A Middleton lawyer avoided a prison sentence for stealing nearly $500,000 from his business partners, but only because of the needs of his emotionally disabled son, a federal judge said Friday.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson said Patrick S. Sweeney, 62, deserved a prison sentence, but instead sentenced him to five years of federal probation, with the first year to be served on home detention.
“This is not out of concern for you but out of concern for your son and everyone who has to deal with his illness,” Peterson told Sweeney.
Peterson also ordered Sweeney to pay back $481,970.
Sweeney was originally charged with wire fraud, identity theft and making a false declaration in a bankruptcy matter. He pleaded guilty to the bankruptcy charge. He was the managing member of three limited liability companies and held control of the companies’ bank accounts. An indictment states that Sweeney, under the guise of a loan to a friend from the companies, began drawing checks from the companies’ bank accounts and used the money himself.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Duchemin said Sweeney used the money “to support an upper-class lifestyle for him and his wife” when his legitimate income no longer supported that.
When asked later for the promissory note by his partners, the indictment states, Sweeney forged a note and signed his friend’s name to it. Then in a 2013 bankruptcy matter, Sweeney submitted a list of creditors that falsely listed the embezzled money as “loans to debtor” in an attempt to discharge in bankruptcy his obligation to repay the money.
The wire fraud and identity theft charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
At his sentencing Friday, Peterson chided Sweeney for actions that brought shame and discredit not only to himself but to the legal profession, calling the bankruptcy charge to which Sweeney pleaded guilty “the tip of the iceberg.” The entire scheme, Peterson said, was “self-conscious and substantial,” and one that certainly deserved time in prison.
Duchemin recommended a two-year prison sentence, while Sweeney’s lawyer, Chris Van Wagner, called for probation.
Van Wagner cited the care needed for Sweeney’s emotionally disabled 14-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. Sweeney said the boy experiences outbursts that cause physical danger to others and property damage. Sweeney has been the one who primarily provides care and supervision to his son, Van Wagner said, and removing Sweeney from his son’s life for any amount of time could cause the boy’s condition to worsen.
Duchemin argued that Peterson should focus on Sweeney’s crimes, and not on circumstances unrelated to them.
“He’s responsible for where he finds himself,” Duchemin said.
Sweeney apologized to his former business partners and his family for what he did.
“The reason I’m here today is not to plead innocent or that I’m that bad of a guy,” Sweeney said. “I don’t ask for your leniency.”
Still facing Sweeney is a legal malpractice lawsuit filed last year by UW-Madison Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and his son Chad. They accused Sweeney and other lawyers of negligence, fraud and breach of contract over $1 million in losses following their investment in what turned out to be a nearly $1 billion Ponzi scheme run by a University of Miami athletic booster.
Sweeney is also likely to lose his law license when a case brought against him in 2015 by the state Office of Lawyer Regulation, related to the matter for which he was indicted, is decided.