Former attorney Moote pleads guilty, assets go to victims

Former Freeland attorney Peter Moote will pay back his victims.

A former Freeland attorney pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to embezzling more than $1 million from his clients through a mail fraud scheme.

Peter Moote was charged earlier this month with mail fraud and was expected to plead guilty to the single count as part of a plea agreement. He’s agreed to pay restitution to his victims and has cooperated with a receivership set up in Island County Superior Court to divide his assets among more than 30 victims.

Moote is scheduled to be sentenced June 22 before a U.S. District Court judge in Seattle.

Moote defrauded his clients from the 1990s through early 2011, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon. He resigned in lieu of disbarment in 2010 after he was accused of stealing from clients.

Moote was a longtime civil attorney with an office in Freeland, representing clients in connection with personal injury, sexual harassment, discrimination and other cases. He negotiated settlements for many clients — sometimes without the client’s knowledge — and received settlement checks on their behalf. He embezzled from client settlement funds and used the money “to pay his personal living expenses, his family’s living expenses, law firm expenses, mortgage payments, and for gambling, among other things,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

While the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office states Moote stole “more than $1 million,” documents in the receivership case show that claims total $4.5 million.

A detective with the Island County Sheriff’s Office started investigating Moote in 2010, but the case was then referred to the FBI. Attorneys from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Oregon are handling the prosecution due to a conflict with the Seattle office.