White-Collar Crime

Ex-Associate of Law Firm Charged With Wire Fraud, Accused of Obtaining $453K from Trust Account

An ex-associate of a Baton Rouge, La., law firm has been federally charged with wire fraud for allegedly using fraudulent misrepresentations to persuade his former firm to send $93,750 to a bank account under his control.

The charging document, a bill of information, also contends, however, that James M. “Tres” Bernhard III “in all … fraudulently directed approximately $453,123 from the law firm’s trust account,” the Advocate reports.

He could not be located for comment, the newspaper says, and his lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment late in the day on Tuesday.

Bernhard was sued civilly earlier this year by Crawford Lewis, which contended in its complaint that he had misappropriated a seven-figure amount of client assets, including tax credits and a $600,000 fabricated check. The case settled in July, according to the newspaper, which did not report the settlement terms. Bernhard had given up his license to practice law by early May.

The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report says a partial settlement, of $1.5 million, in the civil case had been reached by May, with the money going to unidentified investors.

Bernhard was accused by the law firm both of selling bogus movie industry tax credits and pocketing money generated by the sale of legitimate tax credits, the article reports. Attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who represented Crawford Lewis, said he used trust fund money to pay the settlement.

Bernhard, 36, is the son of the founder and chief officer of the Shaw Group Inc. He reportedly was admitted to practice in 2003 and began working for Crawford Lewis in 2007.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “La. Attorney Accused by Former Firm of Misusing Client Assets Has Given Up Law License”

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