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Ex-Fairfield Lawyer Gets 3 Years in Prison for Defrauding Clients of $950K

A former Fairfield lawyer was sentenced for defrauding clients of close to $1 million.
A former Fairfield lawyer was sentenced for defrauding clients of close to $1 million. Photo Credit: File

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- An attorney who had an office in Fairfield was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for stealing more than $950,000 from his clients, according to Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. Attorney for the district of Connecticut.

John O'Brien, 53, of North Kingstown, R.I. was sentenced in Bridgeport to 36 months followed by three years of supervised release. He had pleaded guilty in December to one count of wire fraud, Daly said.

According to court documents, O'Brien was an attorney with an office in Fairfield, and between April 2011 and June 2014 he defrauded four clients by using money from one client to pay off debts owed in connection with his representation of other clients. He also used client money to pay for personal expenses, including tuition for one of his children to go to private school.

Daly said that in May 2012, O'Brien accepted about $458,000 into his Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) as proceeds of a reverse mortgage taken by a client and his wife, both of whom are deceased. O'Brien was supposed to use the funds from the reverse mortgage to keep the client's family business sustainable, but only $204,000 was disbursed to the family business, Daly said.

In July 2013, O'Brien received another $194,636 from bank accounts held in the name of his client and one of the client's children. The money was supposed to be distributed to the client's children, but only $104,000 was distributed.

In April 2014, O'Brien accepted $837,000 into his IOLTA as proceeds after selling a client's real property, Daly said. Only $470,000 was distributed to the client's heirs. The first check that O'Brien wrote after the money was deposited into the IOLTA was to an unrelated client to pay off a debt, Daly said. In total, O'Brien defrauded this client of $712,221.95, according to Daly.

In May 2011, O'Brien deposited $74,250 from a second client into his IOLTA. This money was never disbursed to the client.

In September 2011, he agreed to represent a terminally ill woman for estate planning. Upon her death, he received $137,000 from the estate into his IOLTA, which he used to pay personal expenses, including his son's private school tuition and thousands of dollars to his ex-wife, Daly said. Only $112,283.20 was distributed to the client's heirs.

Another client in 2013 transferred $199,332 to O'Brien to purchase the client's deceased mother's home in Westport. Because of a delay in transferring payment, the client incurred approximately $13,000 in storage fees for belongings while they were waiting to occupy the property.

While all these fraudulent activities were going on, O'Brien made thousands of dollars in withdrawals from his IOLTA and deposited into his personal bank account.

O'Brien resigned from the Connecticut bar in June 2015.

At his sentencing, the judge ordered the government to submit a proposed restitution order within 14 days.

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