Defense lawyer charged with swindling client

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A criminal defense lawyer has been charged with swindling money from one of her clients, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

Kristi McNeilly, 44, of Woodbury, was charged with a single count of theft by swindle and is alleged to have taken $15,000 from her client. She was charged by summons and her first court appearance is set for July 10.

According to the criminal complaint, on May 1, 2018, the Southwest Hennepin Drug Taskforce executed a search warrant at a home in Minnetonka. The homeowner, a 53-year-old man, became a suspect when officers found drugs in a safe inside the house.

While the homeowner was not immediately charged with a crime, a 39-year-old man living in the house was given a petty misdemeanor citation for marijuana found on him. The men asked McNeilly to represent them. On May 15, 2018, McNeilly agreed to represent the homeowner for $20,000 and the younger man for $2,500, the complaint states.

Over the next week, the homeowner sent checks and made direct deposits to McNeilly’s business checking account totaling $22,500, covering the cost to retain her both for himself and his roommate, according to the complaint. McNeilly failed to immediately deposit the money into her Interest on Lawyer Trust Account, which is standard practice for private attorneys.

McNeilly worked on the roommate’s case and represented him at two court hearings, including the final one on Oct. 29, the complaint states.

On Nov. 5, McNeilly contacted the homeowner. She told him that she had met with the lead police investigator and the prosecuting attorney. McNeilly told the homeowner that he was looking at 15 to 20 years in federal prison for his drug case. She told him that if he would pay $35,000 to a police union fund and work as a confidential informant, he would not be charged in this case, according to the complaint.

None of it was true. The lead investigator did not meet with McNeilly on Nov. 5 nor spoke to her by phone, which is verified by phone records. There is no indication that federal prosecutors were ever involved in the case, so the homeowner was not looking at federal prison time, the complaint states.

The case was submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for possible charges on Oct. 24 and the prosecutor was never contacted by anyone nor was she told of any potential agreement. The homeowner was eventually charged with a low-level fifth-degree controlled substance crime, which under Minnesota law would have resulted in a probationary sentence for the homeowner, according to the complaint.

The homeowner said he could come up with $15,000 immediately and McNeilly said that was fine and he could pay the rest over time. She drove him to the bank where he got a cashier’s check. McNeilly deposited the $15,000 in here business checking account, the complaint states.

On Nov. 8, the homeowner asked for his $15,000 back and later for his $20,000 retainer fee. She refused, saying the money had already gone to the police union, according to the complaint. However, a search of her bank records found no money to the union but a mortgage payment and several payments to McNeilly’s credit cards.

Criminal Complaint (PDF)