Anita Volpe sits next to her attorney, Leanord Sharon, during a sentencing hearing on Friday March 4, 2022. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

A former lawyer who practiced law in Knox County will serve 18 months in jail for stealing more than $1 million from elderly clients.

Anita Volpe, 76, of St. George pleaded guilty in October to three counts of felony theft. Justice Daniel Billings sentenced Volpe to 10 years in prison with all but 18 months suspended at a court hearing Friday afternoon at Lincoln County Court in Wiscasset.

Volpe also was ordered to pay about $1 million in restitution and will be on probation for three years following her release.

In 2016, Volpe surrendered her law license amid allegations that she mismanaged the finances of an elderly client, who was also her mother-in-law. The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar accused Volpe of professional misconduct but no criminal charges were filed against Volpe at the time.

Volpe was ultimately indicted in 2019 on three counts of felony theft and three counts of misuse of entrusted property. The victims included her mother-in-law and two other women.

Volpe stole about $1,100,000 total from the three elderly clients between. All three of the victims have since died.

The thefts occurred between October 2012 and April 2018, continuing even after Volpe surrendered her license to practice law, according to the state’s sentencing memo.

The stolen money was used to purchase property, pay off credit card debt and replace funds she had taken from the other clients, according to Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin.

“Anita Volpe is Maine’s Bernie Madoff,” Robbin said during Friday’s hearing.

Madoff was an American financier who was convicted of running the largest ponzi scheme in financial history. He died last year.

Robbin described the three women that Volpe stole money from as eldery and incapacitated. None of the victims had living spouses. One of the victims did not have any close family nearby and Volpe deceived the people who were close to the other two victims, according to the state’s sentencing memo.

The theft of money resulted in the women’s nursing home bills going unpaid, Robbin said. Volpe served as power of attorney for the women.

“When the lawyer is both counsel and power of attorney, there is no oversight,” Robbin said.

A family friend of one of the victim’s spoke in support of Volpe receiving the maximum punishment. Robbin pointed out that since the money Volpe stole from one of the women’s estates was slated to go to a private school for scholarships, there are unknown victims who suffered from this loss of money as well.

Prosecutors were seeking a 10 years prison sentence with all but five years suspended.

In issuing his sentence, Billings said he took into account Volpe’s age and health. Volpe previously suffered from bladder cancer, though it is currently in remission. Billings stayed Volpe’s sentence until March 15 at 9 a.m. so she could have a biopsy done.

Billings ordered her to pay about $553,000 in restitution to one victim’s estate and about $490,000 to another. However, he acknowledged that given Volpe’s age it is unlikely she will be able to pay back the full amount.

Volpe won’t be required to pay restitution to the estate of the third victim, who was her mother in law, because she repaid the bulk of what she had stolen from as part of a previous settlement. Robbin said Volpe stole money from the two other victims to pay that settlement.

Volpe’s attorney, Leonard Sharon, said she currently has about $65,000 to go toward restitution.

About 20 people attended the hearing in support of Volpe on Friday, including family members, friends, clients, lawyers and her pastor. Billings said he took this support into consideration when determining her sentence and noted that until these thefts she was held in “high regard” professionally.

Still, he agreed with Robbin’s argument that cases like Volpe’s serve as a blemish on the legal profession.

Volpe apologized for her actions while addressing the court on Friday and said she still asks herself why she stole the money. She said it likely had to do with her ego-driven desire to appear successful.

“I threw everything away,” Volpe said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of victims that did not have close family.