A lawyer who falsely told a federal prison inmate that he could get his sentence reduced by bribing the prosecutor, probation officer and judge has agreed to plead guilty to his own charges of wire fraud.
According to federal court records, Mark A. Ruppelt, 50, told the client he could get results because he was “willing to do things other lawyers are not.” Ruppelt collected $30,000 from the inmate’s parents but never did pay any bribes or do any legitimate work to earn the man a sentence reduction.
Ruppelt’s plea agreement was filed Friday at the same time as his charges. He faces up to 20 years in prison if he goes through with the projected guilty pleas. No future court dates had been set Friday.
Ruppelt of Slinger resigned from the State Bar of Wisconsin on Jan. 10. He had been a member since graduating from Marquette Law School in 1994.
The inmate, identified in court records as “Client A,” wound up recording several phone conversations he had with Ruppelt from a federal prison in Colorado where Client A was serving a sentence for a drug conviction.
In transcripts of some of the calls, Ruppelt reminds Client A not to put anything in writing or be explicit that the money his parents sent was for bribes, instead referring to the checks as his retainer. At least two times, Ruppelt told the inmate that a named prosecutor had agreed to take a bribe for the sentence reduction.
Client A contacted Ruppelt in 2014 after a fellow inmate — and a former Ruppelt client — referred him. He paid Ruppelt $10,000. In September 2014, Ruppelt said he’d spoken with the prosecutor and probation officer and would need another $10,000 to get the reduction.
The inmate was suspicious of Ruppelt and contacted another lawyer who then involved the FBI.
In January 2015, Ruppelt said another $10,000 would “100% secure” the shortened sentence. Client A’s stepfather sent Ruppelt another $10,000. Ruppelt strung the inmate along, saying the probation officer had been paid, but not the prosecutor.
By November 2015, with no movement in the case, Ruppelt blamed the delay on Hillary Clinton’s troubles with blowback from the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya, which, he said, made all federal officials more cautious.
“I don’t see what the presidential candidate has to do with me,” the client said.
Ruppelt replied, “Understand that what you are seeking to have done, though, was, in essence, asking someone to br — you know, commit a bribery, alright?”
Ruppelt said he hadn’t actually paid the bribes yet because, “I’m not stupid enough to exchange any money … until I’ve got, you know, what I would need…”
He also urged the inmate, when he spoke to his mother, to remind her not to put anything in writing. “I just, there can’t be any written trace of this.”
Months passed and by March 2016, Ruppelt told the client there was only $6,000 left of the $30,000 retainer.
“You’re telling me you don’t even have the money to pay this guy now,” the client says.
Client A’s mother filed complaints against Ruppelt with the Office of Lawyer Regulation and the state Department of Justice in April.
Ruppelt told the client and his mother that he mailed a check for $6,000 to the mother, and a bill itemizing his other work for the $24,000. When it didn’t arrive, Ruppelt said it must have been stolen because someone else cashed it.