The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
Lawyer admits to stealing $563K from client
Bucks attorney took settlement from injured crash victim
NORRISTOWN >> A disgraced former Bucks County lawyer accused of stealing $563,000 from one of his clients, a Lower Providence man who was seriously injured in an Upper Merion hitand-run crash, and using the funds for personal expenses, including vacations, pleaded guilty to a theft charge and awaits his fate from a judge.
Michael Francis Bradley, 53, of the 2200 block of Forest Glen Drive, Warrington, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court to a felony charge of theft by unlawful taking in connection with a theft scheme that occurred between 2014 and 2017.
Judge Steven T. O’Neill deferred sentencing so that court officials can complete a background investigation report about Bradley.
The open guilty plea means Bradley has no deals with prosecutors regarding his potential sentence. Bradley, who remains free on bail pending a sentencing hearing later this year, faces a possible maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison on the charge. However, state sentencing guidelines could allow for a lesser sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Kelli Ann McGinnis is prosecuting the case. Defense lawyer William J. Brennan represents Bradley.
Court documents indicate Bradley was the legal representative for Branden Thornton, of Lower Providence, who received a civil settlement of $1,105,000 to be used for his lifelong care after he was seriously injured on Sept. 9, 2012, when a hit-and-run driver struck him while he was walking along the 400 block of South Gulph Road in Upper Merion Township.
Thornton, then 18, suffered multiple injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, and was in a coma for more than two months and doctors said he would require life-long care, according to court papers.
Thornton’s mother, acting on her son’s behalf, subsequently signed an agreement with Bradley to represent Thornton and handle civil actions arising from the pedestrian crash, court
Under the representation agreement, Bradley eventually received 25 percent of the gross settlement, amounting to about $276,250, from insurers and the vehicle driver, and he was responsible for communicating with the insurance companies and paying Thornton’s medical bills with settlement funds, which he did during the ensuing three years, investigators alleged.
However, in May 2017, Bradley allegedly told Thornton’s mother that the funds for her son’s care were depleted. Bradley told Thornton’s mother, “The insurance company had gone in and taken the money from the bank account,” according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective Jean Morrison.
Thornton’s mother “did not believe Bradley’s explanation and instead began to think that Bradley may have been spending the money,” Morrison alleged. Thornton’s mother demanded an accounting but received no further contact from Bradley, according to the criminal complaint.
On the advice of other lawyers, Thornton’s mother filed a complaint in March 2018 with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which investigates alleged misconduct by lawyers. The agency’s subsequent investigation found that Bradley made some distributions for Thornton’s care, however, the agency found evidence of alleged theft of undistributed funds and mishandling by Bradley. The agency notified the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office about its findings.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania subsequently disbarred Bradley on Feb. 8, 2019, according to court documents.
County detectives painstakingly pored over numerous records during the investigation, including settlement checks received from insurance companies and the driver of the vehicle, bank statements and Bradley’s business accounts.
After reviewing Bradley’s business accounts “it is clear the settlement funds for Branden are co-mingled with funds received and distributed for other Bradley clients as well as funds distributed for the personal expenses of Bradley and his family,” Morrison alleged in the arrest affidavit.
“The co-mingling of these funds within the expense account of Bradley allowed for the misappropriation of a large portion of these funds,” Morrison alleged.
The investigation determined that between December 2014 and May 2017, Bradley allegedly misappropriated $563,840 of the total $1,105,000 settlement funds.
The investigation determined Bradley used those funds to pay for his personal expenses, including $220,000 to his mortgage company to avoid foreclosure, renovations to his home, new furniture, vacations, plastic surgery, restaurant meals, jewelry, college tuition, student loan payments, vehicle payments and 995 purchases from Amazon and other unauthorized expenses not for Thornton’s care, according to court papers.
In a letter to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania a lawyer representing Bradley allegedly wrote, “Mr. Bradley became reliant upon prescribed opioid medications including Vicodin, Percocet and oxycodone. By early 2017, between disbursements to Mr. Thornton and various unauthorized payments, the settlement funds were exhausted.”
Other charges of dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by deception, receiving stolen property, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received, misapplication of entrusted property and securing execution of documents by deception are slated to be dismissed against Bradley at sentencing time in exchange for his guilty plea to the theft by unlawful taking charge.