Published: May 04, 2008 08:11 AM
Modified: May 04, 2008 08:11 AM
HILLSBOROUGH -- There were two John McCormicks: the trusted lawyer who counseled the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools for decades, and the alcohol- and cocaine-abuser who shuffled clients' money from account to account trying to keep ahead of the game.
The dark side won out two summers ago when McCormick fled his home and family, accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients.
On Thursday, that fall from respectability culminated in a guilty plea in Orange County Superior Court to five counts of embezzlement -- crimes that will keep the 60-year-old disbarred lawyer behind prison bars for 10 years.
Judge Allen Baddour sentenced McCormick to less time than District Attorney Jim Woodall sought, and to more than defense lawyers Bill Cotter, Bill Massengale and Marilyn Ozer had hoped.
McCormick was overcome again as he apologized to his clients, to the community that had trusted him, and to the wife, children and siblings he left behind.
"I should have never left," McCormick sobbed. "I don't know what I was thinking; my family has stood behind me. I guess I didn't have enough faith in them."
McCormick's worlds collided in 2006 when national homebuilder D.R. Horton Inc. came looking for money from five home sales the lawyer had handled.
Gil Whitford, the State Bureau of Investigation's financial crimes investigator, testified Thursday that McCormick had failed to disburse $802,185 from his real estate trust account for the sales.
"He was using D.R. Horton's money almost as his personal bank to shift money around," Woodall said. "There was going to be no more money. Now all these shortages were going to come home to roost."
On July 10, 2006, Woodall said, a D.R. Horton representative was waiting in the lobby of McCormick's Chapel Hill office when the lawyer slipped out the back door.
McCormick was not seen again until Aug. 30, 2007, when law officers stopped him in a Phoenix park with six cents in his pockets.
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