FORT LAUDERDALE — A former attorney faces seven years in prison after pleading guilty to charges related to an insurance settlement scam.
Mark F. Dickson, 68, who had a private practice, surrendered in Broward Circuit Judge Lisa Porter’s courtroom Oct. 19. He had pleaded guilty to 13 counts of grand theft. He’s now in Florida State Prison, according to a news release from the Broward State Attorney’s Office.
Dickson represented insurance companies who needed help recovering damages from the at-fault party involved in a claim. But in his scheme, he would allegedly tell representatives working for his clients that, for whatever reason, the claim hadn’t been resolved. He then supposedly would recommend the claim representative “close the file,” according to the release.
In reality, he purportedly negotiated settlements behind his clients’ backs and kept the money that was owed to the insurance companies by depositing it into his practice’s operating account. He allegedly would then withdraw the funds for personal use.
"He used his bar license to conduct these thefts," Florida Assistant State Attorney Catherine Maus had said in court.
Dickson was caught when another attorney reported him to the Florida Bar, Ron Ishoy, a spokesperson for the Broward State Attorney’s office in Fort Lauderdale, told the Florida Record.
“There was good interagency cooperation throughout this case,” Ishoy said. “The Florida Bar, the Broward State Attorney’s Office and Broward Sheriff’s Office worked very closely together to make this successful prosecution happen.”
The Pembrook Pines attorney was arrested in April 2013, about a month after the Florida Supreme Court disbarred him. Dickson was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1975 after earning his degree from the St. John’s University School of Law.
On March 11, 2013, Dickson was disbarred for multiple offenses, including using $1.6 million in funds belonging to his clients. He was also accused of committing forgery and false notarization in at least seven cases. He entered into settlements without client authorization or knowledge and failed to keep proper trust accounting records and to communicate sufficiently with clients. He also gave false testimony to the Florida Bar.
Dickson was prevented from practicing law when the Supreme Court suspended his license on Feb. 14, 2012, following the Florida Bar’s request for emergency suspension. The Florida Bar submitted a complaint that included numerous examples of Dickson’s alleged misconduct. In one example, Dickson represented Ace American Insurance Co., which paid out $93,657 to one of its insureds for an engine failure on a yacht.
Without the knowledge of or permission from Ace, Dickson settled the matter with the at-fault party for $42,500. His records found both a check for that amount and a release signed by an Ace representative agreeing to the settlement. But that representative testified in an affidavit that she never signed the release and never discussed such a settlement, saying the signature was a forgery, according to court documents. The check had been deposited into his operating account.
In addition to his seven-year sentence, Dickson was ordered to repay restitution amounting to about $408,000. He’ll face 10 years of probation after he’s released from prison.