A Tampa-area personal injury attorney, once active in auto accident, rideshare and other insurance claims litigation, has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of money laundering and grand theft.
The Pinellas County Sheriff said that attorney Christopher Michael Reynolds is accused of accepting more than $850,000 in insurance settlement payments, but failing to pay clients’ medical bills or to forward clients’ share to them. He spent much of the money on drugs, travel, pornography and on sex workers, according to the sheriff and local news reports.
“For the last several years, Reynolds has been ripping off his clients,” Sheriff Bob Gaultieri said at a press conference this week.
He said the lawyer has a drug problem.
The 44-year-old Reynolds was suspended from practice by the Florida Supreme Court in December after the Florida Bar asked for an emergency order. The Bar recommended the suspension after receiving numerous complaints from his clients and from medical providers who were never paid. Reynolds appeared to have abandoned his law practice without notice and without protecting his clients’ interests, the Bar’s recommendation reads.
One client said the lawyer told the at-fault driver’s insurance company that the client had agreed to a settlement, and forged her signature on documents. He then cashed the settlement check, all without her knowledge, according to Bar records. Another said Reynolds received a Geico insurance check for $35,000, but never communicated with the client.
Meanwhile, Reynolds, based in Pinellas Park, Florida, appeared to be traveling while authorities were looking for him. His Facebook postings showed him in Asheville, North Carolina, the Miami Herald reported.
The sheriff said that Reynolds graduated from law school in 2006, then practiced with a large law firm for several years before opening his own firm in Seminole in 2015. The sheriff’s office began investigating last October, after a client of the lawyer filed a complaint.
Reynolds had referred the woman to a medical provider, utilizing a letter of protection.
With letters of protection, physicians agree to accept part of the settlement or judgment instead of billing the patient. Insurers and insurance attorneys have long argued that the practice leads to inflated medical bills and settlements. Under House Bill 837, expected to pass the Florida Legislature next month, plaintiffs would have to disclose those letters and doctors’ financial arrangements with companies that purchase the letters from the medical providers.
Reynolds settled that suit for $100,000 but pocketed the money, prompting the client to contact law enforcement authorities, Gaultieri said.
In all, 16 clients have come forward with complaints about the lawyer, the sheriff said.
“We identified that Reynolds stole over $850,000 in client money from 16 people,” he said.
The victims have been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Photo: Sheriff’s press conference on Reynolds’ arrest (YouTube/Pinellas County Sheriff)
Interested in Fraud?
Get automatic alerts for this topic.