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St. Louis paralegal pleads guilty to fraud

Jillian Nichols, a St. Louis paralegal, pleaded guilty Tuesday to trying to defraud a law firm client by lying and telling the client a prosecutor on his case had solicited a bribe.

Nichols also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis.

Nichols, 26, worked on the defense of a state felony pending in St. Louis County Circuit Court as part of her job with a St. Louis defense attorney. The client was not named in the news release or the case but was identified in a February St. Louis Post-Dispatch story as Ziyaa Umarov, who faces sexual assault charges.

The story identified Robert Herman as the lawyer Nichols worked for. He told the Post-Dispatch that Nichols never approached any of his clients while she was still working for him and a lot of the investigation had to do with what happened after she left his employ.

Nichols, who has no legal training and was paid by the hour, worked closely with the client in investigating and helping prepare his defense, the news release said. She met with him, spoke with him on the telephone and texted him outside the presence of the defense attorney.

Nichols left the defense attorney’s firm in September but continued to meet with the client and discuss his criminal case with him, according to the news release. Nichols falsely told the client that an assistant prosecutor had asked for a bribe of $10,000, the release said. She also allegedly said she had favorable evidence planted on the client’s cellphone for his defense and had paid a forensic expert hired by the defense attorney to validate and verify the evidence.

She told the client not to tell his defense attorney about their discussions about a bribe and planted evidence. On Dec. 10, the client agreed to give her $5,000 toward the bribe and $5,000 after he got favorable consideration in his case, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office release.

Sentencing was set for Sept. 19. Wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000; making false statements carries a maximum penalty of five years and fines up to $250,000.