Lincoln County lawyer disbarred for misappropriating $1.6 million

Peter Capece
Peter Capece LinkedIn

A lawyer who practiced at a prestigious Lincoln County law firm has been disbarred after admitting in court documents to misappropriating about $1.6 million entrusted to him as the executor of an estate.

According to an affidavit in which he agreed to surrender his law license, Peter Capece admitted using the money for personal benefit.

Capece confirmed to the Observer on Thursday that he had surrendered his license. He referred further questions to his attorney, Rick Kane of the Charlotte law firm Poyner Spruill, who said Capece “has cooperated fully” in the investigation.

A spokeswoman for the North Carolina State Bar also confirmed Thursday that Capece has been disbarred.

Capece worked in the Denver, N.C., office of the Lincolnton-based Jonas law firm, whose high-profile lawyers include former N.C. House Minority leader Johnathan Rhyne. Rhyne served in the role when Republicans were in the minority.

Capece signed the affidavit surrendering his law license on May 13, according to a copy of the affidavait obtained by the Observer.

He admitted to misappropriating the money between December 2009 and February 2015, according to the affidavit.

In a consent order of disbarment filed in Wake County Superior Court on Monday, Judge Donald Stephens ruled that Capece misappropriated about $706,000 as legal guardian of an estate and about $817,000 as trustee of a related living trust.

Capece misappropriated another $62,200 from a general trust account he maintained at BB&T Bank, the judge found.

The order does not say how Capece spent the money.

Capece is barred from asking to have his law license reinstated for at least five years, the judge ordered.

Capece was executor of the estate of Fritz Detmers of Denver, N.C., court records show. Detmers died at age 78 in 2009.

On LinkIn, an online business-oriented social networking service, Capece lists himself as project manager at Capital Conservation Group Inc. in Denver, N.C., for the past three months. A spokesman for the firm said Thursday that Capece had been a lawyer for the firm but was not employed there.

Capece says on LinkedIn that he worked for the Jonas law firm from April 2008 to February 2015 and at the Denver, N.C., law firm of Kennedy & Wulfhorst from December 2002 to April 2008.

In a statement Thursday, the Jonas law firm said Capece had been fired and that it was “dismayed that a former employee, a person we invited into our firm and treated as one of our own, would betray the trust of a client. Such an egregious breach of ethics and violation of the law is a betrayal of every standard we have worked hard to uphold over the decades.”

The firm said it continues “to work hard to be effective and ethical advocates for our clients. That is what we have been doing since Charles A. and Harvey Jonas first opened this practice in 1912.”

Staff Researcher Maria David contributed.

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Twitter: @jmarusak