Former attorney makes tearful plea in court

May 1, 2008 5:50:53 PM PDT
It was one of the Triangle's biggest mysteries. A prominent Chapel Hill lawyer vanished then turned up a year later in Phoenix.

Thursday John McCormick pleaded guilty to embezzling one million dollars from his friends and clients.

He says drugs, depression and deep debt led to his downfall.

Witnesses say the attorney was homeless and living out of a backpack. Thursday he made a tearful apology.

McCormick apologized before starting a 10- to 14-year prison sentence.

His attorneys say an abusive childhood, the death of his parents and overwhelming debt caused him to snap.

Prosecutors say McCormick's life unraveled long before he embezzled from his clients.

"For all the good he may have done, he is a selfish, arrogant individual who believes he can just steal from people," Orange Count D.A. Jim Woodall said.

When a creditor tried to confront McCormick, he ducked out the back door of hisChapel Hill office, deposited thousands into his children's bank accounts and disappeared.

SBI officials testified McCormick never left the country. Instead he lived in a shelter until he was arrested in Phoenix last year.

McCormick pleaded guilty to one embezzlement charge and struck a deal on four others.

Witnesses and attorneys describe him as a kind professional who made a mistake. Prosecutors contend there are two sides to the man once beloved in the legal community.

"Serious substance abuse problems," Woodall said. "Employees say he [would] come to work drunk, he had a cocaine habit and at one point had used crack cocaine."

The judge ordered McCormick to seek mental and drug treatment while in prison.

Now that his $4 million estate has been sold, McCormick vows his debt to his clients and his family will be paid.


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