Probate Lawyer Gets Jail

September 13, 2017:

Vermont:  Via Burlington Free Press:(Elizabeth Murray)

A former Winooski lawyer will serve 14 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha handed down the sentence to William O’Brien, 60, on Wednesday in Brattleboro. The prison sentence will be followed by 1 year of supervised release. O’Brien will also have to pay almost $20,000 in restitution to trusts and estates not named in the original charging complaint.

O’Brien, a longtime lawyer who has previously represented the City of Winooski and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, pleaded guilty to a felony count of mail fraud last November after it was discovered that he improperly diverted $250,000 to $550,000 from accounts he represented. O’Brien’s license to practice law was suspended in January 2016, and his lawyer, Scott McGee, has said O’Brien will not pursue reinstating the license.

O’Brien has been ordered to surrender to the Federal Bureau of Prisons in September. The judge recommended to the Bureau of Prisons that O’Brien should be jailed in a minimum security facility with a satellite prison camp “as close to Vermont as possible,” court papers show.


One of the trusts from which O’Brien was accused of diverting funds was the Thelma and Joseph Provost Trust. JoAnn Provost Dusharm, a niece of Thelma and Joseph Provost said Wednesday upon hearing about the sentence from a reporter that she was happy the case was over, but that she wondered why the judge did not order that restitution be paid to the Provost estate.

“I would have liked to see it be more years (in prison),” Dusharm said. “We’ll just see where it takes us from here.”

Prior to the hearing, lawyers on both sides of the case submitted memos outlining the sentence they believed would be most appropriate. McGee has asked that a U.S. District Court judge spare O’Brien jail time, while Assistant U.S Attorney Greg Waples has asked for a sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison.

After the hearing O’Brien’s lawyer said the court’s sentence was fair. McGee said all of O’Brien’s former clients have been repaid.

Waples, in his memo, called O’Brien’s professional misconduct “confounding in both scope and duration.” McGee, on the other hand, described O’Brien as a family man and generous lawyer who often didn’t bill for his services and who learned the trade from his father.

Dusharm submitted a letter to be read before the court on Wednesday outlining the impact O’Brien’s misconduct had on her family.

“My family is angered by the disgrace that this man has cost our family,” Dusharm wrote. “He called himself a Lawyer of Ethics. He has no ethics. … At this point there is very little money that will be left in this trust to correct the damage he has caused to our family.”

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In a letter to the judge before sentencing, O’Brien’s four kids described the guilt their father feels for the crime he committed and how that has changed him. They said in the past year, he lost his career, his clients and the role he played in supporting the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

“He is a man fueled not by money or status or personal accomplishments, but by his faith and the people he loves,” his children wrote. “These losses have humbled him to say the very least — emotionally and physically.”

O’Brien remains free on conditions prior to his surrendering date in September.

Contact Elizabeth Murray at 651-4835 or Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.


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