A once high-flying asbestos litigation attorney was all set Friday to plead guilty to fraud involving thousands of clients, but a federal judge in Miami put the brakes on the deal to give victims a chance to be heard.
Louis S. Robles, accused of defrauding nearly 4,400 clients out of $13.5 million, reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to two of the 41 mail fraud counts lodged against him. He would probably serve about 10 years in prison under the deal.
But U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold raised concerns about how restitution would be made to the victims when the government has only about $1.3 million in frozen Robles bank accounts to pay out. Robles is involved in several bankruptcy proceedings, and some settlement money that could go to his victims is also tied up in bankruptcies involving asbestos companies.
Prosecutor Michael Davis said the victims contacted by the Miami U.S. attorney’s office were satisfied with the deal, but Gold said he was not. He postponed the hearing until May 21 to allow time for any victim to write a letter or appear in person about the agreement.
“Then I will make my determination whether to accept this plea or not,” Gold said.
Robles’ court-appointed lawyer did not comment after the hearing. Alicia Valle, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, said “we welcome the opportunity to survey even more victims of this fraud and we will do so by mail.”
Robles, 59, once represented more than 7,000 clients in lawsuits against companies that made asbestos, which has been linked to cancer and other health problems. From January 1989 through September 2002, Robles collected more than $164 million from about 75,000 settlements, according to court records.
He lived in a 9,000-square-foot waterfront mansion on Key Biscayne, maintained apartments in New York and Los Angeles and a condominium in Telluride, Colo., traveling mainly by limousine and private jet.
But prosecutors say he also stole from his own clients, often by claiming that their money hadn’t been received or paying them far less than they were due. Robles was disbarred in 2003 after a Florida Bar investigation into this practices.
Some of the money went for the real estate and for Robles’ investments in movie productions and a waste management firm, prosecutors say.
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