An attorney for Perry Friesler, 73, said his client had been suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder when he committed the crimes and had recommended probation was the proper sentence so Friesler could continue treatment and perform community service.
Over 40 years of legal practice, Jeremy Levinson said, Friesler was "honorable, diligent and devoted in all affairs, professional and otherwise," until his daughter began dying of Tay-Sachs disease. In 2012, a year after she died, Friesler tried to take his own life, which led to involuntary commitment and the first diagnoses and treatment of his mental health problems, Levinson said.
Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley acknowledged that Friesler experienced sad and tragic events but said they didn't cause the crimes, which extended over a period of 3 1/2 years of repeatedly writing checks from estates to himself, spending the money on selfish pursuits, and lying to the heirs and the courts to delay the truth.
Benkley called it unreasonable to allow Friesler "to go home to a leafy cul-de-sac in Mequon, do some community service and put this all behind him." Because of the betrayal of trust, the duration and amount of the thefts and the efforts to conceal his crime, Friesler should spend three years in prison, Benkley argued.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Thomas McAdams settled on the two years, plus three years of extended supervision. He said while he gave Friesler credit for the good life he led prior to his crimes, the aggravating factors required prison time to deter others in positions of trust.
"The message needs to be, if that's violated, there will be consequences," McAdams said.
He did allow Friesler — who his attorney said takes more than a dozen daily prescriptions for various physical and mental conditions — two weeks to meet with his doctors before surrendering to start his incarceration.
Friesler appeared in court in a dark suit and white shirt. In a brief statement, he told McAdams he took responsibility for his acts, was truly sorry and would abide by any sentence or penalty the judge imposed.
Levinson subpoenaed Circuit Judge William Sosnay as a character witness. Sosnay said that during the 14 years he practiced law in the same offices with Friesler, he was an honest, devoted partner and friend.
Friesler's psychotherapist testified that hypersexualization is a common symptom of untreated bipolar disorder and said Friesler's period of frequent trips to strip clubs — where Benkley said Friesler would withdraw hundreds of dollars from ATMs nightly — would be an expected manifestation.
Share Biesel, the psychotherapist, said Friesler has developed coping mechanisms but she feared that months in prison would increase his suicide risk.
Friesler pleaded guilty in February to a single count of theft greater than $10,000 in a business setting. Theft from a second estate was read-in at the sentencing. One estate was in Milwaukee County, the other in Ozaukee County. Both families were friends of Friesler's.
One heir told McAdams that while Friesler was acting as the personal representative of his mother's estate, her home was lost to foreclosure, though she had been current on her mortgage payments.
"How does a house get lost, like vapor?" said Matthew Port.
According to Levinson, after Friesler's commitment and treatment in 2012, Friesler realized what he had done, ended his practice and turned himself in to the Office of Lawyer Regulation. In 2013, he agreed to give up his law license rather than defend an OLR complaint and agreed to repay nearly $160,000.
When the Supreme Court revoked Friesler's license, Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote separately, stating only, "The court has not been advised whether any criminal prosecution has been undertaken."
Prosecutors didn't charge Friesler until 2015.
At Monday's hearing, Benkley said Friesler hasn't paid a cent toward the victims' theft losses, which were covered instead by the Wisconsin Lawyers Fund for Victim Compensation and insurance. The heirs incurred tens of thousands of dollars in additional expenses suing Friesler and seeking the victim fund compensation, Benkley said.
A hearing on the final restitution amount is set for October.
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Mequon lawyer gets prison for theft