NEW PORT RICHEY — Lottery tickets.
That's what disgraced ex-lawyer David Olson said he bought with more than $200,000 he stole from ex-clients.
For years, he would get in his car and drive to Dade City to buy tickets — then he drove on to Crystal River and Spring Hill and Hudson and right back where he started in New Port Richey.
He'd even drive to the Georgia state line to buy tickets there.
"It's 185 miles from the State Road 52-Interstate 75 intersection," he told the court Thursday.
Did he win anything?
He never checked. If there wasn't a jackpot winner, he wouldn't check if he got any of the numbers right or if he won anything.
Olson, 59, has lost his law license and his livelihood over this. In court Thursday, he faced losing his freedom, too, over 17 counts of grand theft.
He begged for leniency. His gambling addiction drove him to steal, he pleaded with the judge, and if he was spared prison, he would pay it all back.
Assistant State Attorney James Goodnow said years of therapy haven't changed Olson at all.
"He's looking to extort probation out of this court …," the prosecutor said. "He doesn't continue to gamble with lottery tickets, he gambles with this court.
"Judge, I ask you to call the cards on that gamble."
• • •
The disbarred attorney came to court with an answer for everything.
How would Olson pay the money back? He and his wife of 37 years, Carolyn, would mortgage their New Port Richey home to a Pinellas attorney.
How would Olson pay back society? He would perform 500 hours of community service for the nonprofit Bay Area Legal Services, if the organization allowed.
How would Olson get better? He's already in therapy.
What should the judge give him? House arrest and probation.
Olson apologized in court for his crimes.
He started stealing in 2002. He was disbarred in 2005 and arrested in 2007. And he'd still paid back only a third of what he took.
"Why didn't you pay all these people back?" Goodnow asked.
Olson said he didn't want to leave his 57-year-old wife near retirement and destitute if he went to prison.
"I pay back all that money and I go to jail," he said, "and what have I left her?"
"What have you left your victims?" Goodnow asked.
• • •
Olson's victims wanted answers, too.
John Kohler said he hired Olson in 2003 after he thought he got ripped off buying a water bottle distributorship.
But Olson did no work. After Kohler fired him, he even had to sue Olson to get his evidence back. But Olson lost the documents. Then the statute of limitations ran out.
"Well, I'm not a rich man. I lost $50,000. I didn't have a job, I didn't have anybody trying to get my money back," Kohler, 57, testified. "It was just a nightmare."
Victim's advocate Kathy Cornwell told the story of Rosemarie Nolen, who said Olson also took her money and did nothing to earn it. She fired him and hired another lawyer: Jessica Miller.
Miller is also no longer a lawyer, either. The Florida Bar made her give up her law license in January because she also took money and did no work.
There's an investigation underway into the disappearance of more than $70,000 in client money from Miller's old practice.
• • •
Then Olson learned the cardinal rule of gambling:
The house always wins.
"Quite frankly, Mr. Olson, I take no pity for your crimes or the reason for which you did them," Circuit Judge Thane Covert said Thursday. "What you propose today is to let you live the same life that you live today. Same house, same job, pay your bills, wear an ankle monitor, go to therapy.
"Where is the punishment in that? Just because you can't be a lawyer? You've already lost that."
Then Olson lost his freedom. The judge sentenced him to three years in prison. Olson had faced up 15 years.
Olson had pleaded no contest to the charges, but was adjudicated guilty of all of them.
After prison, Olson must serve two years of house arrest, then another 15 years of probation. He must still serve 500 hours of community service.
And he must still pay his victims back.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.