Michael W. Kwasnik, a former Cherry Hill lawyer who already is in jail for allegedly stealing over $1 million from a 96-year-old client in New Jersey, was indicted Tuesday on new charges that he stole over $324,000 from the proceeds of a personal injury settlement that his law partner recovered for a couple from Williamstown.
In addition to the criminal charges, the state attorney general’s office previously filed a civil lawsuit charging Kwasnik, his father and other individuals with engaging in a fraudulent scheme in which 73 investors, most of them elderly, lost $8.5 million.
Kwasnik, 42, of Philadephia, was charged Tuesday in a three-count state grand jury indictment with theft by failure to make required disposition of property received, misapplication of entrusted property, and money laundering, all in the second degree.
Kwasnik is being held in the Camden County Jail with bail set at $1 million as the result of an indictment unsealed on Nov. 7 that charged him with the alleged theft from the 96-year-old client, a woman from Cherry Hill.
State Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Sumners Jr. Tuesday increased Kwasnik’s bail by $250,000 in connection with the new indictment. Both indictments stem from an ongoing investigation by the state Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Kwasnik is scheduled to appear Wednesday before Superior Court Judge Michael J. Kassel in Camden for a bail source hearing.
“Once again, we have indicted Michael Kwasnik for stealing a large sum of money from a client,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said. “The allegations in our criminal and civil actions reveal a disturbing pattern in which Kwasnik has repeatedly violated the trust placed in him as an attorney and has ruthlessly taken advantage of elderly investors and clients. We will not tolerate this type of conduct and we are continuing to investigate him.”
“When people hire a lawyer, they typically are looking for a professional they can trust to guide them through matters beyond their own sphere of knowledge – often matters involving high financial stakes,” state Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor said. “When a lawyer takes advantage of that trust to steal, as we allege Kwasnik did, the results can be devastating.”
The alleged victims in the new indictment, the married couple from Williamstown, had hired Kwasnik’s former law firm, Kwasnik, Kanowitz & Associates, to represent them in a personal injury lawsuit. Kwasnik’s partner had successfully settled the matter for the couple for $485,000, which was deposited in October into a trust account for clients maintained by the law firm.
Under the terms of the settlement, the couple was entitled to receive $324,118, representing the full settlement amount minus the law firm’s fees of over $151,000 and certain other costs previously paid by the firm. However, it is alleged that between Nov. 1 and Nov. 7, Kwasnik made unauthorized transfers of funds totaling $483,580 out of the client trust account and into a new bank account he had opened. In taking that sum, he allegedly stole the amount that the couple was entitled to receive.