Michael W. Kwasnik of Philadelphia, a lawyer with an office in Cherry Hill, has been indicted on charges he stole more than $1 million from a client, the state attorney general’s office announced Monday.
Kwasnik, 42, is charged in a four-count state grand jury indictment with theft by failure to make required disposition of money and misapplication of the funds, theft, and money laundering, all in the second degree.
A warrant has been issued for Kwasnik’s arrest, with bail set at $1 million.
The indictment is the result of an investigation by the state Division of Criminal Justice Financial and Computer Crimes Bureau. Kwasnik, who specializes in estate and financial planning, is licensed as a lawyer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He was hired by an elderly woman from Cherry Hill, who is not named in the indictment, for estate planning purposes. In that role, Kwasnik set up a family trust for the benefit of the client and her children. He also was hired to help the client administer the estate of her deceased sister.
The elderly woman was the only living heir of her sister and the sole beneficiary of the estate. Kwasnik, who was designated sole trustee of the client’s family trust, received checks from the estate, which the client expected him to deposit into the family trust.
Between September and December 2006, Kwasnik received checks from the estate totaling about $1.1 million, which he deposited into a general trust account for clients maintained by his law firm. However, rather than holding or investing the funds as assets of the elderly client’s family trust, he allegedly withdrew the funds from that account within a few months, stealing more than $1 million.
With the exception of a small amount used on behalf of the client, Kwasnik allegedly misappropriated the funds for his own benefit and for other purposes unrelated to the administration of the estate, including paying other clients and paying the operating expenses of his law firm.
“We charge in our criminal case that Kwasnik exploited an elderly client, misappropriating more than $1 million she intended to give to her children,” Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. “Just as we allege in our lawsuit that Kwasnik preyed on elderly investors, we charge in the indictment that he took advantage of the frailty of this client and the trust she placed in him in order to deceive and steal. We will aggressively prosecute criminals who prey on this vulnerable segment of our population.”
“We charge that Kwasnik is a cheat and a thief who betrayed his oath as an attorney to uphold the law,” state Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor said. “We are continuing to investigate his various financial schemes, and we urge anyone with relevant information to contact us.”
The indictment was handed up to state Superior Court Judge Pedro J. Jimenez Jr. in Trenton, who assigned the case to Camden County, where Kwasnik will be ordered to appear in court to be arraigned on the charges.
The case was investigated and presented to the grand jury by Sgt. James Blong, Deputy Attorneys General Denise Grugan and Peter Gallagher.
At the time of the alleged conduct, Kwasnik was managing partner of the law firm of Kwasnik, Rodio, Kanowitz and Buckley, which had offices in Cherry Hill and Woodbury. The firm closed, but Kwasnik practices law in Cherry Hill under the firm name Kwasnik, Kanowitz and Associates.
Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a fine of $150,000. The money laundering count carries an enhanced fine of up to $500,000, plus an additional anti-money laundering profiteering penalty of $250,000.
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM