Crime

SLO attorney who stole $250,000 from client disbarred after failing to take ethics class

If you witness a crime, here’s what to do

Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.
Up Next
Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.

A former San Luis Obispo attorney has been disbarred for failing to participate in ethics and accounting training after his 2018 conviction for federal wire fraud.

Stephen Christopher Ronca initially faced 28 counts of wire fraud after his arrest at his San Luis Obispo home in June 2017 for stealing $250,000 from a client’s trust account he assisted in setting up and using it for personal gain.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says in its federal indictment that Ronca transferred money from the trust account into his personal checking account, withdrawing it using ATMs in Las Vegas, South Lake Tahoe and at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, among other locations.

In some cases, he allegedly wrote and deposited checks made out to himself and cashed checks made out to “cash,” the indictment states.

Ronca was also accused of using a property included in the trust, located on Poinsettia Street in San Luis Obispo, as collateral for a nearly $90,000 loan. To pay off the loan, Ronca then sold the property.

By February 2014, Ronca had allegedly drained the trust account.

The State Bar of California initially suspended Ronca’s law license for 30 days and placed him on probation for a year. According to a State Bar brief, Ronca only stipulated to a single count of moral turpitude involving gross negligence in his administrative hearings.

A copy of the federal plea agreement provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office states that Ronca pleaded guilty to a single count of bank fraud in June 2018.

Even though each of the 28 original charges carried a maximum possible penalty of 30 years in federal prison, the U.S. Magistrate sentenced him to 90 days in prison and ordered he pay restitution of at least $483,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A State Bar order drafted in February shows that Ronca failed to respond to the Bar’s order to attend disciplinary proceedings, attend ethics and client trust accounting school and submit a final quarterly report.

The case was submitted for disbarment in January, and it became effective Aug. 9, according to the Bar.

Ronca could not immediately be reached for comment late Wednesday. The State Bar website says he was admitted to the Bar in 1996.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.
  Comments