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Victim asks how attorney was paid

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

Jack Sewall says that the nearly $1-million swindled from investors is gone. One of his victims is not so sure.

Throughout his trial on grand theft and organized fraud charges, Jack Sewall's defense attorney emphasized that his client lost all his money, just like his elderly investors.

Sewall went from being a successful insurance agent to a security guard at Best Western Crystal River Resort making a little better than $6 an hour, attorney Jim Cummins said.

The money was simply gone.

Investor Gus Pizzo had a question, then, as he watched Sewall being taken away in handcuffs Wednesday after a jury found him guilty of defrauding some three dozen investors of nearly $1-million: How could he afford an attorney?

"Adding insult to this trial is the fact that his victims paid for his defense," he charged.

Not so, said Cummins. The defense attorney said he took a risk on accepting the case, knowing that he may never be paid for more than a year he spent preparing for trial.

"Mr. Sewall has been paying me religiously $80 a month," Cummins said. "I took this case not because I'm going to make a lot of money. It's a case that Mr. Sewall needed the best kind of representation he could get.

"If there's any concern that these investors' money went to pay me, that's absolutely false," he said.

Cummins said Sewall owes him $15,000 for the trial alone. He is paying off the debt through a long-term contract that calls for the $80 payments to triple in three years.

The attorney said he waived pretrial costs, realizing that other attorneys likely would not take on the case and believing the bad loans were an issue for civil, not criminal, court. The decision to take the case came after much interoffice deliberation, Cummins said.

"I talked over the potential hardship with the staff," he said. "There were times we had to weigh the fiscal health of our office."

He said he expects to have to file in line with other creditors when Sewall is forced into bankruptcy court.

Pizzo, who testified that he lost $250,000 in bad loans to Sewall, led many of the investors in seeking prosecution. He said the trial only confirmed his suspicions that a pot of investor money is hidden somewhere.