ELYRIA — A former secretary at two law firms has been indicted for allegedly stealing about $200,000 in funds from legal clients dating back at least to 2007.
Cheryl Guthman, 50, faces 36 counts of theft and six counts of tampering with records, according to a secret indictment unsealed Tuesday after her arrest.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said Guthman used a variety of means over the years to steal from the clients of the law firms she worked for, including altering checks, writing checks to herself and taking cash from clients and keeping it. Guthman appears to have spent the money on her own expenses, he said.
“She was basically shuffling quite a bit of money around,” Will said.
He said his office launched an investigation into Guthman after irregularities were found by county Probate Judge James Walther and his staff last spring. Will said although the investigation went as far back as 2007, the thefts may have started earlier.
“There’s no telling how long it went on,” he said.
Walther said his office noticed problems in the finances of a bank account linked to the estate of Emma Rothgery, who was the aunt of Kenneth Rothgery, head of Rothgery and Associates, where Guthman worked until she went to work for Smith, Illner and Gemelas a few years ago.
Rothgery had served as the guardian of his aunt and later as executor of her estate, Walther said. The guardianship account also had problems as did other accounts linked to work Guthman had done, he said. The indictment listed a total of 11 victims.
“When we became aware of it we started running all of the cases she had been involved with, and when we discovered something, we turned it over to the prosecutor,” the judge said.
Rothgery could not be reached for comment Tuesday. James Gemelas declined to comment on behalf of his law firm, which already is the subject of lawsuits centering around former attorney Michael W. Fine, who is serving a 12-year prison term for hypnotizing legal clients for sexual gratification.
Michael Polito, Guthman’s attorney, said he couldn’t comment on the case until he’s reviewed the evidence against his client.
Guthman appears to have had financial problems over the years based on a review of court records that show unpaid taxes, civil liens, foreclosure lawsuits and a bankruptcy filing that date to the mid-1990s.