A Bridgeport-based attorney pleaded guilty in Hartford federal court Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud related to a long-running scheme that targeted distressed Connecticut homeowners.
Federal investigators say Bradford Barneys, a Maryland resident who had operated Barneys Law Group LLC, conspired with Easton resident Timothy W. Burke to defraud individuals, mortgage lenders and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Burke, who has at least 13 aliases and spent time in prison previously for similar offenses, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion related to the current case against him. Both men will be sentenced later this year.
According to the 19-page March 2016 indictment in the case, Burke falsely represented to homeowners who were in, or facing, foreclosure on their homes that he’d purchase their homes and pay off their mortgages. With that understanding, the homeowners, the government maintains, agreed to sign documents presented by Burke that they’d be able to walk away from their homes without paying off mortgages or other costs associated with home ownership. Burke, prosecutors said, also told those homeowners that the process of negotiating with lenders could take time and to ignore notices regarding foreclosure. Burke found out about the homes because, court papers state, he mailed hundreds of letters to owners of properties in foreclosure stating he was an investor interested in the purchase of their homes.
Burke, prosecutors say, would then look for tenants for those apartments online. “He would advertise and rent out the properties that he fraudulently obtained to make rental income, but not pay the homeowners victims’ mortgage and interest payments and taxes as he had promised to the homeowners victims,” according to the indictment. While it’s not clear exactly how much Burke made off the scheme, it could be in the neighborhood of a $1 million. According to the government, Burke cashed about $5 million in checks and money orders over a six-year period with a check-cashing service. According to an employee of the service who cashed the checks, about 20 to 30 percent of the checks cashed were rent checks.
The government said Barneys’ role was as Burke’s attorney in the scheme. Barneys is said to have participated in “dozens” of meetings with Burke and with the duped homeowners in Barneys’ law office. The government says that “at some point” after Barneys began representing Burke, the attorney knew Burke had no intention of buying the properties and paying the outstanding mortgages on the properties. At those meetings, the government notes, Burke told the victims that he’d purchase their properties and presented them with quitclaim deeds, management agreements, indemnification agreements and third-party authorizations.
Barneys, it’s charged, also represented Burke and his various companies in eviction proceedings against tenants and mailed copies of documents to homeowners on Burke’s behalf. While it’s possible, the government says, that Burke could have profited in the neighborhood of $1 million, it says Barneys, who is 51 years old and had been a practicing attorney in Connecticut since 1991, allegedly netted just $72,606 for his part in the elaborate scheme.
Barneys is being represented by Sefton Brown of the Bridgeport-based Law Offices of Sefton N. Brown Jr. and Francis O’Reilly of the Southport-based O’Reilly & Shaw. Both declined to comment Wednesday.
Burke is represented by John R. Gulash Jr. of the Bridgeport-based Gulash & Associates and James P. Maguire, a New Haven-based federal public defender. Gulash was not available for comment and Maguire declined to comment.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David T. Huang and Sarah P. Karwan.