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Charleston lawyer faces tax evasion charge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal prosecutors charged a Charleston attorney with tax evasion Wednesday and also say he mixed up his client's money with his own.

The federal charge against Harold S. Albertson mirrors ethics charges filed against him earlier this month and last year by the State Bar's Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Federal prosecutors say Albertson tried to avoid paying $102,410 of income tax owed between 2003 through 2010. Albertson's federal charge came in the form of an information, which usually means a defendant is cooperating with an investigation.

That charge states Albertson used one bank account to keep both his personal funds and his client's funds. With that account, he paid his personal expenses and didn't maintain any records to keep the expenses separate, Assistant U.S. Attorney Blaire Malkin wrote in the charge.

From 2008 to 2010, Albertson made deposits of about $949,000, $1 million, $1.6 million and $802,000, according to prosecutors. After making deposits, the charge states, Albertson immediately withdrew money and kept a minimal balance in the account.

Albertson "conducted his business in cash and did not keep regular books in an attempt to make it difficult or impossible to identify his assets and to collect amounts owed by him," the charge states.

Albertson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In April last year, an IRS officer told Albertson the $102,410 would be due by June 12, 2012. In May, Albertson wrote checks totaling more than $16,000, which prosecutors claim was to keep a low balance in his account "to evade the payment of the tax he knew was due and owing and to avoid levies by the IRS which he knew could come at any time."

Earlier this month, the disciplinary counsel served Albertson, who was admitted to practice law in West Virginia in 1973, with four counts of ethics violations stemming from four separate complaints filed against Albertson.  

Linda Sloan Cross, of Spindale, N.C., filed a complaint against Albertson claiming he pocketed money that was supposed to be placed in a trust for her brother.

Cross said that after her mother died, the estate's executor wrote Albertson a check for $28,000, thinking it would be deposited into a trust account for her brother, who had health problems.

"He never put the check into the trust," Cross told the Gazette on Wednesday. She said she's still trying to get the money back.

Attorneys with the ODC agreed, and in its charges state that Albertson, "wrongfully commingled, misappropriated and converted the $28,070 to his own personal use [and] misrepresented to Ms. Cross that the funds were in 'escrow.'"

According to the Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys are required to keep a separate bank account for safekeeping their client's funds. The ODC also accused Albertson of misconduct: engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation and engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, among other charges.

In September, Albertson filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, according to federal court records.

Last year, five complaints filed against him resulted in charges over, among other things, safekeeping property and delayed responses and actions. Both sets of charges are still pending, according to an employee in the Supreme Court clerk's office.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.

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