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A criminal defense attorney from Woodbury who swindled a client out of $15,000 has been sentenced to 180 days in a workhouse and ordered to pay him back.

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office announced Tuesday that Kristi McNeilly, who was charged in 2019 with theft by swindle, was sentenced after being convicted in October.

As well as the workhouse and restitution, McNeilly will also be on probation for three years and will no longer be allowed to have a fiduciary relationship with a client, or handle their funds.

It comes after a 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.

However, McNeilly failed to deposit the money immediately into her "Interest on Lawyer Trust Account," as is standard practice, and while she worked on the younger man's case and represented him at two hearings, she contacted the homeowner and told him he was looking at 15-20 years in prison, claiming she had spoken to the lead investigator and prosecuting attorney.

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. She had never spoken to the lead investigator.

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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, fifth-degree controlled substance crime after the case was submitted to Hennepin County prosecutors.

The client 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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