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      Suspended Florence lawyer indicted on federal charges appears in court

      William Rivers, III, a suspended Florence lawyer, was officially arraigned in federal court Tuesday morning. He pled not guilty to three charges of Mail Fraud.

      Rivers was appointed a public defender because of his financial status at the present. The judge allowed him to remain out of jail on a $25,000 unsecured bond until his trial.

      The indictment says between October 2006 to November 2012, Rivers and his late law partner John Schurlknight failed to tell clients when their cases had been settled and failed to pay the clients' medical providers, but instead forged clients' signatures on releases and kept all of the money received in the clients' settlements.

      Rivers and Schurlknight were partners at the Schurlknight and Rivers Law Firm in Florence, which is no longer in operation.

      Rivers was suspended from practicing law by the South Carolina Supreme Court last December following complaints filed by former clients about missing money.

      The indictment says as part of the scheme, Rivers did knowingly cause to be delivered by United States Mail a letter regarding settlement of a claim of an individual being represented by his law firm.

      If convicted on the federal charges, Rivers could be receive up to 20 years in prison.

      Rivers' former partner, John Schurlknight, died in 2012.

      In a civil lawsuit filed by some of his former clients against his estate, Schurlknight is accused of stealing between $6 million and $10 million from 22 of his clients.

      The lawsuit says Schurlknight's scheme was similar to the one operated by Bernnie Madoff, with the exception that Madoff stole client investment money, while Schurlknight stole clients' personal injury recoveries or settlement money.

      Schurlknight would settle or otherwise resolve clients' personal injury claims without a client's knowledge, forge the client's name to a settlement check and steal 100% of the proceeds, the suit says.

      Rivers is not named in that civil lawsuit.