There's some bad news for a troubled South Jersey bankruptcy lawyer who was the subject of a FOX 29 Investigation. He's now facing criminal charges.
Investigative Reporter Jeff Cole held up Monday night the four-page indictment of Phillip F. Drinkwater III. The attorney from Pitman, N.J., is facing five counts of theft by illegal retention.
That's one count for each former client who made a complaint to local police. The case was brought by the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office.
Just last week, FOX 29 Investigates reported that some of Drinkwater's alleged victims had been called before a grand jury.
It didn't take long. The lawyer, who also had an office in Pennsauken, is now criminally indicted. If convicted, he could go to jail. Each count carries a maximum sentence of three to five years.
Last May, FOX 29 Investigates told the story of Drinkwater's South Jersey clients who paid him to file bankruptcy but say in some instances he never filed their cases.
After our report, Gloucester County detectives began asking his alleged victims for proof of wrongdoing.
"Everybody needs to get every cent back that they gave this man," former client Kelly Dayton told us back in May. "He needs to get in some serious trouble."
In the spring, when we visited Schuylkill Haven, Pa., where Drinkwater is now living, Cole asked him, "Mr. Drinkwater, they claim that you took their money. These are people who didn't have anything. You took their money for bankruptcy filings and made no filing at all?"
"No, it wasn't purposeful," Drinkwater said.
Last November, Drinkwater petitioned the court to appoint a trustee to take over his practice. He says medical issues and a "major depressive event" forced him out of practice. Clients were told he had "retired," and the trustee who held their files had no funds to bring their cases.
On Monday afternoon, Drinkwater picked up his cell phone when Cole called. The attorney said he "isn't going to talk" and hung up.
Again, his alleged victims want their money back and hope this is a way for it to happen.
Over the summer, the New Jersey Supreme Court moved Drinkwater to "disability inactive" status. That move could also possibly open the door to refunds through a state-run lawyers' fund for client protection.