By RYAN J. FOLEY
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Disbarred Iowa lawyer Dennis Bjorklund is infamous for running from regulators, employees and clients, but he now faces his biggest challenge yet: eluding the FBI.
Investigators sought the public’s help Friday in apprehending Bjorklund, who has been a fugitive since being indicted on mail and tax fraud charges 2-½ years ago.
At prosecutors’ request, a judge Wednesday made public Bjorklund’s 2010 indictment, in which Bjorklund is accused of duping clients into donating to a phony charity he controlled and drastically underreporting his income to avoid paying taxes.
Kevin VanderSchel, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the southern district of Iowa, said his office asked for the indictment to be unsealed so that the FBI’s fugitive publicity unit in Washington can highlight Bjorklund’s case.
FBI spokeswoman Sandy Breualt said Bjorklund, who hasn’t been seen at his last known address in Coralville or at a relative’s house in Wisconsin since his indictment, would be featured on the agency’s website and on billboards. She said he is most likely traveling with his longtime girlfriend, Rochelle Theroux, who is not a fugitive. Bjorklund is most likely using one of the three vehicles with Iowa plates: a 2003 beige Chevy Malibu (548RWA), a 2006 red Chevy Silverado pickup (188RWD) or a 2004 blue Chevy Cavalier (033TAH), she said.
Bjorklund, 48, once made handsome profits at his Coralville law firm by aggressively – and falsely – marketing himself as the nation’s leading defense lawyer for drunken driving offenses. He’s considered a poster boy for unethical legal practices, and his antics remain notorious years after he vanished. The Iowa Supreme Court disbarred Bjorklund in 2006 – only after he tried for years to thwart its disciplinary investigators at every turn.
Bjorklund repeatedly avoided being served legal papers during the case, once denying his identity by telling a process server that his name was “Jake” and running or sneaking away from others waiting outside his home and office. Bjorklund once lost his shoe while running from a server, but got away nonetheless.
“He lies with reckless abandon,” the court wrote in its disbarment order, saying dishonesty was part of Bjorklund’s “normal operating procedure.”
Cedar Rapids attorney Charles Hallberg, who worked for Bjorklund from 2003 until 2006, called him “Mr. Ethics Violation” and described Bjorklund’s actions as outrageous. He said Bjorklund kept two sets of accounting records to hide income, self-published books to embellish his expertise so he could charge higher fees, improperly solicited and billed clients, and failed to show up in court. He said Bjorklund also drove two cars to avoid detection and used fictitious names in business deals.
“I haven’t seen him and I count myself fortunate. But if he does get caught and sentenced, I’m going to bring some popcorn,” Hallberg said. “I have not met a more psychotic individual in my life. You can’t make up all the crap this guy did.”
Hallberg and other employees showed up to work in January 2006 to find the doors locked and a note saying the firm’s client files were stored at a satellite office in Cedar Rapids. Bjorklund was gone. Many employees haven’t seen him since and have no clue about his whereabouts.
Prosecutors contend that in drunken driving cases, Bjorklund encouraged clients to donate money to a substance abuse charity, saying that would likely get them a lighter sentence.
Bjorklund created the Rehabilitative Enterprises for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Training – nicknamed Re-Adapt – and a post office box to execute the fraud, the indictment says. Clients sent donations – thinking it was a legitimate charity – and they were deposited in a bank account that a Bjorklund associate opened. The money was paid to entities controlled by Bjorklund, including his firm. The scheme allegedly lasted from 2005 to 2006 and involved 11 clients.
The indictment charges Bjorklund with underreporting his income for three years, telling the IRS he earned an average of $17,000 per year at a time when employees said his firm was generating hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Before the indictment, the state high court found that Bjorklund’s ethical infractions were “numerous, varied, and serious” and the only way to protect clients was to remove him from the profession.
Bjorklund lied during an earlier disciplinary case involving an advertisement that promised he could help anyone caught drinking and driving, which violated ethics rules, the court said. Bjorklund claimed that a publisher, “Praetorian Publishing,” printed his book, “Drunk Driving Defense: How to Beat the Rap,” and was behind the ad. Based on this assertion, the court gave him a reprimand instead of more serious punishment.
Investigators later discovered Praetorian was a sham created by Bjorklund and associates to give his books greater credibility. Bjorklund provided false testimony and documents to make the company appear independent, the court found.
Bjorklund’s website improperly claimed that his firm’s “scholarly achievements are unmatched” and that Bjorklund was the “foremost authority on drunk driving defense,” the court found.
Raymond Tinnian, a Kalona attorney who once worked for Bjorklund and who later testified against him during the disbarment proceedings, said he made it his mission to keep track of Bjorklund but lost his whereabouts years ago. He noted that Bjorklund’s books on drunken driving and the shows “Cheers” and “Seinfeld” remained for sale online, so “he’s doing business and making money somewhere.”
Tinnian said he last saw Bjorklund in 2007 outside a courthouse in Cedar Rapids, where Bjorklund was videotaping him and had colored his hair and changed his appearance.
“I’ve got no clue, no theory. He could be anywhere on God’s green earth,” he said. “He’s good at committing crimes, deceiving people and staying out of sight. I would imagine he’s hard to find.”