A disbarred attorney once connected to the Sam and Lindsey Porter Foundation was sentenced Monday to three years in federal prison for fraud.
U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple sentenced Harley Kent Desselle, 63, of Raytown, to three years in federal prison with out parole for his role in bank and bankruptcy fraud, which involved stealing funds from the foundation that was set up to build a playground in memory of Sam and Lindsey Porter, the brother and sister from Independence who were kidnapped and killed by their father in 2004.
Whipple also ordered Desselle to pay $348,794 in restitution – $343,045 to one of his victims and $5,749 to the bankruptcy trustee for the U.S. District Court.
Desselle pleaded guilty on May 6 to one count of bank fraud and one count of making a false oath in a bankruptcy proceeding. He also admitted that he defrauded the widow of a longtime friend in an investment fraud scheme.
“This was a pattern of deceit, a series of fraud schemes that spanned at least eight years by a now-disgraced and disbarred attorney,” Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a press release. “He abused his position as an officer of the court to take advantage of a grieving widow and to prey upon the memory of murdered children. He abused the legal system in a fraud-tainted bankruptcy filing. The law that he was sworn to serve, but spurned instead, will hold him accountable.”
Desselle was an attorney in private practice and operated an investment company named New Century Investments. He was suspended from practicing law in December 2008 and disbarred by the Missouri Supreme Court in April 2009,
Desselle began managing the Bank of Grain Valley account of samandlindsey.org Inc. in September 2007. The bodies of Sam and Lindsey Porter were found in September 2007, when donations started flowing in for the memorial. Daniel Porter, their father, pleaded guilty to murdering both a few months later. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
Authorities say Desselle told the children’s mother, Tina Porter, that he would take care of the fund for the playground but that he subsequently did not produce bank statements or other documents she asked for.
In October 2007, Desselle wrote two checks from the fund, both without Tina Porter’s authorization. He deposited one, for $12,000, into his law firm’s account and the other, for $7,500, into New Century Investments, which he ran. Tina Porter found out about that and demanded that he put the money – a total of $19,500 – back into the foundation’s account.
He deposited two checks, one for $19,500 with “original investment” written in the memo line and then a second check for $2,238 with “balance of investment with interest.” The U.S. attorney’s office, however, says that $2,238 actually was money Desselle earned in his law practice or borrowed.
Tina Porter turned the foundation’s money back over to a local bank. The playground did get built just west of Little Blue Parkway and Jackson Drive, behind some businesses and adjacent to the Little Blue Trace hiking and biking trail.
Desselle also admitted to defrauding a widow, Nancy Clifton, of $343,045 in life insurance proceeds after her husband was killed in a motor vehicle accident in 1996. Desselle offered to invest the $750,000 in life insurance proceeds in the New Century business and promised her high yields of return.
Clifton received only two investment statements from Desselle, one in 2006 and one in 2007, that were fraudulent. Clifton thought her money was safe, when in fact it had all been lost between 1998 and 2000. Desselle made false “interest payments” on Clifton’s investments by creating false documents, when the funds actually came from Desselle’s law firm or from funds solicited from family members. One of the payments came from the Sam and Lindsey Porter Foundation account.
Desselle also acted as the attorney for Christina Nunez in her bankruptcy filing in 2008. Nunez owned a motorcycle that wasn’t exempt under bankruptcy law, and Desselle told her to sell the motorcyle and give him the proceeds. She believed he would take the money and pay her creditors. After selling the motorcycle for $13,500, she kept $500 and gave $13,000 to Desselle, who used that money for his own personal expenses rather than payment to Nunez’s creditors.
The bankruptcy court ordered Desselle to refund all the money withdrawn from Nunez’s trust account to the bankruptcy trustee. Desselle refunded $7,251 but kept $5,749.