A federal jury has rejected Atlanta lawyer Nathan Hardwick IV’s defense that the $26 million he took from his now-bankrupt, residential real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider, were funds he thought legitimately due to him as the majority owner.
The 12 jurors convicted him on Friday of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks.
Jurors deliberated for nine hours over two days after 12 days of witness testimony in the embezzlement trial, held in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. There were two African-American men, seven African-American women and three white men on the jury. None was available for comment.
“We are very pleased with the jury’s verdict today. It brings closure to my brother, Mark, our law partner Art Morris and the rest of the firm’s family,” said Hardwick’s former partner Gerard Wittstadt.
“It was so unnecessary and sad to hurt over 800 people and their families for pure greed,” Morris said.
MHS personnel and Fidelity National Title’s forensic accountants discovered millions in escrow account shortfalls for the Atlanta-based firm’s closing operation, which Hardwick ran, in August 2014—ultimately totaling more than $30 million. Hardwick received $19.5 million alone from the firm’s IOLTA accounts to pay bills to casinos and private jet companies—and to his personal holding company, Divot Holdings, which he used to pay women, creditors and other expenses.
The firm went bankrupt 11 months later.
“The past four years have been exceedingly difficult for all of us, as Mr. Hardwick caused personal destruction to good lawyers’ reputations. I’d like to thank the court, the prosecutors, the U.S. Attorneys Office and the FBI for their diligence and hard work in bringing this matter to its final conclusion,” Wittstadt said.
“We’d like to thank Fidelity for its support in making sure that no citizens were harmed,” he added.
Fidelity National TItle poured almost $30 million into MHS’s IOLTA accounts after the shortfalls were discovered in August 2014.
Hardwick testified on Oct. 9 that he thought the $26 million, which he asked the firm’s then-controller, Asha Maurya, to disburse to him between 2011 and 2014, was coming from available cash in the firm’s operating accounts, not its escrow accounts.
The prosecutors told the jury that MHS’s equity partners were only supposed to get payouts from the firm’s net income, which totaled just under $10 million from 2011 to 2013, according to the firm’s audited financial statements.
Hardwick’s lawyers from Garland, Samuel & Loeb told the jury that Maurya was the sole culprit, not Hardwick. Maurya, who has admitted taking almost $900,000 from MHS, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy last year and is cooperating with the government, but prosecutors did not call her to testify.
Prosecutor J. Russell Phillips told Judge Eleanor Ross after the foreperson delivered the jury’s verdict that the government would ask for a sentence of roughly 15 years.
Hardwick, 53, was taken into custody after the verdict.