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Posted on: March 9, 2023

Former Law Firm Employee Indicted for Allegedly Stealing More than $500K from Seven Trusts

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Michelle Byrd charged in 181 count indictment for allegedly stealing money from trusts that service adults with Cerebral Palsy, stroke victims, and woman who lost her limbs due to medical malpractice 

MINEOLA, N.Y. – Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly announced that a Hempstead woman was arrested by Nassau County District Attorney’s Office Detective Investigators on indictment charges that she allegedly stole more than half a million dollars from seven trust bank accounts that benefitted people with special needs.

Michelle Byrd, 53, was arraigned Wednesday before Judge Helene Gugerty on one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a C felony) and 180 counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree (a D felony). The defendant pleaded not guilty and was released on her own recognizance. Byrd is due back in court on April 4, 2023. If convicted of the top charge, the defendant faces a maximum of 5 to 15 years in prison.

“This defendant allegedly stole more than $500,000 over the course of several years from trusts dedicated to adults with special needs and used those funds to finance her lifestyle,” said DA Donnelly. “The victims of this alleged scheme included adults with Cerebral Palsy, stroke victims, and a woman who had lost her arms and legs due to medical malpractice. One victim was forced to sell his home because of the more than $180,000 that was spent down in his account. This alleged conduct violated the trust that these clients placed in their case manager to safeguard their finances and ensure they would continue to receive the necessary care to live their lives.” 

DA Donnelly said that, according to the investigation, Byrd worked for a Nassau County-based law firm that manages trusts for special needs clients. An attorney at the firm served as a trustee on trust accounts that supported seven clients and was the authorized signatory permitted to make disbursements and manage the beneficiaries’ bank accounts and transactions. The defendant, a salaried employee, served as a case manager, and was in frequent contact with trust beneficiaries regarding their financial needs. 

From 2014 to 2021, the defendant allegedly, without permission or authority to do so, wrote hundreds of checks to herself from seven trust accounts, causing losses of approximately $526,553. It is alleged that Byrd forged the signature of the trustee on checks and forged bank statements to conceal the theft. 

In April 2021, one of the trust accounts that Byrd helped manage was transferred to Chase bank. Chase bank emailed checks to the law firm’s controller for review. On April 7, 2021, the controller received an email of a check for review drawn on a trust, allegedly payable for $2,500 to Byrd, that was purportedly signed by the trustee. The trustee reviewed the transaction, and the check was cancelled. At that point the law firm terminated the defendant’s employment, and, after a short internal review, referred the matter to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office in May 2021. 

Between April 2019 and April 2021, there were allegedly unauthorized checks to Byrd for approximately $99,935 from a trust established to care for a man with Cerebral Palsy living in a group home in New York City. The checks were forged with both the trustee’s signature and the trustee’s signature stamp, which the firm used during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for remote management of the trust accounts. 

From August 2018 to December 2020, there were allegedly unauthorized disbursements to Byrd from a trust established to help a woman who lost her limbs due to medical malpractice, for approximately $99,750. Those checks were forged with both the trustee’s signature and the trustee’s signature stamp. 

In January 2020, the defendant allegedly forged the signature of the trustee on a check for $2,500, payable to Byrd, from a trust that was set up to care for an elderly developmentally disabled man with Cerebral Palsy who resided in an assisted living home. 

Between March 2019 and January 2021, there were allegedly unauthorized disbursements to Michelle Byrd for approximately $32,817 from a trust established to care for another adult who is developmentally disabled with Cerebral Palsy. The checks were allegedly forged with both the trustee’s purported signature and the trustee’s signature stamp. 

Between March 2014 and February 2019 there were allegedly unauthorized disbursements to Byrd from a trust established to assist a woman who suffered a stroke. The checks were all allegedly forged with the trustee’s signature and totaled approximately $32,317.

Between September 2014 and March 2021 there were allegedly unauthorized disbursements to Byrd from a trust established to care for an elderly, developmentally disabled woman. The checks totaled $71,096. Many of these checks were allegedly forged with the trustee’s signature and several checks had an unauthorized signature stamp.

Between March 2014 and February 2019 there were allegedly unauthorized disbursements to Byrd from a trust that was set up to care for a wheelchair-bound stroke victim. The checks totaled $180,884 and were all allegedly forged with the trustee’s signature. Because of the draw down of funds on the victim’s account, the victim’s home needed to be sold.

The defendant surrendered to NCDA Detective Investigators on March 8, 2023.

The case is being prosecuted by Senior Investigative Counsel Lauren Littman of the Financial Crimes Bureau. The defendant is represented by Xavier Donaldson, Esq. 

The charges are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty.  

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