Felony charges filed against Colfax woman for allegedly practicing law without license | TheUnion.com

Felony charges filed against Colfax woman for allegedly practicing law without license

by liz kellar
Staff Writer

After a months-long investigation, the Nevada County District Attorney's Office has filed 15 felony charges against Sarah O'Neal for identity theft and embezzling money, along with one misdemeanor count of practicing law without a license.

O'Neal, 48, of Colfax, operated "law" offices in downtown Nevada City and in Colfax, Assistant District Attorney Anna Ferguson stated in a press release.

O'Neal was initially arrested in Placer County in May as a result of two parallel investigations.

The investigation in Nevada County began after numerous complaints began to trickle into the DA's Office about O'Neal not finishing or following through on legal matters for which she was retained as an attorney, District Attorney Cliff Newell said at the time. The complaints included allegedly unfinished divorces, botched real estate deals, failure to file civil suits within the statutory time and defective loan modifications.

O'Neal allegedly was not a licensed attorney but had been working as one, handling civil, family law and real estate matters for several years in Nevada County.

Auburn Police also began investigating after a woman reported fraudulent accounts on her credit report that allegedly had been opened by O'Neal.

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The woman reported in mid-April that she found at least 10 fraudulent accounts on her credit report, according to the Auburn Police Department. The victim said she did not know about the accounts, which were credit card accounts, and she did not authorize anyone to open the accounts.

An investigation revealed
that some of the fraudulent accounts allegedly were opened by O'Neal.

Investigators from Nevada County and Auburn Police detectives served search warrants in Colfax and Sierra County site, and O'Neal was arrested on suspicion of elder abuse in Placer County.

On July 10, the Placer County District Attorney declined to prosecute O'Neal, citing insufficient evidence.

Nevada County continued to investigate, however. DA Chief Investigator Randall Billingsley and Investigator Jeff Burgett, with the help of the California State Bar, allegedly uncovered that O'Neal was falsely practicing law without a license.

O'Neal is scheduled for continued arraignment at 1 p.m. today in the Nevada City branch of the Superior Court.

"The only thing I can tell you is I'm pleading not guilty," O'Neal said Wednesday.

"The DA's Office has sent information to all victims identified through records located during searches of O'Neal's office space and homes," Ferguson said. "However, there may be many additional victims who have yet to be identified. The DA's Office encourages victims to contact Investigator Jeff Burgett at (530) 265-1301 for more information."

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.

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