Lawyers aren’t supposed to fall for Nigerian inheritance scams…

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By Alex Aldridge on

A US lawyer is at the centre of a storm of legal blogosphere ridicule after being duped by a classic Nigerian inheritance scam…

Iowa-based criminal lawyer Robert Allan Wright Jr was persuaded that one of his clients was the beneficiary of a huge $18.8m (£11.5m) legacy from a long-lost cousin in Nigeria.

The problem? The client, Floyd Lee Madison, needed to pay $177,660 (£109,000) in Nigerian inheritance tax for an “anti-terrorism certificate” in order to receive the money, and didn’t have the means to do so.

If only someone could help out…

This is where the brilliant idea was hatched for Wright to borrow money from some of his other clients in order to pay for the “anti-terrorism certificate”, in return for 10% ($1.8m) of the massive inheritance for himself.

By the way, this is what happens when you Google “anti-terrorism certificate”.

Having failed to perform the above search, Wright persuaded five current and former clients to lend him $200,000 (£122,000), promising them they’d get four times what they’d put in when the pesky “anti-terrorism certificate” issue was dealt with.

At which point Wright apparently transferred all of this money to the scammers. During this process Wright is said to have spoken to a host of people who identified themselves, variously, as lawyers, bankers and the President of Nigeria.

What happened next was predictable: the money never arrived, the clients became very angry and Wright found himself hauled up in front of the Iowa Supreme Court on a host of misconduct charges.

Last week, he was suspended from practising for a year — a rather lenient sanction that would have been far more severe had the court not deemed Wright to have “clearly believed in the legitimacy of Madison’s inheritance”.

As US legal blog Above the Law put it in their report of the story, “Which is worse: to be unethical or to be stupid — really, really stupid?”

The Iowa Supreme Court’s opinion in the matter is below.

Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board v. Wright