NORRISTOWN — A Bucks County lawyer faces charges he allegedly stole $563,000 from one of his clients, a Lower Providence man who was seriously injured in an Upper Merion hit-and-run crash, and used the funds to live an “extravagant” lifestyle, including purchases for vacations and plastic surgery.
Michael Francis Bradley, 50, of the 2200 block of Forest Glen Drive, Warrington, was arraigned before District Court Judge Cathleen Kelly Rebar of Lower Providence on charges of dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by unlawful taking or disposition, 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 in connection with the alleged theft scheme that occurred between 2014 and 2017.
Rebar set Bradley’s bail at $250,000 unsecured and Bradley was released to await a preliminary hearing scheduled for 1 p.m., Sept. 1.
“The defendant’s theft of more than half a million dollars—funds that were dedicated to helping his client receive the care he needed to live—which he used to pay for extravagant goods and vacations, is not only illegal but disturbing on a basic human level,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said on Thursday.
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.
#BREAKING - #MontcoPa DA Kevin Steele announces the arrest of disbarred lawyer Michael F. Bradley, 50, of Warrington, #Bucks County, for alleged theft of more than $563K of insurance settlement funds intended to be used for care of a client seriously injured in car crash. pic.twitter.com/ZRnobltGZY— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) August 20, 2020
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 papers indicate.
“The defendant was entrusted to help Thornton,” Steele said.
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 allegedly 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.
Ex-lawyer Michael Bradley faces charges of Dealing in Proceeds of Unlawful Activities, Theft by Unlawful Taking or Disposition, Theft by Deception & Receiving Stolen Property in connection with alleged theft of $563K from #MontcoPa client.— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) August 20, 2020
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 allegedly 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, about 33 per month, 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.”
The case will be prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Kelli McGinnis.