- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A former Iowa lawyer facing fraud charges is suspected of getting help from a business associate while he spent five years running from the FBI, according to search warrant materials unsealed Monday at the request of The Associated Press.

Former Coralville attorney Dennis Bjorklund remained in contact with Thomas Harbit, a former substance abuse counselor with whom he once shared an office, and possibly received financial and other assistance from him, law enforcement officials allege in the documents.

Personal information of Bjorklund’s former clients - including Social Security numbers and birthdates - was found in Harbit’s possession and may have been used to obtain credit cards, the documents show.

Bjorklund was arrested last month during a traffic stop in Colorado, ending the search for one of the FBI’s most-wanted white-collar fugitives. He was returned to Iowa last week, and pleaded not guilty to a 14-count indictment alleging he defrauded clients and lied about his income to evade taxes.

Harbit, 50, has not been charged but has been under investigation by the FBI, the IRS, the U.S. Marshals Service and Coralville police, the records show. Court officials released the documents after the expiration of a judge’s Jan. 15 order that sealed them for 120 days.

Harbit could not immediately be reached to comment. One phone number associated with him was disconnected Monday; another wasn’t accepting calls.

Bjorklund and Harbit had a profitable but improper arrangement in which they referred drunken driving defendants to each other and jointly marketed their businesses. Their relationship violated ethical rules, including by advertising Harbit’s substance abuse evaluations as leading to less treatment and fewer consequences for defendants, state regulators say.

The Iowa Supreme Court disbarred Bjorklund in 2006 for a series of ethical lapses. Harbit closed his counseling business after regulators revoked his license in 2005.

Harbit told investigators in December he didn’t know Bjorklund’s whereabouts, records show. Agents said they did not believe that because items they seized during searches of his homes and vehicles suggested an ongoing connection.

Harbit has been living in Bjorklund’s former residence in Coralville. In December, investigators found $20,000 cash in the house, numerous cellphones, and money orders and gift cards. In the trunk of one car, investigators found a banking statement for an account in Bjorklund’s name dated November 2014.

In that home and another Coralville residence controlled by Harbit, investigators discovered notebooks that had the names of former clients of Bjorklund and Harbit along with their personal information, records show.

Investigators believe Harbit used the information to obtain credit cards that were used to buy money orders and gift cards for his own use and to send to Bjorklund, Coralville police detective Rich Smith wrote in search warrant applications seeking to examine the laptops and cellphones that were seized. Harbit gathered the information from clients when he conducted substance abuse evaluations on them, Smith added.

FBI spokeswoman Sandra Breault said Monday the investigation was continuing but declined to comment on Harbit, who resigned from a paraeducator job with the Grant Wood Area Education Association in November.

Investigators say Harbit took steps to make it appear both Coralville homes were controlled by others. Bjorklund’s home has been transferred into the name of Bjorklund’s girlfriend, Rochelle Theroux, who, according to the FBI, was traveling with him during his years as a fugitive. Harbit’s home was transferred into a name that investigators say is fictitious.

Harbit has paid property taxes for Bjorklund’s home in cash, and investigators obtained surveillance video showing Harbit purchasing money orders that were used to pay vehicle registration fees for two cars that were registered to Theroux, records show.

Bjorklund’s trial is scheduled for July. Investigators say he convinced 11 clients to make donations to a substance abuse charity by suggesting judges would give them lighter sentences for doing so. In reality, the charity was a phony established by Bjorklund and his associates.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide