A San Antonio attorney who pleaded no contest to plundering her senile grandmother’s multimillion-dollar fortune gave up her legal career Tuesday but was spared a trip to prison.
Despite showing Michelle Lorenz Valicek, 54, leniency by ordering deferred adjudication probation instead of the 10- to 20-year term sought by prosecutors, visiting Judge George Godwin predicted during the sentencing hearing that she eventually would end up in prison.
“This will be a miracle if we can keep you out of the penitentiary,” Godwin said as he referenced Valicek’s recent misdemeanor arrests, self-admitted substance abuse issues, “clear … mental problems” and apparent denial of responsibility for the case at hand.
“You may well be back before this court in about six months” for a motion to revoke probation hearing, he said, testily ordering her after he announced the sentence to “quit crying, hugging your lawyer and listen to me.”
Valicek, who was described by witnesses Tuesday as a once respected and formidable criminal defense attorney, began to spiral after she became administrator of her grandmother’s $2.3 million fortune. Margaret Lorenz, a retired ballet instructor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, had inherited the money in 2006 from a reclusive nephew.
“Michelle has always been very helpful and attentive to her grandmother,” testified Myra Lorenz, the defendant’s mother. “She brushed her teeth and painted her nails and combed her hair — she did everything for her.”
But at the same time, she was using her grandmother’s money to fund an extravagant lifestyle that included, among other things, a new home, a luxury car and a $23,500 baby grand piano, prosecutor Joanne Woodruff said.
Margaret Lorenz died last year at 97. She left the remains of the fortune to Valicek’s estranged father, who wrote a letter to the judge asking that his daughter receive probation and not be ordered to pay restitution for the roughly $500,000 authorities believe still is missing.
Surrendering her law license — a condition of a plea agreement reached in September for the misapplication of fiduciary property charge — is punishment enough, said her attorney, Bud Ritenour.
“The allegation … crushed her,” added boyfriend Kirk Sherman, also a lawyer. “It just got to the point where she was shell-shocked all the time. To incarcerate her at this point would nothing more than … a cruelty.”
Valicek acknowledged on the stand Tuesday that she never should have taken on a probate case, for which she had no legal experience — especially one involving a family issue.
“Yes, something went wrong,” she said, adding that she never harbored ill intentions. “I take full responsibility for not having done it properly.”
In addition to her 16-count felony indictment in 2009, Valicek has been to jail on three separate occasions in recent years — including a one-night stay in 2008 after she was found in contempt of court for the probate case.
She was arrested for criminal trespassing and driving while intoxicated in April 2011 after she allegedly drove her vehicle into a golf course sand trap at San Antonio Country Club. She picked up an additional DWI arrest in August, causing her to be held without bond for a week.
Lawyer avoids prison for $500,000 embezzlement
November 20, 2012
San Antonio Express-News