- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A disbarred St. Peters lawyer who fled the country has been sentenced to 44 months in federal prison and ordered to repay more than $200,000 he admitted stealing from his mother and clients.

Jeffrey M. Witt, 40, pleaded guilty in July to falsifying documents to obtain a bank loan secured by his mother’s St. Louis County home, enlisting a client to impersonate his mother at the loan closing and cashing clients’ settlement checks without their knowledge. He was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

Witt disappeared in October 2013 in response to what he called threats and beatings from a man whose mother had been a dissatisfied Witt client. He was arrested in March by the FBI in New York City after traveling to the Philippines, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Turkey and England.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (bit.ly/1CwqbP ) reported Friday that some of Witt’s clients lost their houses, criminal cases, civil suits and custody of children because of his absence. He told the newspaper in a previous interview that he had long battled depression and left the country because of his professional failings and threats he said lasted for more than two years.

Witt claimed that the missing money went to his former client’s son, whom he did not identify. Defense attorney JoAnn Trog offered a similar explanation at the sentencing hearing.

She called Witt’s mental health difficulties the “very root of the problem,” adding that a series of romantic and professional setbacks created “chaos” and “tremendous pressure” from clients who were “besieging him.”

The month before his disappearance, Witt had a client impersonate his mother to obtain a $100,000 line of credit backed by her house, keeping $60,000. After his mother found out, he falsified documents that said the loan had been canceled.

At the time of his departure, Witt had just been arrested for DWI, was facing a nearly $1 million malpractice judgment and was trying to win back the mother of two of his five children. His own mother had also reported the bank fraud to police.

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