A former New Jersey lawyer has admitted to his role in a money-laundering scheme that prosecutors say sapped $125,000 of client money into his law firm’s account to disguise the source of the fraud.
Michael W. Kwasnik, who was previously associated with the Cherry Hill firm of Kwasnik, Rodio, Kanowitz & Buckley and a successor firm, pleaded guilty on Wednesday before Senior Judge Robert Kugler of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Camden and faces up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey.
In exchange for Kwasnik pleading guilty to a single money-laundering count, prosecutors agreed to drop a host of other fraud-related charges against him, according to a plea agreement dated Oct. 31.
He was charged with setting up an irrevocable trust account for a client in an estate matter in April 2011 and then transferring $125,774 to a firm account—without client permission—in order to hide what was a theft of those funds.
Kwasnik, 49, of North Miami Beach, Florida, was originally charged with many more thefts than the one to which he pleaded guilty. He was indicted last February on charges that he and others operated a Ponzi scheme that scammed some $13 million from his clients from 2008 to 2011 by diverting trust account funds to various business entities they created.
Richard Klineburger, a Haddonfield lawyer who represents Kwasnik, said his client previously pleaded guilty to related state-level charges and is taking responsibility for his actions. He also noted that federal prosecutors had originally indicted Kwasnik on 22 fraud-related charges, and the plea deal only required him to plead to one of those charges.
“All things considered, where my client was facing life in prison for all of these charges, the plea to the one count of $125,000 is what he deemed to be proper, and the government treated him very fairly,” Klineburger said.
“My client has been making restitution payments and has voluntarily given up his law license,” Klineburger said.
He added that Kwasnik “at one point had a very promising law career” and “is willing to accept whatever the court has for him when it comes to a sentence.’’