Buried in today’s newspaper was a small headline, “Brookfield Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Fraud.” Whether local or out-of-town, I hate reading those headlines. When public officials, lawyers or cops steal, everyone suffers – not just their victims.
In today’s case Thomas Bielinski pleaded guilty to felony theft by fraud. According to press reports, Bielinski combed court records looking for unclaimed property. Much of the money was left over from foreclosed homes. Instead of the money going to the rightful owner, Bielinski posed as the lawyer for the owners. Apparently using phony documents and notary seals, Bielinski claimed the refunds on behalf of his “clients.”
Prosecutors say he bilked victims out of more than half a million dollars before getting caught. His plan unraveled when a relative of one of the victims went to the courthouse looking to claim their unclaimed property. Instead they learned that Bielinski had already claimed the money.
When cops raided Bielinski’s home they found not only evidence of the forged court and client documents but also the clerk’s own files. By stealing the original file perhaps Bielinski thought he could avoid arrest. He was wrong.
Originally released on a signature bond, Bielinski now remains behind bars in lieu of $1 million cash bail. Judge J.D. Watts set the high bail last year after Bielinski failed to appear.
Prosecutors hope to get restitution for his victims, although collection remains doubtful. According to a WISN story aired last summer at the time of his arrest, Bielinski told investigators he had no real clients. The state bar’s website shows that his license is in “resignation pending” status.
The state bar maintains a small fund for clients who funds are stolen. Whether the fund can pay in this case is in question as his victims were never really clients – Bielinski forged their names in order to access the funds. Malpractice insurance usually does not include intentional acts such as theft either, assuming he even bothered to purchase insurance.
Luckily, problems like these are rare.
Update: In April 2012, Thomas Bielinski was sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum sentence available to the court. He was also ordered to pay over $500,000 in restitution. It is unlikely he will ever be able to pay that.
At his sentencing hearing, several of his victims testified. John Slomanski spoke on behalf of his late father. He says that the $36,000 his father had coming might have saved his dad’s business back in 2003, and kept him out of the depression that led to further health complications and ultimately his death in 2011.
Another man testified that his son needed the money to help get back on his feet after suffering horrific combat injuries in Iraq.
Although we doubt restitution has been paid we are happy to report that the Wisconsin Supreme Court permanently revoked his license to practice law. Because of reciprocity agreements among the states, we doubt he could be licensed anywhere in the U.S.
Are You the Victim of Legal Malpractice?
If you are the victim of fraud or malpractice by a lawyer or financial professional, give us a call. Most cases can be handled on a contingent fee basis meaning no legal fees are due unless we collect money for you. Our legal malpractice and professional negligence lawyers have represented victims across the United States including Michigan, Illinois, Texas, Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin. Wherever fraud occurs – we want to help you get back your hard earned money.
For more information, visit our sister legal malpractice site. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact attorney Brian Mahany online, by email or by phone (414) 258-2375 . All inquiries are kept in strict confidence.
Mahany Law – America’s Fraud Lawyers