Pound for pound, Richmond seems to get its fair share of high-profile white-collar crime cases.
And that trait was never more apparent than in 2022, as several captivating crimes perpetrated by local businessmen played out in Richmond courtrooms.
LandAmerica v. Matson
A saga that was thought to have been put to rest in 2021 reared its head again in 2022, when disgraced veteran Richmond attorney Bruce Matson was sued by the LandAmerica bankruptcy estate from which he stole millions of dollars. The case was made that much more interesting by the fact that Matson was in prison, and it turned out that litigating against a savvy attorney who’s behind bars isn’t so easy.
Perhaps overshadowed by Matson’s case, his co-conspirator in the missing-money scandal quietly surrendered his law and CPA licenses early in the year, although he was never charged criminally or civilly.
U.S. v. Michael Hild
Another holdover from 2021, it took until nearly the end of 2022 for a ruling to be made in the criminal case of Michael Hild. Eighteen months after he was found guilty by a jury and despite plenty of bizarre post-trial antics between him and his former attorney, a judge upheld Hild’s conviction for the fraud that toppled his once-fast-growing Chesterfield-based mortgage company, Live Well Financial.
Hild is set to be sentenced Jan. 27 and still faces scrutiny from Live Well’s bankruptcy trustee.
The trial of Josh Romano
The tale of flash-in-the-pan local house flipper Josh Romano came to a head in 2022 with a trial during which he took the stand in his own defense. Romano ultimately was found guilty of defrauding investors and awaits sentencing. The former paralegal who helped him move the money pleaded guilty and has already learned her fate.
Moe Matthews’ PPP fraud
Tempted by the flood of easy money from the federal government’s PPP program during the pandemic, local real estate investor Moe Matthews is now serving 41 months in federal prison for going to the PPP spigot eight times too many using bogus information. He pleaded guilty and apologized at sentencing but the judge showed little leniency.
Homebuilder Romm’s bankruptcy fraud
It turns out you can’t secretly buy a boat during your bankruptcy proceedings. That’s in part what earned local homebuilder William Romm 30 months in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud.
Matson’s former law firm, LeClairRyan, continues to be liquidated in a bankruptcy case that’s been underway since the firm’s collapse in 2019. The trustee in that case scored a big pool of cash for creditors through a high-profile settlement. The case will continue to play out in 2023 and likely beyond.
Other legal maneuverings
On the lighter side of law, there were plenty of attorneys and firms making moves during the year.
Rob Kaplan, a namesake of the downtown’s Kaplan Voekler Cunningham & Frank, left the firm to join up with larger competitor Whiteford Taylor & Preston.
In one of the quirkier stories of the year, two personal injury law firms that had merged in 2019 decided to amicably split up due to irreconcilable differences. “I know people say breakups are never mutual, but this really was one,” one of the attorneys said.
Two law firm mergers caused ripples in Richmond during the year. First was that of Roanoke-based Woods Rogers and Norfolk-based Vandeventer Black, which led to a merger of the two firms’ Richmond offices. Second, was the marriage of McGonigle, a 44-attorney firm with an office in Innsbrook, and Davis Wright Tremaine, which has around 550 lawyers nationwide. The combination brought the Davis Wright flag to Richmond for the first time.
It wouldn’t be a normal year without some lawyer poaching. Sure enough, a group of five attorneys left Hirschler for larger rival Reed Smith.
Looking for some extra visibility after quietly growing its ranks here in recent years, Norfolk law firm Pierce McCoy grabbed a street-level office space downtown as it looks to continue to attract local talent.
Finally, some Richmond-area attorneys found a way to unwind and show off their non-law-related skills. Lawyerpalooza, an annual battle of the bands with lawyers as musicians, held its first fully in-person show since the pandemic began.