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New charge against Brown: Stealing from St. Jude’s

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of October 6, 2011)
Photo: Richard Brown being led into the courtroom..

Former beachside lawyer Richard Brown remains in the Indian River County Jail, but his bond is $250,000 higher now following another first-degree grand theft charge involving pilfering funds that were intended in part for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Brown, who once practiced law from offices in the Regatta Professional Suites on A1A in Central Beach, is charged with stealing more than $100,000 from the estate of Patricia Nilsen.

Nilsen committed suicide in 2006. Her personal representative, Georgia Hart, signed over power of attorney to Brown in 2008, and then Hart died in March 2010.  According to the arrest warrant, Brown began draining funds from the Nilsen estate in December 2008.

Records show that Brown used that power of attorney to set up an account at Marine Bank and Trust on Beachland Boulevard on Christmas Eve 2008. He set it up with himself as the sole signatory and deposited $108,339.08.

The Nilsen estate account subsequently dwindled down from the original deposit to just $642.

One quarter of the net proceeds of the settled Nilsen estate was intended for the St. Jude Children's Hospital, but records show that St. Jude's never received what could have been a nearly $20,000 donation.

The other 14 felony charges Brown faces resulted from someone coming forward to file a complaint, but this most recent grand theft charge came straight out of subpoenaed bank records.

A Google search helped investigators connect the name Georgia Hart to the estate of Patricia Nilsen.

"Most of the money flowed out of the bank account and to Richard Brown after Georgia Hart’s death. The estate court filings were available online," said Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans, referring to the information in the warrant for details. Evans said he is ethically barred from saying more than what is in the public arrest warrant documents.

How Brown came to be representing a client from Marion County, Florida remains a mystery. The other intended heirs reside in the Toms River, N.J. area with no known connection to Vero Beach.

Brown is set to go to trial on some of the felony charges on February 28, 2012. It’s not known at this point if this latest charge will be tried separately, or combined with charges related to the alleged theft of other client funds.

According to the Indian River Sheriff's Office website, Brown has a bond of $580,000 just for charges filed in Indian River County. He's also being held on an active warrant in St. Lucie County for charges filed in that jurisdiction.