Sacramento elder law attorney charged with financial elder abuse

A Sacramento attorney whose website extols his expertise in “championing the elderly and ensuring they are not taken advantage of” was arraigned Thursday on felony charges of financial elder abuse, grand theft and securities fraud.

Attorney Delbert Joe Modlin, 63, who was being held on $500,000 bail since his arrest Tuesday, agreed to stop practicing law and seeing clients until the criminal proceedings are complete. In exchange, bail was reduced to $100,000 for the attorney, who has been licensed to practice law in California since 1987.

Modlin’s appearance in an orange jumpsuit in Sacramento Superior Court, and his identification as a lawyer, drew gasps and whispered comments from audience members. He did not enter a plea Thursday.

Modlin already faces criminal charges in Placer County, where he was accused in 2011 of defrauding a frail, elderly couple from Auburn and selling their home and assets without their approval.

Both criminal cases were filed by the California attorney general’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.

Prosecutor Steven Muni said after the hearing that his boss, Attorney General Kamala Harris, is committed to “protecting elderly victims, who are some of our most vulnerable citizens.

“There are many ways to commit elder abuse,” said Muni. “But no one, not even an attorney, is exempt.”

Modlin’s attorney, Michael Farley of Folsom, declined to talk in detail about the case, saying the matter is “complicated.” He noted, though, that even attorneys who take great precautions in dealing with elderly clients or people with mental health issues can find themselves unfairly accused of abuse.

“I plan to investigate all the evidence, get to the bottom of what happened and give everyone their day in court,” Farley said.

The new case against Modlin revolves around the attorney’s treatment last year of a 90-year-old former North Highlands man and his daughter, then 66, who lives in Elk Grove.

According to court papers, Modlin already was acquainted with the family when he became their estate planner last year following a coincidental meeting. He advised the elderly man to liquidate all his investments, and he persuaded the daughter to invest $120,000 in a new cat litter box Modlin allegedly had invented, documents show.

“Modlin told (the woman) he would double her investment in four years,” according to the attorney general’s declaration in support of the arrest warrant.

What Modlin failed to tell them, according to the state, is that he was awaiting trial on felony charges in Placer County, that he had a “severe gambling problem” and that he filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004 and 2012, court records show. The state’s investigator determined that Modlin failed to disclose information that a “reasonable prudent investor would consider significant.”

Modlin, who has multiple websites, lists his office address as McClellan, on the former Air Force base in North Highlands, although Muni said he has since moved to Howe Avenue. His online biographies say he served in the Air Force and went on to become a “passionate elder advocate” who has been “protecting the elderly for decades.”

“Delbert Modlin is one of those attorneys that most people thought no longer existed,” one Web page states. “Rather than being concerned about how large his financial portfolio can become, he concerns himself with protecting the rights of his elderly clients. (He) has found a passion in elder law that few other attorneys can match.”

The state paints a different picture – one the attorney general claims Modlin is trying to erase.

The state claims that Modlin – facing bankruptcies and allegations of criminal activity – hired a firm to “clean” his presence on the Internet and “manipulate search engines” to obscure the negative details. This included creation of new websites with testimonials about his “experience, expertise and compassion for elders,” the documents state.

The case against Modlin in Placer County is expected to go to trial later this year or early next year, according to the attorney general’s office. In 2011, the state charged him with multiple felony counts in his handling of the money and property belonging to the elderly Auburn couple, who had deteriorating health.