Pa. AG Notes Theft Charges Against Former Attorney, Son; Accident Injury Victims Among Clients Targeted

September 22, 2005

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett announced that agents of his Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) have filed criminal charges against a former York County attorney and his son, accused of stealing more than $1 million from clients, including children, people injured in accidents and estates of the deceased.

Corbett identified the defendants as Mark David Frankel, 57, of York, and Stephen M. Frankel, 33, of Frederick, Md.

According to the criminal charges, Mark Frankel redirected $1,099,956 in client funds to pay his law firm’s tax obligations, while also removing legal fees from those client accounts. Additionally, the client funds were allegedly used for other expenses, including the purchase of a new “HUMMER” sport utility vehicle for Stephen Frankel.

“People came to Mark Frankel looking for legal help, but Frankel and his son helped themselves to their clients’ money,” Corbett said. “That money was supposed to help clients put their lives back together, but in the end they were left with empty promises and equally empty bank accounts.”

Corbett said Frankel aggressively advertised for clients throughout central Pennsylvania, using ads on the back of telephone books and related television ads to draw accident victims and other potential clients to his law practice.

The charges state that Mark Frankel systematically used client funds for his own benefit, including funds from personal injury settlements, wrongful death settlements and estates. Stephen Frankel is charged with participating in the thefts and misappropriation of client funds, handling daily spending decisions for the law firm following his father’s disbarment in June 2004.

Corbett explained that client funds must be kept in special accounts, called escrow accounts, to be used solely for the benefit of the client. Money in those escrow accounts cannot be used in any way by an attorney without permission of the client.

The charges state over a period of four years, from 2001 until 2004, Frankel regularly removed funds from client escrow accounts, leaving clients unable to access the money that was supposed to be kept secure for them.

Corbett said that a number of the settlements in the escrow accounts were for children injured in accidents, the families of deceased children or the elderly.

In one case, a women entitled to approximately $79,000 from Frankel’s firm has reportedly been forced to live in a shelter while awaiting her money.

“Many of the clients who sought help from Mark Frankel were victims of tragic events.” Corbett said. “Rather than helping them, Mr. Frankel and his son took advantage of their trust and victimized them a second time, using settlement funds for their own personal gain.”

The case was referred to the Office of Attorney General in October 2004, by the York County District Attorney’s Office, after several attorneys and employees from Frankel’s firm came forward to report the suspected theft of funds at the law firm.

Corbett said BCI agents spent months reassembling client files, bank records, checks, deposit slips and the law firm’s escrow account ledgers to determine which clients had not been paid, and to calculate the amount of money allegedly stolen.

As part of the investigation, Corbett said BCI agents executed a search of Frankel’s offices, at 14, 16 & 20 West King St., York, on July 7, 2005, seizing financial records and other related documents.

A total of 59 victims have been identified to date, but Corbett said agents are still going through records in an effort to identify other potential victims.

Mark David Frankel is charged with 60 counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received and one count of misapplication of entrusted property.

Stephen M. Frankel is charged with 28 counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received, one count of misapplication of entrusted property and one count of criminal conspiracy.

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