A suspended Newport Beach attorney and church president was sentenced today to 12 years in prison for stealing more than $780,000 from nine victims, including two elderly sisters he met at church, offered to assist with finances and promptly embezzled more than $720,000 from their trust account.
The judge also ordered 47-year-old Peter David Nitschke to pay about $1.1 million in restitution.
Two of Nitschke's victims told the court today about the financial, physical, physiological and medical damage they suffered.
He cut a deal with the court that had him pleading guilty Feb. 3 to six felony counts of grand theft, two felony counts of elder financial abuse, and one felony count of issuing a check with non-sufficient funds, with white collar crime sentencing enhancements.
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Nitschke, whose law office was in Irvine, was also president of Lutheran Church of the Cross in Laguna Woods in 2010 when he offered to "help" manage the finances of the two elderly congregants. When the ladies' 95-year-old mother died in March of that year, she left her daughters a Northern California home and more than $675,000 she had in the bank. Nitschke directed the sisters to give him cashiers checks totaling the full amount which, under California State Bar rules, the attorney should have deposited in a trust account for his clients. Instead, he deposited the funds in his personal bank account.
Nitschke also collected $46,000 for different clients from a real estate transaction, but instead of providing them the money he spent some of it and moved the rest into his own accounts. The beginning of the end for the church leader came when the elderly women's family inquired about their funds, which were needed for medical and nursing home expenses. Nitschke handed over a bank statement showing all the funds were safely in a client trust account, but something did not ring true for family members, who contacted the Irvine Police Department.
An investigation concluded Nitschke's real account with the money had already closed with a zero balance and that the bank statement dated that month for the family was fraudulent. After the Orange County District Attorney's office brought charges for that crime, publicity about the case prompted other other church members to come forward with their own incidents where Nitschke ripped them off. More criminal counts followed.