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Charges: Defense lawyer swindled client out of $15,000

She claimed he faced 15-20 years in prison.

She was hired to provide him legal representation, but instead she allegedly swindled him out of $15,000.

That's according to charges filed this week in Hennepin County against Kristi McNeilly, 44, of Woodbury, who has been charged with a single count of theft by swindle.

According to a criminal complaint, the 53-year-old man she was representing became a suspect when drugs were found in a safe inside his house in Minnetonka during a police search.

The homeowner wasn't charged immediately, but a 39-year-old man living in the house was given a petty misdemeanor citation for marijuana found on them, and both men hired McNeilly to represent them.

McNeilly agreed on May 15, 2018 to represent the homeowner for $20,000 and the younger man for $2,500.

After they sent checks and direct deposits to McNeilly for $22,500, McNeilly failed to immediately deposit the money into her "Interest on Lawyer Trust Account," as is standard practice.

While she worked on the younger man's case and represented him at 2 hearings, she contacted the homeowner and said she'd met with the lead investigator and prosecuting attorney, before telling the homeowner he was looking at 15-20 years in prison.

She said if he paid $35,000 to a police union fund and work as a confidential informant, he would not be charged.

However, this was a lie.

The lead investigator never met with McNeilly nor spoke to her on the phone, and there's no indication that federal prosecutors were ever involved.

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Nonetheless, the homeowner told McNeilly he could come up with $15,000, and she drove him to the bank where he got a cashier's check, which McNeilly deposited in her business checking account.

The homeowner ultimately was only charged with a low-level, 5th degree controlled substance crime after the case was submitted to Hennepin County prosecutors on Oct. 24.

On Nov. 8, he asked McNeilly for his $15,000 back and his $20,000 retainer fee, but she refused and said the money had already gone to the police union.

Investigation of her bank accounts however found no payments to the police union, but instead several payments to her credit cards along with a mortgage payment.

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