Disbarred lawyer siphoned $500K intended for a client disabled in a car crash, Montco DA says
Originally Published: Aug 20, 2020 | Republished by LIT; Oct 20, 2020
Michael Bradley was supposed to be the legal steward of insurance payments for a client who suffered debilitating injuries from a car crash.
Instead, prosecutors said Thursday, more than half of that settlement money paid for a new driveway at the Warrington attorney’s home, family vacations to Key West, $10,000 worth of plastic surgery, and nearly 1,000 Amazon purchases.
Bradley, 50, was disbarred in 2019 over the alleged theft. Now, after months of investigation, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele has filed multiple felony fraud charges against him.
“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,” Steele said.
Steele’s office began investigating the case after Bradley was disbarred. County detectives discovered that Bradley had allegedly comingled the payments intended for his client into an account his law firm used for other clients, and also used the money to pay personal expenses.
The withdrawals from that account were used for, among other things, paying the mortgage on Bradley’s home in Bucks County, tuition and student-loan payments for his children, and various charges at restaurants and businesses near Warrington, according to the affidavit of probable cause for Bradley’s arrest.
Bradley’s attorney, William J. Brennan, said Wednesday that “it’s important to remember that he’s presumed innocent.”
“I’ve known Mr. Bradley for over 30 years,” Brennan said. “He’s been totally cooperative with this investigation, and when I have the opportunity to review the discovery in this case, we will decide on an appropriate way to resolve this matter.”
In September 2012, Branden Thornton, then 18, was struck by a vehicle as he walked along Gulph Road in Upper Merion Township. The crash caused a traumatic brain injury and put Thornton in a coma for nearly three months, according to investigators. His injuries left him with “a lifelong dependence on others for care and many daily activities,” including 18 hours of daily supervision, the affidavit said.
Thornton’s mother hired Bradley to deal with the civil case related to the crash, as well as handle dealings with the insurance companies issuing payments on behalf of the driver. From 2014 to 2017, more than $1 million was deposited into an account Bradley’s law firm maintained, and the money was supposed to be given to Thornton’s family to help pay for his care, the affidavit said.
Instead, investigators found that Thornton’s mother, Tammy Howard, only received about $267,000 during that time. In May 2017, Howard called Bradley to ask about the payments. The attorney told Howard her insurance company had withdrawn the remaining funds meant for her son’s care.
Howard immediately became suspicious, according to the affidavit.
“I know insurance can’t just do that,” she told investigators. “I didn’t get any type of paperwork saying they were doing this.”
After months of trying to resolve the situation, Howard filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Board of the state Supreme Court. During the board’s investigation, an attorney representing Bradley said he was unfamiliar with the rules for handling payments to clients in such cases, according to the affidavit in the criminal case.
The lawyer also told the board that Bradley had developed an opioid dependency after receiving medical care for complications related to diabetes.
Bradley was released on $250,000 unsecured bond, according to court records. He faces a preliminary hearing in the criminal case on Sept. 1.