Lawyer Charged for Fake Church Abuse Claim

A disbarred lawyer was charged with fraud after he falsely claimed to have been abused by a Catholic priest at the center of the church abuse scandal (search) in Oregon, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Thomas E. Smolka, 57, attempted to defraud the Portland Archdiocese by claiming he had been abused as a child by the late Rev. Maurice Grammond (search), according to the indictment announced Friday.

Grammond has been accused of abusing more than 50 children in several different Oregon parishes. Those cases and others have led the archdiocese to file for bankruptcy protection.

Smolka, a former Virginia Beach lawyer, fled his home state a year ago after pleading guilty to federal charges for having defrauded 17 clients out of at least $110,000 by taking their retainer, but failing to deliver legal services.

U.S. Marshals arrested him on March 24 on a federal fugitive warrant at his Portland apartment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer (search) said a search of Smolka's apartment revealed documents showing Smolka tried to pass himself off as a victim of sex abuse in hopes of cashing in on a lawsuit.

On March 12, using the name and Social Security number of a deceased New Mexico man, he met with David Slader, a Portland attorney who represents many of Grammond's victims, and claimed that he had been abused by Grammond, although he had never before lived in Oregon, according to the indictment.

"Hundreds of boys and girls across this nation have been abused by their priests, and they live in constant fear that they will not be believed. To falsify a claim of abuse insults each one of those men and women," Slader said.

Court documents did not identify a lawyer for Smolka, who is now in custody in Virginia.