An attorney accused of stealing more than $500,000 through a fraudulent foreclosure scheme made his initial appearance in Milwaukee County intake court on Wednesday afternoon.
Judicial Court Commissioner Barry Slagle set a $10,000 personal recognizance bail for Thomas Bielinski, who appeared with his attorney, Michael Hart of Kohler & Hart SC, Milwaukee.
Prosecutor Phyllis DeCarvalho recommended the PR bond based on Bielinski’s voluntary appearance on Wednesday.
Slagle scheduled a preliminary hearing in the case for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 20.
Bielinski, 52, said nothing at the hearing beyond acknowledging that he understood the terms of the no contact agreement with alleged victims.
Hart did not comment after the hearing.
Bielinski faces up to five years in prison and $25,000 in fines for allegedly stealing $542,231.61 in unclaimed foreclosure money by falsely representing himself since 2007 as the attorney for the proper claimants.
According to the criminal complaint filed Aug. 23 by Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley, Bielinski had targeted mortgage-foreclosure cases where surplus money remained from sheriff’s sales.
At least six foreclosed homeowners were entitled to surplus money held in trust by the Milwaukee County Clerk’s Office, but had never filed a claim. Bielinski purported to represent these homeowners and claimed the money, according to the complaint.
None of the identified victims told investigators they knew Bielinski or had given him authorization to represent them, according to the complaint.
In one case, the complaint stated Bielinski falsely represented a lender due surplus money from a second mortgage on a foreclosed home and filed a claim with Milwaukee County Circuit Court for the payoff.
In all, Bielinski was successful on 43 of 47 claims. He unsuccessfully attempted to steal an additional $84,784.64, according to the complaint.
During his alleged criminal activity, Bielinski had no legitimate law practice, according to the complaint. His fraud scheme, which involved identity theft, false notarizations, forgeries and thefts, was his primary source of income.
Bielinski graduated from Marquette University Law School in 1985.
Benkley’s complaint states that in forging signatures authorizing power of attorney, Bielinski “duped judges into signing orders to payout the surplus finds.”
After obtaining the unclaimed money, Bielinski would often sanitize the record by removing his fraudulent pleadings and forgeries from the official court file, according to the complaint.
While executing a search warrant July 19, law enforcement officials seized 16 original court files, 14 of which were mortgage foreclosures cases stolen from the Milwaukee County Clerk of Courts Office.
Authorities also found a list of civil court cases with printed entries indicating the dollar amount of unclaimed money available and handwritten notes indentifying parties that were dead, according to the complaint.
Prior to seizing Bielinski’s computer, authorities asked whether it contained any privileged attorney-client information.
Bielinski said he had no law clients, according to the complaint.