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Robert Searfoss III Charged with Stealing from Trust
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Robert Searfoss

Summary: A former Ohio attorney is standing trial for stealing money from a client’s trust fund.

The trial of a former Bowling Green attorney has begun. The attorney, Robert Searfoss III, is charged with stealing $435,000 from a trust that he was the trustee over.

  
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Searfoss appeared before Judge Alan Mayberry of the Wood County Court of Common Pleas. He was indicted on 14 felony counts, four of which are first-degree felonies for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. There are six counts of felony theft of either third, fourth, or fifth-degree felonies. The last four counts are third-degree felonies for money laundering.

During the opening statement, Wood County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Tom Matuszak said, “This case is about an attorney who was drowning in personal debt” that used his client to address his debt problem.  He explained that Searfoss convinced a client, who was in the midst of divorce proceedings, to transfer $500,000 in trust funds from Florida to Bowling Green. There the client, Eric Walker, could invest in rental properties in 2015. Walker’s grandmother has set up the trust to help pay for his personal expenses.

Matuszak claims that Walker “was essentially groomed and conditioned” by Searfoss. When Searfoss put papers in front of Walker to sign, he would without reading the documents “because he trusted his attorney.” Searfoss then convinced Walker to make him the trustee of his trust and then informed him he could no longer be his attorney.

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Instead of investing the money in the trust into rental properties, Searfoss used the money to buy a house in Perrysburg. His family then lived in the house without paying rent. He also used the money to pay down a home equity line of credit on another home in Bowling Green, to pay child support owed in the Michigan, to pay back taxes, and to buy two vehicles.

Searfoss claims that Walker told him to do everything even though he was taking thousands of dollars from the trust to spend on himself. “Not one penny was for the benefit of Mr. Walker.” There is also evidence that Searfoss researched the laws on trusts so “he knew exactly what he could and could not do, and yet he went ahead and fleeced his own client.”



The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation obtained documents from Searfoss that prosecutors contend “doesn’t add up to consent” from Walker. Matuszak said, “It adds up to deception” so “can you truly consent if you’ve been deceived?”

Searfoss’s defense attorney, Richard Kerger, said in his opening statement that Walker and his ex-wife were fighting over the trust during their divorce. Walker was allegedly concerned that others would come after the money so he masterminded a plan to loan the money to Searfoss. The deal was that Searfoss would pay back Walked over the next 40 years at 2 percent interest. Kerger said, “That will protect the assets and help (Searfoss).”

Walker signed the paperwork authorizing the deal before a notary. Kerger claims that Searfoss has paid the loan “every year it was due.” Kerger argued that Walker knew was he was doing at the time so just because he changed his mind does not make it a scam or something wrong.

Walker testified Monday that he never knew the financial problems Searfoss was in. He just signed the documents Searfoss put before him and was not given copies to keep. He said, “I trusted what I was signing was on the up and up. He hadn’t given me any reason not to.”

The 40-year-old surrendered his law license in September to the Ohio Supreme Court as part of an unrelated disciplinary proceeding.

Do you think anyone would agree to a deal where they only made two percent interest over 40 years? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about attorneys accused of stealing from clients, read these articles:

Photo: toledoblade.com



 

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