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Naperville attorney accused of stealing from clients, partners
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/24/2009 6:56 PM

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A Naperville attorney is facing criminal charges on suspicion he stole and mishandled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his clients and former law partners.

Prosecutors on Tuesday charged Steven D. Gustafson with theft up to $500,000, forgery, financial institution fraud and financial crimes enterprise.

The 44-year-old Naperville man became licensed to practice law in Illinois Nov. 7, 1991. His focus is estate planning and trusts.

The allegations began while he was a shareholder in the now-defunct law firm of James, Gustafson & Thompson. The firm was dissolved Feb. 21, 2006, and all but one of Gustafson's former partners have sued him.

"We've been expecting this," one of the partners, attorney Larry L. Thompson, said of the criminal charges. "We actually brought this to the attention of the state's attorneys office originally. It's taken a long time."

Thompson and his partners also alerted the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which has been investigating Gustafson for the alleged misconduct since 2007. The ARDC has not taken any disciplinary action against his license yet. Officials said the case, which alleges more than $1 million in misused funds, still is pending.

He is accused of stealing and mishandling money from clients and his partners dating back to 2001 and using the funds to pay his own business and personal expenses, such as credit card bills.

In one case, Gustafson urged a client's parish priest to use $577,000 of church treasury money to cover an account that the attorney is suspected of depleting for his own use, according to the ARDC complaint. The priest declined, but did get a parishioner to donate $77,000 - all of which Gustafson also is being investigated for misusing.

Gustafson could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In court documents, he identified Naperville attorney Bob Heap as handling his criminal matters. Heap said Tuesday he had not yet been officially retained.

Prosecutors are expected to announce the criminal charges Wednesday.