- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Federal prosecutors have accused a former Georgia Democratic Party chair and lawyer of defrauding his legal clients out of more than $1.8 million.

Michael Berlon, 55, of Grayson, was indicted Tuesday on mail and wire fraud charges, federal prosecutors said Friday. Berlon did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Berlon is charged with obtaining funds from clients of his law firm and other people through false pretenses, prosecutors said in a news release. The indictment says some clients gave him money thinking he would create a trust for them and keep the money in the trust. Instead, prosecutors said, he used the funds for personal expenses and to repay other clients.

In one case, he got money from two people who came to him for help starting a new business. He told them he would help them get a loan but that it required a down payment. Instead of helping them get the loan, Berlon used the money for his personal expenses and debts, prosecutors said.

“They came to him for legal help, and instead he drained their bank accounts,” U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, said in the release.

Berlon stepped down as head of the state Democratic Party last year amid personal legal troubles.

“The Democratic Party of Georgia desired and secured the resignation of Berlon more than a year ago,” party spokesman Michael Smith said in an email Friday. “Under new leadership, the Party is thriving and we continue to look forward, rather than behind.”

The Georgia State Bar website shows Berlon voluntarily surrendered his law license in June, which is equal to disbarment.

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