Attorney pleads guilty in distressed homeowner fraud scheme

Attorney Bradford Barneys, who worked out of a law office in Bridgeport, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Hartford to conspiring with convicted scam artist Timothy W. Burke on a long-running fraud scheme that targeted distressed homeowners throughout Connecticut.

Barneys, 51, of Odenton, Md., faces up to 20 years in prison when Judge Michael P. Shea sentences him on June 13 for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Burke, 65, formerly of Easton, and Barneys were the subject of a series of stories published by The Day in November 2014.  The scheme involved homeowners in Bridgeport, New London, Griswold, Ledyard, Waterbury, Plymouth, Portland, Andover, New Haven and West Haven.

Burke pleaded guilty in January and remains incarcerated while awaiting his sentencing on April 18. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

The Day's investigation found more than a half-dozen cases in which Burke and his associates sent out mass mailings to people whose homes were in foreclosure, then allegedly bilked them out of thousands of dollars after promising to purchase their homes and free them of their mortgages.

According to the government, between approximately 2011 and 2014, Barneys participated in dozens of meetings with Burke and with homeowners at his law office in Bridgeport. At the meetings, Burke told homeowners that he would purchase their properties and presented to them quitclaim deeds, management agreements, indemnification agreements and third-party authorizations.

The government said that at some point after Barneys began representing Burke in these meetings with homeowners, he knew Burke had no intention of buying the properties and paying the outstanding mortgages on the properties. Nevertheless, the government said, Barneys continued to participate and represented that the transactions were legitimate. 

When questioned by homeowners about the status of their sales, Barneys would assure them that the sales were progressing as Burke had promised. He also knew that once Burke obtained the properties from the homeowners, he would rent them out to tenants, according to the government. In addition, he also represented Burke and his companies in eviction proceedings against tenants.

Burke or one of his agents then collected rent from tenants, and Burke used the funds for his own benefit, according to the government. He also failed to negotiate with the homeowners' mortgage lender or pay expenses associated with the home, including the homeowner's mortgages and property taxes, and he failed to pay any rental income he was collecting to the homeowners. Many of the properties Burke purportedly purchased ultimately were foreclosed upon by the mortgage lender.

The Day's investigation found that Barneys, who had a law office above a day care center on Boston Avenue in Bridgeport called Elle Em in Oh Pre, previously had been disbarred from practicing law in Maryland and the District of Columbia and suspended from practicing law in Connecticut.

A grievance was filed against Barneys with the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland in 1998 after a client lost a substantial amount of money. While Barneys was not a member of the bar in Maryland, a commission investigator found a lobby sign describing Barneys as an "attorney at law" and a law office sign in Barneys' name outside his suite in Langley Park, Md. A hearing judge subsequently concluded that Barneys represented at least five cases in the District Court of Maryland.

After a series of hearings and appeals, Barneys, who had a pending application for the bar, was disbarred in Maryland on Aug. 28, 2002. As a result, he also was disbarred in the District of Columbia on Nov. 24, 2004, and was suspended from practicing law in Connecticut for two years beginning Jan. 8, 2003. He was reinstated June 28, 2010, to practice law in Connecticut. He also was prohibited from representing clients before an immigration tribunal for five years, effective Feb. 24, 2011

The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and Internal Revenue Service — Criminal Investigation Division, with the critical assistance of the Middletown, Plainville, Easton and Coventry police departments, the Connecticut State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David T. Huang and Sarah P. Karwan.

k.florin@theday.com

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