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MINNETONKA — A defense attorney is accused of stealing $15,000 from her client, a 53-year-old Minnetonka man who was facing drug charges, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.

Kristi McNeilly, 44, of Woodbury, is charged with one count of theft by swindle. The charge is a felony. She is expected to make her first court appearance July 10, a news release from the attorney’s office says.

If convicted, Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for 10 years in prison and/or $20,000. But the criminal complaint says prosecutors will seek a harsher sentence because she allegedly used her position of trust as the victim's attorney to swindle the money.

The charges

According to the criminal complaint, the Minnetonka man hired McNeilly to represent him and his roommate, a 39-year-old man, after the Southwest Hennepin Drug Taskforce searched his home on May 1, 2018, and found drugs in a safe.

The homeowner wasn’t immediately charged with a crime, the complaint says, and the roommate was given a petty misdemeanor citation for the marijuana that was found on him.

McNeilly agreed to represent the homeowner for $20,000 and the roommate for $2,500, so over the next week, the homeowner sent McNeilly $22,500 in checks and direct deposits to retain her services for him and his roommate, the complaint says.

But McNeilly did not immediately deposit the funds into her Interest on Lawyer Trust Account, the charges note, which is a standard step for private attorneys.

McNeilly did represent the roommate at the hearings related to the citation against him, including at his final hearing on Oct. 28, 2018, charges note.

On Nov. 5, 2018, McNeilly contacted the homeowner to say she met with the lead investigator and prosecutor on his case, telling him he could face 15-20 years in federal prison, charges say. To avoid being charged, McNeilly told him he could pay $35,000 to a police union fund and work as a confidential informant, or pay $50,000 into the fund and not have to work as an informant.

But this wasn’t true, the criminal complaint alleges.

McNeilly and the investigator did not speak in person nor on the phone on Nov. 5, 2018, and the investigator is unaware of this type of donation to his union, charges note. Meanwhile, the prosecutor who was assigned to the case after it was sent to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office on Oct. 24, 2018, was not contacted about any potential agreement.

The complaint also alleges there was no indication federal prosecutors were involved in the case, so the homeowner could not have been facing time in a federal prison. In fact, the criminal complaint says the Minnetonka man was eventually charged with a fifth-degree controlled substance crime, which if convicted, would result in him serving a probationary sentence.

But because the homeowner did not know any of this, he decided to pay money into the police union fund, the complaint says. He told McNeilly he could only come up with $15,000 and would pay more money later. The homeowner paid McNeilly via a cashier’s check, which she deposited in her business checking account on Nov. 5, 2018.

On Nov. 8, 2018, the homeowner asked for his $15,000 back, saying he no longer wanted to move forward with their plan. The next day, McNeilly responded to him via text message saying “it was paid as directed so how can I get refund?” The homeowner emailed McNeilly again that night asking for a refund of the $15,000, as well as a refund of his $20,000 retainer.

On Nov. 10, 2018, McNeilly responded to the homeowner saying he had signed a retainer agreement and she would not give him a refund.

McNeilly’s bank records show she deposited the homeowner’s cashier’s check on Nov. 5, 2018, and at the end of the day on Nov. 9, 2018 — when she said the money had already been paid to the police union — her account balance was $10,185.71, the complaint said. Her bank records show she did not pay any money to the police union, but she had made a mortgage payment and several payments on her credit card.

Melissa Turtinen is the multimedia reporter for Lakeshore Weekly News. She's passionate about adding context to stories and informing people about what's going on in their community. She enjoys being outside, traveling and good beer.

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