By Bob Egelko
Monday, February 3, 2014
A veteran San Francisco, East Bay divorce lawyer who admitted planting a listening device in the car of a client’s ex-husband was sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday for tax evasion and illegal eavesdropping.
Mary Nolan, 62, pleaded guilty in September to five felony charges, including willfully underpaying her income taxes by $468,000 between 2005 and 2008. She has repaid the government and sold her home, and is now disgraced and penniless while still facing civil damage suits, her lawyer, Cristina Arguedas, said at the sentencing hearing.
The civil suits involve events that were not part of the criminal prosecution but that brought notoriety to Nolan and now-imprisoned investigator Christopher Butler.
He admitted hiring women to approach men at bars, drink with them and set them up for drunken-driving arrests that their wives could use against them in divorce cases. Two of the men whose wives were represented by Nolan have sued her, Butler and others for damages. Butler is serving an eight-year prison sentence, and officers from four Bay Area police agencies have also been convicted.
The criminal eavesdropping charge against Nolan also involved Butler, who testified that Nolan hired him to install a secret listening device in the car of a man whose ex-wife Nolan represented. Nolan, an attorney for 30 years who had an office in San Ramon, has given up her license to practice law.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer criticized Nolan for illegally intercepting the man’s private conversations, “a very unfair thing to do,” but said he was sentencing her for multiple counts of tax evasion, a more serious offense under the law.
“You’re a lawyer, and lawyers have a special responsibility not just to know the law but to follow it,” Breyer told Nolan. He said Nolan, an “intelligent, competent, practiced attorney,” had known what she was doing, and backdated documents to hide her liability.
Nolan declined to make a statement. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of 30 to 37 months, and prosecutors sought 33 months, but Breyer said Nolan’s difficult background and commendations from numerous clients justified a lesser term. He ordered her to perform 240 hours of community service in the three years after her release.