Kowalke, subject of an Iowa Supreme Court attorney disciplinary inquiry, was arrested by Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents. Authorities allege he took more the $35,000 from an estate he was representing and used the funds for gambling and personal expenses.
Charged With Theft, Iowa Attorney Todd William Kowalke Also Faces License Revocation
CRESCO — Even though a Cresco probate attorney had been put on notice that state commissioners were scrutinizing his handling of an ongoing estate case, he allegedly went ahead and stole tens of thousands of dollars from the estate, according to court records.
Todd William Kowalke, 56, submitted a written not guilty plea Monday to a charge of first-degree theft in Howard County District Court in Cresco.
Kowalke, who also is the subject of an Iowa Supreme Court attorney disciplinary inquiry, was arrested in July by Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents. Authorities allege he took more the $35,000 from an estate he was representing and used the funds for gambling and personal expenses.
A trial date hasn’t been set, and Kowalke remains free on an unsecured $10,000 bond.
Court records allege Kowalke was put on notice the high court’s Grievance Commission was reviewing a complaint about his handling of Violet Brokken’s estate — which had been dragging on for years — but it wasn’t until later he took the estate’s funds.
“Kowalke simply took money from the estate, which he was not entitled to, which was for the descendants of the estate, for which he had no colorable claim, all while under the watchful eye and under scrutiny of the (Iowa Supreme Court Disciplinary) Board and Commission,” Tiffany Kragnes, the commission’s president, wrote in May asking the Supreme Court to revoke Kowalke’s license to practice law.
One of the heirs died prior to receiving her inheritance, according to court records.
Kowalke began representing Brokken’s estate in 2009 shortly after she died. Her closest survivors were nieces and nephews, according to obituary information, and Kowalke, in March 2017, told the court he was having trouble tracking down beneficiaries. A judge gave him until May 31, 2017, to close the estate.
When Kowalke missed that deadline, the judge and one of the co-executors became frustrated, court records state, and Kowalke was given more time to track down the remaining beneficiaries.
In September 2017, when the second deadline came and went, the judge ordered the executors to appoint a new attorney. Kowalke missed that hearing because his office said he was in a hospital emergency room, according to court records.
The following month, the new attorney said he determined all of the estate’s funds — about $171,500 — had been transferred to a trust account with Kowalke’s law firm in two checks issued in 2011 and 2015, apparently after Kowalke told a co-executor to move the money because it made it easier to pay the estate bills, according to court records. The new attorney also found a balance sheet and a check register that showed the trust balance should be between $38,400 and $41,600.
Kowalke failed to provide an accounting of the estate’s money that was placed in the trust account and didn’t return the remaining funds by an October deadline, the new attorney told the court. The attorney said when he tried to call Kowalke after the deadline, he was told Kowalke had the flu. He was out of town at a funeral during a second call, records state. After that, his business line went to a recorded message, and calls to his home phone found it was disconnected.
Kowalke did turn over a document that indicated the estate should have a balance of $35,470, but during a contempt hearing for failing to turn over the money, Kowalke told the judge he no longer had the funds, and he apologized to the estate’s new attorney and vowed to repay “every penny,” according to court records.
A hearing before the Iowa Supreme Court Disciplinary Board was held in March 2018, and the board is recommending his license to practice law be revoked.
The Iowa Supreme Court will rule on his license at at later date.