A Philadelphia lawyer on Monday pleaded guilty to stealing roughly $313,000 from a dead client over a period of three years.
Laura Schmidt, 46, of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud, two counts of filing false federal income tax returns, and one count of failing to file a federal income tax return. The plea hearing took place on Monday, July 23, before Honorable Juan R. Sánchez, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office in Philadelphia.
Schmidt, who attended Bucknell for an undergraduate degree and then the Widener University School of Law, founded her own firm, Schmidt & Schmidt on 6500 Castor Avenue, according to her LinkedIn profile.
She was retained to handle the estate of a client identified only as "H.E.L." in a grand-jury indictment, and the client died on May 18, 2011. Their original estate was valued in excess of $2 million. Schmidt also had power of attorney over H.E.L.'s affairs prior to H.E.L.'s death.
After the client died, Schmidt and another person were named executors of the estate. They set up a joint checking account in the name of the estate of H.E.L. at Wells Fargo Bank, and both had the authority to sign checks.
Between 2011 and 2014, Schmidt forged the signature of the other executor on approximately 47 checks on the account — a theft totaling approximately $313,000, making the checks payable to herself and her law firm. She then underreported her income on her returns to the Internal Revenue Service, according to an indictment by U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain.
Sánchez set sentencing for Nov. 8 and Schmidt faces a maximum possible sentence of 37 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.6 million.