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White-Collar Crime

Lawyer Pleads Guilty in $2.5M Theft Case; Failure to File Tax Returns Alerted Authorities

Posted Sep 21, 2010 3:13 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Alerted by a state office that a New York lawyer had failed to file tax returns, authorities in Erie County initiated an investigation that eventually led to a guilty plea today by now-suspended attorney Kenneth Bernas in a $2.5 million-plus case.

He pleaded guilty in state court in Buffalo to 33 felonies including multiple larceny counts, a single count of identity theft and a one count of failing to file a New York state income tax return, reports WGRZ.

According to the Erie County DA's Special Investigations and Prosecution Bureau, he obtained loans under the names of 20 personal injury clients, unbeknownst to them, and fraudulently converted multiple settlements for his own use. Bernas also allegedly embezzled from nine estates and an individual client.

When sentenced in December he could get as much as 50 years.

Bernas will be free in the meantime on personal recognizance, although he was required to surrender his passport, according to the Buffalo News. It says he failed to pay a total of $85,000 in income tax due for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Updated at 3:30 p.m. to include information from Buffalo News.

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