A former Oklahoma City attorney admitted Friday in guilty pleas to a federal indictment that he stole $430,451 from children after getting them settlements in lawsuits over car accidents.
John Milton Merritt, 74, showed no emotion as he said, “Guilty, your honor,” 12 times in Oklahoma City federal court.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of bank fraud, one count of using the forged signature of a U.S. district judge and seven counts of money laundering.
A federal judge from Kansas will decide his punishment later.
The maximum punishment for bank fraud, the most severe offense, is 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
In his guilty pleas, Merritt admitted to stealing $300,451 from four orphaned girls whose parents were killed in a 2002 car accident. He also admitted stealing $130,000 from a boy injured in a 2005 car crash.
Prosecutors said after the hearing that a further investigation into Merritt's schemes identified other victims. They said he stole $1.7 million from clients and from companies that loaned his law firm money. Prosecutors plan to ask the judge to order Merritt to make full restitution to all the victims.
His defense attorney, Mack Martin, said Merritt had intended to pay the stolen money back but the thefts were discovered before he could.
Merritt admitted Friday that he forged the signatures of judges on counterfeit court orders to get access to the children's bank accounts.
Merritt filed hundreds of product-liability lawsuits in four decades as an attorney and had been regarded as a hard worker who cared deeply for his clients. He resigned as an attorney last year after coming under investigation.
A federal grand jury indicted him in April.