Houston-area attorney accused of stealing settlement checks, clients demand he be put behind bars

Car crash victims in the Houston area who were seeking assistance from a personal injury attorney have come forward, sharing their experiences of being ignored and defrauded out of large sums of money.

David Lee Pettus continues to hold a valid license to practice in Texas and is currently based in League City.

Several individuals have reached out to KPRC 2 since February, claiming to be victims. Among them, three have decided to come forward and share their experiences publicly. Their primary goal is to raise awareness about the importance of carefully selecting legal representation.

At present, the State Bar of Texas and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office have not provided any confirmation or denial regarding the existence of any investigations related to Pettus.

All three victims hired the attorney because of his reputation for being communicative and helpful. However, they soon discovered that he became unresponsive and stopped providing them with updates. To their surprise, they later found out that he had settled their claims out of court without their knowledge, and they still haven’t received any compensation.

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Derek Liang from Brookshire enlisted the services of Pettus after experiencing a car accident in October 2021, which occurred after attending an Astros game.

Liang shared that both he and his wife experienced injuries – he suffered from a broken wrist, which he is still in the process of recovering from, while his wife dealt with a broken tailbone. Despite the passage of time, their injuries have not completely healed.

After the crash, and with the influence of those around her, she felt compelled to search online about whether or not she should hire a lawyer.

During that moment, the phone suddenly rang. It was none other than David Lee Pettus, who immediately began asking Reilly a series of questions. “I’ve heard that you’ve been in an accident,” he said. Reilly, taken aback, couldn’t help but wonder, “How did he manage to get hold of my number?”

Reporter Bryce Newberry questioned, “At 9:30 at night?”

Reilly recalled the incident, mentioning that it happened late at night, around 9:30. The person on the other end of the line confidently stated, “Don’t worry about how I got your number.”

Curious about how he got her contact information, she decided to investigate further by visiting his website and Facebook page to verify his authenticity.

In a post from July, he expressed his dedication to prioritizing the well-being of his clients. He emphasized his commitment to fighting for their rights, navigating legal complexities, and ensuring they receive the compensation they rightfully deserve.

Reilly found the whole thing to be legitimate. She was feeling vulnerable and unsure of what to do. Interestingly, she hadn’t even met the person in real life, and yet she went ahead and electronically signed a contract.

Reilly expressed her satisfaction with the level of communication she had with him during the initial stages of their interaction. Whenever she had a question, she would simply give him a call and he would promptly answer.

Liange expressed his frustration about not having direct communication with their hired individual for the past two years. Instead, all communication has been handled exclusively through the individual’s paralegal.

“He completely ignored my calls,” Herzik lamented.

In October, Reilly reached out to her insurance agent to inquire about the progress of her personal injury protection and underinsured motorist checks. To her surprise, she discovered that these checks had already been cashed.

Reilly recalled, “She responded, ‘Tiki Island, Texas’ when I asked her where those checks had gone.” Surprisingly, Reilly admitted she had never heard of Tiki Island until that very day.

According to property records in Galveston County, Pettus and his wife received the checks at their home address.

When KPRC 2 visited the address provided by Reilly to investigate the whereabouts of the checks, the doorbell was rung and a knock was made. However, despite the sound of barking dogs, no one answered the door.

The insurance company provided her with copies of the checks, which were made out to her and Pettus’ law firm. The checks amounted to $30,000 and $2,500.

She declared that her name was written on the back of the documents, but she insisted that it was not her signature. Moreover, she pointed out that the signature did not match the one on her Social Security Card or driver’s license.

Reilly expressed her astonishment, stating that she had never come across any of these checks before. She emphasized that they were cashed at a Chase Bank, a bank she doesn’t even utilize. She further added, “That was my underinsured motorist, he wasn’t even supposed to touch.”

She mentioned that she had not laid eyes on any of the money.

Reilly shared that she hasn’t received any money from him. She mentioned, “He’s blocked me on his phone. He’s blocked me on Facebook.”

Both Herzik and Liang received notifications from their insurance providers stating that their claims had been resolved.

Liang expressed her frustration, stating, “The settlement amount was $120,000, and he was entitled to 33%, leaving us with $90,000. However, he has kept the entire sum for himself. His responsibility was to settle our medical bills, but he only paid off a $500 bill. As a result, we still have approximately $40,000 in outstanding bills that have been sent to collections.”

According to Pettus, he received letters from Geico stating that two checks, one for $50,000 and another for $10,000, were sent to his old office address. Unfortunately, his wife, who was also involved in the accident, was supposed to receive the same amount.

During our visit to the current address indicated for the Pettus Law Firm in League City, we did not find any evidence of its presence. We were informed by a staff member that this location serves as a virtual office solely for receiving mail, and the signage does not display the name of the law firm.

“He just took our money and ran,” Herzik exclaimed.

In March, Herzik and his wife initiated a legal malpractice lawsuit against Pettus in Harris County. They claim that Pettus was negligent and breached his fiduciary duty. So far, Pettus has not provided a response to the lawsuit. Although the case was dismissed last month, there is now a motion to reinstate it.

“Many people are unaware that they have the option to take legal action against their own attorney,” explained David Kassab, the attorney representing Herzik.

Kassab expressed his intention to file a motion for default judgment if the case is reinstated. In the event that reinstatement is unsuccessful, he intends to refile the case.

According to Kassab, it is uncommon for a lawyer to simply take the client’s money after settling the case. He expresses concern over the actions of lawyers who engage in such behavior.

Both Reilly and Liang have lodged complaints with the State Bar, an agency dedicated to promoting and upholding ethical standards for lawyers.

Liang expressed his determination to expose this individual as his life’s purpose.

Both parties are hopeful that the Bar will take appropriate action, but they also want to encourage individuals to carefully consider their decision when hiring legal representation.

Reilly expressed her disbelief and anger towards the scammer, questioning how someone could sleep peacefully after deceiving innocent people. She firmly believed that the consequences should go beyond losing his license and advocated for criminal punishment, suggesting that he should be imprisoned for the harm he caused to others.

Pettus refuted all the claims made by Herzik, Liang, and Reilly. However, he did share the following statement with KPRC 2:

“I have the utmost respect for everyone’s right to make claims, but I am eager to present my side of the story in the appropriate setting – a court of law or any other legal proceeding. I believe that justice will be served and my reputation will be vindicated in the courtroom, where I can defend myself properly.”

Pettus was asked for an interview for this story and he responded by saying:

In a respectful manner, I will refrain from making any public statements about my professionalism, character, or any related matters. I believe that these issues should be addressed in the appropriate legal venue, which is our court system.

Although nobody answered the door in Tiki Island when KPRC 2 knocked, Pettus acknowledged the door-knock in a late-night email.

“I want to make it clear that I will not tolerate any further trespassing on my private property. Consider this notice as a warning that if you continue to do so, I will take legal action to protect my rights.”

The Bar refused to comment on any complaints about Pettus but did share the following statement:

“Our office strongly encourages the public to report any instances of professional misconduct by attorneys. If you believe an attorney has acted unethically or inappropriately, you can file a grievance on the Texas Bar website at texasbar.com.”

According to court records obtained by KPRC 2, Pettus was sued by the Wynn Las Vegas in July 2022 for an outstanding credit of $90,000. The records reveal that in June 2023, Wynn obtained a default judgment of $143,775.62, including post-judgment interest, against Pettus after he failed to respond in court.

Attorney Pettus has not been held responsible in the ongoing civil case against him in Texas. The Texas State Bar has not taken any disciplinary action against him, and there are no findings of professional misconduct on his part. Furthermore, Pettus has not been accused or charged with any criminal offense.

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