House painter ready to plead guilty to thefts
Clifton Willson is accused of stealing money from his employers
WEST CHESTER >> The attorney for a house painter who authorities said stole almost $1 million from his wealthy employers said his client is expected to plead guilty to charges in the case later this month. Christian Hoey, who began representing Clifton Willson only recently, told the judge overseeing the case that the matter would likely be resolved as soon as his client can meet restitution claims put forth by the prosecution.
“This will not be a trial, I can assure the court,” Hoey, of Paoli, told Judge Phyllis Streitel during a status update on the case Monday as Willson sat in the courtroom. Hoey said that he and Assistant District Attorney Basil Joy, the prosecutor in the case, were discussing what the amount of money Willson would be required to pay back, and how that would be accomplished; he did not say whether any plea agreement that Willson would enter would include jail time.
The case was continued until Nov. 28. Willson, 35, of Radnor was employed as a part-time painter at a picturesque horse farm tucked into the rolling hills of Willistown when he was arrested in May, accused of stealing more than $900,000 from the owners of the Heartwood Farm, the 72-acre estate of Esther and Paul Gansky, a couple with deep roots in the equestrian life of the Upper Main Line. According to authorities, Willson reportedly stole blank checks from the couple while he worked at the estate from May 2014 to February 2016.
He would allegedly write his name on the check and forge the signature of Esther Gansky, and then deposit the checks into his bank account. Over a period of several months, Willson then allegedly used the money he stole to fund a lavish lifestyle, far beyond what the normal income of a part-time painter paid $900 a week would afford. He bought several luxury cars, including two Maseratis, jewelry, expensive vacations and even private school tuition for his children. By the time he was caught by Esther Gansky, who discovered the fraudulent checks in February, Willson had taken $927,100 from the couple.
By the time he was arrested, he had only $188,000 left in his bank account, according to the criminal complaint. When police confronted Willson about the thefts in March, they said he confessed and
told them how he had committed the crimes and what he spent the money on. He was charged with theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, forgery, access device fraud, and dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activity.
Hoey is Willson’s third attorney. Harry Feinberg of Philadelphia represented him when he was
first arraigned. Until recently, he was represented by attorney Dawson R. Muth of West Chester. But Hoey took over the case when Muth became a partner with the firm of Lamb McERlane, which represents the Ganskys.