Suspended lawyer faces new charges in Delaware

Michael Kwasnik pleaded guilty in N.J. to money laundering. The Delaware charges stem from 2010.
Michael Kwasnik pleaded guilty in N.J. to money laundering. The Delaware charges stem from 2010. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 11, 2014

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden has announced the indictment of suspended lawyer Michael Kwasnik on charges of theft, securities fraud and sale of unregistered securities, the latest in a string of law enforcement and regulatory actions against him.

Kwasnik, of Marlton, pleaded guilty to New Jersey money laundering charges a year ago in connection with the theft of $1.1 million from a 96-year-old Cherry Hill widow, whose investment accounts he had managed. As part of the plea agreement in that case, Kwasnik agreed to repay the estate of the widow and to repay about $112,000 that he had misappropriated from a Williamstown couple. Jail time was limited to the five months he had been held in the Camden County Jail following his arrest in November 2011.

Kwasnik for years practiced as a lawyer in New Jersey, and was affiliated with two investment companies, Liberty State Benefits and Liberty State Financial Holdings Corp., which were incorporated in Delaware and filed for bankruptcy protection there in 2011.

If convicted on the Delaware charges, Kwasnik faces up to 74 years in jail. The charges in Delaware said the allegedly unlawful activity occurred between May and September in 2010.

Kwasnik could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"Delaware's Securities Act provides important protections to Delaware investors by ensuring the investment professionals and financial products they sell are registered with the state," Biden said. "With this indictment, we're holding this defendant accountable for violating those laws."

Kwasnik is also the subject of preliminary findings by the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics that he had breached attorney ethics rules on multiple occasions. His license has been suspended, although a final decision on whether to permanently bar him from practicing law has been put off until various criminal probes have been concluded.

Kwasnik's legal travails began in November of 2011. Then, he was criminally charged with bilking the Cherry Hill widow and sued by then-New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow, who accused him and others of orchestrating a multimillion dollar Ponzi scheme that depleted the retirement accounts of scores of elderly investors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Those actions followed a report in The Inquirer detailing allegations by former clients and customers that Kwasnik had misappropriated millions of dollars that they had invested with him.

The lawsuit alleged that $5 million of the $13.5 million raised by Kwasnik and others for investment in Liberty State Benefits, a family-affiliated firm, was paid to Kwasnik, his law firm, or members of his family.

Dow said that investor funds also were used to pay returns to existing investors, the distinguishing characteristic of a Ponzi scheme.

Liberty State Benefits was in the business of life settlements, in which investment firms purchase life insurance policies from policyholders for more than the surrender value, but less than the benefit that is paid when the policyholder dies.

The company's offering documents promised 12 percent returns each year and that the original investment would be returned after three years. A state-appointed fiscal agent concluded in 2011, however, that the company had only $3,528 on hand and a negative net worth of $11 million.

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