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Feds: Crooked lawyer tripped up by text messages

An Apple customer uses his phone as he queues buy an Apple iPhone 5 Apple store Toronto's EatCentre Friday Sept.

An Apple customer uses his phone as he queues to buy an Apple iPhone 5 at the Apple store in Toronto's Eaton Centre on Friday Sept. 21 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

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Updated: October 23, 2012 6:07AM

The scheme by the Lake County attorney, as alleged by the feds Friday, was brilliant in its simplicity.

Rack up charges on broke clients’ credit cards. Discharge the debts in bankruptcy court.

Brilliant that is, except for the part where the attorney allegedly spelled out various crimes to his assistant by text messages — which the assistant, who was cooperating with the feds, then forwarded to the FBI.

Federal authorities on Friday said they have charged attorney Bradley Aubel, 47, of Vernon Hills, with allegedly obstructing justice in the investigation of his credit card scam by bribing a witness. He’s also charged with engaging in separate schemes involving car and student loans.

The feds say Aubel asked his longtime assistant to fake his tax returns, one set showing enough income to get a car loan for a Honda Fit, another making him broke enough to be allowed to walk away from $100,000 in unpaid student loans.

His assistant got busted on identify theft charges in July 2010. Aubel allegedly wooed her away from investigators with text-message promises to pay her salary, her mortgage and her sister $6,000 to get away to Mexico if she didn’t tell the FBI about his involvement.

But in June 2011, keeping her boss in the dark, the assistant began cooperating with the FBI, according to a federal affidavit in the case.

The affidavit details a series of alleged text messages between them. The portray a condescending, exasperated boss and a wise-cracking assistant who was taking none of his guff.

Reached on his office line Friday morning, Aubel said about the charges, “I cannot, cannot comment on that,” and hung up.

Aubel, an attorney since 1997, had allegedly involved his assistant and her sister for years in plots to buy things using his bankruptcy clients’ credit cards, according to the criminal complaint. Then, it said, he’d get the debts discharged when their bankruptcy cases were finalized.

Federal authorities did not disclose what Aubel or his assistant bought with the cards, or how much they spent, and Aubel has not been charged with theft. Prosecutors allege he obstructed justice when he instructed the assistant to take the fall and lie to the FBI about his involvement.

At one point, Aubel is accused of pleading with her in a text message: “I had to blame someone, please I will pay ur mortgage the whole year if I have to.”

At another point, Aubel allegedly texted his assistant: “Just making sure your ok and remember that everything is going to be ok.”

His employee shoots back: “O yea right the last time you said that I got arrested and now have felony charges...”

In another text, Aubel allegedly called his employee stupid as she created a false tax return at his request.

She did not take this well, texting: “You’re right, I am stupid, cause you are asking me to make false tax returns for you, and my dumbass is doing it.”

The wire fraud and mail fraud charges against Aubel stem from his alleged attempts to get a car loan at a Honda dealership, and an effort to get excused from his student loans using falsified tax returns.

Via text messages, he instructed the assistant to draft the returns:

“Honda wants a return that shows lots of money and for the student loans I need to be poor” he wrote. Again, he threatened to “tie up loose ends” on his assistant, an undocumented immigrant, if she didn’t help:

“All it takes is one call to your buddies at ins [Immigration and Naturalization Services] and you will be taking a permanent vacation to mexico.”

In July, Aubel bought a 2011 Honda Fit with a loan he obtained with bogus tax returns showing between $75,000 and $83,000 in annual income the past few years, prosecutors said. He allegedly made his assistant draft a second set of fake tax returns, claiming he earned less than $9,000 a year, so he’d qualify for being excused from more than $100,000 in student loans.

By September 2011, when Aubel feared he’d lose his law license, the texts took a more sinister turn, the feds allege. Aubel is accused of threatening the assistant, who told him she wanted to come clean to the FBI, and the assistant’s sister.

He texted her, using an abbreviated obscenity to refer to FBI agents: “Everything would have been fine if u both had kept ur mouths shut.... Those f---- (are) not going to anything to us trust me, tell [your sister] to shut her big mouth or I will... U might get deported or accidentally fall in a ditch somewhere and never come out, that would be a shame. :(( “

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