Peter David Nitschke was an Irvine-based attorney and president of Lutheran Church of the Cross in Laguna Woods in 2010 when he offered to "help" manage the finances of two elderly sisters he knew from the congregation, after the death of their 95-year-old mother.
But, on Tuesday, Irvine Police arrested the Newport Beach 45-year-old for allegedly embezzling more than $720,000 from the church ladies.
When the mother died in March 2010, she left her 65- and 69-year-old daughters, identified as Diane C. and Virginia C. respectively, a Northern California home and more than $675,000 in bank accounts.
Nitschke is accused of directing the women to give him cashier's checks in the amount of all the funds left to them in the bank accounts by their mother--and then depositing the more than $675,000 into his personal bank accounts.
The California State Bar requires attorneys to place such funds in trust accounts for their clients.
The attorney is further accused of stealing $46,000 more by failing to return funds from a real estate transaction, money that authorities claim Nitschke spent or moved into other accounts.
Family members inquired about the sisters' funds earlier this year, as they were needed for medical and nursing home expenses. Nitschke allegedly handed over a bank statement showing all the funds were safely in a client trust account.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
But something did not ring true with the family, which contacted the Irvine Police Department in May. An investigation concluded Nitschke's real account with the money closed with a zero balance and that the bank statement dated that month for the family was fraudulent, according to a joint statement from police and the Orange County District Attorney's office.
The church-leading attorney is charged with two felony counts of theft from an elder with sentencing enhancements and allegations for over $100,000 loss, aggravated white collar crime over $500,000, and property loss over $200,000.
If convicted, Nitschke could get up to 12 years in state prison. He was being held in lieu of $725,000 bail Tuesday, in anticipation of arraignment today in Santa Ana.