Money Gavel Photo: RomanR/Shutterstock.com

A former longtime Bridgeport attorney pleaded guilty in federal court in Hartford to one count of wire fraud for allegedly defrauding clients, family members and friends of more than $1.3 million.

Thomas Murtha, who was a partner and managing member of now-defunct Maher & Murtha in Bridgeport, resides in Newtown. He appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Martinez Wednesday. Prosecutors say he operated a long-term fraud with more than 20 victims, including a client suffering from mental illness.

Murtha faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael Shea in September. He was released on a $10,000 bond pending sentencing.

Murtha, 62, resigned from the Connecticut Bar in September 2016 after three grievance complaints accused him of defrauding multiple victims, beginning around November 2011.

Those victims, court papers say, include a brother and sister and their deceased cousin, who jointly owned a three-family home in Shelton. Murtha handled the cousin’s estate and the sale of the home.

The complaints also accused Murtha of forging documents for a mortgage and trust. They claim he used the money to purchase a $725,000 home in Michigan and a 2.11-carat diamond engagement ring.

Prosecutors said Murtha stole at least $1.3 million from more than 20 individuals over the course of several years. They said he took more than $516,000 from a client suffering from mental illness.

Law enforcement officials arrested Murtha on a federal criminal complaint on April 5, 2017.

A grand jury returned a multicount indictment on Aug. 16.

Murtha has agreed to pay about $1.36 million in restitution, forfeit his interest in the Michigan house, and surrender the 2.11-carat diamond ring that the government seized.

According to the May 30 plea agreement, Murtha “knowingly and willfully converted client or trust funds without the victims’ knowledge and permission.” The plea agreement also states that Murtha “falsely represented to victims that he had their money when, in fact as he well knew, Murtha had already expended those funds for his own use and benefit and/or commingled those funds with his own money.”

The plea agreement also states Murtha submitted false or forged documents to victims. And, the agreement says, Murtha obtained and incurred charges on credit cards in the name of others without their knowledge or permission.

Murtha had practiced law in Connecticut for 35 years, from 1981 to 2016. His areas of expertise included civil and criminal litigation, and real estate and family law.

Andy Bowman, a Westport-based solo practitioner, represents Murtha. He did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Murtha could not be reached on multiple phone numbers by press time.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer Laraia and David Huang prosecuted the case. Thomas Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut, declined to comment.

Read the plea agreement: