A criminal defense attorney for 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse has stepped back from the case after prosecutors raised questions over his links to an "unregulated slush fund" for the teen, according to the Chicago Tribune.
On Thursday, hours after prosecutors sought to block Los Angeles civil lawyer John M. Pierce from representing Rittenhouse against a murder charge and other counts stemming from an August 25 shooting incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Racine lawyer Mark Richards told the Tribune in an email that "I will be counsel for Kyle in the criminal matters," while Pierce (and his colleague, Andrew Calderon) "won't be."
Pierce, who prosecutors say had no income last year, monthly expenses of $49,581, and debt of $1.2 million, was sued in July over allegations that he failed to pay rent on a $1.3 million home in Ventura County, California.
"This creates a potential conflict of interest for attorney Pierce," states the motion. "Given his own substantial personal debts, his involvement with an unregulated and opaque ‘slush fund’ provides ample opportunity for self-dealing and fraud. The more that the Foundation raises in donations, the more he may personally benefit. Money that should be held in trust for the defendant may instead be used to repay attorney Pierce’s numerous creditors."
In a motion filed Thursday morning, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger cited public records and news reports as he alleged that Pierce has “significant personal financial difficulties” and argued that he should not be allowed to represent Rittenhouse because “money that should be held in trust for the defendant may instead be used to repay attorney Pierce’s numerous creditors.”
The prosecution’s motion raised questions about the #FightBack Foundation, a group that served as the online fundraising arm for Rittenhouse’s defense. The foundation, which is now focused on challenging the presidential election results, took credit for raising the $2 million needed to free the teen on bail last month.
Prosecutors described it as “an unregulated and unreported slush fund” with close ties to Pierce. He helped start the foundation a few weeks before the Kenosha shootings, but he has told the Tribune he stepped away from its board to avoid any conflicts related to his involvement in the Rittenhouse case. -Chicago Tribune
In Setpember, Pierce claimed he was going to step away from the #FightBack Foundation to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
FYI, just stepped off official #FightBack Foundation board to 100% focus on freeing Kyle and avoid any appearance of $$ conflict. All good. #FightBack #FreeKyleRittennhouse #fakenews #USA https://t.co/Nuhkhqyf7D— John Pierce (@CaliKidJMP) September 5, 2020
Hours after the prosecution filed its motion, however, Pierce tweeted "Effective immediately I am taking over all civil matters for Kyle including his future defamation claims. I will also be orchestrating all fundraising for defense costs. The terrific Mark Richards will proceed in Wisconsin."
So that it does not take Kyle’s supporters by surprise, effective immediately I am taking over all civil matters for Kyle including his future defamation claims. I will also be orchestrating all fundraising for defense costs. The terrific Mark Richards will proceed in Wisconsin.— John Pierce (@CaliKidJMP) December 3, 2020
Pierce's partner in the #FightBack foundation is Rittenhouse attorney Lin Wood of Georgia - who tweeted last week that the foundation had "successfully raised $2M cash bail for Kyle Rittenhouse & funded over $300K for his attorney’s fees & expenses. The foundation used approx. $400K of its general funds for Kyle."
2. #FightBack also donated $100K to #WalkAway & $20K to @carterwpage.— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) November 29, 2020
I donate my time pro bono & take no compensation for my efforts on behalf of #FightBack.
The foundation is dedicated to helping preserve, protect & defend our Constitutional rights.
Read the rest of the report here.
Meanwhile, attorney Don Lewis asks if Pierce is playing 'catch me if you can.'
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The lawyer for Kyle Rittenhouse has already suffered two very public defeats tied to his mess of a financial situation. The Harvard Law School educated John M. Pierce stepped down from the Board of the #FightBack Foundation months ago, which was raising funds in part for the Kenosha shooter. Now, Pierce has stepped away from the Rittenhouse criminal defense just hours after the Wisconsin prosecutor said Pierce’s involvement with donations provided “ample opportunity for self-dealing and fraud.” Then, the next morning, today, Pierce was on TV with Wendy Rittenhouse soliciting money yet again, stating “we need millions of dollars more for [Kyle’s] legal defense.” What is going on?
The Wisconsin prosecutor’s scathing submission was filed yesterday and said the Los Angeles based Pierce should not be allowed to practice law in Wisconsin. A similar opposition was filed against Pierce in New York months ago. As in Wisconsin, Pierce turned tail quickly and withdrew his application to practice as an out-of-state attorney. Both filings are short — Wisconsin & New York — and both are must reads. The wreckage of Pierce’s financial situation is breathtaking.
A video clip of Pierce soliciting money from the general public this morning through an entity other than #FightBack speak for itself.
Here is the video.
Is this above board?
It’s worth keeping in mind that, according to a firm spokesperson, Pierce was placed on a leave of absence in around March related to “personal use” of funds. Pierce now claims his own firm’s spokesperson’s statement is not true.
Similarly, in August 2019, a Forbes reported Pierce had been accused of financial self-dealing.
In addition, Pierce and his firm, Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP (“Pierce Bainbridge”), also repeatedly pledged the same collateral in exchange for millions in cash. Repayment obligations were not fulfilled, and at least four cash advance lenders sued Pierce Bainbridge and related entities, including, in certain instances, John Mark Pierce Enterprises. (A 90-second video covers severe financial issues at Pierce Bainbridge. A $65 Million “Money Mystery” with Pierce Bainbridge, Virage Capital and Hecht Partners covers more odd financial activity.)
Furthermore, Pierce, in his firm’s name, essentially pilfered $2.5 million from a payday lender in Queens, New York in February. A $4 million money judgment has been entered against the firm and related entities.
Lots of financial issues going with John Pierce. Perhaps a pattern is developing of Pierce involving himself in money raising issues and withdrawing only after troubling issues are exposed.
Is John Pierce on to the next?
Is Pierce playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can?
Is Pierce’s conduct ethical?
Is Pierce’s conduct legal?
We leave it to you decide.