(CN) - A former partner at a prominent Atlanta law firm has pleaded not guilty to charges of stealing over $2 million from one of his elderly clients in a sham real estate transaction.
Bennett Kight, 75, a former attorney with Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, was indicted on one count of mail fraud on March 16. He pleaded not guilty earlier this week and was released on $500,000 bond.
On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Walker scheduled the first pre-trial hearing in the case for April 13 at the U.S. Courthouse in Atlanta.
The federal indictment against Kight claims that in January 2006, he used his control of the assets of a client, identified as "F.B.," "to misappropriate approximately $2 million ... by purporting to sell F.B. his former personal residence, 400 Glen Arden Place in Atlanta, Georgia."
Prosecutors say that in order to carry out the scheme, Kight created two limited liability companies to supposedly own and hold title to the property for F.B.'s benefit.
Kight used about $500,000 of misappropriated funds to pay off the mortgage on the Glen Arden residence, the government says.
Prosecutors note that despite the supposed sale of the home to F.B., no transfer of deed was ever recorded.
Instead, in 2008, Kight dissolved the two limited liability companies and then, in 2009, created a new one that he and his son, identified as "R.K.," would control.
Prosecutors say Kight told his son that his wife still held title to the property something that was untrue and told him nothing of the purported sale to F.B.
R.K. ultimately moved into the home.
But prosecutors say Kight's malfeasance had only begun.
In December 2010, the indictment says, Kight had a deed drawn up that showed that his wife transferred the Glen Arden Place property to yet another limited liability company he controlled.
Then, in March 2011, Kight is alleged to have caused a backdated deed to be publicly recorded and a file stamped copy of the same to be returned to him via the United States Mail.
The indictment says that "On or about March 21, 2011, in the Northern District of Georgia and elsewhere, the Defendant Bennett L. Knight, for the purpose of executing and attempting to execute the aforementioned scheme and artifice to defraud, and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and material omissions, with intent to defraud, did knowingly cause to be delivered by mail and by any private or commercial interstate carrier according to the direction thereon, a publicly recorded deed to 400 Glen Arden Place, Atlanta, Georgia, that Kight backdated and caused to be backdated to reflect a transfer of such property on or about July 28, 2005."
If he is ultimately convicted of the charge, Kight will be forced to forfeit the home and the remainder of the $2 million taken from F.B.
The case was filed by U.S. Attorney John Horn.
In a statement provided to Courthouse News, Sutherland Managing Partner Mark Wasserman said "Our firm had no involvement in any of the alleged wrongdoing in this complaint."
"Our former partner, Bennett Kight, whose alleged conduct as trustee of the Bunzl family trusts is at the heart of the complaint, retired in 1999 and provided no services, legal or otherwise, for or on behalf of the firm to these trusts after his retirement," the statement continued. "We are therefore surprised and disappointed that claims for malpractice have been brought against our firm and one of its attorneys, purportedly arising from Mr. Kight's alleged activities as trustee.
"This suit appears to be the latest in a series of claims, which have all been stayed pending the report of a court-appointed receiver, against Mr. Kight and another trustee alleging misconduct in the performance of their responsibilities as trustees of the Bunzl family trusts. We can only surmise that this latest suit, and the naming of our firm and one of our attorneys as new defendants, is a tactical maneuver to circumvent the stay of that other litigation," Wasserman said.
"Whatever the motivation, we will vigorously defend this suit and its conclusory allegations regarding malpractice by our firm which we categorically deny," he said.
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