Judge sends ex-lawyer to jail for contempt (MO)

NEOSHO, Mo. — Circuit Judge Kevin Selby assessed suspended Joplin attorney Dan Whitworth 60 days in jail Wednesday for contempt of court in a Newton County probate case.

Whitworth was taken into custody following a civil court hearing in Newton County Circuit Court and booked into the county jail in Neosho.

The 59-year-old Whitworth, who was sentenced by federal Judge M. Douglas Harpool on Thursday to two years in prison for stealing more than $576,000 from clients, had been given until Jan. 6 by Harpool to begin serving the term.

But Selby ordered Whitworth jailed for contempt of court in a probate case involving the estate of Linda Hopkins Merida.

Merida died in 2006 without a will, making the settlement of her estate a probate court matter. An investigation conducted a year ago by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the Missouri Supreme Court found that while court records indicated that her mother, Phyllis Riddle, received $42,930 from liquidation of her daughter’s 401(k) account, Riddle actually had not received any of the money and her signature had been forged on a receipt filed with the court.

The investigation determined that Whitworth used $27,884 of the disbursement to satisfy payments he was supposed to have made for another client in the settlement of a divorce. The remainder was used to meet a personal financial obligation at a bank, the investigation found.

According to a judgment filed Thursday, Selby found Whitworth in indirect contempt of court at a hearing April 16 when he admitted to the allegations against him in the probate case. The judge chose at that time to delay assessment of a criminal penalty to give Whitworth a chance to purge himself of the contempt finding.

When Whitworth appeared in court Thursday and admitted that no money had been paid back into the Merida estate, the judge assessed him 60 days in jail.

The judgment reads: “The court’s delay in committing Mr. Whitworth was based upon his willingness to admit his wrong and to give him the opportunity to make his victim whole. If accomplished, justice would be served and the dignity of the court restored. It was not accomplished.”

Riddle is one of the clients covered by the $404,957 in restitution that Harpool ordered in the federal case. Whitworth, who pleaded guilty in federal court to wire fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns, was ordered to serve three years of supervised release following two years in prison. For the first two years of his release, he will be on home confinement with GPS monitoring.


Judge sends ex-lawyer to jail for contempt
Jeff Lehr
October 15, 2014
The Joplin Globe