Saturday, April 29, 2006

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson's Campaign Funded by Thousands of Dollars From Overcharging Law Firm's Principals

JACKSONVILLE, FLA--- U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, the senior Senator from Florida, is seeking re-election in 2006. Records reveal Nelson's campaign received thousands of dollars in contributions in the years 2003 through 2005 from the principals of a Jacksonville law firm who admit it overcharged its personal injury clients by $130,000 around the same period.

The law firm in question is FARAH, FARAH & ABBOTT, P.A. (a/k/a The Law Offices of Eddie Farah). According to the firm's web site, it is now known as the Law Offices of Farah & Farah, P.A. The principals in the firm are Eddie Farah and his brother, Charlie ("Chuck") E. Farah.

The Law Offices of Eddie Farah employed Florida attorney Jeffrey R. Hill in 2004 when he discovered it was regularly overcharging its personal injury clients by substantial sums. Hill says, "The firm was often 'padding' costs charged to clients by $300 or more per case and had been doing so for several years. Clients were required to sign settlement statements certifying they agreed with the falsified figures before any portion of their settlement funds would be paid to them. The firm's fee contracts, accounting records and settlement statements clearly document its overcharging practices."

Attorneys admit this law firm overcharged clients by $130,000 in the years 2002 through 2004. John A. Weiss, Esq. of Tallahassee represented Eddie and Chuck Farah, before the Bar. Weiss admitted the firm's overcharges in a Sept. 22, 2005 letter to The Bar stating,

"As an aside, I would advise you that the firm has refunded in excess of $120,000.00 ... to those clients who were inadvertently overcharged for costs. Approximately $10,000.00 remains undisbursed because the firm, and the private investigator it subsequently hired, could not find the individuals."

Hill observes, "That certainly sounds like a lot of money to be 'inadvertently' overcharged. The firm would have to overcharge 400 clients by $300 each to reach $120,000."

Even The Florida Bar's own audit confirmed $130,000 in overcharges and a lack of substantial compliance with Bar rules governing trust accounts in the years 2002 through 2004. Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner James F. Wells prepared the report following his audit of Farah's trust account records and procedures. Wells' Audit Report noted,

"Administrative costs that were not substantiated by documentary evidence were charged on some settlement statements in personal injury cases. These administrative costs were in excess of the documented costs such as copies, faxes and postage. Rule 5-1.2(b)(4) requires documentary support for all disbursements from the trust account. These costs were not authorized by the clients."

In discussing corrective action taken, Wells stated,

"The firm reviewed client files and settlement statements to determine the specific clients that had been charged unsubstantiated administrative costs. Refunds totaling approximately $130,000, including interest, were issued to those clients."

Wells concluded,

"In my opinion, Mr. Farah's trust accounting records and procedures in connection with the documentation of costs paid from trust funds during the period from January 1, 2002 through December 31, 2004 were not in substantial compliance with The Florida Bar's rules governing trust accounts." (Emphasis supplied).

Online records show Nelson's campaign received
$12,500 from Eddie Farah and $2,500 from Chuck Farah in 2005 for a total of $15,000 that year. Eddie Farah apparently also contributed $1,000 to Nelson's campaign in 2003. Records for 2004 and 2006 campaigns show the Farah brothers contributed thousands of dollars more to Federal Democratic candidates John Kerry, Betty Castor, Patrick Leahy, Corrine Brown and Debbie Stabenow.

The source of the funds contributed by the Farahs remains in question.

Copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey R. Hill. All rights reserved.