Bail was denied Wednesday for a South Los Angeles attorney who faces a federal bank fraud charge for allegedly cashing a stolen U.S. Treasury check for just over $1 million.
Thaddeus Culpepper, 44, a counsel for Marion “Suge” Knight in the rap mogul’s murder case, was charged Monday in a federal criminal complaint with one count of bank fraud.
An affidavit alleges that Culpepper deposited 21 stolen tax refund checks worth more than $1 million into several attorney client trust accounts.
After hearing arguments from a federal prosecutor and defense attorney, U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim denied Culpepper bail, finding that no potential release conditions were sufficient to ensure the safety of the community or the defendant’s appearance at future court dates.
The stolen check allegation — as well as pending state charges of witness tampering — “indicates he is not one to follow court orders,” Kim said from the bench.
“I have a lot of concern with his candor,” the judge said. “I just don’t know how candid he’s being with the court.”
Federal prosecutors allege that in relation to the large check that Culpepper deposited into one of his client trust accounts, the attorney told a bank representative the payees were clients and had endorsed the check to him.
Culpepper personally deposited the $1,003,814 check at a Well Fargo Bank branch in Pasadena in August 2017, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The listed payees, however, have confirmed that they never received their tax refund check, and that they do not know Culpepper,” according to the affidavit.
The document outlines 20 other checks allegedly deposited into client trust accounts that Culpepper opened at Chase bank and Citibank.
Investigators believe the 21 checks deposited into Culpepper’s client trust accounts were lifted from the U.S. mail but it is unclear who actually stole them, according to federal prosecutors.
The bank fraud charge alleged in the complaint carries a possible sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison.
Culpepper made an initial court appearance Monday in Los Angeles federal court, but was not asked to enter a plea. An arraignment was set for Oct. 19.
Culpepper and another of Knight’s former defense attorneys were arrested by investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department earlier this year and indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit subornation of perjury, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and serving as an accessory after the fact to the 2015 murder of Terry Carter in Compton for which Knight had been accused.
Last month, Knight pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in connection with Carter’s death, and is expected to face up to 28 years in state prison when sentenced Thursday.
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