Former Cape Girardeau, Jackson lawyer pleads guilty to embezzlement

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. -- A former Cape Girardeau and Jackson attorney accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from a deceased client's trust fund pleaded guilty to felony stealing charges Monday before Stoddard County Circuit Judge Stephen Mitchell.

While managing the account of the late Donald P. Thomasson, Joe T. Buerkle deposited more than 30 checks, totaling $325,000, into his own bank account. The account was set up by Thomasson to keep the money in trust for his children until they reached a certain age. The transactions occurred between Feb. 27, 2006 and Aug. 28, 2007.

Buerkle, 67, was scheduled to go to trial on the felony charges Wednesday. He faces up to 15 years in prison for the crime.

"The amount of prison time he gets will depend to a large extent on how much of the $325,000 in restitution he can make before the sentencing," said Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle in a news release Monday. "He may be looking at the full 15 years if he can't come up with restitution."

Mitchell ordered a sentencing assessment report be completed in the next 45 days, but didn't set a date for a sentencing hearing.

Lane Thomasson, primary beneficiary of the account, was allowed to make a statement to the court after Buerkle's plea, according to Swingle.

Thomasson said she was saddened that a close friend of her parents would commit such a crime against the family.

Buerkle remains free on bond.

ehevern@semissourian.com

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