, Newburyport, MA

May 7, 2013

Merrimac woman sentenced to 8 years in prison for Ponzi scheme

staff reports
Newburyport Daily News

---- — WOBURN — A Merrimac woman was sentenced yesterday on charges of embezzlement and larceny for stealing from clients through the law firm she operated with her husband, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan informed the public today.

Lee Peck Eu Unitt, 48, of Merrimac, was found guilty April 29 following a 10-day jury trial in Middlesex Superior Court on charges of felony larceny (four counts), fiduciary embezzlement and being a common and notorious thief.

Middlesex Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin sentenced Unitt to four consecutive two-year terms in state prison on the larceny counts with up to 20 years probation from and after her prison sentence, and the following conditions of probation: no contact with victims, must pay full restitution, forbidden to apply for a passport without court approval, forbidden to work in a law office or any financial services office during the term of probation, required to make full financial disclosure of assets as requested by probation, and to make tax returns available for inspection.

Unitt used a Ponzi scheme to steal from her clients’ life savings through a law firm she operated with her husband, and used the money to support an extravagant lifestyle that included luxury cars and trips abroad. The district attorney’s office said she operated a Ponzi scheme by using money from clients’ investments to pay debts due to other clients.

Her husband, Peter Unitt III, has also been charged with larceny over $250 (two counts), conspiracy to larceny and embezzlement. His trial in Middlesex Superior Court is scheduled for July 15.

According to authorities, Peter Unitt practiced law at his law office in Woburn, which was known as The Crest Group, LLC. Lee Unitt worked at the firm as a secretary, business manager and paralegal.

In 2006, the first victim was referred to the Crest Group for legal representation following a car crash. There she met Lee Unitt, whom she was led to believe was an attorney with the firm. Unitt recommended that the victim refinance any property she owned so as to remove all equity from her holdings by taking out large property mortgages. Unitt further suggested that the victim leave the mortgage proceeds in the client trust account of the Crest Group, so the plaintiff suing the victim would not be able to get at it.

When the victim asked Lee Unitt to return the money, the victim was informed that the money was overseas and would take a significant amount of time to have it returned. The victim is still awaiting the return of $190,729.

Lee Unitt also embezzled investment money from a married couple whom she had befriended. The wife had been involved in an automobile accident and Unitt again recommended refinancing their home and investment properties, and to invest the new mortgage proceeds in an international real estate investment pool. Unitt promised a return of 11 percent or greater.

The victims entrusted over $500,000 to Unitt from refinancing proceeds and from their savings for retirement. Neither of the victims ever received an accounting as to the status of their investments nor has any of their money been returned.

Also in 2007, Lee Unitt offered to help an unemployed friend get a fixed mortgage. She asked the victim to sign a pile of documents, that included false and inflated statements concerning her income. Unbeknownst to the victim, Chase Bank issued a new $218,000 mortgage, money Lee Peck Unitt diverted and spent while the friend continued paying on her old mortgage.