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Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board v. Ronald Lee Wheeler

December 7, 2012

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, COMPLAINANT,
v.
RONALD LEE WHEELER, RESPONDENT.



On review of the report of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cady, Chief Justice.

The Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa recommends a suspension of respondent's license to practice law.

LICENSE SUSPENDED.

The respondent, Ronald Lee Wheeler, pled guilty to one count of knowingly making a false statement to a financial institution on a mortgage application, a federal felony. The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board then filed a complaint against Wheeler, alleging multiple violations of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. A division of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa found Wheeler violated one of our rules and recommended we suspend his license with no possibility of reinstatement for six months. We are required to review the commission's report. See Iowa Ct. R. 35.10(1) (2009).*fn1 After considering the commission's report, we find that Wheeler violated the ethical rules. We also agree with the recommended sanction and suspend Wheeler's license with no possibility of reinstatement for six months.

I. Factual Findings and Prior Proceedings.

Wheeler has been a lawyer for over forty years. He began his career at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in 1970. He moved to Iowa in 1978 and worked as a prosecutor in Polk County. In 1986, he went into private practice and worked predominantly as a criminal defense attorney. In 2006, Wheeler was elected Clarke County Attorney where he served until 2010.

Wheeler was active in community service throughout his career. He served as a scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts, a board member for the Murray Development Corporation, a volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans, and an active member of Rotary International, Lions Club, and the American Legion. He also frequently assisted neighbors. While at the Polk County Attorney's Office, Wheeler helped develop an intrafamily sexual abuse program to treat perpetrators and victims of crimes involving sexual abuse. This program is still in place today.

The federal conviction serves as the basis for this disciplinary action. It stems from Wheeler's involvement with a client named Russell Blessman. Wheeler agreed to help his client purchase a residential home. Essentially, Wheeler agreed to serve as a straw man in the purchase and financing of a home for Blessman in 2006. It is unknown why Blessman did not want to reveal his identity in purchasing the home.

Wheeler executed a loan application in June 2006 and obtained a thirty-year mortgage for $796,000 from the bank. Blessman also obtained financing for the down payment from the seller for $193,716.

The sale closed with the property in Wheeler's name. Blessman took possession of the property, paid the utilities, and made the monthly mortgage payments. After one year, Blessman intended to refinance the property and transfer it to his name.

Wheeler claimed he was not paid for his services as a straw man, but he did receive a $7400 check from Blessman during the time period, which he claimed was a payment for attorney fees and for consultation with Blessman associated with Blessman's treatment program. However, Wheeler provided no invoice for these services.*fn2

The mortgage application completed by Wheeler contained numerous misstatements and omissions. It listed Wheeler's monthly income as approximately $30,000, while his actual monthly income was approximately $8000. It also represented that Wheeler had approximately $500,000 in checking and savings accounts, even though the actual balance of these accounts was approximately $5000.

Additionally, the application declared Wheeler would use the property as his primary residence, even though he never intended to live in the house. Finally, the application did not disclose the financing obtained from the seller. Wheeler claimed he did not participate in the preparation of the mortgage application documents or review them before signing.

In July, Wheeler acted on instructions from Blessman and obtained a second mortgage on the property in the amount of $484,000. As before, Wheeler signed the necessary paperwork prepared by Blessman. The mortgage application contained the same misstatements as the June mortgage.

About one year later, Wheeler met with Blessman under the belief that the property would be transferred into Blessman's name. Instead, Blessman asked Wheeler if he would help him refinance the property based on an appraisal he obtained showing the property valued at $3 million. Believing the appraisal to be false, Wheeler refused to participate ...


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