"The Dentist Made Me Do It" isn't normally an excuse presented in a courtroom.
Edward R. Thiel, a Lockport lawyer accused of stealing more than $63,000 from the proceeds of a real estate sale, told an investigator that he spent the money on his 26-year-old son's dental work.
"It went in my kid's mouth," Edward R. Thiel told Investigator William Thomson of the Niagara County District Attorney's Office, according to court papers.
Thomson interviewed Thiel at Thiel's apartment in May, more than two years after the sale.
"He has had serious dental issues for the last four years," Thiel told Thomson. "It has cost me everything. I gave him the last of my money this morning to go to the dentist."
Thiel, 73, a former Niagara County assistant public defender, pleaded not guilty to second-degree grand larceny at his arraignment Tuesday in Lockport City Court. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in state prison.
The victims of the alleged theft are the four children of Donald K. Beutel of Wilson, a farmer and greenhouse owner who died in 2011.
He left his property at 4740 Chestnut Road in equal shares to his four grown children. They decided to sell the property to Eric W. Beutel, one of Donald's grandchildren.
On Sept. 2, 2014, a closing for the deal was held at the Niagara County Clerk's Office in Lockport. Thiel was Donald Beutel's longtime personal attorney, according to William Beutel, the only one of the four siblings who lives in Niagara County.
William Beutel, in a sworn statement, said Eric Beutel brought a check for more than $7,000 to the closing, which was to be combined with mortgage money for a total of $63,684.54. Thiel took the checks and was supposed to deposit them in an escrow account.
"Mr. Thiel was to divide the proceeds from the sale by four and distribute this money to myself and my three siblings," William Beutel said in his statement. "To this day, we have not received any money, not one cent. We made numerous attempts to resolve this matter by contacting Mr. Thiel. He never responded. In addition to that, he wouldn't respond to us to close out the estate, either."
William S. Beutel, who lives in Wilson, said he hasn't talked to Thiel in at least two years.
"I don't want to talk to him. I just want my money, and get out of my life," Beutel said in an interview Thursday.
Niagara County Surrogate's Court records show that County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III tried repeatedly to get Thiel to court to close out Donald Beutel's estate, starting in 2014. At one point, the court sent Thiel a letter threatening to fine him $2,500 if he did not show up.
It took two years before Thiel filed the mandatory accounting of the estate's assets in August 2016.
On Sept. 20, Lockport attorney Walter E. Moxham Jr. informed the court that he had taken over the estate file because Thiel was "no longer practicing law."
The estate work was finished in 10 days, but the money from the siblings' sale of the Chestnut Road property remains missing.
Thiel, during his May 8 meeting with Thomson of the District Attorney's Office, acknowledged the sale proceeds were supposed to go to the children of Donald Beutel, according to the court file.
"When asked if they got the money, he said, 'No,' " Thomson wrote.
When Thomson said the Beutels want their money, Thiel answered, "Well, we will have to get them their money from the attorneys' fund," according to court papers.
That appears to be a reference to the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, maintained by the state to reimburse people who have lost money to dishonest lawyers. Thomson, according to the report, told Thiel that he would have to be arrested before that process could begin.
At the arraignment, City Judge Thomas M. DiMillo released Thiel on his own recognizance.