Merrillville attorney disbarred for stealing funds


Jennifer Nelson for

A northern Indiana attorney who stole trust account funds belonging to his former law partner and that partner’s clients, and embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from a receivership, has been disbarred by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Robert E. Stochel faced three disciplinary counts. Count I deals with his time as receiver in a dispute involving joint owners of a supermarket. The receivership assets totaled about $330,000 in a bank account, which Stochel depleted. He lied and covered up his theft. Count II stems with his theft of money from his former law partner, Thomas Hoffman. The two shared a trust account from which Stochel withdrew $30,000; only $5,600 belonged to Stochel.

Stochel has not returned funds to his ex-partner and still owes at least $230,000 to the receivership. h

The third count is based on Stochel’s noncooperation with the disciplinary investigation.

The justices found 9 aggravating facts and no mitigating facts. They found he violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules: 1.5(a): making an agreement for, charging or collecting an unreasonable fee; 1.15(a): failure to hold property of clients properly in trust; failure to safeguard property of clients; treating client funds as his own; failure to maintain and preserve complete records of client trust account funds; 1.15(d): failure to deliver promptly to clients and third parties funds they are entitled to receive and failure to render promptly a full accounting of those funds; 1.16(d): failure to refund an unearned fee promptly upon termination of representation; 3.3(a)(1): knowingly making false statements of fact or law to a tribunal or failing to correct false statements of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer; 3.4(c): knowingly disobeying court orders; 4.1(a): knowingly making a false statement of material fact to a third person in the course of representing a client;  8.1(b): knowingly failing to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority; 8.4(b): committing criminal acts (conversion, theft, deception, and criminal mischief) that reflect adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer; and 8.4(c): engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

“Respondent stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the receivership and tens of thousands of dollars from his former law partner and that partner’s clients. In the receivership case, Respondent covered up his theft for nearly a decade, lied to all comers, deceived the court and later defied its orders, and actively obstructed the disciplinary process. Respondent throughout has expressed absolutely no remorse or intent to make restitution. In addition, he has neither challenged the hearing officer’s report nor argued any mitigating facts. Under these circumstances, the Court unhesitatingly concludes that disbarment is warranted,” the per curiam opinion states.