‘Tremendous fall from grace’: Matson asks for 37-month prison sentence

Disbarred attorney Bruce Matson is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 22. (BizSense file)

Less than two weeks before Bruce Matson is set to go in front of a federal judge to learn his fate, representatives from both sides of his criminal case have weighed in on how much time the disgraced veteran Richmond lawyer should spend behind bars.

The longtime former LeClairRyan attorney, who has admitted to stealing several million dollars from the LandAmerica bankruptcy estate while serving as trustee, has asked for a prison sentence of no more than 37 months, according to court filings Monday.

Federal prosecutors recommend a punishment of no less than 46 months and a $250,000 fine.

Judge John Gibney will have the ultimate say at a sentencing hearing Nov. 22 at Richmond’s federal courthouse. Matson has pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The pre-sentencing filings in the case this week paint two pictures of Matson, who is now 64-years-old and has been disbarred.

Dozens of letters filed with the court on Matson’s behalf pray for leniency from the judge, extolling an otherwise standup lawyer, husband, father, friend and church-goer who in their eyes made an inexplicable, out-of-character error in judgment.

“Bruce Matson has had a tremendous fall from grace,” his attorneys wrote in a 26-page memo this week. “He stands before this court not only humiliated and ashamed but with steadfast contrition. He hopes that, after serving his sentence, he can return to his family and community and re-establish himself as a productive, contributing member of society.”

The prosecution sees a calculating, multi-year scheme built on Matson abusing his stature in the relatively small circle of high-level bankruptcy attorneys and sullying the near-sacred trust given to such trustees.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office describes “furious but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to conceal a course of criminal conduct that spanned from 2015 to 2019, during which time the defendant used his position as a court-appointed fiduciary to embezzle, misappropriate, and dissipate more than $4 million from the bankruptcy trust he had been entrusted with.

“His long expertise in bankruptcy matters ensured that he knew when and where his opportunities for grift lay,” the prosecution said in its 13-page argument.

Those in Matson’s camp, while not excusing his crimes, argue that extraordinary circumstances in his personal life, ignited further by the then-looming demise of LeClairRyan, led to his uncharacteristic actions. He has no prior criminal record.

“We respectfully submit that this storm of events led an otherwise law-abiding man to engage in wrongful conduct,” his attorneys wrote. Many details of his personal and familial struggles are redacted in court filings out of privacy concerns for family members.

Prosecutors say Matson’s theft was discovered mainly because of LeClairRyan’s bankruptcy, which led to its finances being combed through by a trustee.

The LeClairRyan office is padlocked in the file photo. (BizSense file)

“The collapse of the defendant’s law firm produced – for the defendant, at least – an unwelcome review of the law firm’s active engagements,” including his pillaging of the millions of dollars in the LandAmerica bankruptcy wind-down account, prosecutors state. “Aware that close scrutiny would expose his criminal conduct, the defendant engaged in a course of obstructive conduct.”

The obstructions in question include Matson lying in letters and in-person testimony to the bankruptcy court once the missing LandAmerica funds were discovered in 2019. He also created fraudulent bank accounts and padded the LandAmerica wind-down budget to allow funds to flow more freely and undetected.

Matson was ultimately removed, despite his objections, as LandAmerica’s trustee, a position he held since the company’s collapse in 2008. He later admitted to skimming from another bankruptcy trustee case.

“The defendant cannot credibly argue that his actions were the result of a momentary lapse in judgment, or the sad byproduct of a particularly stressful time period,” the prosecution states.

Both sides do agree that Matson has taken full responsibility for his crimes, has cooperated with the government’s investigation, paid back all of the money stolen and is aware that what he’s done deserves punishment.

The dozens of letters of support filed with the court came from family members, fellow attorneys, former legal assistants, friends, fellow church members, and pals from his time on the Appalachian trail.

Cheryl Matson, his wife of more than 40 years, described to Judge Gibney an exemplary, loving husband and father to their two daughters, while also trying to reconcile how he and his family ended up in this situation.

“While we all stumble, I am still in absolute shock and at a total loss to understand Bruce’s missteps in this matter as they are not at all consistent with the man I know as my husband,” Mrs. Matson wrote. “These are conditions I could never have imagined.”

Letters also describe numerous instances of his generosity, including helping family members, employees and even relative strangers in need. He consistently helped other attorneys and legal assistants progress in their careers, letters state.

Gary LeClair

Among the letters is one from Gary LeClair, co-founder and namesake of LeClairRyan who worked with Matson for decades as the firm’s longtime leader. Now with Williams Mullen, LeClair is himself ensnared in a legal battle with LeClaiRyan’s bankruptcy trustee.

He emphasized that his relationship with Matson was not as one of close friendship, but of his being a trusted, loyal colleague in the context of running a law firm.

“For most everything under the sun, there has been a season for us,” LeClair said of all he and Matson went through at the firm. “And for every one of those seasons, Bruce has been a strong and constant pillar of virtue. I have never doubted his inherent goodness.”

LeClair, who states in the letter that he and Matson have never discussed the LandAmerica matter, laments that he didn’t do more to help Matson as things went awry.

“I must, however, confess that when Bruce could have benefited from a partner’s helping hand, I sat idly by. Perhaps when the strong stumble, we should not assume that they will always quickly and without error right themselves,” LeClair said.

Of the 50-or-so letters submitted to the court, LeClair’s is one of the few that attempts to explain at-length why Matson may have strayed from his seemingly virtuous path. He theorized it was due to a man trying to do too much in the face of mounting pressures from his personal and professional lives.

“The top tier respected and trusted partner that I had known now was not himself and appeared scattered and, in my view, deeply distracted and overly stressed,” LeClair wrote, describing Matson’s state during the time in question. “While brilliant, Bruce was never one for details and his best work was accomplished when he executed matters with the detailed support and review of others. His state in late 2018 and the changes experienced by his law firm during that period exacerbated that weakness.

“The impending failure of our firm during the summer of 2019, and the events leading up to it, added to Bruce’s state,” LeClair added. “Bruce believed in our values and invested the best years of his career in practicing law there and leading it. A failure of his life’s work was crushing.”

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Eric Perkins
Eric Perkins
19 days ago

Such an egregious breach of fiduciary duty and complete absence of ethics warrants serious punishment, but that in no way should erase or devalue an otherwise distinguished track record of charitable works and professional accomplishments. It appears there are a number of genuine mitigating factors that will be given due consideration by the judge when rendering a prison sentence, which it appears both sides agree is warranted. Also worth noting that the defendant appears to have unequivocally accepted full responsibility for his misconduct rather than deflect or deny his guilt. Accountability is an important part of the justice system.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
19 days ago
Reply to  Eric Perkins

I’m really not sure what factors mitigate this?

Here and in the RTD are vague mentions of “personal” issues, what are those?

Also, keeping up a fiction, making multiple fake accounts, seems like he was engaged in the behaviour in a way that is not like a brief lapse.

Matt Merica
Matt Merica
19 days ago
Reply to  Eric Perkins

The guy is a thief and a liar, and who gives a rip about anything he did prior to STEALING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS? He has accountability because HE GOT CAUGHT. Don’t be obtuse.

Ian James
Ian James
19 days ago
Reply to  Eric Perkins

Sounds like the words of a lawyer, and Matt is 100% correct. He has accountability because he got caught. Let’s not give credit to criminals who don’t deserve it.

Ken Cloud
Ken Cloud
19 days ago
Reply to  Eric Perkins

Lawyers covering for other lawyers. Color me shocked.

Bob Law
Bob Law
19 days ago
Reply to  Eric Perkins

He accepted full responsibility…once his attempts to deny, deflect, and mislead failed.

Last edited 19 days ago by Bob Law
Steven Andrew cohen
Steven Andrew cohen
18 days ago

Great, lawyer, pillar of community, church goer. He stole, he broke the law and was an attorney on top of it who know the laws. Screw him, let the system work and let the sentence be appropriate.

kay christensen
kay christensen
18 days ago

His acts were heinous and he bastardized the legal process- and he knew what he was doing. Lawyers like this guy are a cancer on the society- he should be given the maximum allowable prison sentence.

Fred Squire
Fred Squire
18 days ago

So let me get this straight, attorneys writing recommendation letters for each other, to ask for leniency over crimes they are all accused of/convicted or on trial for in some way or another.

And other lawyers vouching that it’s ok to commit crimes as a lawyer as long as you acknowledge you committed a crime after you were caught.

Ha!

This article feels more like a paid advertisement by the convicted/accused before sentencing.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
16 days ago

Now hold on here all you posters that have lots of upvotes. What Perkins up here has said is that he should be punished, and I am not generally a fan of lawyers, etc, but let’s try to put this into some kind of perspective. Two of the reasons we HAVE prisons is to 1. Punish and 2. Protect Society. This is not some person who has had multiple convictions of violence or theft — such people are often a menace even AFTER their reputations are destroyed — this guy will have a hard time victimizing people now — he… Read more »

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
13 days ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

Hard disagree. If he had returned the money BEFORE he got caught that might be mitigating. “I stole it, i felt bad, i put it back” would do it for me. Everything he did since he got caught was because he got caught. I also find it very very telling that you refer to other criminals as ” lower class”. Matson lived his entire life floating on a cloud of wealth and privilege, and even that wasn’t enough for him, he had more then most of the City of Richmond, more than 99% of the Commonwealth, and indeed more than… Read more »