Man who stole from law clients sentenced to 12 years

A Newport Beach man was sentenced by an Orange County Superior Court judge Friday to 12 years in state prison for stealing more than $780,000 from nine victims while acting as their attorney.

Peter David Nitschke, 47, pleaded guilty Feb. 3 to six felony counts of grand theft, two felony counts of elder financial abuse and one count of issuing a check with non-sufficient funds. He also received white-collar-crime sentencing enhancements.

The stolen money included more than $720,000 from a trust account he administered for two elderly sisters-in-law he had met through the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Laguna Woods. Nitschke was president of the congregation, according to a news release from the Orange County district attorney's office.

The two women, 69 and 65, were left property and more than $675,000 in bank accounts after a relative died. Nitschke, then an Irvine-based attorney, offered to help the women settle their financial affairs and directed them to give him cashiers checks in the amount of all the funds left to them in the bank, according to the release.

Nitschke stole more than $675,000 from the women by depositing the money into his client trust and immediately transferring the money to his personal and business bank accounts, the release said. He also stole $46,000 by failing to return to them funds from a real estate transaction, it added.

The victims' family members called Irvine police in May 2012 when they became suspicious.

Nitschke was arrested in September of that year. After the case was publicized, more victims came forward.

According to the district attorney's office, he asked a couple from his church to invest in a civil case, asking for $50,000 with the promise to repay it with 20% interest. After the couple hired an attorney to retrieve their money, Nitschke made several payments until he bounced a check.

He took $1,000 from another church member for a loan modification but did no work on the matter and failed to return the money, the release said.

While representing a client in a lawsuit, Nitschke negotiated a settlement of $22,500. He neglected to pay the $15,000 of that that the client was owed, the release said.

Nitschke was hired for $7,000 to represent a client in a foreclosure action but failed to do any work on the matter and did not return the money, according to the release.

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