By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
A suspended Newport Beach attorney was sentenced today to 12 years in prison for stealing about $780,000 from nine victims, including two elderly sisters he met at church.
Peter David Nitschke, 47, made an open plea Feb. 3 to Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary Paer, meaning there was no guarantee on the defendant's punishment.
Paer agreed to cap the sentence at 12 years, but offered to significantly reduce the defendant's time behind bars if he could pay restitution to his victims.
Nitschke unsuccessfully sought to delay the hearing, telling the judge he needed time to finalize a $1 million loan from unnamed benefactors who need his legal expertise and who would be "spooked" if he was sentenced today.
Paer ordered Nitschke to pay about $1.1 million in restitution -- the stolen funds plus interest -- and scheduled a July 18 hearing in case the defendant is able to come up with the money.
When Nitschke attempted to apologize to his victims, one of them forcefully told him not to bother, noting that he had tried to say he was sorry in a letter previously.
"We don't believe you, Peter," Diane Drude Clayton said. "It's all B.S. You're a crazy, lying son of a gun ... You've played us for too long and we need to move on ... I don't want to hear any more apologies from you, you piece of work."
Clayton told the judge that Nitschke took advantage of her "at the most vulnerable time of my life," after the death of her husband of 42 years and while she was battling cancer. Aside from dealing with her grief and health issues, she was "downsizing" and selling property, she said, telling the defendant, "You obviously knew I was completely overwhelmed."
At one point during her statement, Nitschke turned around to face Clayton, prompting her to say, "Hello, look at me, you piece of work. That's the first time in three years you've looked me in the eye."
Clayton said Nitschke spent $720,000 he stole from her in two months on a nose job and Botox treatments, among other things.
"And you took up golf ... Who the hell do you think you are?" she asked the defendant, noting that he also "bragged" to others in the congregation about "gambling junkets."
Clayton said she wished she had the money back to set up college funds for two grandsons and to help her in her retirement.
"I hope you rot in hell," she told the defendant.
Clayton's daughter, Allison Broderick, said her mother has cancer that began in her lungs andwill require her to undergo kidney surgery next week.
"She's one tough cookie," the judge said of Clayton.
"You're darn right," she responded.
Nitschke met two of his victims, who were sisters, through the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Laguna Woods.
After they inherited a home in Northern California and more than $675,000 in March 2010, Nitschke offered to help them with their finances and directed them to give him cashier's checks totaling more than $675,000, Deputy District Attorney Sean O'Brien said.
The attorney put the money in his personal bank account instead of in a client trust account as required by State Bar rules, O'Brien said.
Nitschke stole another $46,000 from the sisters by failing to return money from a real estate transaction, O'Brien said.
After the attorney was arrested in September 2012, more victims came forward, the prosecutor said.
Those additional victims included a married couple from the church who he approached with what he said was an investment opportunity, O'Brien said. Nitschke asked for $50,000 and promised to pay it back with 20 percent interest, but he did not repay the money until the couple hired an attorney.
He then made several payments before bouncing a check for more than $3,400, according to prosecutors.
Another church member hired Nitschke to help with a loan modification on a home, but he took $1,000 and failed to provide any services, according to prosecutors.
Nitschke's law license was suspended Dec. 2.