The United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced that William O’Brien, 60, an attorney who lives in Winooski, pleaded guilty today in United States District Court in Burlington to a charge of wire fraud. Chief U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss released O’Brien on conditions pending sentencing, which has been set for May 31, 2017 in Brattleboro.
On October 13, the United States filed a criminal information charging O’Brien with one count of wire fraud, the charge which he admitted today. The information charges O’Brien with defrauding two former law clients. In one case, O’Brien became the trustee of a trust established by the clients. As trustee, O’Brien was to use trust funds to make charitable contributions in the memory of the clients. Between 2008 and 2013, O’Brien did make a number of contributions of trust funds in the total amount of $97,500, but also improperly diverted about $270,000 in trust funds to his law firm account. In another case, O’Brien received in his capacity as attorney more than $247,000 in client funds, which were also meant to be used for charitable purposes. Although O’Brien did make one contribution of $15,000, he again used the remaining funds for his own benefit.
In early 2016, O’Brien did repay about $472,000 to these two clients, but those payments were made only after O’Brien became aware he was under investigation by counsel for the Vermont bar. The Vermont Supreme Court suspended O’Brien’s law license in January.
O’Brien faces up to 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. The actual sentence will be determined with reference to federal sentencing guidelines.
This case was investigated by the Burlington Police Department, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Vermont Judiciary’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
O’Brien is represented by Scott McGee of Norwich. The prosecutor is Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Waples.