A former Bend attorney convicted of embezzling $1.1 million from clients was sentenced Monday to more than five years in prison for his crimes.
Bryan Gruetter, 55, a former personal injury lawyer who had offices in Bend and Portland, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Eugene. He will spend 63 months in prison and is responsible for paying more then $1.14 million in restitution, according to a news release from Scott Bradford with the Oregon Department of Justice.
Bradford, who wrote a sentencing memorandum in the case, called Gruetter’s crimes a “betrayal of his (clients’) trust,” and said his actions “impacted his former profession as a whole.”
In February 2012, the Oregon State Bar took custody of Gruetter’s law practice following complaints from clients that he had “neglected his clients’ legal matters, failed to communicate with his clients, failed to deliver settlement funds to his clients and failed to use the settlement funds to pay clients’ unpaid medical bills,” the memorandum states.
Gruetter resigned his law license in March 2012. In December 2013, he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.
The sentencing memorandum quoted several of Gruetter’s former clients, who said they felt as if they’d been victimized twice. Several victim impact statements were read before the court.
“To be lied to and stolen from was only a portion of the hurt Mr. Gruetter inflicted upon our family,” one victim wrote. “Bryan’s crimes of lies, deceit and theft, while looking at you face to face, hurt many, as well as inflicted a blow to his profession.”
Gruetter worked primarily on personal injury and wrongful death cases, according to Bradford.
His victims expressed outrage that Gruetter would steal from them after each had already suffered a previous traumatic injury.
“Financially, yes, the settlement loss hurt us, but moreover, the damage from an individual who takes an oath of truth and then does nothing but lie to you over and over again is unforgivable,” one victim wrote in an impact statement read in court.
Bradford said Gruetter “singlehandedly depleted” the Oregon State Bar’s Client Security Fund, which was created to minimize or relieve losses to clients whose attorneys are guilty of dishonest practice of the law.
“In 2012 and 2013, the (Client Security Fund) made awards to 38 of Gruetter’s former clients totaling $888,704.71,” wrote Sylvia Stevens, executive director of the Oregon State Bar in a letter to the court. “On a personal level, Mr. Gruetter’s clients suffered twice. Injured in auto accidents and other events, they looked to Mr. Gruetter to pursue their rights to damages, only to find themselves victimized again by the very person in whom they had placed their trust and confidence.”
To date, the bar through the Client Security Fund has paid more than $900,000 to some of Gruetter’s clients. His crimes exhausted the fund’s reserves, requiring an increase in bar members’ annual assessments from $15 to $45 until the reserve is fully funded, Bradford said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org