‘He should be put behind bars’: Clients say Houston-area attorney stole settlement checks – KPRC Click2Houston

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HOUSTON – Car crash victims who expected to get help from a Houston-area personal injury attorney told KPRC 2 Reporter Bryce Newberry that they’ve been ghosted and scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars.

David Lee Pettus is still licensed to practice in Texas and has an office address listed in League City.

KPRC 2 has been contacted by several alleged victims since February, and three of them are now publicly sharing their stories because they want other people to be aware of who they hire for representation.

As of this writing, the State Bar of Texas and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office have not confirmed or denied the existence of any investigations involving Pettus.

All three victims said they hired the communicative and helpful attorney after their wrecks, but as time went on, he went silent. They claim they didn’t realize he had settled their claims out of court, and they still haven’t seen a dime.

“He was real charming and said all the right things,” said Jeffrey Herzik of Spring, who was rear-ended in August 2020. “My granddaughter was in the car. The impact was so great that it actually broke her car seat.”

People say they were scammed by a Houston area attorney, Bryce Newberry has more. (KPRC 2)

Derek Liang of Brookshire hired Pettus after an October 2021 crash following an Astros game.

“I had a broken wrist. I’m still recovering from it. It’s not fully right. My wife had a broken tailbone,” Liang said.

People say they were scammed by a Houston area attorney, Bryce Newberry has more. (KPRC 2)
People say they were scammed by a Houston area attorney, Bryce Newberry has more. (KPRC 2)

Another alleged victim, Sharon Reilly, who lives about five hours from Houston in Lone Star, Texas, hired Pettus after her July 2023 crash that totaled her vehicle, causing bruising and whiplash.

Days after the crash amid pressure from those around her, she started Googling if she needed an attorney.

“About that time, the phone rings. It was David Lee Pettus. He started asking me questions. ‘I understand you’ve been in an accident.’ And I’m like, ‘How did you get my number?’” Reilly said.

“At 9:30 at night?” reporter Bryce Newberry asked.

“At 9:30 at night. And he said, ‘Don’t worry about how I got your number’,” Reilly said.

She still doesn’t know how he got her contact information, but she checked out his website and Facebook Page to see if he was real.

One of the posts on his page from July read, “Your well-being is at the heart of everything we do. We’ll fight for your rights, navigate the legal complexities, and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.”

It all seemed legit to Reilly, who said she was already vulnerable and not sure what to do. She didn’t meet him in person – still hasn’t – before she electronically signed a contract.

“I talked to him on the phone in the beginning. If I had a question, I called him. He picked right up,” Reilly said.

“In the two years since we’ve hired him, I have not spoken to him once. It’s always been through his paralegal,” Liang said.

“He completely stopped returning my calls,” Herzik said.

In October, Reilly said she contacted her insurance agent to check on the status of her personal injury protection and underinsured motorist checks. That’s when she found out they had already been cashed.

“Where did those checks go? She answered, ‘Tiki Island, Texas’,” Reilly said, who added that she hadn’t even heard of Tiki Island until that day.

People say they were scammed by a Houston area attorney, Bryce Newberry has more. (KPRC 2)

The checks were mailed to the home address of Pettus and his wife, according to Galveston County property records.

KPRC 2 stopped by the address with Reilly’s documentation of where the checks got sent to find out where they were. Dogs barked after ringing the doorbell and knocking, but no one came to the door.

The checks – for $30,000 and $2,500 – were made out to her and Pettus’ law firm, according to copies that the insurance company provided her.

Her name had been signed on the back of them, but she said it was not her signature – and it doesn’t match the signature on her Social Security Card or driver’s license.

“I’ve never seen any of these checks,” Reilly said, noting they were cashed at a Chase Bank, which she doesn’t use. “That was my underinsured motorist, he wasn’t even supposed to touch.”

She said she hadn’t seen any of the money.

“Not a dime. He’s blocked me on his phone. He’s blocked me on Facebook,” Reilly said.

Herzik and Liang both found out from their insurance companies that their claims had been settled.

“The entire settlement was $120,000. He gets 33% and 90,000 is to us. He’s kept the whole thing. He was supposed to pay off our medical bills on our behalf. He maybe paid off a $500 bill,” Liang said, adding that about $40,000 in bills have been sent to collections.

Letters Geico sent him show a $50,000 and a $10,000 check got sent to an old address for Pettus’ office. He said his wife, also in the wreck, was supposed to receive the same amount.

KPRC 2 stopped by the current address listed for Pettus Law Firm in League City, but there was no sign of him. A staffer said it’s a virtual office where he only receives mail. The signage didn’t list his law firm.

“He had just taken our money and ran,” Herzik said.

Herzik and his wife filed a legal malpractice lawsuit in Harris County against Pettus in March. They allege negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. To date, records show he has not responded to the lawsuit. The case was dismissed last month, but a motion has been filed to reinstate the case.

“A lot of times individuals don’t know that they can actually sue their attorney,” Herzik’s attorney David Kassab said.

Kassab added that if the case is reinstated, he plans to file a motion for default judgment. If reinstatement is not successful, he plans to refile the case.

“It’s unusual for a lawyer just to straight up take the client’s money after they settle the case,” Kassab said. “It’s always concerning to me when there are lawyers out there that are doing this.”

Reilly and Liang have both filed complaints with the State Bar, an agency that aims to “foster high standards of ethical conduct for lawyers.”

“I’ve made it my life goal to expose this guy,” Liang said.

Both are hoping the Bar will take action, but want others to think twice before hiring an attorney.

“How does a person sleep at night scamming people? Innocent people,” Reilly said. “Not only should he have to pay by losing his license, I think he should criminally have to pay. I think he should be put behind bars for what he’s done to people.”

Pettus denied any and all claims made by Herzik, Liang, and Reilly, but shared the following statement with KPRC 2:

“While I respect the right of anyone to make a claim, I also look forward to telling my side of the story in a proper venue; a court of law or any other legal proceeding and not in the press as they have clearly chosen to do here. It will be in a court room or legal proceeding that I look forward to clearing my good name.”

When asked for an interview for this story, Pettus responded:

“Respectfully, any reponse(s) that ever need to be made regarding my professionalism, character or otherwise will never be made in the press by me. The proper venue for such matters are left to our court system.”

While no one answered the door in Tiki Island after KPRC 2 knocked, Pettus acknowledged the door-knock in a late-night email:

“Please consider this your one and only notice that I will never see you trespassing on my private property again. Please consider this further notice that all rights are reserved should you do.”

The Bar declined to provide comment on any complaints about Pettus but shared this statement:

“Our office encourages members of the public to file grievances against attorneys who may have committed professional misconduct. You can do so at texasbar.com.”

According to court records obtained by KPRC 2, the Wynn Las Vegas sued Pettus in July 2022 for an unpaid $90,000 credit. Records show that Wynn got a $143,775.62 plus post-judgment interest default judgment against Pettus in June 2023 after he failed to respond in court.

Attorney Pettus has not been found liable in the civil case pending against him in Texas. He has not been professionally disciplined by the Texas State Bar, and there have been no findings that he engaged in any professional misconduct. Pettus has also not been charged with any crime.

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