NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 9 to the suspend Baton Rouge attorney Michael L. Thiel in the wake of his conviction in a tax-evasion matter.
According to the court documents available on the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board’s website, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition for interim suspension effective immediately following the ruling.
A Justice.gov news release said that Thiel, a 66-year-old criminal-defense attorney, pleaded guilty to one charge of evasion on Dec. 7, 2016. The attorney allegedly failed to pay income and employment taxes between 2003 and 2013. By April 30, 2016, Thiel admitted that he owed $736,527 in income tax and $261,725 in employment tax, interest and penalties.
It was also reported that in 2007, Thiel purchased a home for $435,000 through nominees — a bank account in which the owner can nominate an individual to claim the proceeds of the account as their own — and the trusts he beneficially owned in an effort to hide his assets from the Internal Revenue Service.
In addition, he made his mortgage payments for the property using another nominee account. Thiel manipulated the account to make the payments appear as if they were for rent rather than a mortgage. The attorney also deposited nearly half a million dollars into nominee bank accounts to hide the funds from the IRS.
For the criminal charges, Thiel could potentially be sentenced to maximum of 37 months in a federal prison. Thiel’s sentencing is scheduled for March 22, the news release said.
Thiel’s attorney-misconduct case was handled by the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, which was established in 1990 as a branch of the Louisiana Supreme Court. The LADB is comprised of 14 members whose purpose is to investigate claims of attorney misconduct brought before the Supreme Court. Once an investigation is completed, the LADB recommends disciplinary proceedings.
The LADB arranges hearings for disciplinary matters that are conducted by the Hearing Committee. The committee is made up of 50 volunteer members with the same term duration and limits as the LADB members. All Hearing Committee members are appointed by the LADB and must meet the following requirements: possess good moral character, have a Louisiana law license, have practiced law for at least five years, not be holding political office, not be a partner in a firm where two other partners already serve on the committee, and not be serving on a grievance committee.
A hearing similar to trial will take place where the attorney will have the opportunity to provide a defense against the charges. Witnesses may be called to either attest to the attorney’s good character for mitigation, or to testify to the lawyer’s misconduct. The findings of the hearing are recorded and submitted to the LABD for review and a recommendation for discipline is determined.
This recommendation is given to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which ultimately determines culpability and discipline.