt pleaded guilty. Be his sentencing was put off several times because of his poor health.
After he was caught, Merritt said he just borrowed the money but was prevented from returning it by the ongoing federal investigation. Prosecutors hoped they could recover the stolen money to help Merritt’s victims. But they found nothing. There were no assets or overseas bank accounts.
Merritt could have faced a 30-year prison term. But he never got his just desserts. Before he could be sentenced, the erring attorney died in 2014 at the age of 76.
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