, Newburyport, MA

February 4, 2014

Our view: Courts failed victims of swindler lawyer

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Phillip Thompson walked into Middlesex Superior Court last week with a smile, looking dapper in a charcoal gray, pinstripe suit accessorized with a silk pocket handkerchief and handcuffs.

Thompson had reason to smile, despite the cuffs.

The 35-year-old disbarred lawyer from Lawrence was about to pull off one more con job on his way to prison.

Thompson stole $1 million — $986,929, to be precise — from at least seven people between 2007 and 2011, when he was caught.

A jury convicted him of his crimes on Jan. 16.

The prosecution asked for a sentence of four to five years, which seems little enough when a two-bit convenience store holdup can send you away for longer if you flash a gun instead of a smile.

Judge Kathe Tuttman, who called Thompson “extremely intelligent and well educated,” sentenced him instead to just three years in prison.

You do the math, as the extremely intelligent Thompson certainly did. His crime paid him more than $325,000 per year, with no hard labor. Nice work if you can get it.

Tuttman ordered Thompson to repay the money, of course. But what are the odds of that happening?

Addressing the judge before she slapped him on the wrist, Thompson traded his smile for crocodile tears for his victims, admitted his guilt for the first time, expressed his post-conviction remorse and literally begged for mercy, something he never showed those he fleeced.

“Not a day has gone by that I haven’t labored over their distress,” he said.

We’ll believe it when we see how many days he labors to repay them when he gets out of prison.

Thompson’s friend and defense lawyer, Douglas Martin, felt Thompson’s pain. He said his client is a brilliant man who just needed an accountant to keep the books straight at his law firm.

What Thompson really needed was a conscience.

Martin said Thompson was “not worthy of jail time” — he suggested a work-release program that would allow Thompson to “use his brilliance” for good.

“This is a person who deserves a second chance,” he said.

Actually, Thompson had second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh chances. And he took them all, along with the money of his seven or more victims.

They included an older couple who made the mistake of hiring Thompson to represent them when their house burned down. Their crooked lawyer pocketed the entire $416,000 insurance settlement.

Prosecutor Marian Ryan said other victims included the owner of a small grocery store and several poor immigrants with little English.

Thompson devastated their finances and changed their lives forever. Oh, well. At least he feels their distress every day, so they’ve got that going for them.

Here’s the point.

Every day now we are besieged by swindlers, scammers, confidence men and hackers who never rest in their schemes to find the quickest and easiest ways to separate us from our hard-earned money.

The odds of getting caught are slim, and punishment is light for the white-collar thieves who do get caught.

Jordan Belfort, the so-called “Wolf of Wall Street,” served just 22 months for the stock schemes that cost his sucker investors $200 million.

The court system had a chance in the Thompson case to send a message that those “brilliant” thieves who steal our money with a smile are just as deserving of punishment, if not more so, as the dopes who forcibly steal the contents of a cash register to buy drugs.

The system failed.