The unauthorized practice of law: woman posing as lawyer sentenced to jail and banned from legal profession

lawyer2n-2-webIn late December 2014, a woman was arrested in Summit County on allegations that she had been impersonating a Utah attorney and handling cases in court, representing actual clients under another attorney’s name.  The woman, identified as Karla Carbo, then 29 and residing in South Jordan, was arrested and booked into the Summit County Jail on suspicion of felony fraud, forgery and identity theft.

Carbo Held Self Out as an Attorney, Using Real Attorney’s Bar Information

Investigators said that Carbo had held herself out as an attorney in several jurisdictions, including impersonating an attorney at least times in the six months before her arrest.  Carbo was arrested within a week negotiating felony counts down to misdemeanors on behalf of her client in Summit County.  In fact it was that exact plea deal that garnered the attention of the Utah Bar Association.  The Bar told police that Carbo had been using a legitimate attorney’s name and bar number to represent clients without a license.

Police said that Carbo had represented to the courts that her name was Karla Stirling Fierro, but that the bar number Carbo gave as her own actually belonged to Utah attorney Karla Stirling.  In an interview, Stirling said, “It’s been shocking to hear that there’s been somebody else whose doing this with my name and my bar number.  I mean, who would take it that far to full-on impersonate someone and use a legitimate bar number?”

Stirling Was Completely Unaware Carbo Was Posing as Her

Stirling said that she found out about Carbo’s impersonation of her when she was contacted by the Draper City Justice Court about a pending hearing.  Stirling told the court she had no idea what they were talking about, and that she did not even practice criminal law.  “I said, ‘I don’t know what this is. There must be some mistake.’ And they went back and checked and said, ‘Oh no, this is no mistake,'” Stirling said.

“I don’t do any criminal work. I’ve never done any criminal work or immigration or personal injury. I’ve done business contracts, real estate,” Stirling said.  “I have not done any litigation matters in Utah.  There shouldn’t be any court files with my name or my bar number in Utah whatsoever.”

Soon after the court contacted Stirling, the Summit County Attorney’s Office got a call from the Utah State Bar telling them “that Fierro was not an attorney.”

Utah AG’s Office Takes Over Prosecution

In April 2015, the Utah Attorney General’s Office took over the prosecution of Carbo’s case.  That meant that Summit County prosecutor’s agreed to dismiss the charges pending against Carbo there, while new charges would be filed by the State in 3rd District Court.  The State charged Carbo with 12 felony counts, including one count each of second-degree felony engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity and identity fraud, along with five counts of second-degree felony communications fraud.  The charges also include five counts of third-degree felony forgery, court records show.

Carbo Pleads Guilty to Felony Counts, Including UPUAA Count

In July 2015, Carbo accepted a plea deal from State prosecutors, which required her to plead guilty to second-degree felony counts of pattern of unlawful activity, identity fraud, communication fraud, and one third-degree felony count of forgery.  In exchange for Carbo’s pleas, prosecutors dismissed eight other counts.  As part of the plea deal, Carbo agreed to pay more than $7,000 in restitution – money she earned as legal fees for her misrepresented services.  As it related to sentencing, prosecutors told Judge Keith Kelly at the plea hearing that they would be asking the court to impose a 90-day jail sentence with probation to follow that.

Carbo Sentenced to 62 Days in Jail, Ordered to Pay Restitution, and Banished From Legal Profession

At the sentencing hearing in September 2015, Judge Kelly sentenced Carbo to 62 days in jail.  Judge Kelly suspended potential prison terms of up to 15 years and, per a plea agreement negotiated by attorneys, ordered her to serve 90 days in jail, but gave her credit for 28 days already served.  Judge Kelly also imposed 36 months of probation, which required Carbo to complete 75 hours of community service, as well as obtain treatment to address theft issues.  Carbo was also ordered to pay approximately $7,274 in restitution to five clients wo paid for her fraudulent legal services.  Finally, Judge Kelly ordered that Carbo not engage in any legal-related employment.

Carbo’s attorney said of the sentence, “She understands she has harmed these people. She understands she has harmed the legal system.”  “She’s a hardworking mother and she just wants to put this behind her,” her attorney added.

Carbo Victims Offered “Do-Over”

As it relates to the plea deal Carbo negotiated just prior to her arrest, Summit County attorney Matthew Bates said, “This is a very serious matter because we know of at least one person out there now who has pled guilty to a crime without having a competent attorney.”  Further, Bates said that the judge in that case had sent a notice to the defendant telling him what had happened and scheduled a new court date, at which time the defendant will be allowed to be appointed a real attorney as well as withdraw his guilty plea if he wants to, and that Bates’ office would not object to a “do-over.”

“Legally, he has pretty solid grounds to withdraw his plea if he wanted to because the plea was essentially uncounseled and an uncounseled plea is a violation of the Constitution,” Bates said.

While, Carbo’s criminal matter may have been resolved, the Utah Pattern of Unlawful Activity Act (“UPUAA”) allows persons harmed by a pattern of unlawful activity to file a civil suit against the wrongdoer.  That portion of the UPUAA allows a person injured through a pattern of unlawful activity to recover “twice the damages” he or she “sustains,” as well as “the costs of suit, including reasonable attorney fees” if they prevail.  A civil action under the UPUAA must be commenced “within three years after the conduct prohibited by Section 76-10-1603 terminates or the cause of action accrues, whichever is later.”

Contact Our UPUAA Team Today

To date it does not appear that any of Carbo’s victims have filed suit against her under the civil prong of the UPUAA, but they still have time.  If you or someone you know has been a victim of a pattern of unlawful activity, do not hesitate to call our UPUAA attorney team for a consultation.  Conversely, if you have been arrested and charged with a violation of the UPUAA, which is a second-degree felony, please contact our UPUAA attorneys for a consultation as well.  Our UPUAA attorneys can be reached by telephone at (801) 323-5000 or by email at

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Apple stock scheme lands Utah man in prison

wall-street-HPursuant to the Utah Pattern of Unlawful Activity Act (“UPUAA”), the state must prove that an individual engaged in a “pattern of unlawful activity.”  As defined by the statute, a “‘[p]attern of unlawful activity’ means engaging in conduct which constitutes the commission of at least three episodes of unlawful activity.”  The UPUAA lists approximately 64 violations of Utah law that constitute unlawful activity for purposes of the UPUAA.  A Violation of the Utah Uniform Securities Act is included within the offenses that constitute “unlawful activity” under the UPUAA.

In a case that has involved an investigation and lawsuit by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), a federal prosecution for obstruction of justice and providing false information, and state charges for securities fraud and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, Third District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills recently sentenced Roger S. Bliss to a minimum of four years in the Utah State Prison.  Mr. Bliss’ sentence follows his guilty plea to four counts of communications fraud and one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity.  Judge Hruby-Mills said that Mr. Bliss’ four year sentence will run consecutively with his one-year prison term imposed from federal court as it relates to the charges of obstruction of justice and providing false information.

SEC Files Suit

In February 2015, the SEC sued Mr. Bliss in Utah federal court.  In its complaint, the SEC alleged Mr. Bliss solicited investors by offering them a membership in purported investment club.  Mr. Bliss communicated to potential investors that he could day trade (speculation in securities) Apple stock for annual returns of 100 to 300 percent and that he had not lost money on a day trade in the last six years, the SEC said.

In order to further entice investors, Mr. Bliss told them that he was trading more than $300 million in assets.  However, the SEC has said that Mr. Bliss’ brokerage account actually showed losses of at least $3 million over a three year period, with an ending balance of only $32,000.

According to court papers filed by the SEC, Mr. Bliss allegedly structured the scheme as an investment club following a meeting with attorneys, whereby the attorneys told him that structuring the scheme as an investment club would keep him from having to register as an investment adviser or a broker-dealer.

SEC Obtains TRO and Asset Freeze

On the same day the SEC lawsuit was filed, a Utah federal court also entered a temporary restraining order and asset freeze against Mr. Bliss.  In July 2015, the SEC filed a motion for an order to show cause, claiming that Mr. Bliss had violated the court’s asset freeze when he failed to disclose ownership of a catamaran and had the boat removed from his property five days after the asset freeze was entered.  In response to the SEC’s motion, Mr. Bliss said in a sworn declaration that his brother-in-law, Kevin Fortney, who had not been named in the SEC’s lawsuit, owned the boat but stored it at his house in Bear Lake during the off-season.

Mr. Bliss Held in Contempt

Following the statements in Mr. Bliss’ sworn declaration, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby held Mr. Bliss in civil contempt.  Judge Shelby stayed any sanctions against Mr. Bliss, and, instead, referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah for a consideration of whether criminal charges should be brought against Mr. Shelby for criminal contempt.

Mr. Bliss and Mr. Fortney Indicted in Utah Federal Court

In August 2015, Mr. Bliss and Mr. Fortney were indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly lying about the ownership of the catamaran during the SEC’s investigation.  Mr. Bliss ultimately pled guilty to the federal charges, and was sentenced to a one-year prison term.

As previously noted, State charges were also filed against Mr. Bliss in connection with his alleged Apple investment scheme, including four counts of securities fraud and one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity.  The State was able to include a charge for engaging in a pattern of unlawful because they had alleged four “episodes” of securities fraud attributable to Mr. Bliss.  A charge under the UPUAA is a second degree felony, but also carries the potential penalties of cost of suit, restitution, disgorgement, or other reasonable restrictions that may be placed on the future activities or investments of the individual, including ordering the dissolution or reorganization of any enterprise as defined by the UPUAA.

Mr. Bliss Ordered to Pay Restitution in Addition to Prison Time

Mr. Bliss ultimately pled guilty to the State charges, which led to the court imposing a four-year sentence against him.  In addition to sentencing Mr. Bliss to prison, the court also ordered him to pay approximately $21 million in restitution to the victims of his securities scheme.