Columbus attorney accused of stealing millions from clients now in custody

George William “Bill” Snipes
George William “Bill” Snipes Muscogee County Jail

A Columbus attorney wanted for allegedly stealing millions of dollars in insurance claim settlements from his clients, is now in custody after more than six weeks on the run.

George William “Bill” Snipes turned himself into the Muscogee County Jail on Sunday and was booked on multiple theft by taking charges, Columbus police Maj. J.D. Hawk confirmed Tuesday morning.

Snipes faces a Recorder’s Court hearing Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Bond on the charges has been set at $1.2 million.

“That is a ridiculous bond,” said Atlanta attorney Jerry Froelich, who is representing Snipes.

Snipes, 64, had 18 outstanding warrants from Columbus police on felony theft charges, claiming he stole more than $1 million from clients. Those warrants were issued in mid-April and Snipes has been eluding authorities.

The investigation by the police financial crimes unit has been ongoing and police have said that addition charges could be filed against Snipes.

Former clients claim that Bill Snipes settled cases involving automobile accidents without informing them, forged their signatures on settlement documents, and when the insurance company sent the settlement checks to Bill Snipes, he kept the money and did not inform his clients.

His brother, James Malcolm Snipes, 74, of Fortson, was implicated in the alleged scam, according to police, Malcolm Snipes has five theft by taking charges. Judge Julius Hunter bound the cases to Superior Court and ordered Snipes held on $125,000 bond on May 18.

Malcolm Snipes is still being held in the Muscogee County Jail and has not made bond, his attorney Bobby Jones said.

Bobby Jones represents James Malcolm Snipes, who faces five theft by taking charges. James Malcolm Snipes is brother of George W. “Bill” Snipes, who has 18 outstanding warrants on felony theft charges related to an alleged insurance scam.

At the time, testimony in the Recorder’s Court hearing indicated that Malcolm Snipes and Bill Snipes had been together in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Malcolm Snipes was arrested at his grandson’s Little League game in Harris County.

Bill Snipes, who has practiced locally since 1979, was suspended indefinitely by the Supreme Court earlier this year and the State Bar of Georgia has requested that he be disbarred. Five former clients filed complaints with the state bar, which licenses and regulates attorneys in Georgia.

Bill Snipes has been a solo practitioner since January 2012, with an office at 1300 Wynnton Road, Suite 101. Previously, he practiced with his two brothers, David and Robert, until the partnership was dissolved in early 2012.

All of the illegal activity alleged by the State Bar happened after Snipes left the partnership with his brothers, according to the complaint filed with the Supreme Court.

The state bar’s petition for the emergency suspension outlined the following complaints, to which Snipes did not offer any defense:

Complaint No. 1

One man who was in an accident in 2015 and not at fault hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis, meaning Snipes would be paid a percentage of any money collected. He filed a complaint with the state bar in August 2017. Here are the details of that complaint:

In March 2015, Snipes settled the case with State Farm for $300,000 without his client’s knowledge. State Farm sent two checks covering the settlement to the man and not his attorney.

The man contacted Snipes and was told he needed to pay his attorney fees and medical bills out of the settlement. The client endorsed the checks over to Snipes, who wrote him a $170,000 check out of the law firm’s trust account. Snipes promised in a letter to the man he would pay the outstanding medical bills.

“Instead of paying the medical bills or at least holding the $130,000 in trust for (the client), Respondent misappropriated the funds or converted them for his own personal use or at least not for (the client’s) benefit,” the bar complaint contends.

Complaint No. 2

On July 15, 2013, a man was involved in an automobile accident where he was not at fault. He hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis. The driver who was at fault was insured by The Hartford. The man filed a complaint with the state bar against Snipes in November 2017. Here are the details of that complaint:

In late 2013, Snipes sent a settlement letter to Hartford demanding the policy limits of $100,000 without the client’s knowledge or authorization. Hartford settled the case for the requested amount and sent a check to Snipes on Jan. 9, 2014.

Snipes forged his client’s name and cashed the check.

The client found out about the settlement when he got a letter from Hartford confirming the settlement. After concluding the settlement money had been misappropriated, the man hired another attorney and sued Snipes for malpractice. That case settled for $98,000.

The man also filed a bar complaint against Snipes two months ago and the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office was unable to find the attorney to serve the letter.

Complaint No. 3

An Alabama couple was involved in a wreck in August 2016 and hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis. The couple suffered injuries in the wreck and the driver that was at fault was insured by USAA. In January of this year, the couple filed complaints with the state bar. Here are the details of that complaint:

In September 2017, Snipes accepted the insurance company’s settlement offer of $28,000 for the wife and $20,000 for the husband. Neither of them authorized the settlements.

The checks were sent to Snipes, who forged the names of the husband and wife and cashed the checks without their knowledge.

Snipes did not respond to repeated questions from the couple about the status of their claims. They hired another attorney who learned that Snipes had settled the cases with USAA.

Complaint No. 4

In May 2016, a woman was injured in a car crash that was not her fault. She hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis. The driver who was at fault was insured by USAA. The woman sought other legal advice and filed a bar complaint two months ago. Here are the details of that complaint:

In a conversation sometime in November 2017, Snipes assured the woman her case would settle soon and gave her a $2,000 check drawn on his own account, telling her the case would likely settle by January 2018 and that any settlement would be substantial and include funds to pay her medical bills.

What he did not tell her was he had settled the case without her knowledge in September 2017 for the policy limits of $25,000. He had also forged her name and cashed the check, which USAA sent to him.

Unable to get an appointment to see Snipes in his office, the woman went to the office on Jan. 3, and spoke with a clerical worker, who told her she did not know if Snipes would ever return to his office.

Complaint No. 5

In November 2016 a woman was injured in an automobile accident that was not her fault. The other driver was uninsured. Two months after the accident, the woman hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis. Here are the details of her complaint:

The woman had about $100,000 in medical bills and Snipes told her that her insurance company, USAA, had agreed to settle the case for the policy limits of $325,000.

After that, the woman heard nothing from Snipes.

In January, the woman contacted USAA, which told her the company sent checks totaling $325,000 to Snipes in December 2017. Snipes did not tell his client, but instead forged her name on a $300,000 check and also forged her signature on a settlement release for the insurance company.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams