Local attorney accused of stealing nearly $1 million
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office arrested a personal injury lawyer operating an office in Seminole for stealing over $850,000 in insurance claims from clients and spending the money on drugs, pornography and prostitutes.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced the arrest of Christopher M. Reynolds, 44, during a press conference Monday afternoon. Detectives said he took settlement money from 16 people who suffered car accident injuries, and Gualtieri expects many more victims to come forward.
Reynolds committed the alleged crimes between October 2019 and December 2022, when the Florida Supreme Court issued an emergency suspension order for his license to practice law. He now faces several felony money laundering and grand theft charges.
“In addition to all these people losing their money to compensate them for their injuries, they are now … personally responsible for medical bills that total hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Gualtieri said. “In fact, one of the victims already has a lien against her from one of the medical providers.”
One of the victims first notified the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) of the potential fraud in October 2022 after representatives from the victim’s insurance company relayed that they disbursed over $100,000 from an October 2019 accident. The victim never received payment, and Reynolds ceased communications.
Around that same time, a petition to suspend Reynolds showed that a trust account for clients had a $1.07 balance, while another held $100.00. His firm’s operating fund had a negative balance of $403.75.
The PCSO’s investigation found several other victims, and that Reynolds had a drug problem. In addition to narcotics, a financial review and subpoenaed bank documents showed that he spent over $30,000 on the website OnlyFans, which distributes adult content.
Reynolds transferred over $400,000 to third parties through PayPal, and $26,000 through an anonymous billing site. More than $24,000 went to Uber. The PCSO arrested Reynolds Monday morning, but Gualtieri said the case is not closed.
“We strongly believe that there are additional victims who have not come forward,” he said. “This is a case where we got somebody that is supposed to help people, who is out here sticking it to them and stealing their money.”
Gualtieri said Reynolds appeared to be a sole practitioner at a small office located at 7178 Seminole Boulevard. He graduated from law school in 2006, and his LinkedIn account shows that he worked for the Winters & Yonker firm from August 2007 through December 2016.
The first victim’s case was tracked to 2019, Gualtieri explained, and several more came forward this month following Reynolds’ disbarment.
Gualtieri relayed that Reynolds would often meet prospective clients in local bars. Once retained, he would settle their case with insurance providers, forge signatures on documents and spend the cash.
As is typical with personal injury lawyers, Gualtieri said Reynolds had arrangements with several doctors, and at least one received money from Reynolds. Gualtieri said his office has no information regarding additional suspects.
He noted that most car accident victims settle for around $15,000 to $20,000, and when “you start seeing these settlements up here in the $150,000 range, what that tells you is that those people were hurt.”
“Those people have some injuries,” Gualiteri added. “Those people have some damages. Again they’re out what they should be compensated for, and, on top of it, now they have to deal with the medical bills.”
He called Reynolds’ case a rarity and atypical for personal injury attorneys. Some victims came forward in the last couple of weeks, and while Gualtieri is unsure of the final dollar amount owed, he said it is significant.
He believes the court will order Reynolds to pay restitution, although that is a lengthy process. The felony charges carry a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison, and Gualtieri said that could further delay payments to victims.
“People want to have confidence in lawyers and legal professionals that are out there trying to supposedly help people,” Gualtieri said. “They’re licensed to practice law, they’ve got the boxes checked, they’ve got the credentials, they’ve got the credibility that goes with that – and they’re really just a thief who is ripping them off.”
February 28, 2023at5:21 pm
As one of the victims this is the most thorough and complete information I have seen compiled from all the news outlets. His bar suspension was public months ago. He stole 100k from me and my life has been miserable since.