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Ex-lawyer admits more swindles

Disbarred local lawyer Kenneth P. Bernas pleaded guilty Monday to swindling more than $400,000 from 20 additional former clients, leaving him facing court-ordered restitution of more than $3.1 million when he is sentenced next month.

Bernas, 53, admitted to State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang that, in addition to the 23 clients and two corporations he admitted swindling in September, he also has swindled 20 other clients to finance his homebuilding efforts.

Prosecutors Candace K. Vogel and Gary M. Ertel told the judge that following news reports of Bernas' guilty plea of Sept. 21, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III got complaints from 20 other former clients. After Bernas pleaded guilty to 20 more grand larceny counts, the judge allowed him to remain free pending sentencing Feb. 23. Bernas declined to comment as he left court.

Under his guilty pleas to a total of 53 felony charges, he faces a maximum state prison term of 50 years, court officials confirmed.

Sedita, Vogel and Ertel said the District Attorney's Office is still actively working with the Bar Association of Erie County and the state's Lawyers Fund for Client Protection to assist Bernas' former clients, some of whom reportedly have struggled financially in recent years.

Bernas agreed to plead guilty in September as a result of a six-month criminal investigation generated by complaints from his swindled clients.

His guilty pleas before Wolfgang don't cover his alleged failure to also pay more than $85,000 in state taxes over the past decade.


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