David Dale, a disbarred Buffalo attorney and former Erie County legislator, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony scheme to defraud and to practicing law after being disbarred.
Dale, 50, of Fillmore Avenue, could face up to four years in prison when sentenced by State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns on Aug. 28.
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said Dale maintained a law office following his 2005 disbarment and provided unlawful legal services to unsuspecting clients.
"He's officially a crook now," Sedita said. "I don't care if you're a former attorney, and I don't care if you're a former county legislator. If you commit crimes, we will prosecute you."
Dale admitted stealing money from clients by pretending he was still permitted to provide legal services, Sedita said.
"What he did was plead guilty to conduct that the Appellate Division had already found him guilty of," said defense lawyer Thomas J. Eoannou.
Thirteen other counts were dismissed, Eoannou said.
"David felt it was in his best interest to resolve it in that way," his lawyer said.
Prosecutors John C. Doscher, head of the District Attorney's Special Investigations Bureau, and Brian P. Dassero prosecuted Dale after a months-long investigation and an almost as lengthy search for his whereabouts.
Dale was arrested in September after a grand jury indicted him on charges of collecting more than $10,000 in illegal fees from seven unsus-pecting legal clients for estate and real estate work between August 2008 and January 2011.
Sedita called the prosecution unusual.
"Usually when someone is disbarred, they then do not go out and start practicing law again," he said.
According to prosecutors, Dale used two other attorneys for cover, including Michael W. Rickard II, a former local attorney now serving a 37-month prison term for two Tennessee bank robberies. When finished with that sentence, Rickard will spend an additional 10 months behind bars for his two felony convictions for grand larceny in the theft of almost $63,000 from local clients in 2009.
The two other lawyers were the attorneys of record, with their names on the court documents, Sedita said.
But Dale was doing the legal work and representing himself as an attorney to the people he provided legal services, Sedita said.
"We felt we could defeat the defense that he was merely providing paralegal services to the attorneys of record," Sedita said.
In September, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court fined Dale $1,000 and found him in contempt for continuing to represent himself as an attorney.
The panel of judges cited two instances in 2009 when Dale accepted legal work on behalf of clients. Both matters involved estate work similar to what prompted his disbarment.
In 2005, the appellate court disbarred Dale for mishandling an estate case and costing clients more than $110,000 in penalties for late estate tax payments.
Dale was a county legislator representing the Broadway-Fillmore area for one two-year term, losing his seat when the County Legislature was downsized in 2003. He last held public office in January 2004.