Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Judge Michael Ernest sentenced Edd K. Wright, 83, on Tuesday for two counts of aggravated theft and one count of theft.
"You were put in a position of trust," the judge said. "You violated that trust. You were there to protect funds and you comandeered those funds for your own use."
Ernest said Wright abused his position as a fiduciary, causing serious economic harm to heirs who anticipated receiving proceeds from the estates.
"These funds were not a loan," the judge said. "You can't just borrow somebody else's funds. They were out of their hands during that time period. They were unable to use their own property because you chose to use it for your own needs.
"It's not just the heirs that suffer as a result of this," Ernest said. "It is lack of confidence that the public has in a justice system that is already subject to question, many times, by individuals that feel it it is rigged, that feel it is unfair to those on the outside."
The judge said he could not overlook the fact Wright tried to conceal the thefts.
"It only comes to light after probate court essentially calls you on the carpet and says, 'What is going on? This has been dragging on for years.' And, at the end, you're unable to provide any explanation other than, 'I took the funds and I used them,'" Ernest said.
Wright pleaded no contest in March to the criminal charges. Ernest found him guilty.
Defense attorney David Hipp said most of the money has been repaid. He said he is holding one check for $1,829 that was written to an heir, but was returned.
One aggravated theft charge said Wright took $228,437 in proceeds from the estate of a man between March 1, 2018 and April 30, 2021. The second aggravated theft charge said he took $164,000 in proceeds from another man's estate between June 1, 2012 and July 31, 2021. The theft charge said the defendant took $1,829 from the proceeds of a woman's estate between April 1, 2019 and April 30, 2019.
The defense attorney asked the judge to consider probation rather than incarceration because Wright is remorseful and has made restitution. Hipp said prison might not be the best place for him close to the end of his life. He said Wright had a heart valve replaced several years ago.
Ernest noted that Wright told the Community Corrections Program that his health is excellent. The county agency prepared a background report about the defendant.
Hipp said he has heard from veterans who are very supportive of Wright, a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was deputy inspector general in Europe for European forces, Hipp said. He said many of Wright's former clients have also expressed support.
Wright made no comment at his sentencing.
The judge said health-related issues may have led to the theft.
"Your years of living a law-abiding life are not lost on me. Your 30-plus years in the military are not lost on me. I recognize that you have lived a good life, and that this is not a reflection of everything that Edd Wright has been or has ever done. It is an ugly end of a legal career," Ernest said.
Ernest ordered Wright to report to the county jail May 17. The judge said he will be screened for placement in a geriatric prison. Ernest gave him credit for two days already spent in the county jail.
He ordered Wright to pay court costs and the final $1,829 restitution payment.
Wright formerly had a law office at 134 Fourth St. NW, New Philadelphia. The Ohio Supreme Court accepted his resignation from the practice of law April 18, while disciplinary action was pending against him.
Carroll County Prosecutor Steven Barnett served as special prosecutor on the case.
maximum penalty for aggravated theft is three years in prison and a
$10,000 fine. The maximum penalty for theft is a year in prison and a