Former Gwinnett County Lawyer Indicted For Stealing Client Funds
ATLANTA – Former attorney Michael Rene Berlon has been arraigned on federal charges of mail and wire fraud.
“This defendant is charged with defrauding his own clients out of over $1.8 million,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “They came to him for legal help, and instead he drained their bank accounts.”
J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “Individuals relying on the professionalism and trust of individuals like Mr. Berlon should be able to turn to someone when that trust is violated. The FBI, in being well positioned to investigate such allegations involving the diversion of funds through mail and wire fraud, is that someone.”
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court: Berlon, who practiced in Grayson, Ga., through his law firm, the Law Office of Michael R. Berlon, is charged with obtaining funds from clients of his law firm and other individuals through false pretenses. The indictment alleges that some clients provided money to him believing that he would create a trust for them, and would hold the funds in trust. Instead, Berlon used the funds for personal expenses, including to pay his American Express bill and to repay other clients.
The indictment also alleges that in one instance, Berlon obtained money from two individuals who were looking for his assistance with starting a new business. He told the victims that he would help them get a loan, but they were required to provide a percentage of the requested loan amount as a down payment. Instead of assisting them with obtaining a loan, Berlon used the funds for his personal expenses and debts. In total, it is alleged that Berlon received at least $1.8 million in client funds from 2008-2013.
Berlon, 55, of Grayson, Ga., was arraigned before United States Magistrate Judge Justin S. Anand. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on September 9, 2014.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Jamie L. Mickelson is prosecuting the case.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.