After one of her client’s died, a Wisconsin attorney stole more than $1.6 million from his trust accounts while continuing to lie to his wife about the status of estate funds, according to federal authorities.
She then used that money to purchase several new vehicles, splurge on Amazon, get dental work and pay for other personal expenses, officials said.
Now, the 61-year-old woman has been sentenced to 45 months in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud, money laundering and filing a false tax return, according to a Sept. 7 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin.
The woman’s defense attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on Sept. 8.
About 18 months before her client’s death, in October 2017, authorities said the Reedsburg woman “drafted a series of interconnected estate planning documents” on his behalf. The documents said his licensed attorney would become the sole trustee of his estate after his death.
His estate included retirement savings accounts and life insurance policies, according to court records. The beneficiaries of the estate were his wife, South Dakota State University and his two daughters.
But starting in June 2019, about two months after the man died, his attorney began transferring the money to her personal accounts, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.
She continued taking money until September 2022, when the funds were depleted, authorities said.
During that time, prosecutors said the attorney was using the money to buy several vehicles, including a Ford F-250 truck, a Jeep Compass, a Toyota RAV4, a Toyota Tacoma, a Mahindra tractor, a Honda Pioneer UTV, a Polaris ATV and a Yamaha motorcycle.
She and her husband also got over $78,000 in dental work, records show, and she purchased more than $151,000 in product from Amazon. The woman also bought $90,000 in pet supplies from Chewy and made home improvements, according to court documents.
To hide her theft, authorities said the attorney assured her client’s wife, who is now 89, “that the Estate money was conservatively invested in several brokerage accounts.”
The attorney also provided periodic payments to the wife for a total of $274,327, according to the sentencing memorandum. Authorities said she also encouraged the wife “to give away the proceeds of the sale of her house, rather than invest them, with the understanding that she would have ‘unlimited funds’ from the Estate.”
In a January 2022 interview with law enforcement, authorities said the woman lied by saying she transferred the funds into her personal account “to buy silver as an investment for the Estate.” She also claimed to have $1 million worth of silver in her basement, which was a lie, according to court records.
“At the sentencing hearing, Judge (William M.) Conley stated that it was hard to overstate the level of betrayal the defendant’s client endured as a result of the embezzlement scheme,” according to the news release. “Judge Conley noted that (the attorney) violated her ethical obligations … in ‘stunning ways.’ Judge Conley stated that the evidence showed that the defendant had lost her moral compass and the result was an ‘unspeakable loss’ for the client.”
In addition to 45 months in prison, the woman must serve three years of supervised release and pay $1,609,132 in restitution, records show.
Reedsburg is about 65 miles northwest of Madison.