Ex-Attorney, 72, Indicted In Alleged Ponzi Scheme; Robert G. Tunnell Jr. Charged With 13 Counts Of Wire Fraud, 7 Counts Of Mail Fraud, 1 Count Of Money-Laundering

A former San Francisco attorney who resigned from the bar a decade ago while under investigation for stealing $300,000 from his law firm now has been indicted on charges of running a five-year Ponzi scheme that gathered about $10 million.

Robert G. Tunnell Jr., 72, had been a member of the California Bar for 30 years when he resigned under fire in 2001, according to records. Tunnell has an Ivy League pedigree, graduating from Dartmouth and Harvard Law.

Federal prosecutors now say that, after Tunnell left the practice of law, he held himself out as a “highly successful investor.”

In reality, the office of U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California said, Tunnell operated a Ponzi scheme from “at least” between January 2006 and June 23, 2011.

Tunnell’s investment clients consisted “mostly” of friends and family members, who plowed about $10 million into the scheme — only to see Tunnell lose about $7 million of it after he had promised a “safe” and “conservative” approach with “substantial returns,” prosecutors said.

Some investors received Ponzi payouts from the remaining $3 million, and a bank to which Tunnell owed money also was paid in Ponzi proceeds, prosecutors said.

Tunnell was indicted on 13 counts of wire fraud, seven counts of mail fraud and one count of money laundering.

The former attorney “consistently and falsely reported gains to his investors, and even created false documents grossly overstating his assets and net worth,” prosecutors said.

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