BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A Savannah attorney who practiced in Brunswick remains jailed on state and federal charges of bank fraud, forgery and theft by conversion, after pleading guilty to a single count of bank fraud in federal court.
Donald Carlton Gibson, 41, was arrested on Aug. 13, following allegations that he misdirected funds intended as settlements in lawsuits for his own use. In a preliminary hearing two days later, Gibson waived proceedings that would have had the charges read in front of a federal grand jury. Later on he waived a motion for the reduction of bond.
Gibson, who entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on Dec. 15, remains at the Glynn County Detention Center under a $197,000 bond pending sentencing.
Jail Administrator Col. Judy Lowe told the Florida Record that “we house federal inmates” because the facility is party to a contract that allows for the housing of federal and state inmates, adding that Gibson still faces state charges.
“Generally speaking, if there is an agreement between the state and feds, that the state would dismiss their charges and go with the federal sentence,” Lowe told the Florida Record.
However, in this case, that decision will be up to the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office. Under Georgia law, third-degree forgery is a felony punishable by one to 15 years in prison and felony theft by conversion carries a penalty of one to 10 years. Gibson faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, $1 million in fines, five years' probation, and the payment of restitution to victims on the federal bank fraud charge.
Federal Judge Lisa Godbey Wood stated that she would pronounce sentence upon the completion of a federal probation investigation.
As an attorney, Gibson specialized in the administration and settlement of estates, civil lawsuits, and negotiated settlements. In these capacities he received checks from clerks of court, real estate companies and insurance companies.
According to the testimony of FBI Special Agent Jeffrey H. Roberts, on Oct. 7, 2014, Gibson altered an $80,000 check entrusted to him by a clerk of court’s office. The money was supposed to go to a client who had won a recent lawsuit against a roofing company. But Gibson instead diverted $24,000 of the funds into his firm’s own trust account and used another $55,000 from the check to repay monies missing from other cases that he was handling.
Roberts further testified that Gibson was responsible for other thefts, the amounts exceeding “$400,000, as of today.” He went on to say that the figure did not include recently discovered incidents involving clients. Among Gibson’s other victims were the Glynn County Board of Education, Hospice of the Golden Isles, and a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, retired Army Maj. Edward Canady.
After the hearing, Canady told reporters that he had lost his entire life savings, over $250,000, as a result of a real estate case that Gibson handled. “There is no more, what I saved since I was 20-something in the military is gone.” While serving as an officer with 23rd Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division, Canady was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
Gibson has claimed that he doesn’t have the money to post bond or hire an attorney. He will be defended by court-appointed counsel. It is unclear whether any of the victims will be able to recover losses.
On Dec. 22, the Georgia Supreme Court handed down an interim suspension order prohibiting Gibson from practicing law in the state pending further order from the court.