Crime & Courts

Phony lawyer who cheated Columbia Chinese restaurant, bilked women gets prison

John Monk

A man who posed as a lawyer and threatened legal action against a Chinese restaurant in Columbia to coerce its owner into paying him $250,000 was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison Tuesday in Columbia.

Phillip Asher, a 48-year-old Georgian, also pretended to be an attorney when he swindled women he met on Internet dating sites and got up-front “fees” to help them with their legal issues, according to evidence in the case.

District Court Judge Mary Lewis sentenced Asher to prison after his guilty plea to one count of wire fraud. Other charges were dropped.

Law enforcement officials, including the FBI, became involved in the case in 2017 when Asher convinced a client, identified only as “C.S.,” to hire him to sue an unidentified Columbia-area Chinese restaurant.

Asher, who also used the name “Phillip Reynolds,” threatened the restaurant’s owners with “economic harm and immigration consequences if $250,000 or $300,000” was not paid to his client, according to evidence in the case.

The restaurant’s owner gave Asher $250,000 in cashier’s checks to settle the fraudulent legal action, an indictment in the case said.

According to prosecutors, Asher’s other legal scams included:

Getting fees from a woman, identified only as “K.J.,” to begin a lawsuit against an insurance company in Michigan.

Getting money from a woman, identified as “M.L.,” after telling her he had recently won a $300,000 lawsuit but needed a short-term loan.

Getting money from two women, “K.S.” and “T.W.,” to provide legal assistance to a relative who was in prison in North Carolina.

Getting money from a woman, named “E.S.,” after agreeing to represent her in a civil lawsuit against a homeowners’ association.

Asher also had similar lawyer-fraud charges pending against him in Georgia, Michigan and Brevard, N.C. Those cases will be dismissed as part of his agreement to plead guilty in Columbia, according to court records.

Asher’s court-appointed lawyer, Connie Breeden of Columbia, said, “We appreciate the consideration the court gave this unusual case.”

Prosecutors included Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jim May and Alyssa Richardson.