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Local attorney sent to prison for embezzling from clients

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A 44-year-old Hendersonville attorney was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling from clients, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced.

Howard Trade Elkins was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Asheville on wire fraud charges for embezzling client funds from his law office’s trust account. U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger also ordered Elkins to serve two years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term.
According to court filings, plea documents and court proceedings, Elkins was an attorney with a private practice in Hendersonville. From 2012 to 2017, Elkins engaged in a scheme to embezzle from his law office’s trust account. During the relevant time period, Elkins served as an attorney for estates of deceased individuals. In his duties as the estate attorney, Elkins received funds from various sources into his law firm’s trust account, and was obligated to expend the money to pay various debts and inheritances as directed. According to court records, Elkins would, at times, deposit funds from estate clients into his law firm’s trust account, but did not use the funds as directed. Instead, Elkins embezzled the funds and used it to support his own lifestyle, to gamble, to make lulling payments to other victim clients and to satisfy potential debts and demands related to his legal work.
“Elkins’ clients trusted him and relied on him to carry out his duties as their attorney. Instead, Elkins used his law firm’s trust account as his personal piggy bank,” Murray said. “Elkins’ misconduct is reprehensible and, more importantly, it erodes the public’s trust in our legal system."
Elkins pleaded guilty in November 2017 to wire fraud. He will be ordered to report to the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his sentence upon designation of a federal facility.
The investigation was handled by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gast of the federal prosecutor's Asheville office prosecuted the case.