Between 2016 and 2018, I wrote a series of posts about Derek Bluford, a one-time rising star on the legal tech start-up scene whose star fell after I reported in 2016 of his settlement of a lawsuit charging him with impersonating a lawyer, forging legal documents and fraudulently swindling two clients.
Now, Bluford has been sentenced to seven years in prison on charges related to those forgeries and fraud.
On Thursday, Phillip A. Talbert, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, said that Bluford, 34, was sentenced for wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of a federal investigation, and making false statements.
When I first wrote about Bluford, he had been slated to be featured two weeks later at a Legaltech West Coast program on legal innovation. Just 28 years old at the time, he had achieved success and won accolades as an entrepreneur, first starting California Legal Pros, a company that marketed various legal services to both consumers and lawyers. then QuickLegal, a service that provided on-demand legal advice to consumers, and then QuickLegal Practice Management, a cloud practice management platform for lawyers.
He had even been selected to appear on the popular ABC television show Shark Tank, although, as far as I can tell, he never actually appeared on any segment that was aired.
Following my report, QuickLegal shut down, but then seemed to be reincarnated in another similar startup called LawTova. After I wrote about that company (here and here), it too shut down. I then wrote about yet another startup that had ties to Bluford and QuickLegal, which has also since shut down.
In 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Bluford on the charges that resulted in his sentencing last week.
Impersonated A Lawyer
My first post about Bluford in 2016 details the fraud, which at that point had been documented in a civil suit in which he agreed to have a judgment entered against him of $559,330, and it related to his company California Legal Pros.
When a couple came to him for help evicting a tenant, Bluford told them that he was a lawyer, even though he was not. He then used an outrageous series of fabricated documents, made-up court hearings, fake fines, and outright lies to get the couple to pay him over $500,000.
The scheme unraveled only when the couple grew suspicious and researched the judge who had supposedly issued orders against them, only to find out no such judge existed.
The day after I wrote that post, Bluford called me and insisted that he had done no wrong, but that a QuickLegal staff member had carried out the fraud by hacking into his computer and impersonating him.
Another Strange Turn
Last October, the story took another strange turn, when Bluford published a book in which he said he became an FBI informant assisting in a political corruption investigation into the former mayor of Sacramento, Calif., Kevin Johnson, who was also a former star with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.
Bluford’s book even talked about my 2016 post, saying that he was about to sell his company to LegalZoom at a valuation of $10-15 million when the lawsuit and my report on it caused LegalZoom to back out of the deal. (LegalZoom had reached out to me in 2016 to deny that it was doing business with Bluford or had any partnership with him.)
Soon after the book came out, a New Haven, Conn., newspaper reported that Bluford in 2019 had attempted to bribe New Haven’s then-mayor, Toni Harp. It alleged that during a dinner at a ritzy steakhouse to discuss a possible contract with another of Bluford’s companies, he handed Harp an envelope stuffed with $7,000 in cash.
Here is the whole set of my prior posts about Bluford: