Atlanta attorney sentenced to 15 years for embezzling millions

An Atlanta attorney who defrauded his law firm out of tens of millions of dollars has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

Nathan Hardwick IV, a partner with Atlanta-based real estate law firm Morris Hardwick Schneider, was convicted in October of wire fraud, conspiracy and making false statements to a federally insured financial institution.

A federal jury found the 53-year-old had embezzled $26 million from firm accounts and used much of the money to feed his gambling habits and support a lavish lifestyle.

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Hardwick helped build Morris Hardwick Schneider into one of the nation’s largest real estate closing firms, with 800 employees in 16 states. But he then used it as his own personal piggy bank, federal prosecutors said.

Over a three-year period ending in August 2014, Hardwick had millions wired from the law firm’s accounts. Much of that money was used to pay off gambling debts, personal loans, alimony obligations and private jets. More than $5.9 million was wired to the Harrah’s, Cosmopolitan, Beau Rivage and Venetian casinos, according to evidence introduced at his four-week trial last fall.

In early 2007, Hardwick and his law partners sold off part of their business, and Hardwick pocketed approximately $11.8 million. Prosecutors said he quickly squandered that money, however, and by the end of 2010 the attorney was broke and deeply in debt.

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The law firm’s  financial statements showed that its combined net income from 2011 through 2013 was approximately $10 million. During that same three-year period, Hardwick took more than $20 million out of the firm’s accounts, according to the Department of Justice.

“This attorney violated the trust placed in him by his clients and his partners,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said in a release. “As a result, he is now facing a lengthy prison sentence. Lawyers who steal client money and embezzle from their partners can expect years in prison for their violation of trust.”

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At trial, Hardwick’s defense attorney, Ed Garland, told jurors his client was duped by Asha Maurya, the firm’s chief financial officer who he said stole at least $900,000.

But federal prosecutors said Hardwick and Maurya were in on it together, and that the two made numerous false statements to Hardwick's law partners concerning the amount of money he had stolen in an attempt to cover up the fraud.

Hardwick was sentenced to 15 years in prison and forfeited nearly $20 million in criminal proceeds. He was also ordered to pay restitution to those he stole money from, according to a DOJ release. When he is released from prison, Hardwick will serve six years on supervised release.

Maurya was sentenced to seven years in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to forfeit $900,000 in criminal proceeds.

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