February 17, 2010 in News

On-the-run lawyer back in Spokane

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Claude Irwin, a fugitive disbarred lawyer caught in Mexico after more than a decade, made a video first appearance in Spokane County Superior Court on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010.
(Full-size photo)

A disbarred lawyer on the run for more than a decade returned to Spokane this week to face an accusation that he stole money from a dead client’s estate.

Claude K. Irwin, Jr., appeared in Superior Court on Wednesday through a video feed from the jail, where he was booked just after 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Irwin’s bond was set at $750,000 for a first-degree theft charge. If convicted, Irwin’s lack of a criminal record means he would face 90 days in jail. But he owes millions in claims to creditors and investors for a failed development on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Powderhorn Ridge Ranch.

His 12 years on the run show he’s a flight risk who needed a huge bond, Deputy Prosecutor Shane Smith said.

Smith said he’s reviewing the accusations against Irwin to see if they warrant additional charges.

Irwin’s current charge could carry a stiffer penalty “based on the sheer amount of money that was involved and the fact that he was in a position of trust,” Smith said.

Irwin, 62, declined to be interviewed for this story. He was represented by a public defender Wednesday, who said Irwin plans to hire private counsel.

Irwin had been in jail in Los Angeles since Jan. 27, after he stepped off a plane from Mexico and was arrested.

“I’m glad to see that justice finally caught up with him,” said Don Glovick.

Glovick worked with Irwin on Powderhorn before Irwin disappeared in 1997, leaving Glovick and another investor with $486,000 in stock that’s worthless now.

Glovick got out of the investment shortly after and now lives in Rathdrum, Idaho. Like many people named in civil claims and court documents outlining accusations against Irwin, he moved on long ago and didn’t think Irwin would ever be found.

But a ruse arranged last month by a Spokane-based federal agent temporarily working in Mexico led Irwin to fly to Mexico City thinking he was helping potential customers interested in a tour.

He was detained in Mexico City but thought he was just being deported when he boarded a plane to Los Angeles with immigration officials.

Turns out, a passenger sitting near him was the federal agent who’d posed as a tourist to contact him through a Web site promoting Irwin’s tour business in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. That agent, Bob Doty, arrested Irwin after they arrived on U.S. soil.

A first-degree theft charge filed last month in Spokane County Superior Court contends Irwin took at least $230,000 from a dead woman’s estate that was meant for her beneficiaries, including two colleges and a minister.

Mary Rock’s niece had hired Irwin to administer the estate after Rock died in 1992.

The Washington State Bar Association disbarred Irwin over the allegations. A warrant was issued on the theft charge in 1998.

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