Everyone in the mediation community needs to know the story of Gary Karpin, a disbarred lawyer from Vermont who moved to Arizona and started advertising his services as a divorce mediator. Karpin made a habit of striking up romantic relationships with isolated, lonely, and vulnerable women in order to swindle them out of lots of money. In the most egregious instance a woman of modest means paid him nearly $88,000 for his “mediation” services. In the summer of 2005 he was charged with 25 counts of theft and 1 count of fraud, and last week he was convicted on all counts after a 3 month trial.
Karpin’s modus operandi was to indirectly represent himself as a practicing lawyer, having his JD degree prominently displayed in his office, explaining various legal rules and procedures, and pretending to have close professional relationships with various family court judges. Almost every one of his clients thought he was a practicing lawyer. Also, he often acted as the advocate for his women clients, and several men reported receiving letters and phone calls from him on behalf of their spouses. As soon as they hired lawyers, he would wash his hands of the case.
I know several practitioners who knew he was up to something, but nobody could pin down exactly what was going on. Hiding behind the confidentiality protections of the mediation process was a good cover for him, and even though there were some complaints to the bar association, the fact that Arizona had no civil or criminal sanctions for the unauthorized lawful practice of law kept him out of serious trouble. When his clients started pressing him about his fees or tactics, he’d use his legal knowledge to bully and intimidate them into dropping their complaints. Add on top of this the fact that many of his clients were embarrassed about being conned, and you have enough of a tangled web to keep the scam going for some time before it finally unraveled. Once one of his clients finally took a firm stand and agreed to be interviewed, many others started to stand up as well.
The good thing about this con-artist is that he’s going to jail for a long time. Unfortunately, there are probably others like him out there taking advantage of mediation’s confidentiality protections and the lack of oversight the mediation community currently enjoys. We as a professional community need to do our best to keep our profession from being sullied in this manner – please keep your eyes and ears open to such abuses and report them to the authorities.
Here’s a link to the article in the Arizona Republic regarding his conviction:
Here’s a link to the Phoenix New Times’ in-depth article that lead to his indictment.