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Brookfield attorney gets maximum sentence in foreclosure scam (UPDATE)

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//April 4, 2012//

Brookfield attorney gets maximum sentence in foreclosure scam (UPDATE)

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//April 4, 2012//

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Brookfield attorney Thomas Bielinski is led into the courtroom prior to a plea hearing in February at the Milwaukee County Criminal Justice Facility. Bielinski on Wednesday was sentenced to 5 years in prison for his part in a foreclosure scam. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

A Brookfield attorney who pleaded guilty to felony fraud charges received the maximum sentence allowable Wednesday.

Thomas Bielinski, 52, received 5 years in prison and 5 years extended supervision on a felony theft charge. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge J.D. Watts handed down the ruling.

Bielinski in February admitted to one count of theft-false representation for stealing $542,231.61 through a foreclosure scam in Milwaukee.

“Cleary, this is one of the worst cases,” Watts said during the proceedings, “that could be presented for theft by fraud.”

Shackled and dressed in a blue, padded smock, an emotional Bielinski expressed remorse for his actions prior to sentencing. He apologized to the county, individual victims and the legal profession for his crime.

“I deeply regret what I have done,” he said.

The judge ordered restitution be paid to Milwaukee County in an amount that will be determined at a May 2 hearing.

Watts said the amount likely will be between $450,000 and $500,000 and Bielinski will have 10 years to pay in full.

Watts determined the county would be the primary recipient of restitution, based on the Aug. 23 complaint that named the municipality as the victim in the case.

However, as many as 62 victims alleged in the complaint can file a claim in court to recover their share of money stolen by Bielinski, who targeted mortgage-foreclosure cases in which there was a surplus from sheriff’s sales.

“Ultimately, what we envision,” said Colleen Foley, Milwaukee County assistant corporate counsel, “is that individual claimants would petition the civil court, because we can’t prioritize who gets restitution first.”

Bielinski took advantage of a system where, if the winning bids for a foreclosed property are more than what is owed to the creditor, the difference goes into a trust and can be claimed by the owner of the property when it went into foreclosure. Owners of foreclosed properties are then entitled to surplus money held in trust by the clerk’s office, said Debbie Bachun, fiscal and operations manager for the Milwaukee County Clerk of Courts office.

For those whom never filed a claim for the money owed, Bielinski purported to represent the owners and claimed the money, according to the complaint.

Three of the victims made statements Wednesday, including Milwaukee resident John Slomanski, who said his deceased father was entitled to $36,000 stolen by Bielinski.

Slomanski told the court that had his father, whose house went into foreclosure in 2003, never knew about the surplus money prior to his death last June.

“Mr. Bielinski found a loophole in the system,” Slomanski said, “to fraudulently collect those funds.”

None of the identified victims told investigators they knew Bielinski or had given him authorization to represent them, according to the complaint.

Bielinski defense attorney Michael Hart, of Kohler & Hart SC, requested 2 years of prison and 5 years of extended supervision for his client.

Bielinski had been held on $1 million bail since January after skipping two plea hearings which led to his arrest at Holy Hill in Hubertus.

While he acknowledged the severity of the crime, Hart argued Bielinski had no prior criminal history and that it was the system, not his client, to blame for the victims’ financial losses.

“Mr. Bielinski didn’t prevent the county from notifying individuals,” Hart said. “The devastation occurred before he began the fraudulent activity.”

But Watts said the aggravating circumstances of the crime, to include identity theft, forgery and a general betrayal of trust with the court system, justified the maximum penalty sought by prosecutors.

“When you have this fall from grace it is a calamity,” Watts said, “not only for the individual lawyer, but the entire legal profession.”

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