Bellaire attorney ordered to jail in alleged conspiracy case is the same attorney who once faced charges for repeated attempts to kill his wife
A 62-year-old Bellaire attorney who once faced charges of repeatedly attempting to put a hit on his wife on Thursday was ordered into federal lockup to await trial on an alleged conspiracy scheme to illegally bring in clients, evade tax law and tamper with witnesses as well as hiding evidence to cover his tracks.
After hearing more than three hours of testimony from the lead IRS investigator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Bray said there were no conditions under which he could safely release Jeffrey Stern, who was arrested Saturday without incident at a Houston airport after returning from abroad with his family.
Bray said he had no confidence that Stern wouldn’t continue to hide documents or evidence or try to skip town.
“I find by a preponderance of the evidence that now that he is here and he’s in custody and he’s facing a substantial sentence if convicted, he has significant wherewithal to leave,” the judge said. “I don’t think he’s going to follow my rules.”
Stern’s lawyer, David Gerger pleaded with Bray to reconsider the option of house arrest, reminding the judge that his client had been released on bond when he was awaiting trial for attempting to kill his wife. The Harris County District Attorney dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.
“He was released on bond in other case,” Gerger said.
The judge snapped back: “And he destroyed documents back then, too. That’s what the agent said.
Prosecutors say the kickback scheme was the brainchild of Stern, founding partner of a personal injury firm where, according to its website, he oversees “a team of warriors” who take on wrongdoers and “help fight for equality and justice for those who can’t.” Stern faces prosecution along with two personal injury lawyers, a legal aide and a clinic owner.
He is charged with conspiring to defraud the government, willfully filing multiple false tax returns and aiding in the preparation of those returns. Prosecutors say he then attempted to cover his tracks by tampering with witnesses and obstructing justice.
Attorney Jeffrey M. Stern, Founding Partner
After 40,000 clients and 33 years of practicing law, Jeff is more passionate than ever about life and helping people. No matter what the cause is, he is there, whether assisting people that have been hurt, injured, or taken advantage of.
Jeff graduated with an accounting degree, but upon graduation, he felt something was lacking, so he went to law school and graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1982. What was missing was the passion of helping people. Since then, he has helped many clients from every walk of life throughout the world. He has handled almost every case imaginable, ranging from bed bug bites to catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.
Established a Quality Injury Law Firm
He has now put together a team of warriors at the Stern Law Group, to help fight for equality and justice for those that can’t. No matter what the cause or how big the opponent, the Stern Law Group has the capital and resources to take on any wrongdoer.
State Bar of Texas
League of United Latin American Citizens
South Texas College of Law Senior Fellows Society
United Farm Workers of America
Green Bay Packer Fan Club
Outside The Courtroom
When Jeff is not engaged in battle on behalf of his clients, he spends time pursuing his other loves, which are his beautiful children and his wife of 25 years.
Jeff is very active at the kid’s schools as well as many other civic and charitable organizations. Two of his biggest civic commitments are the Aishel house, which is a non-profit organization that provides housing and other support to patients and their families who are being treated at the Texas Medical Center. The other is contributing and participating in alumni affairs at South Texas College of Law.
Houston Personal Injury Attorneys and Case Runners Indicted
HOUSTON – A 21-count superseding indictment has been unsealed alleging conspiracy, witness tampering, obstruction of justice and multiple tax violations in a barratry scheme, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Houston personal injury attorneys Jeffrey Stern, Deborah Bradley and Richard Plezia are charged with conspiracy and tax violations along with legal-assistant Frederick Morris and clinic-owner Lamont Ratcliff. Stern is also charged with witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
Attorney Jeffrey M. Stern made his initial appearance yesterday and was temporarily ordered into custody pending a detention hearing set for Aug. 22, at 1:00 p.m. Deborah Lee Bradley and Ratcliff were permitted release upon posting bond. Plezia is expected to make his initial appearance later this week.
Morris made his initial appearance earlier and has since pleaded guilty. He was permitted to remain on bond.
The charges against Stern and his alleged co-conspirators stem from a long-running criminal scheme to evade taxes. Stern also allegedly obtained his personal injury cases through barratry – the illegal practice of soliciting law firm clients by paying kickbacks to middlemen known as “case runners.”
Stern and his co-conspirators sought to enrich themselves by illegally recruiting clients through the payment and receipt of illegal kickbacks in order to generate personal injury cases and legal fees, according to the charges. They allegedly worked to conceal and disguise the payments and hide their resulting income from the IRS by filing false documents with them. These allegedly included tax returns, 1099 forms and an offer in compromise that falsely reported material information including amounts of income, expenses and taxes due and owing.
Once Stern became aware of the investigation, he allegedly worked to obstruct justice by ordering others to destroy subpoenaed documents and instructing co-conspirators not to cooperate.
According to the indictment, Stern employed multiple devices to disguise his illegal kickback payments to case runners as legitimate referral fees paid to attorneys or as other types of legitimate payments that would be deductible under the tax laws. Stern allegedly funneled kickback payments to case runners Ratcliff and Marcus Esquivel (charged in a separate case) through the accounts of Bradley and Plezia. The charges allege Stern claimed the payments were legitimate referral fees to Bradley and Plezia rather than illegal kickbacks to Ratcliff and Esquivel.
The indictment also alleges Stern wrote referral fee checks in the names of attorneys who never received the checks. Instead, Morris would allegedly cash the checks with forged endorsements at check-cashing locations and use the funds to pay illegal kickbacks owed to himself and other case runners for Stern’s referrals.
Stern allegedly also filed 1099 forms that falsely reported to the IRS the nature of the payments and to whom they were made. On his tax returns, Stern falsely reported the illegal, non-deductible kickback payments as legitimate, deductible business expenses, which greatly reduced his tax burden, according to the charges.
Bradley and Plezia allegedly filed false tax returns to facilitate the scheme. Ratcliff failed to report many of the kickback payments he received as income on his company’s tax returns, according to the charges. Stern and Morris also allegedly caused another attorney to file false tax returns and a false offer in compromise with the IRS to help cover-up the scheme.
All defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. If convicted, they each face up to five years in prison. For willfully filing a false tax return, Stern, Ratcliff and Bradley face another three years of imprisonment. Aiding and assisting in the preparation and presentation of false tax returns carries another potential three-year-term, for which Stern and Morris are charged. If convicted of witness tampering or obstruction of justice, Stern could be sentenced up to 20 and 10 years, respectively.
Morris entered a guilty plea Aug. 8, 2019, to the conspiracy. He is set for sentencing in February 2020.
IRS – Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert S. Johnson is prosecuting the case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.
Attorney Deborah L. Bradley
Deborah L. Bradley is a native Texan and was born in San Antonio, Texas. In May 1981, Deborah graduated from East Texas State University with a B.B.A. in Marketing, was named Marketing Student of the Year and was Vice President of Marketing of Pi Sigma Epsilon Fraternity.
Deborah moved to Austin to begin a career in politics and to work for the Texas Railroad Commission and then the Texas General Land Office. In 1985 Deborah was elected to represent the Young Democrats of America on the Democratic National Committee for a two year period.
Realizing the importance of education, Deborah decided to continue her educational pursuits and in 1993 graduated from South Texas College of Law with a J.D. Deborah worked full time while in law school and was a member of Phi Alpha Delta Fraternity.
Deborah has 22 plus years of litigation experience in the areas of personal injury law, maritime law, and oil and gas law.
Deborah is licensed to practice law in the states of Texas and Mississippi. Also, in 2012 Deborah became a Certified Mediator after attending A.A. White Dispute Resolution Center mediation course at the University of Houston Law Center, Blakely Advocacy Institute.
Deborah believes in giving back to the community. She is on the Board of Directors for the Kym Coleman Education Foundation, which is a non-profit charitable foundation that currently sponsors two Greater Houston Area elementary schools with its Honor Roll Bicycle Program that gives incentive to children to achieve exemplary grades and also awards annual college scholarships. It is all about the children.
Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi.
Member of the State Bar of Texas; State Bar of Mississippi;
Mississippi Association for Justice;
Houston Trial Lawyers Association.
Richard J. Plezia
Richard J. Plezia has primarily focused his extensive litigation career on civil trials in both federal and state courts, trying numerous cases to verdict. He has participated in and tried over a hundred jury trials.
He is one of only a very small percentage of Texas lawyers to be board certified twice. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Board Certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has also been selected for membership in the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) and is AV rated by Martidale-Hubbell.
Mr. Plezia obtained both his undergraduate degree and his law degree from Baylor University, earning accolades including Phi Delta Phi, Order of Barristers, and membership in the Harvey M. Richey Moot Court Society.
Mr. Plezia has been admitted to practice in Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia, along with the U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Districts of Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. He has participated in litigation in almost all 50 states.
He has testified in committees of both the Texas House of Representatives and the State Senate on a wide range of laws that could impact both consumers and Texas families, including recreational use, maritime procedure, venue, community projects, construction projects, automobile tires, and more.
He is proudly married to his wife of 25 years, and enjoys being a father to their four daughters.